October is the month for ghosts, psychics and other denizens of the paranormal. Meet two of the speakers for TMCC’s fifth annual Nevada Ghost and Paranormal Conference.
On a Fourth of July nearly 50 years ago, Vickie Gay and her cousins were out in a field in central Texas playing with firecrackers. Just after dusk, as the magic hour was dwindling, Gay’s great uncle appeared and told the kids, in a friendly but stern voice, “Go inside. It’s getting dark.”
The children did what they were told.
The great uncle had been dead for more than a year.
“I was born with this gift,” says Gay. She says she inherited psychic abilities from her mother, who had the potent sanguine blend of Apache and Spanish. Gay had a number of striking experiences as a child but, in her family, paranormal experiences weren’t unusual.
When she told her aunt that she had seen the ghost of her great uncle, the aunt responded, “Oh, we see him there all the time.”
When you imagine someone who sees and talks to dead people, you probably don’t envision Gay. She’s now in her early 50s and is the bleached blond suburban mother of a college-age daughter. She’s in good shape and seems to take personal fitness seriously—her house is full of gym equipment. She and her family moved to Reno, in part, to take advantage of local snowboarding opportunities. In striking contrast with her fit figure and her powers of paranormal perception, she has an aptitude for mathematics and holds a degree in accounting.
“I’m very balanced,” she says.
She’s originally from the Dallas, Texas, area and speaks with a faint hint of an unusual accent. It’s not really a Texan twang, but rather a lingering, thoughtful drawl, like she’s hesitant to let her words escape. It’s a vocal tic she might have picked up during her regular conversations with “the other side.”
Gay works as a psychic medium. She is fully certified by the National Spiritualist Association of Churches, an organization founded, in part, to combat fraudulent mediums.
“Being a medium,” she says, “is … paying attention to another sense. Everyone has it to a different degree.” But through her studies at the NSAC’s Morris Pratt Institute, Gay has been able to hone her abilities and “get it down to a science.”
On Oct. 18, Gay will be one of the keynote speakers at Truckee Meadows Community College’s fifth annual Nevada Ghost and Paranormal Conference.
I’m an apparition agnostic. I’ve never seen a ghost or conversed with a dead relative, but I wouldn’t rule out the possibility. And I certainly would never scoff at a believer—because whether or not the belief is true, the belief is real. Some folks honestly believe that disembodied spirits roam the planet, and for some people, communicating with these spirits through a psychic medium is the only way to achieve closure and acceptance of the loss of a loved one.
But I remain skeptical of anyone who claims to have powers of perception that are beyond my admittedly meager understanding.
“You should be skeptical,” says Gay. “You can’t be gullible. There are good and bad psychics out there, it’s just like anything else. There are good lawyers and bad lawyers. It’s just like any other profession. … If they’re asking you a lot of questions, that should be a red flag.”
With Gay, there’s little sense of purposefully obscure mysticism—one never gets the sense of a magician trying to conceal her methods. Instead, she is enthusiastic about explaining her profession. Part of her presentation at the conference will be about identifying and avoiding charlatan psychics.
Gay describes her experience as a medium: “It’s like a movie and, at some point, if it’s a really good connection, I become part of the movie. … And I start using the first person ‘I’ because I’m just repeating what I hear said.”
She doesn’t try to analyze what’s being said or convert it to a different tense because she doesn’t want to risk breaking the trance state she achieves during a sitting.
“It’s called ‘Zen,'” she says, with a smile. “You’re putting yourself aside … and just being a tool, an instrument … a medium.”
A man from Michigan recently contacted Gay about finding his missing daughter. She conducted a sitting with the man.
“That was like a horror movie,” said Gay, clearly disconcerted by the recollection. “I love comedies. I don’t watch horror movies. … I saw images of body parts being cut up … a lot of blood.”
She was able to partially describe the physical location of her vision to her client and, later, the police. And the girl’s mutilated, partial remains were eventually discovered in a location that fit the description that Gay offered. A suspect is now in jail, and Gay is convinced that he’s the killer.
“I picked up that he had hurt other women,” she says. But she’s hesitant to say more because the case is pending.
She tells me about this horrific experience just before agreeing to conduct a sitting with me at her home office in suburban Southwest Reno. The office has a variety of books and artifacts from different traditions: a Tibetan bowl, holy water from a Catholic mission in Arizona, a variety of candles and a fluorite ball.
“It’s not a crystal ball,” she said, a little defensively. “It’s just for protection.”
