""Be true to your work,
your word and your friend."
-Henry David Thoreau

'I See Dead
Unless you've been living under a rock, Sylvia Browne is probably not an unfamiliar name to you. The psychic, author and frequent guest of television host Montel Williams literally defined a science of psychic and afterlife phenomena. She's a walking talking freaking Wikipedia on the paranormal with a slew of books under her belt as proof. When it comes to matters beyond the grave, Browne is not one to be ignored.

Spirits vs. Ghosts
In Visits From the Afterlife (Dutton, $25.95, written with Lindsay Harrison), Browne promises to reveal "the truth about hauntings, spirits and reunions with loved ones." She begins by clarifying the difference between hauntings (spooky) and mere visitations (just plain creepy). You see, in Browne's world - that is to say the world beyond the grave, the fourth dimension - there are two classes of citizenry: spirits and ghosts.

Spirits are souls that are able to travel between dimensions; ours and theirs. Spirits, unlike ghosts, are not bound to one place, but rather come and go as they please. The picture that inexplicably falls from its perch on the book case or the keys that aren't where you remember leaving them, according to Browne, can be credited to a deceased loved one playing afterlife games with us. Occasionally, and Browne includes letters of witness to this, their visitations are more obvious, including odors, sightings, and even communication.

Whereas spiritual visitations can be an extreme comfort to the visited, hauntings are often anything but. A haunting occurs when a person has died and for whatever reason, doesn't realize he/she's dead. Browne is often asked to investigate hauntings, a process in which she tries to determine - this is where her psychic abilities come into play - the mindset of the ghost and what's holding it here.

. . . in Browne's world - that is to say the world

beyond the grave, the fourth dimension - there are

two classes of citizenry: spirits and ghosts.

In a chapter called Ghosts I've Known and Loved, she writes of her encounter with a ghost haunting the Toys "R" Us store in Sunnyvale, California. Turns out he's a fellow named Johnny Johnson who was a handyman on the Martin Murphy ranch that once lay where the store now stands. He was in love with his employer's daughter (Beth), but she evidently was unaware of his feelings and married someone else. When Johnny died in 1884 he was of the mindset that Beth would one day return to the ranch, and has been ever since "living" for that day, refusing to acknowledge he's no longer of this world. Johnny is one stubborn ghost.

The Dark Side
Perhaps the appeal of Sylvia Browne is in her humanness. As a leading expert in psychic phenomena, one might assume she somehow hovers above the trenches the rest of us less enlightened are apt never to claw our way out of. By her own account, such an assumption couldn't be further from the truth.

In the eighth chapter, Psychic Attacks: Recognizing Them and Banishing Them, Brown describes what she calls "dark entities," spirits whose sole purpose is to bring others down. These spirits are not ones that have passed on to the afterlife. Rather, they are spirits still in the state of life as human beings. She doesn't explain why there are dark spirits and light spirits, only that dark ones are ". . . Godless entities who've turned their backs on the sanctity of humanity, compassion, dignity, kindness, and life itself, and whose existence depends on the absence of light." Thus the attacks on light spirits. Browne, someone who's experienced her share of depression, doesn't claim all depression is the result of these attacks, but advises her readers to pay close attention to depressed episodes and block them if they can. Toward that effort she offers some tools as aids.

Quieting Skeptics
Browne is, of course, not without her critics. It's somewhat baffling that devout religious people - particularly Christians - are among her worst. All along she's credited God for her psychic ability, and is, after all, just researching what Christian teachings assert: Bodies are merely houses for the soul. She doesn't claim to care whether anyone believes in her work or not, but one might raise an eyebrow at that considering the numerous television appearances she's made and books she's written. How, one might ask, could a gal work so hard at turning herself into an industry without caring what others thought?

In 1990 Browne did a Halloween special aboard the Queen Mary. She writes about it in the epilogue with the same frank conversational style used throughout the book, as if she just dropped in to gab about ghosts. It's noteworthy because it is in her candidness her gift lies to reach readers with afterlife weirdness that otherwise might go unconsidered. The special would turn out to be her most noted television appearance to date, involving a young ghost (nineteen) in 1920's attire. She danced around the lowest deck of the ship, arms in the air, with deep cuts in her wrists. Her name was Mary, and she'd apparently taken her own life. While all this was going on the cameras rolled, but nobody but Browne could see her. Browne, wanting to prove to a skeptical host there was indeed a ghost in their presence, asked Mary to stand still, and then led him right through her. With wide eyes and goosebumps he said, "It was like walking through a wall of cobwebs. I can still feel them all over me." And in that moment a friendship was forged. The host of the Halloween special was none other than Montel Williams.

posted 11/05/04