Also published on Medium, the platform for writers.
“Don’t think it, just say it, whatever is coming,” encouraged our ever-patient teacher, Sharry. She’d been teaching mediumship for thirty years and knew how to push us.
I remained standing in the middle of the room, surrounded by my five classmates and a guest, who we’d never met before, called Mackenzie. They sat on bum-numbing metal chairs arranged in a circle around me. I kept my eyes shut, continued to stare into blackness and started to panic that I wouldn’t get anything.
As with previous classes when I was getting naff all, I wondered why I didn’t jack it in for a past-time I could actually do. But as always, something compelled me to keep going with this difficult and frustrating yet mind-blowing, heart-tugging, soul-pulling, and profoundly compelling journey.
For nearly ten years, I’d met up with my classmates on Wednesday evenings to ‘sit in a circle’ guided by Sharry. We’d originally met at the Spiritualist Association of Great Britain (SAGB) where we were taking mediumship classes but then we formed a private circle. I affectionately called our little crew, ‘spooky school’, even though it’s not scary any more.
If we were lucky Sharry asked a guest to sit for our class. They could be anyone from any walk of life: young, old, male, female, posh, poor, British, from overseas, actors, a film director, a builder, an architect, an author. We didn’t know who would turn up and we weren’t encouraged to ask them anything whilst we milled about before the class started. The weather was acceptable territory but everything else was a no-no. This was to ensure that whatever information we got when we started ‘working’ was from the ‘other side’ not gleaned from our guests.
This particular evening, Sharry began in the usual way, by looking down at her watch and saying, “I think we’ll start shall we?” With that, we promptly stopped our chattery pre-class catch up with one another’s news, sat up, shut our eyes and started heavy breathing. It always astonished me that none of the guests ran away at that point.
Sharry guided us through a meditation. “Right foot, big toe, second toe, third toe, fourth toe, right ankle,” and around our bodies we went. It was surprising how concentrating on parts of the body made one feel calmer.
Then it was time to switch on the chakras. I still think of them as satellite dishes being turned on and tuned in to whatever was out there. Think: that film with Jodie Foster trying to contact aliens with huge satellite dishes in the desert.
I breathed in and imagined pulling my breath up from below my feet, up through my spine and out through the top of my head, as fast as I could. As I pulled up my breath, it passed through the chakras and as it did so I imagined a light coming on at each one.
The base of the spine. Red light on.
Below the navel. Orange light on.
Above the navel. Yellow light.
Heart level. Pink light.
Throat. Blue. Brow. Purple.
And then a huge white light shooting out of the top of my head.
Boom, open, boom, open, boom, open.
Right, I’m ready for action, I thought, yet nervous about actually doing it. I’ve never been a confident public speaker, so imagine what it’s like standing up in front of a group of people, not knowing if someone was going to come through from the other side, who they’d be, what information they had or whether you’d be able to relay it.
Sharry surveyed the room deciding who should work first.
“Oh god, please not me, please not me,” I thought to myself.
“Polly, why don’t you start us off?” she said.
“Oh arse, me,” I thought, but said, “Oh I’m not really up for it tonight, very tired.”
“Go on, you can do it. Just concentrate on our guest.”
I stood up and closed my eyes even though Sharry had been trying to get me to ‘work’ with my eyes open for ages.
I immediately went into a black void. It was as though someone had turned off all the lights and this black cavernous space stretched out and away from me.
In the early days, it was a constant stream of thoughts about the day and what I was going to have for supper that night or when my car insurance needed renewing. But with practice, I started to just go into a dark cave.
That’s just what happened to me in those days. It’s different for all mediums. And I’ve since found out, from a professional with 40 years experience, that for her, it changes from day to day.
I breathed deeply and visualized pulling energy up from below my feet, up through my chakras and out of the top of the head again, several times. Four or so minutes passed. I breathed and I waited, breathed and waited and with nothing happening, I started to fret, “Oh god, nothing tonight then.”
It was then I wondered why I didn’t take up knitting or swimming. It was also when Sharry gave a gentle nudge, “Keep going. Take your energy up again.”
Then … there it was, a faint light, slightly higher and wider than a person, to my front and a little bit to the left. Relief, someone had come forward.
