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Radical Mediumship


new internationalist
issue 237 - November 1992

Illustration by JACKIE MORRIS
Radical mediumship

Nina Silver explains how she started talking to particles of light -
and offers a feminist analysis of our relationship with the spirit world.

Have you ever been awakened by your own voice reassuring you about the next day's ordeals - where you hear the words, know your lips are moving, yet at the same time feel strongly that it is not you speaking?

Today, we understand this phenomenon as trance mediumship or channeling. But in 1979, I had to try and explain this you/not-you dichotomy. A psychology graduate, I divided the two-way conversation into the personae of the 'child' and the comforting 'adult'- an idea derived from 'transactional analysis'. But the tremendous amount of love I received from the 'adult' was unlike anything I'd ever felt before. With no frame of reference for such energy, I reluctantly called the inspired message a 'religious experience' - even though I didn't believe in God - because that came closest to describing the phenomenon.

One week later, on the threshold of sleep, my mouth again started moving. Trembling, I turned on my cassette recorder and my career as a professional trance medium began.

At first, speaking to spirits was frightening. After all, someone invisible is borrowing your vocal cords - in effect doing physical therapy on you from the inside - and it took time for me to feel comfortable with being out of control. But I always got myself back, never having 'lost' myself to begin with. Channeling meant sharing, rather than abdicating, my space, and I enjoyed the company. Besides, the communion of channeling felt familiar, like the experiences of precognition and telepathy I'd routinely had throughout my life.

Communing with humans proved infinitely harder. During a routine conversation when the inevitable 'And what do you do for a living?' came up, I told the truth, and people otherwise comfortable with paranormal matters retreated when I mentioned mediumship. Talking to spirits was considered dangerous and unevolved, and the fear surrounding spirit communication often escalated into hysteria. Assuming the worst about my line of work, they envisioned voodoo and black magic.

When finally, to my relief, I found people who would talk to me about it, I encountered another roadblock. The acceptance of spirits didn't provide insurance against misinformation. Well-meaning friends cautioned me not to give the spirits too much rein lest they 'possess' me. Others smugly advised that eventually I'd be able to do readings on my own without depending on an altered state which, they implied, was really me anyway. Long-time psychics declared they had no need to channel low-level astral beings, as they received information straight from Big Daddy himself. Healers insisted that they dispensed loving cosmic frequencies, not the cheap and paltry energy of disembodied entities. And still other mediums were suspicious of my approach. They would channel only after drawing the shades, chanting 'Kumbayah' and praying to God for protection.

I never conducted such rites, eschewing them as formalities. Nor did I require much time to 'tune in' to the proper vibrations because for me the connection was always present. It was not a matter of turning on the radio as much as increasing the volume and selecting the desired channel. My methodology, according to many channelers, contained too much science and not enough religion.

Most channelers claimed that their guides, when in body, had been celebrated doctors, scholars or writers. This smacked of 'my guide is better than yours' - in other words 'male' and 'with a higher score in the psychic book of records'. As soon as I became skilled enough to mentally (clairaudiently) receive input from my guide, the first thing I asked was, 'Who the hell are you?' I hoped it wouldn't be a Native American medicine man or Egyptian king. I had encountered enough of those, and didn't want to be part of another male-dominated trend conferring importance by association.

'I am a particle of gold light,' came the astounding, quantum physics-sounding reply. This is certainly different, I thought. 'Many people need to regard us as human in order to feel less afraid, but I assure you that I am an astral particle who also possesses a wave form.' My golden buddy decided to take the name of Ia because - and I would hear this being explained to others many times during readings 'when I speak, you must perceive me through Nina. Because we are so harmonious in personality and values, I feel I am very much a part of her. So I took the vowels in her name.' Obviously, a particle of light has no sex, but to make life simpler we agreed on the mutually preferred pronoun 'she'. This delighted me. I was tired of all those 'hes' channeling through mediums and felt that an intelligent and vocal 'she' would help rebalance the patriarchal scales.

My feminist outlook on the world - and the fact that my particle friend was an equally committed feminist! - elicited some raised eyebrows among my colleagues. But soon after, it was my turn to raise my eyebrows. I began tackling the metaphysical literature and discovered that even those philosophies which affirmed the existence of spirits nevertheless catalogued the world according to hierarchy: novice or knowledgeable, lowly or evolved, worthless or worthy. This included the structure of the spiritual realms. Any spiritual ideology, after all, could only mirror the patriarchal system that produced it.

Any system that explains our relationship to the cosmos in hierarchical terms will question one that does not. It will likewise condemn whoever communes with the life force without the sanction of churches and other establishment institutions. Since I abhorred doctrine and said so, I was perceived by other psychics and mediums as a bad girl, disrespectful of the mystical realms. I was supposed to acknowledge how much more significant spiritual matters were than mundane human affairs and how much more saintly spirits were than people - at least the evolved spirits, usually 'hes' and often called angels. Instead, disliking bafflers, I had dubbed my astral companions 'pols' (plural for the acronym 'particle of light'), and called them by their first names, generally ignoring titles of royalty, scholarship or yogihood.

