ENCINITAS — After four decades in the public eye as a clairvoyant lifting the veil between the earthly and spiritual realms, internationally known psychic medium and Encinitas resident James Van Praagh has a philosophy for the skeptics of his work.
“What people think of me is none of my business,” Van Praagh told The Coast News.
Van Praagh, 64, has spent most of his career writing New York Times best-selling books, inspiring and creating television shows and movies, and sharing his extrasensory observations with Oprah, Larry King and Dr. Phil McGraw. In 2002, Van Praagh’s book “Talking to Heaven” inspired the two-part CBS miniseries “Living With The Dead,” starring Ted Danson.
More recently, the New York-born spiritualist has launched his School of Mystical Arts, offering online courses on everything from healing and meditation to developing and enhancing spiritual intuition and earning mediumship certification.
Today, Van Praagh enjoys the energy of Encinitas, a town he has called home for the past nine years. Later this month, the intuitive channeler will hold an event on July 28 at the Seaside Center for Spiritual Living in Cardiff.
“I found out how spiritual Encinitas was, beyond the (Self-Realization Fellowship Encinitas Temple),” Van Praagh said. “There is a bedrock in this area of quartz crystal. That’s why we chose Encinitas — it’s an energy space.”
Van Praagh said his journey as a spiritual medium started at a young age while living with his Irish Catholic mother and three siblings in Queens, New York, often witnessing bright-colored spirits hanging out in the room with him. After informing his mother of his visions, Van Praagh’s mother told him, “They will always help you, never harm you.”
As a child, Van Praagh said he was a target for bullies, but his mistreatment never turned him jaded or angry. Rather, the supernatural seer embraced concepts of universal love, spiritual unity and peace.
“Often, I can’t relate to this world, the way we treat one another is just wrong,” Van Praagh said. “Treat others as you want to be treated. Love is a natural vibration, the soul’s energy. There is no fear in the spiritual world — that’s a limited human emotion. But we get caught up in human ego, and we aren’t happy because we are trying to live in this social media landscape.”
Growing up, Van Praagh went to church with his mom but never felt like he knew why he was there. While he enjoyed the pageantry of a Catholic mass, he said never quite understood it. Later, Van Praagh said he attended a seminary prep school to be a priest, not because he felt a higher calling, but rather to please his mother.
“Most kids come into this life, they are open and then they get programmed,” Van Praagh said. “And they start to think, ‘I’ll receive more love if I do what (my parents) want.’ They try to please people. By middle age, they don’t feel fulfilled in life — ‘Oh I’ve been living someone else’s life instead of my own.’”
After moving to the West Coast and graduating from San Francisco State with a broadcasting degree, Van Praagh moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career as a sitcom writer, eventually getting a job at the Hollywood-based William Morris Agency, now William Morris Endeavour.
As time passed, Praagh continued to meet with fellow mediums, sharing more of his experiences, embracing his preternatural abilities and vowing to dedicate his gift to the service of others.
‘I see dead people’
Van Praagh describes his clairvoyance and intuitive gifts as pictures or movies playing in his head. He also claims to be clairaudient, or perceiving by hearing the inaudible, and clairsentient, or picking up emotional or psychic energy imperceptible to the standard five senses.
According to Van Praagh, raising his vibrational frequency to a higher spiritual level and keeping it elevated allows him to relay messages from beyond the veil to family members and relatives in the physical universe, all of which took him years to develop.
So what type of message does a departed soul have to share?
“(The spirits) give me a really strong sense of their personality, and many times they’ll come through to bring their final message — one last chance to tell a loved one they loved them or deliver a final message,” Van Praagh said. “It might be forgiveness, ‘I miss you,’ closure, unfinished business. And I’m the conduit for that work.”
And even during the course of daily living, Van Praagh said he is frequently visited by “spirit people.”
“I see dead people all the time,” Van Praagh said. “I was born this way.”
Over the course of his long career, the self-proclaimed clairsentient has faced considerable skepticism and scrutiny. In 1994, Van Praagh appeared in a special segment on “Unsolved Mysteries,” highlighting parents who went searching for answers after their son had fallen to his death while climbing Mt. Fuji in Japan.
Despite entering their meeting with Van Praagh with trepidation, Sue and Don Raskin said they were impressed by Van Praagh’s abilities, especially when he mentioned the couple’s miscarriage 33 years earlier.
“When he told us about these events and named all the people that had been gone for many, many years, he was able to get their personalities so right on,” Sue Raskin said during the episode. “There’s just no possible way.”
During the episode, Van Praagh later met with a group of individuals randomly selected by the show’s producers. The group included professor Michael Shermer, executive director of The Skeptics Society and publisher of Skeptic magazine, who said Van Praagh’s performance was nothing more than a magic trick consisting of calculated guesses and general statements.
“Van Praagh is a mentalist,” Shermer said during the episode. “A mentalist is a magician doing an act. He’s doing what we call ‘cold reading.’ You meet somebody you’ve never seen before and you tell them things about them. You start general, you throw things out rapid-fire, you watch their facial expressions to see if you’re getting hits or misses. When you get a miss, you go right on to the next thing. When you get a hit, you follow that ’til the end, until they start saying no again. And then you go to the next thing. And you keep doing that.”
Others have been less diplomatic, calling Van Praagh a “snake oil salesman” making money off vulnerable individuals desperately seeking to communicate with a lost loved one.
Van Praagh acknowledged there are plenty of bogus fortune tellers looking to manipulate people and make a quick buck, but that’s not him. For Van Praagh, his gift is something he treats with care and wishes to share with others with the hope that it may offer someone a new perspective or a positive boost.
“In every field, there are people without integrity, not just psychics,” Van Praagh said. “It upsets me because I have a lot of integrity. It’s very sacred work, but television producers make it look like a circus act. I never sold my soul — through Hollywood, television shows — I’ve always been true to myself.”
An Evening of Spirit with James Van Praagh will be held at 7 p.m. on July 28 at the Seaside Center for Spiritual Living, 1613 Lake Drive, Encinitas, CA, 92024. Tickets are $75-$135. The VIP event begins at 5:45 p.m. and includes a pre-event reception with Van Praagh, appetizers and cocktails.