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Sylvia Browne’s Latest: Ghost-Written?

Book Review

Joe Nickell

Volume 29.5, September / October 2005

Self-proclaimed psychic Sylvia Browne—who once failed to foresee her own criminal conviction (in the wake of a gold-mining venture that her strong psychic “feelings” indicated would be successful [SI, Nov./Dec. 2004])—has a new book on the market. As it happens, quite inadvertently on my part, I helped to write it.

Titled Secrets & Mysteries of the World, it is an exception to Browne’s usual practice of collaborating on a book “with” so-and-so. This time the cover simply reads, “Sylvia Browne.” (She added the e following her 1992 felony conviction and divorce from Kenzil Dalzelle Brown.)

In producing this book, she says, she augmented her “intense research” with her “psychic abilities.” (Or alleged abilities, because she continues to refuse to allow her powers to be tested by psychic investigator James Randi, who offers a million dollars to anyone who can genuinely demonstrate extrasensory phenomena.) Browne also claims assistance from “Francine,” the imaginary playmate of her childhood who is now the aging Browne’s “spirit guide” (11).

Browne says she used psychometry (psychic object-reading) at Stonehenge and got “images of people—hundreds of individuals dragging huge monoliths across a plain” (5—6). However, although she consulted a couple of Web sites regarding the Bermuda Triangle, she says it “still remains an enigma to this day” (26, 27). She had better luck with fairies, having seen one—“with wings and all!”—in Ireland (62). However, she can only say she believes in the reality of the chupacabra (a blood-sucking entity), being convinced that “it’s actually a creature from another planet that was put here for research purposes and sometimes runs amok” (90).

Regarding extraterrestrials, Browne mentions that her great-uncle, “who was psychic and worked in the old Spiritualist camps in Florida,” was “rabid about UFOs” but had never seen one. However, her Grandmother Ada once encountered an alien being, “a man dressed in all-silver clothing” and with whom she communicated telepathically. The man was tall, but otherwise looked normal. Francine points out that she and other guides have only seen aliens that are humanlike and so go undetected among us (94—96). (So much for the little big-eyed, big-headed “greys” reported by abductees.)

Browne claims that she herself has seen and talked with a tall extraterrestrial from planet “PX41,” located “beyond the Andromeda galaxy” (99). And why not? She also allegedly sees apparitions, talks to ghosts, has visions, divines past lives, makes psychic medical diagnoses, and solves crimes clairvoyantly. She has even formed her own religion, Novus Spiritus (“New Spirit”). Browne makes others with fantasy-prone personalities seem creatively challenged.

Browne quickly dispenses with spontaneous human combustion. It is a reality, she maintains, citing Francine: “She said that SHC is caused by a buildup of phosphorous, which is highly flammable—that’s what causes the body to implode upon itself and start burning from the inside out” (164).

However, if readers will stop laughing, it is Browne’s ideas on the Shroud of Turin (the reputed burial cloth of Jesus) that interest me most. She shows some admirable skepticism, concluding: “I believe that the Shroud is a representation and not a true relic—but I don’t think that should put a dent in our Christian belief” (199). Citing a fourteenth-century bishop’s report that the image was painted, Browne writes (196):

If the Shroud were in fact painted, it would explain some image flaws that have always raised questions. For example, the hair hangs as for a standing rather than a reclining figure; the physique is unnaturally elongated (like figures in Gothic art); and the “blood” flows are unrealistically neat (instead of matting the hair, for instance, they run in rivulets on the outside of the locks). You see, real blood soaks into cloth and spreads in all directions rather than leaving picturelike images.

I found that passage intriguing since I had written (in the July/August 1998 Skeptical Inquirer, p. 21):

That the Shroud is indeed the work of a medieval artist would explain numerous image flaws. For example, the physique is unnaturally elongated (like figures in Gothic art!). Also, the hair hangs as for a standing rather than recumbent figure. . . . Everywhere the “blood” flows are unrealistically neat. Instead of matting the hair, for instance, they run in rivulets on the outside of the locks. . . . In addition, real blood soaks into cloth and spreads in all directions, rather than leaving picturelike images.

Now, the shared phrasing between Browne’s passage and mine may give new meaning to the term ghost-written. Considering the book’s lack of any reference to my article, one may wonder: Has Francine stooped to plagiarism? What does Browne know about this? Was she in a trance when she wrote it? Are there other Secrets & Mysteries of the World yet to be revealed?

Joe Nickell

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Joe Nickell, Ph.D., is Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSI) and "Investigative Files" Columnist for Skeptical Inquirer. A former stage magician, private investigator, and teacher, he is author of numerous books, including Inquest on the Shroud of Turin (1998), Pen, Ink and Evidence (2003), Unsolved History (2005) and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation (2007). He has appeared in many television documentaries and has been profiled in The New Yorker and on NBC's Today Show. His personal website is at joenickell.com.