In the last issue, we reported on a seance the Western Development Museum was planning as a Halloween fundraiser and how religious groups in the community were up in arms and got it shut down.
Well, tomorrow, the Victory Church of Moose Jaw — one of the main agitators against the seance — will be holding a banquet to help support the museum. The event is at 6pm, in the Victory Church (637 Main St N) and will cost $15 per person. There will be live entertainment (presumably of the non-non-corporeal sort) and the meal is being catered by Charlotte’s Catering. For more information contact the VCMJ at 691-5051.
In other news, plans for a seance fundraiser have been resurrected. On October 30, the mentalist and maybe-medium we interviewed last issue, Jeff Richards, will be trying to contact the other side — and perhaps visiting doom upon all of us — at the Hopkins Dining Parlour in Moose Jaw. This event is being co-organized with the WDM and tickets cost $25. For more information call 631-9508.
Seeing as I’m still striking out on getting an interview with Pastor Larry Gerow of the Victory Church of Moose Jaw — the main seance opponent — I thought I would run the complete, mostly-unedited interview I conducted with mentalist Jeff Richards. It comes up after the jump. This version shows more clearly how I went into the interview thinking I’d be talking to a stage magician who might tip his hand to the fact that seances are all stagecraft and psychology and nothing supernatural. As the interview went on, I couldn’t tell if he was spinning me a line when he claimed he might contact the spirit world with a ouija board or if he was a true believer. Ultimately, I decided to just go along with it and see where we’d end up. Made for a much more interesting interview….
prairie dog: What were you planning to do for that Western Development Museum seance?
Jeff Richards: Well essentially, it was going to be an entertainment and educational focussed night of exploration into the paranormal. So to begin the night, we were going to be searching using ghost hunting tools for pockets of energy and places where a seance might be opportune to take place.
From there, the group was going to reassemble and next there was going to be a brief talk on the history of seances and of talking boards and ouija boards. We were going to dispel some of the popular mythology and urban legends and stuff based around it. And then we were going to do then a ouija board seance.
pd: You were going to conduct all this?
pd: I heard this was going to be an educational event, is that educational in the sense of talking about spiritualism and it’s connection to history or the scientific background?
JR: No, nothing really scientific, I guess. More along the lines of the historical perspective. We were going to be talking about the Canadian history and going back, and not even just the Canadian history, but about the history of spiritualism. Harry Houdini, all that cast of characters that were involved through the years.
pd: You’re a mentalist. And a magician/illusionist? Or do you just focus on mentalism?
JR: Just a mentalist.
pd: So, what you do are tricks. You can’t read people’s minds. You’re not in touch with the spirit world. Presumably, when a seance is conducted by a mentalist — as opposed to a professional “psychic” — there’s cold reading going on, all these elements. How do you feel as a practicing mentalist having this shut down by religious people worried about a doorway being punched into a negative spirit world.
JR: First off, I should clarify, the term mentalist is simply a label. What I do is a combination of learned abilities and natural born skills. There is some intuition and different things that are actually on the mind reading and thought reading side.
Now, with regards to the seance, there was in a major way going to be — I can’t really say that things are staged, because they’re not. What could happen at the seance is we could try it and nothing could happen. It was just a genuine experiment, trying to make contact, trying to go into that realm.
pd:But looking back at the history of spiritualism, these things were staged, right?
JR: A lot of them were. Yeah. A lot of them were. And we were definitely going to be talking about that within the confines of the educational portion of it. Then there’s the whole big “what if” question. Despite the trickery and the fake attempts, what if it actually is possible to bridge contact there? I wouldn’t necessarily say that the whole event was going to be staged because certainly I’ve done these events in the past and there are things that happen that even I can’t explain through methodology or whatever.
How I feel regarding the event being canceled by — well not being cancelled by the church — but the church taking issue with it, it really just boils down to the fear of the unknown. People being afraid of something that they really just don’t understand. The notion of this event opening up a portal to bring evil to the streets of Moose Jaw for me, it’s laughable because again the people who are raising that objection have probably never experienced this sort of an event before.
pd: But certainly the way that you’re speaking you’re leaving it open that maybe the supernatural exists, and if that’s the case then perhaps these people’s fears are justified?
JR: I can’t say that their fears are justified. What I’m saying here is the event is open to the interpretation of the public as far as what actually would have transpired that night in the Western Development Museum. There is an element of supernatural practice and objects and things like that in the seance. So I guess, in theory, a door could have opened. But for me that notion that some great evil was going to come through in the event is still laughable for me personally.
pd: You say “in theory” a doorway could be opened, do you honestly believe that doorways get opened in seances?