There’s also a display on spoon-bending that was given to Gay by Barbara Thurman, a former president of the NSAC, and a book of experiments in psychic photography by a British organization. Gay says the book mysteriously appeared in her filing cabinet.
“It was an apport,” she said, “an object that has traveled through time and space.”[page]
After hunting down a book of matches and lighting a trio of candles, Gay began our sitting with a “prayer of protection.” We sat facing each other. She asked for spirits to help, guide and protect us. As she spoke, she obsessively crumbled sage with her fingers.
After her prayer, she swayed slightly in her chair and appeared to be listening. She would mention words, numbers, images but none of them meant much to me—or, it seemed, to her. She reminded me of someone skimming a radio dial, looking for a good song, but having little luck.
She asked if there was anyone specific I wanted to contact. There wasn’t anyone that I felt an urgent need to talk to but suggested we could try my grandmother, who passed away about 10 years ago. We were fairly close, and I miss her, though I don’t really feel like there was anything left unresolved when she died.
“I can sense a grandmother presence,” said Gay, “but I don’t get the sense that she feels like she needs to talk to you right now.”
I didn’t feel much sense of purpose. It was like a vain probe for unresolved issues. I was reminded of a therapy session, but with candles, sage, a touch of the supernatural and a therapist who did most of the talking.
A lot of what she said struck me as peculiar, downright weird or random, but I made an effort to be cooperative.
“I can sense a feminine presence behind you … she’s foreign … Swedish maybe … dressed in white … she helps you"—Gay gestured beside her mouth—"with your words.”
“Who is she?” I asked, curious but unconvinced.
“She’s not related to you … she’s foreign … she helps you with words.”
“Like a muse?” I asked.
Gay shrugged, as if to say, “If you want to call her that.”
A helpful Swede dressed in white? And it seemed like Gay was strongly hinting she might be an angel … I then suspected that she might be pandering to me—because what writer wouldn’t want a guardian angel to help them with their facility with language? But I kept these reservations to myself.
After another minute or two, she said she could see me sitting in front of a bulletin board working on a glossy magazine.
“Wait,” I said. “Hold on. The one thing that you knew about me before going into this was that I was a writer for a newsweekly.”
“But you’re not working on the words here. You’re focused on this image …”
“What’s the image?”
“I have no idea what this thing is supposed to be … is this picture … it’s brown and yellow … and there are these shapes … I don’t know. I wish I could tell what this picture is!”
She was vague, but it didn’t seem intentional, but rather a genuine difficulty in describing what she saw. We moved on, but nothing rang any bells. I felt like it had been an interesting experience, though less than revelatory. And I felt resolved that Gay certainly wasn’t a charlatan by design. She clearly believed everything she said.
“I had trouble with you,” Gay said as I was leaving. She sounded disappointed.
“Well,” I said, “I didn’t really feel like I had anyone I needed to contact or anything like that.”
“It’s like going to the doctor when there’s nothing wrong with you,” she said with a smile.
Here’s where it gets weird. I had my sitting with Gay on a Wednesday. Regular readers of this newspaper will recall that a new issue comes out every Thursday. The day after I had my sitting with Gay, I received a voice mail from her:
“Hi Brad, this is Vickie Gay … I just picked up this week’s Reno News & Review, which just came out today—I met with you yesterday—and on page 25, there’s a photograph that you took … and it’s the picture that I kept seeing during yesterday’s sitting.”
I had written a story about an artist named James Shay that had included a photograph I had taken of one of his abstract landscape paintings. It would’ve been difficult for anyone to describe, but it was remarkably similar to what Gay had tried to describe to me. It seemed obvious then, and I was amazed that I hadn’t made the connection during the sitting.
This might seem like a mundane, insignificant revelation. It has been difficult for me to convey, in conversations with friends and coworkers, the astounding effect that Gay’s message had on me.
And as a genuine psychic revelation, it seems disappointing, right? Nothing about my future or intimate messages from long dead ancestors, just a regular part of my job. And something to which I hadn’t even given much thought.
I have a specific memory of a moment spent adjusting that photograph for size to fit on the page with my story, and I was sitting at a computer in front of a bulletin board, like the one that Gay had described. It’s exactly the sort of unexamined moment that would appear in a dream. And Gay’s message struck me with that weird sense of recognition we like to call deja vu.
In a way, it makes sense that she would’ve just picked up on a random moment from my work life. After all, I wasn’t there because I felt like I had an unresolved issue with a dead relative or as though my house had been haunted by a mysterious presence. I had my press cap on. I was just a journalist there looking for a story.