“Ohhhh, there IS someone here. There’s definitely someone. Hang on, let me see who it is,” and I breathed in again. In my head, I asked them to come closer.
The light moved up close beside me. Very bright now. It wasn’t a sudden move. It was the speed of a low energy light bulb coming on.
I sensed, rather than saw, their physical characteristics first.
“It’s a man, he’s about three inches taller than me. Broad-shouldered and broad-chested.”
“He’s about fifty.”
A little bit of film, like a Gif, played in my head.
“I just saw his eyebrows and they nearly meet in the middle they are so bushy. Dark hair.”
The mundane details sounded trite but the physical characteristics helped me lock onto the person.
Then for my favorite bit. The personality came through.
“He’s making me laugh,” and I laughed out loud, even though I was standing up in a room of people with my eyes shut.
He wasn’t saying or doing anything funny. None of this was in words, sounds or images. I was just picking up the pure nature of his personality. It was like meeting someone at a party and picking up their vibe. If they were bookish, I’d sense that. If they were a worrier I’d sense that. A couple of times I’ve had really bossy women who were pushing too close to me so I had to urge them, “Please, move back, you’re too close.”
I kept repeating that the man was funny and making me laugh. I’d got stuck on his character. Sharry moved me on, “Ask for facts.”
We were training to get facts, which was the only way to prove the identity of the person. Without clear, specific facts we were only as good as charlatans. Anyone can make plausible guesses. For example, “He’s a man, wearing an old fashioned army uniform, he looks like he was in the war,” is something most people in Britain would nod along to given the two World Wars.
That vagueness wouldn’t do for us. Physical descriptions and personality were clues but facts proved the identity of a person and with it, life after death. We aimed to get three killer facts in every sitting.
The more unusual, the more idiosyncratic, the more foibles, the better because they were unique to that person and couldn’t be guesswork.
But irrefutable facts were hard to get. Our analytical minds leap in to make sense of odd thoughts, words or images. Indeed, in normal life, even as kids, as soon as we enter into the education system, we’re trained to see data, analyse it, make sense of it, make judgements and interpret it. But when it comes to mediumship, often it’s what doesn’t make sense to the medium that makes a lot of sense to the guest and nails the proof. As one medium told me, you have to ‘get out of the way’ and just say what you get, which is the opposite of what you’re trained to do all your life.
Sharry guided me, “Tell him that you need three facts to identify him. He may not understand so explain it.”
I said it in in my head hoping the now intense light wouldn’t fade back into the void. There’s nothing like the light of a spirit. It’s the purest, whitest of lights, like stadium lights beaming within a summer’s indigo night sky.
At long last … “There’s a blue boat. Not a big cruise liner type thing. A small boat. About twenty feet long. A bright blue boat. I can’t see any more. Can I sit down?”
“Go on Polly, you’re doing really well tonight. Isn’t she everyone?” said Sharry.
“Yes,” “Mmm, mmm,” “Always good,” murmured the others who were in their own reverie working at the same time as me. They were either tuning into what I was getting or they were seeing if they could get different information.
Another image flickered into my blankness. It was meaningless but exasperated, I just said what I saw. “Well, a hand keeps opening to show me three orange sticks. I can’t work out what they are. It doesn’t make sense. Sorry, everyone, I’m useless tonight.”
But then Mackenzie-guest spoke. “I think that’s my uncle. He had a blue boat and loved carrots so much his wife swore he was a donkey in a previous life.”
“Thank freak for that, I got something,” I said out loud. A classmate tittered but that was OK because those who’ve crossed over love it when we laugh. It’s something to do with raising the vibrations.
I was pleased the guest identified her uncle and even more pleased she understood the orange sticks. When I saw the three orange sticks I could have thought, “Ah, they look like orange pens,” and run away with myself and said that the person was an artist. Obviously, it would have been better, darn near professional standard to have sensed carrots. But at least by sticking to what I saw and not embellishing it with my interpretation, the guest could understand the meaning. That was exactly what we were being taught to do.