JR: I think it is possible. Because there’s a whole spectrum of things that go on that we don’t really understand. So is there? Yeah. It is absolutely possible that on some whim something could have actually could have made it’s way through or a doorway could have been opened. But would it have happened that night? I don’t know. I don’t think so.
pd: I’m having a little trouble with your explanation and I’m not sure how much of this is a put on. You’re a magician, are you just saying these things to uphold the mystery of your profession?
JR: What I mean by that, if you have a ouija board, it is an object that has some roots in things that are bigger — than even the tricked-out spiritual movement. There are symbols and there are things and practices that can certainly be tied to occultism and that whole world.
pd: Sure, but we know that ouija boards work because of the ideomotor effect.
JR: Well, that’s a theory.
pd: It’s kinda been proved.
JR: Well, but by that same regard though, there are a number of things that have been proved and disproved but it all depends on how you spin your data.
What I’m saying I guess is for the camps say its proved they say it was the ideomotor response, but everybody’s had a story or an experience where it can’t be boiled down to the simple ideomotor reponse.
pd: But still, no one’s claimed the million dollars from James Randi.
JR: This is true. This is absolutely true.
pd: That kind of leads one to believe that it is the ideomotor response.
JR: For sure. I completely understand that stance. James Randi and JREF and their whole crusade against anything that could be viewed as magical or spiritual or otherworldly. But at the same time, I don’t think that you can just boil it all down to that. You can’t boil it all down to psychology and the ideomotor response.
And the only reason I say that is because myself as a practitioner of as you term it mentalism and a conductor of what would have been a seance at the Western Development Museum, I’ve had experiences that even I can’t explain. So I kind of come from both sides of it.
pd: This isn’t the reassuring interview I was hoping it would be. I’m left with the possibility that perhaps Victory Church was right. I mean, if you’re not 100 per cent sure that there’s not an element of paranormal going on at these seances, then should you be trusted doing a seance. Would you be able to control the forces of evil and hold them back were you to punch a hole in the fabric of reality?
JR: Essentially though, you have to look at it through this perspective: The event was meant primarily to be an educational and entertaining experience. So during the course of the event, we were going to make an attempt at a seance.
There is no guarantee that anything would have happened that night. It could have been a complete and total dud. Nothing could have happened.
pd: But you could have contacted the Old Ones.
JR: Yes. [laughs]
JR: I’m confident that to the best of my ability that I would take the steps to ensure that those things would not happen. And there are things that you can do within the confines of the seance [inaudible] with these sort of items to ensure that you’re not doing that.
pd: But, how do you know that? Is this a scientific pursuit. Are you accredited to be holding seances?
JR: No. I’m not.
pd: If Victory Church is right and this is correct, then certainly there’d have to be some kind of regulation governing seances?
JR: But that– but that’s–
pd: Some kind of like, Ectoplasmic Health Inspector.
JR: But once you do that you automatically assume that the spirit world is something that’s tangible and real. What position do you come from?
pd: What position do I come from? Hey, I’m the interviewer, I’m asking you the questions.
JR: But in the course of the conversation here, I’m curious what your beliefs on it are.
pd: Well, I’m 100 per cent a skeptic. And not a skeptic in the sense that I don’t know. I mean, on this subject, I know. But at the same time, as an interviewer who has to provide balance to the story, on one hand I certainly don’t believe there’s any danger. But I also want to speak to Victory Church, and Victory Church has a concern, they believe that perhaps by conducting a seance you could tap into something, and if you can’t control it, once you start cavorting with evil spirits and the Devil, you can’t get rid of them. And I’m coming to you to see if you can perhaps provide some assurance that there won’t be a problem. But you’re certainly leaving the door open that perhaps we could be facing an incursion of the Old Ones in Moose Jaw.
JR: Because you’re using objects that have been tied to those belief systems — and as I said at the beginning, physics can explain a lot, and psychology, but at the same time there are a lot of things that occur that defy explanation. And these things happen all the time. And there are things that are — even JREF…. There’ve been things that they’ve witnessed that I know first hand they haven’t been able to explain.
pd: But just because there’s no obvious explanation doesn’t mean the explanation is supernatural.
JR: But it also doesn’t mean that it’s not.
pd: But then there’s Occam’s Razor which says that the most likely explanation is probably the right one.
