In spirit

They’re here, and if you can’t talk with them, a medium can

IN TOUCH<br>Margaret VanLaanMartin and Mary Kay Ricketts are spiritual mediums who say they can communicate with the dead.

Margaret VanLaanMartin and Mary Kay Ricketts are spiritual mediums who say they can communicate with the dead.

Photo By Meredith J. Cooper

I sat in a slightly uncomfortable chair in a living-room setting with my feet planted firmly on the floor. A woman about my age sat beside me. Across from us, on a raised platform, sat three mediums on barstool-height director’s chairs.

“I want to speak to a grandparent,” I told them. They nodded in approval and closed their eyes, waiting for that grandparent—or someone else with a message for me—to contact them from beyond the grave."I’m seeing someone on your mother’s side. Are your mom’s parents still with us?”


“OK, maybe it’s further back. They’re in the South—maybe Georgia?”

Both my grandparents’ parents were from Mississippi. (But I’m not, and I have no accent.)

“Was someone in your family an inventor?”


“That’s important to them. The invention thing is huge.”

Lots of people invent stuff, so this revelation was a bit vague. But it doesn’t change the fact that I do, in fact, have an inventor in the family. Two, actually. My dad’s mom’s uncle invented loose-leaf paper. Not bad. And his brother invented the zip-away hood for windbreakers.

“What about gadgets? Who was really into gadgets?”

“My grandfather.” Bingo.

“And you—do you share his love of gadgets?”


“He’s happy about that.”

Margaret VanLaanMartin, Mary Kay Ricketts and Nancy Zuschin see dead people. They hear them and sometimes feel them, too. The spirits often show up unannounced, with messages for loved ones. And other times, like this one, they are invited.

Put aside all your preconceived notions of séances, ouija boards and witchcraft. That’s not how this works. These women aren’t hokey. They don’t seem crazy or spacey. In fact, they are refreshingly down-to-earth.

“We’re just the messengers,” said VanLaanMartin. “You don’t have to believe, but the spirits are still talking to you.”

I suppose you can either listen, or not.

Ricketts described her decision to go to medium school—and psychic school—in England as being a shock for her conservative family. “I don’t think anyone says, ‘I want to grow up to be a psychic!'” she said with a laugh.

The others agreed. They do get greeted with a degree of skepticism. Though, these days being psychic is almost considered hip, Ricketts said.

“Anyone can be psychic,” Zuschin said. “You just have to open your mind to it.”

All three have gone through professional training. VanLaanMartin, who runs Age of Aquarius, where the mediumship evenings are held, said they incorporate some traditional practices—like the ones Ricketts learned in England—with newer ones learned at the Berkeley Psychic Institute.

“Most mediums don’t do a lot of personal care,” VanLaanMartin said. The Berkeley Psychic Institute teaches mediums to maintain their well-bing, however.

“In England, being a medium is no big deal—they talk to dead people all the time,” said Ricketts. “But some have been physically affected because they don’t do proper cleanouts.”

The deformities are due to allowing spirits—and their ailments—to stay inside the body.

The first Monday of every month, they hold a mediumship session. Admission is limited—it usually maxes out at about 10 to 12—but on this night, there were just two of us.

The way it works is this: You tell them the relationship of the person you want to contact. You don’t offer a name, or even whether it’s a male or female. They meditate and await the arrival of that spirit—and often others tag along. Images appear on the mediums’ “screens,” they hear words or names, and sometimes they can feel things like illnesses as well.

To help with the cleanout process, there is often another person present during medium sessions for “room control.” The evening I attended, a graduate student sat behind us, quietly, to move the spirits along after their message had been received. Following the sessions, they all do a personal cleanout and often do not remember the spirits they spoke to.

The closer you were to the deceased the better, because they often show themselves as they did when they felt the best during life—not necessarily how they looked when they died. Also, messages can be complicated or very specific and won’t always be what you expect from them. A friend, spouse or sibling usually gets the best results.

In retrospect, my grandfather was probably not the best person to try to contact, seeing as he died when I was in junior high. Still, they did come up with descriptions that worked—was he a seaman? Yes, he was in the Navy. Did he travel? He was a salesman. They also heard a name that sounded like Anna. My grandmother’s name was Diana.

A lot of people view mediumship with skepticism. Hell, I’ve seen the South Park episode where the kids visit John Edward (the TV medium) and try to debunk his methods. But most people, myself included, believe in an afterlife—call it Heaven, call it whatever you like.

For years—since college—I’ve felt my grandfather’s presence, typically when a lightbulb flickers. I have no real reason to believe it’s him, but I do, completely. When I returned to Age of Aquarius with VanLaanMartin and Ricketts, the lightbulb in the room flickered numerous times. I told them about my grandpa.

“People don’t need mediums,” Ricketts said.

“Yeah, like you said—you knew that was your grandpa saying hi; you didn’t need us to tell you that,” VanLaanMartin added.

“But for those who want a little extra help, we can help connect them,” Ricketts continued.

Most people attend the group mediumship session to get a feel for the process and the women’s ability. Afterward, they can set up a one-on-one meeting to explore further. Often they’re looking for closure, or hope to find answers to questions.

Were my questions answered? I’m not really sure. Part of me expected a message of great clarity—a sure sign that it was really my grandfather speaking to me. I didn’t get that. But I can’t say it didn’t work, either.

When I left Age of Aquarius that first evening, I had my notepad (they make sure you have a pen and paper so you can take notes during the reading) full of messages. Some rang true; others were impossible to verify. It didn’t discourage me, though—quite the contrary.

So, roll your eyes if you will. But, better yet, try opening them—who knows what’s out there?