If my human associates disapproved, my pol pals didn't mind. They told jokes and played word games with me to lighten up discussions about existential loneliness and humanity's fear of loving. Ia became a beloved friend and an integral part of my life - although of course she functioned differently from a human. Having neither a discernible physical body nor worries about keeping it fed and safe from muggers, Ia could effortlessly express her love and joy. Most people found her energy healing.

Ia could also be downright raunchy at times. I had initially thought her earthiness and so-close-to-being-human humanity would be welcomed, since it offered an alternative to those ancient dry teachings, but the mixed reactions of my clients proved otherwise. It seemed many people were not looking for an understanding ally as much as an authority figure. They voiced their preferences for yogis and 'name' archangels, religion-certified masters who would tell them in lofty language what to do. The desire for absolution was strong.

Eventually it became clear to me that the psychic and the spiritual were not the same. 'Everything, including spirituality, is a product of its culture,' was what all but the most rigid and patriarchal spirit guides said to me; and I heartily agreed. Accepting the premise that astral beings have been mortal, it's unrealistic to assume that they suddenly become omniscient - or more open-minded - once they change form. Be wary, I told my clients, if a channeled message claims to deliver Truth from God's very mouth: this smacked suspiciously of patriarchal elitism to me 'Astral' didn't mean 'accurate', 'better', or 'spiritual' just because the message was flowery or the delivery fancy.

It also made sense that just as people attract each other to fulfil their needs, a particle of light is drawn to a human who has compatible qualities - and vice versa. An egotistical medium might relate to an equally self-serving particle; a puritanical medium to a spirit with a repressive morality.

What a blessing Ia felt as I did. At the beginning of our relationship, I'd lapsed into the patriarchal point system myself, inducing Ia to lecture me numerous times that she was not Goddess or God. I soon realized that a feminist approach to enlightenment was crucial. Spirituality steeped in male supremacist values was not spirituality at all, but a form of mass control. It disenfranchised people by subordinating them to a supposedly greater force rather than empowering them with a sense of their own wholeness and ability to connect to the Life Force themselves. I despaired of ever finding an already existing spiritual philosophy I could salute.

Then I discovered Paganism, the Old Religion of Europe. The season's cycles were celebrated; the Earth honored instead of exploited; and humans, as part of Nature, celebrated themselves through the enjoyment and pleasure of sex. I could relate to this.

As a sworn atheist, I couldn't relate to the Goddess and her consort Gods as actual figures the way some people did, although I recognized the attempt at balance that was being made through the worship of both male and female deities. I instead saw the deities as symbols to help one tune in to Self, Others, Nature and Cosmos. Pagans were of the heath, the hearth - the organic center of one's life which a punitive, moralistic church could never be. Pagans embraced matriarchal values that other traditions ignored, trivialized or pretended had never existed in the Earth's history. Because the credo 'Do as you will, but harm none' encouraged people to perceive their own divinity, Paganism never became a hierarchical institution. It allowed for change and growth in a world that is never static.

Accepting the body's natural cycles of sex, birth and death leads us to communing with the non-material or spiritual world. The more life-affirming the spiritual tradition - as Native cultures tend to be - the more ordinary its proponents regard astral-physical plane communication, whatever its form. When Christianity dominated Europe, consigning to sin and eternal damnation those who asserted their own connection to the spiritual source, this notion of 'sin' was reinforced by putting the Pagans and Celts to death. Once people became separated from their own source of strength and were forced to rely on something external to do their thinking and feeling for them, terror at being 'possessed' by uncontrollable forces became rampant. Thus was mediumship, part of the old Pagan tradition, vilified.

Neo-paganism, an Earth-centered, feminist consciousness, recognizes not only the interconnectedness and sanctity of all life, but the importance of a non-hierarchical way of dealing with relationships. People concerned about transforming the prevalent dominant/submissive pathology of our culture must understand that our perceptions of the psychic realms must ultimately be transformed as well. It does little good to rediscover or invent a new paradigm of spirituality if we still harbor a fear of Other - which includes spirits - taught us long ago by patriarchy.

The fear of mediumship that possesses many people today conveniently upholds the church and other establishment institutions which claim a monopoly on answers to the secrets of life. This fear of communion with non-human sources is insidious, whether it comes from fundamentalist Christians or New Agers. 'Non-human' includes animals, minerals, plants, quantum energies. How can we as a species survive if we insist on remaining exclusive, so disconnected to Life?

The most valuable guidance you can receive from a spiritual source is to trust your own centre. In her readings, Ia always emphasizes the belief in self:

'I experience the universe as a loving force. Beauty and transcendental ways of being are integral parts of both the cosmos and ourselves. There are many levels of existence, I being one speck of sand in a billion deserts - and I am sure there are more I cannot perceive.'

'The line between self and other should be remembered - not so we feel isolated, but to understand that even as we each are part of a larger, loving force, we are also unique individuals in whatever stage of evolution, consciousness or form.

'Follow your heart. There are as many paths to truth as there are beings to create and follow these paths.'

Nina Silver is a therapist, singer, composer and writer. She is currently working on a book of essays called The Visionary Feminist.

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New Internationalist issue 237 magazine cover This article is from the November 1992 issue of New Internationalist.
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