A new thought came into my head. “He lived by a river and the boat was for fishing. He never had any children of his own but he loved you and, do you have a brother? Two brothers? He loved all of you but he was especially fond of you.” Almost immediately more information came to mind, “I can see him holding a tiny figurine. It looks like a doll but it’s not a doll. There’s something strange about it.” The good mediums would know that it was a little wooden puppet with strings and that it was given to Mackenzie on her eighth birthday.
“Ask him why he’s come here. What message does he have for Mackenzie?” Sharry egged on.
If facts were hard to get, messages were up there with trying to grasp quantum physics. Sometimes they could be quite complex so I’d have to wait until messages sort of floated into me in one go. I breathed and waited.
“He’s saying he knows you’ve been going through a difficult time. He was there when you were looking at a map of the States at the weekend. But he’s telling you to just wait, things will turn around, you don’t have to do anything.”
With that I felt him pull back, fading into the darkness. It went back to black again. I sat down.
“That was great Polly. Mackenzie, can you give Polly feedback on what she said that was right and what wasn’t?”
I needed to go over both the hits and misses to learn how to improve. I needed to understand how I felt and experienced a correct fact compared to how I felt and what I experienced when I provided incorrect information. As we were endlessly reminded, it was true that the bullseyes just came to mind without interference from thinking whereas the misfires happened when we put our own interpretations on what we sensed.
Mackenzie welled into tears as she said, “That’s definitely my uncle. You described him physically and he was great fun. He had a boat and was always eating carrots. He gave me a puppet when I was eight because my mother was ill. How did he know about me thinking about going to the States? I’ve been thinking about it because I’ve split up with my boyfriend but I haven’t told anyone that,” and she went on. I lost track of the rest.
Often guests were overwhelmed by what had just happened. Grateful too. You could almost see them light up when a family member, a school teacher, a friend or someone they’d worked with made their way across the divide to talk to them.
At the same time, I loved making contact with those who had crossed over. It was never boring. People aren’t boring, alive or dead. Plus the cats and dogs come through too. They’re all there. Willing us on.
I did wonder why she didn’t throw me a word of encouragement when I was struggling early on but got the physical descriptions and personality of her uncle. She could have said, “Yes, I can take that,” rather than silently watching me sweat it out until I’d got to the boat and carrots. She was a tough one to please but then again all the guests who sat for us were.
They had no concept of how hard it was to do. It was like watching a bulky old black and white TV set with a coat hanger bent into a triangle aerial, with pictures and sounds flickering in and out, hoping to catch something tangible. And when you’re learning a little, “Yes, that’s right,” sure did encourage us. Still, I was glad Sharry had pushed me to work harder. I was pleased.
Come 8.15pm we were ready for pub grub and a glass or two of wine at the local hostelry. It was a dump frequented by the local Royal Mail Post Office workers from a nearby depot but it was cheap and the chips were passable with a squirt of ketchup. Next time you’re in the pub and there’s a mismatched posse at the adjacent table, it may be a group of mediums, cooling their jets after making contact with the dead. If you lean in, you’ll hear them discussing the parts that felt good, parts that were hard, but above all else ordinary people connecting as a group who know there’s life after death. Once we’d raised anything we wanted to about the class we’d be back onto day-to-day chit chat, talking about upcoming job interviews, weddings, house decorating, you name it, as we came back to the real world and readied for the following day.
In my case that meant back to work at a big name advertising agency dreaming up how to flog an over-priced toothpaste.
I can’t prove what we do in a scientific way. I don’t feel compelled to prove it to anyone anyway. All I know is that there is life after death. That knowing has been fueled by thirty five years of reading, dabbling in weekend courses, strange experiences at home and abroad, eschewing it all as bollocks to spend my time doing other things like clubbing, only to be pushed back on to the path, eventually committing to learning properly, seeing the facts first hand and inching my way to being an average medium. I say average with a degree of self-charity.
But here’s the weird thing. Mediumship is the most confounding, frustrating and annoying a pastime I could have chosen to pursue. It’s herding cats. It’s a box of frogs. It’s a mirage on a broiling desert road. It’s everything you can think of that’s elusive and slippery. I wasn’t a confident person and it wasn’t easy to do, yet once I’d realized I was driven to do it, I turned up, again and again, to learn how to carry messages across the veil that divides us.
Sharry now teaches at The College of Psychic Studies in London.