We've all heard the stories of séances gone wrong, whereby gateways to the spirit world are opened with terrifying results. Post-séance tag-alongs are supposedly widespread, attaching to the sitters and following them home. The subsequent manifestations range from the subtle to the extreme, depending on with whom you speak. Some report the triggering of relatively benign disturbances, whereas stories of full-blown demonic infestations also do the rounds. Most common are the reports where opportunistic ghosts see the séance as an ongoing invitation by those who have summoned them, and infiltrate their homes with a pervading sense of negativity.
Accounts such as these are reasonably commonplace. Whether it be just or ill-deserved, most would agree that séances have had a pretty bad rap. On the other side of the spectrum, there are those who believe that séances can instigate meaningful interactions with the deceased, and often give rise to comfort, resolution, and healing. They reason that if a séance is conducted safely, it can be used as an effective mediumistic tool with minimal risk.
So what are we to believe? Are séances a good thing or a bad thing? Or does the truth lie somewhere in between?
As recently as two years ago, the prospect of attending a séance filled me with trepidation. The notion of sitting in a dimly-lit room whilst summoning the dead seemed foolhardy, and more than a little macabre. Had I been given a glimpse of my future, I would have barely believed that not only have I attended many séances in the two years since, but I have personally conducted them.
So how does one go from being firmly opposed to such practices to fully embracing them? In my case, it happened quite by chance.
My first séance took place in a fittingly dilapidated, Victorian hotel. The owners claimed to be suffering through an aggressive poltergeist disturbance, and were eager to get to the root of the haunting. I had been invited to accompany a well-known West Australian medium in his investigation, with the evening filmed by a local TV news crew. Perhaps naively, I didn't expect a séance to be involved, so when the medium whipped out a well-worn Ouija board, my heart began to race. All the terrifying séance stories I'd ever heard began flooding back, and my hands were visibly shaking as I placed them on the table.
The medium dropped into a semi-trance state, during which he asked our spirit guides to shield us from any negative entities. As the table began to vibrate, he spoke in a slow and measured voice.
"Any souls here present, please step forward now..."
It wasn't long before the messages began flooding in, and what followed was one of the most memorable evenings of my life. A dear, departed friend made contact almost immediately, offering names and dates that only he and I knew. The table itself shuddered, shook, and eased up on two legs; it was an awesome sight to behold. Our dead friends and relatives poured in one after another, eager to seize the opportunity to communicate with us.
Although the séance itself was a positive experience, the evening did open doorways that I would have preferred had remained closed. My greatest séance-related fear effortlessly manifested, as the hotel's poltergeist attached himself to me and followed me home. The evening set off an incredible chain of events, so many in fact that I documented them in what eventually became a book. And indeed, it is from these events that Embracing the Spirits came to be.
Despite the frightening repercussions of my first séance, the outcome was ultimately positive. I had proof that it was an effective method of establishing spirit contact, and most importantly, how vital it was that appropriate protection be in place.
Although I've been clairvoyant for as long as I can remember, I've been fruitlessly waiting for my clairaudience to develop ever since. It was tough being able to see spirits without being able to communicate with them. I had no idea what the spirits wanted from me or the messages they were trying to convey. So with my frustration mounting, I decided to begin conducting séances myself. I knew that I had mediumistic abilities, so I resolved to try and channel my energies into what I called my "spirit contact table" (the term "Ouija" just had too many sinister connotations!) When I eventually felt confident enough to protect myself and my sitters, I began using the table as a channeling tool. I felt it was the only way I could communicate with the spirits I have been seeing since I was a small child.
These days I conduct séances on a regular basis, and have been doing so for just over a year. I choose my clients carefully, and treat the spirit contact table with the utmost respect. It is used as a tool to comfort the bereaved, and to deliver the unsaid, final messages of their deceased loved ones. It is a privilege to be able to facilitate such communication between souls on either side of the veil. This is never more true than when the spirit has suffered an untimely passing, and much has been left unsaid.
And of course, every spirit contact session I facilitate brings me its own wonderful gifts. The spirits I speak with via the table have shown me that love survives bodily death, and that our loved ones remain a part of our lives regardless of what happens to their physical shell. In some instances, it is the spirits who seek me out with the desire to contact their loved ones, not vice versa. And although I don't always approve of the ways in which they go about getting my attention (I'm particularly averse to spirits shaking my bed), I do appreciate the motivation behind the action. Some souls will do whatever it takes to get their messages of comfort to their loved ones, and as far as I'm concerned, that's pretty awesome!
So is there a definitive answer as to whether séances are safe or perilous? Good or bad? I don't believe there is. Although I have safely used my spirit contact table on countless occasions without repercussions, I always remain on guard and aware of the possible risks. One can never become blasé about such matters, and allow familiarity to make us less than vigilant with our protection. Yet whilst I proceed with caution, I always approach my séances with an open, loving heart rather than a fearful one. I believe that positivity and love attract the same in return, and my interactions with spirit has reinforced this.
And while séances present us with the gift of interacting with our departed loved ones, I suggest that they are only conducted by those who are able to do so safely. It's also imperative that they are not over-used, as they do have the potential to become quite addictive. While it's lovely to speak with our loved ones who have passed, it's important that we allow them to continue on their spiritual journey without our constant harassment.
The séance brings the gift of assurance that our loved ones live on in another dimension, and when the time comes we will be together again. But for now, we need to embrace our earthly existence and allow the spirits to immerse themselves in the wonders of their own. The time to reunite will come soon enough. And when it does, you may well find yourself on the other side of your very own séance...
Barbara Parks (Kalamunda, Western Australia) is a microbiologist and podiatrist with her own private practice. She is a frequent radio guest and has appeared on paranormal-themed television shows in Australia and New ...