JR: But the existence of wigs does not disprove the existence of hair. Wigs exist and hair also exists. So even though trickery exists doesn’t necessarily mean the genuine article doesn’t exist.
pd: No. No. That’s true. So, again, I’m still waiting for some kind of assurance. How can you assure me — because I mean presumably you’ll conduct seances again — how can you assure me that we’re safe from the forces of darkness?
JR: Well, I mean, the chances are — and again I speak to this just because we are using the articles, we are using the ouija boards —
pd: So, basically — sorry, just to paraphrase — you’re saying that because these things have been used in the past and we haven’t had — as far as we know — any incursion from something evil, that they’re safe?
JR: I think that as an individual, I take the precautions necessary that I’ve been schooled in as to how best to limit the chance or the opportunity that something negative will happen. That’s not to say that on an off chance — and we’re talking a very, very off chance — if the stars align and something actually does come through, I mean, that’s a–
pd: But this is not making me feel any better. Are you a trained astronomer. Do you know the stars are not going to line up at Halloween this year?
JR: I don’t know that.
pd: There you go.
JR: But I guess what I’m saying, if ever there was a chance, simply because we’re using ouija boards and ritual that’s been used to call upon spirits and things like that in the past, there’s totally a very, very, very minute chance that this might happen.
pd: But non-zero.
JR: It’s not absolute zero. But it’s so small it’s almost an impossibility.
pd: But if that one chance in a million comes through, then everything turns all like the Last Exorcism.
JR: [laughs] I guess I would have to say yes.
pd: You’re saying, yes. That this is a possibility.
JR: There is a very remote, a very small chance, that something could happen that is very bad.
pd: So what you’re saying is the Victory Church was right to protest and shut this down.
JR: No. Absolutely they were not right. And why they were not right is because — well, first off, I don’t think the event should have been shut down. I think that they’re well within their means to voice their concern and to raise their thoughts on the matter. I don’t fully blame the Victory Church for shutting down the event. You know, obviously the museum did have to make a decision or felt pressured into making a decision one way or the other. But that means the event was put together based around the idea of entertainment. Let’s keep that in mind. It was meant to be an entertaining experience. It’s not [inaudible] to any sort of religious or occult practice or–
pd: Au contraire. It is absolutely an occult practice.
JR: It is an occult practice. But there’s — but you know, the thing of it being for educational and entertainment purposes, that I think is the context of the Victory Church is offended. It’s been — I’ve read and it’s been reported — that, for example, that in Macbeth the play, Shakespeare used actual spells and things like that in the scene with the witches.
pd: Right. But I’ve also heard it reported that he had excellent PR people and that’s exactly the kind of thing that they’d say.
JR: Absolutely. But there are people who believe that to be true. That that’s there in the text. So by that notion should the Victory Church be protesting every demonstration or performance of the play Macbeth?
pd: Have you been to their website? They may very well.
JR: I have been to their website and I haven’t seen anything on there about that.
pd: They haven’t singled out Shakespeare but I could maybe see them if you were to spread this around. Were I to include this in the article–
But again, it just boils down to what a group feels is right for the whole of society. And they obviously felt that the whole of Moose Jaw–
pd: Should be safe.
JR: Should not be exposed to this practice. But I’ve just heard that they’re now doing a fundraiser where roast beef is the main course.
pd: Cows are dying.
JR: So should now a vegetarian call up and have that fundraiser cancelled? That part for me doesn’t make any sense. It boils down to your personal belief. There was obviously enough fear and enough lack of information and fear of the unknown over what was going to happen, and ‘Oh my God, it’s very scary. It’s a seance.’ Ninety per cent of the people who complained had never been to a seance and they have no idea even of what that would have entailed. So–
pd: But you’re saying, the event was going to be safe because you were taking precautions?
JR: Yes. At the end of the day, that’s what — nobody had any fear of great evil being unleashed on the streets of Moose Jaw.
pd: Okay. Well, I’m not convinced anymore. I’m now a little bit scared.
JR: You shouldn’t be.
pd: Are you doing any other seances for Halloween?
JR: We have a bunch of private ones that are being set up and we’ve been trying like mad to get back into the city of Moose Jaw. We’re looking for a new venue.
pd: You’re not worried about getting run out of town with torches?
JR: Not at all. I think the vast majority of people and the vast majority of prairie dog readers and people living in Moose Jaw are smart. critical thinking people and they can see something for entertainment value.