Archives For Sylvia Browne

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

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  • As I reported this past weekend, the Maetreum of Cybele has finally won their property tax fight against the Town of Catskill in New York. So far, the only mainstream media (non-Pagan) outlet to report on this has been The New York Law Journal (registration needed to read the article), who note that town officials are “disappointed” with the ruling, and are weighing whether to appeal the ruling to a higher court. “[Attorney Daniel] Vincelette said town officials believe the primary use of the property is as a ‘residential cooperative,’ not for religious purposes. He denied that the nature of the group’s pagan beliefs has been a factor in the town’s opposition to the property tax exemption. ‘It was never ever a consideration or an issue at all,’ he said.” That statement seems rather laughable, considering the lengths the town has gone to fighting their exemption.
  • So, anybody read the New York Times lately? In an article about Teo Bishop re-embracing Jesus, reporter Mark Oppenheimer interviews T. Thorn Coyle, Amy Hale, and myself, about the story (and the meta-story, I suppose). I thought that, all told, it was a fair and balanced snapshot of the situation, and I’m pleased that we weren’t subjected to a Christian counter-point for the sake of “balance.” This being a New York Times piece, it has gotten a lot of commentary and links, including from a local Portland paper, and our “friends” at Get Religion. For those dismayed at the amount of attention this is getting, I encourage you to help build our community’s journalistic apparatus so we can have a bigger influence on mainstream journalism. Journalism isn’t something that just happens to us, it is something we can do.
  • Religion Clause points to a Japan Times article on the growing influence of Shinto in Japanese politics. Quote: “‘They’re trying to restore what was removed by the U.S. Occupation reforms,’ explains Mark Mullins, director of the Japan Studies Center at the University of Auckland. If it succeeds, the project amounts to the overturning of much of the existing order in Japan — a return to the past, with one eye on the future. […] Many of the nation’s top elected officials, including Abe and Shimomura are members of the organization’s political wing, Shinto Seiji Renmei (officially, the Shinto Association of Spiritual Leadership — eschewing the word ‘political’ from the title) […] Seiji Renmei sees its mission as renewing the national emphasis on ‘Japanese spiritual values.’ […] Since its birth in 1969, Shinto Seiji Renmei has notched several victories in its quest to restore much of the nation’s prewar political and social architecture.” This is a story I’ll be paying close attention to in the future, and one that Pagans who are interested in Shinto should also note.
  • Religion in American History looks at Vodou in the early American republic, and finds more questions than answers. Quote: “Finding the place of Vodou in the early republic presents problems of definition and problems of sources and evidence relating to the practice of Vodou and the experiences of Dominguan migrants. In considering these issues, I stand by my interpretation of the evidence for Philadelphia, and now agree that Vodou may have been practiced in Dominguan communities elsewhere in the United States; however, there is much that remains unclear.” 
  •  Last week major environmental advocacy groups walked out of the climate talks in Poland, stating that there’s been a lack of progress on achieving a sustainable future. Quote: “This is the first time environmental groups have walked out of a UNFCCC conference. In astatement, the groups said they had grown tired of the conference’s gridlock over issues such as aid to help poor countries adapt to and mitigate climate change, as well as the apparent disconnect between Poland’s commitment to coal and its job as host of this year’s conference.” News post-talks described this round of talks as “uneventful.” 
Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

  • Famous psychic and author Sylvia Browne died last week at the age of 77. A Gnostic Christian, Browne emerged as a popular figure in the 1990s and oversaw a vast media empire that included talk-show appearances, bestselling books, and luxury cruise ship experiences for fans. During her life, Browne came under fire from many who saw her off-the-cuff style as irresponsible, especially when it concerned life-or-death matters. Quote: “Although Ms. Browne often appeared on shows like ‘Larry King Live’ and was a regular guest on ‘The Montel Williams Show,’ much of her income came from customers who paid $700 to ask her questions over the telephone for 30 minutes. She was frequently taken to task by skeptics, most notably the professional psychic debunker James Randi. But the questions raised about her abilities did not damage her appeal as an author. She published more than 40 books, and many were mainstays on The New York Times’s best-seller list.” No doubt Browne’s legacy will continue to be debated, and depending on your beliefs, perhaps she’ll still want a say on what that legacy was.
  • An Egyptian statue that had been rotating, seemingly of its own accord, has been explained. Quote: “An engineer, called in to look at the statue, found that that vibrations from a busy nearby road were causing the 3,800-year-old stone figure to rotate. The convex base of the figure made it ‘more susceptible’ to spin around than the cabinet’s other artefacts.” Sorry, folks, maybe next time.
  • Indian newspaper The Hindu has agreed to stop using the word “primitives” to refer to tribal groups. Quote: “The ‘Proud Not Primitive’ movement to challenge prejudice towards tribal peoples in India is celebrating a major success after ‘The Hindu’, one of the world’s largest English language newspapers, pledged to no longer describe tribal peoples as ‘primitive’. Several journalists from renowned Indian publications have also endorsed the movement, including Kumkum Dasgupta of the Hindustan Times, Nikhil Agarwal of the Press Trust of India, and V Raghunathan of the Times of India.” Congratulations on this step forward in respect for tribal and indigenous peoples.
  • Should artists form their own political party? Maybe? Quote: “In the main hall, a Salvador Dali impersonator acted as the compere as figures from the arts world mounted a kind of pulpit to deliver short sermons on the state of the arts.” Just so long as they don’t elect Koons as party chair, I’m down.
  • The American Academy of Religion’s annual meeting just happened, and I know a bunch of Pagan stuff happened. I’m hoping to get some of the inside scoop soon. Stay tuned!

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of them I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Earlier this week three missing Ohio women were found after one of them, Amanda Berry, managed to gain the attention of a neighbor from the home that had become their prison. Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus, and Michelle Knight were held for over a decade, and police are now unraveling how it happened, and why the captives weren’t discovered sooner. In the midst of the media frenzy a variety of angles and personalities have emerged, including the involvement of infamous professional psychic Sylvia Browne. In 2004 Browne told Berry’s mother, Louwanna Miller, on The Montel Williams show, that her child was dead.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

Sylvia Browne and Montel Williams.

“She’s not alive, honey,” Sylvia Browne told her matter-of-factly. “Your daughter’s not the kind who wouldn’t call.”

Further, Browne said she saw a jacket with “DNA on it,” implying that Berry was murdered. This is not the first time that Browne, who enjoys a mini-empire built around her psychic predictions and spiritual teachings, has given bad predictions to grieving parents. In 2007, CNN explored the issue, prompting a defensive statement from her publicist.

“She cannot possibly be 100 percent correct in each and every one of her predictions. She has, during a career of over 50 years, helped literally tens of thousands of people.”

However, it’s one thing to be wrong about a new job, or if you’ll find true love this year, it’s another thing entirely to destroy (or lift up) the hopes of desperate parents. Louwanna Miller died of a heart attack in 2007, those who knew her said she was never the same after Browne’s prediction. She died never knowing the truth of what happened to Amanda. With this latest callous prediction proved wrong Greg Taylor at The Daily Grail lashed out at Browne, joining those who say the psychic must be stopped.

“I’m not an easy person to anger, but this list of cases gets my blood boiling, and here’s why: the incorrect calls I could live with, if it was offered privately just as a “I’ve got a feeling, but I could well be wrong”. But to go on TV, and tell these people outright the fate of their children in public – sometimes even rebuking them when they throw doubt on what you’re saying – is just wrong on so many levels. Perhaps some readers of this blog are Browne fans; I can’t apologise for my opinion. If there’s one skill I have, it’s being able to pick a person’s character very quickly, and Browne has always sent a shiver up my spine (for all the wrong reasons). The growing list of cases where she hurt families with misinformation only confirms my gut feeling.”

Browne is hardly alone in handing out these kind of predictions. Marc Klaas, whose daughter was abducted and murdered, said he was inundated with requests from psychics in the immediate aftermath. 

“I was insulated from most of them by family and police, but there had to be at least a dozen I personally dealt with. They hope you’ll pay them and they hope they’ll get really, really lucky and make a guess so close to the truth, they can say they solved it.” 

So with the near-miraculous return of these three women, we should ask the question of what divination, mediumship, and other predictive arts are for. How should we use them? In our interconnected communities divination is everywhere, as are psychic predictions and other intuitive arts. Should we be having a larger conversation about incidents like this? What moral responsibility do we have if we tell someone something that turns out to be horribly wrong? What do we do if our predictions actually turn out to hurt people instead of help them? Do we simply hold out examples of correct predictions as if they somehow balance the incorrect ones?

Assuming for a moment that Browne is sincere in her beliefs, and not an elaborate con artist, what kind of individual potentially gives thousands of bad predictions with little to no remorse? Were I in Browne’s position I would feel endlessly tormented over the people my predictions have hurt. I think incidents like this should call us collectively to examine how we practice, and in what contexts do we feel comfortable handing out predictions. I have no doubt that most Pagans engaging in psychic work are sincere, which calls me to ask how responsible they feel they are regarding life-or-death predictions, and what recourse do they engage in should a prediction turn tragic? Rather than become defensive, and work to distance ourselves from the hucksterisms of Browne, I think this is a call to introspection. How do we prevent ourselves from becoming the things that Browne now embodies to an outraged public?