More Options

“Psychic medium” Ezio de Angelis

The Good Word

Karen Stollznow

October 28, 2011

Who is Ezio, please?

The 2008 television show The One: the Search for Australia’s Most Gifted Psychic was like an American Idol for psychics, in which five contestants gave readings and underwent a series of psychic obstacle tests to discover the supposed “best of the best.”

The tests included matching luggage to owners, locating the remains of infamous outlaw Ned Kelly (these were recently discovered, but not by psychics1), and finding the body of a missing British tourist—an experiment in bad taste that earned public derision. The results were less accurate than chance. Of the five tests, only two of seven contestants succeeded in passing the first one, to find a “missing” boy lost in the bush, although their success was in searching rather than psychic navigation. Contestants were voted off the show after each test, but the remaining psychics failed all four subsequent tests.

These failures didn’t sway viewers, who were persuaded by the demonstrations of cold reading and convincing editing. Charmaine Wilson was voted the most “gifted” (i.e., the most popular). The psychic who won was the psychic who failed the least.

A new series of the show is currently being recorded.

Ezio de Angelis

Not the One

So, who is Ezio de Angelis? He was “the one”—one of the losing contestants, that is. In his own words:

Ezio de Angelis is one of Australia’s best Psychic Mediums and was recently featured in the country’s top three psychics on Channel 7’s TV series The One, the search for Australia’s most gifted psychic. He is often described as “the kind of medium that spirits love to talk to” and his vibrant live presentations of spirit communication have astounded and comforted audiences across the nation.2

His wife Michelle de Angelis also claims to be a psychic medium and they bill themselves as “Australia’s Leading Husband and Wife Team.”

I attended Communicating with Spirit, a live performance by De Angelis, unaided by editing. This article features a commentary of selected readings from this show.

De Angelis and “Marcus”

There were two people on stage, though we only saw one. There was De Angelis and there was Marcus, his spirit guide. “I’m like John Edward. I connect to spirit guides and am the link between the spirit realms,” De Angelis explained. This is also like Sylvia Browne and her spirit guide Francine. “This is a three-way connection. I am the platform, then there is the spirit realm, and the audience.”

“Spiritual mediumship is the gift of receiving messages from family and friends that have passed over into the spirit world. Some of you are here to connect with loved ones,” he said. Then came a caveat: “If you’re expecting Mom or Dad, don’t be disappointed if Uncle Fred comes through instead.” “Fred” might be his closest guess.

All psychics have a warm-up, to set the mood for the expectant audience. Some meditate or recite a prayer or blessing for “protection” from evil spirits. De Angelis conducted a “unity ritual,” to “open the door to the spirit world.” Everyone was instructed to stand up, greet each other, shake hands, and “bond” with the people at their table and surrounding tables. This seemed like a rip-off of the Holy Kiss following the Lord’s Prayer in the Catholic Church.

“Now the link between the worlds is fortified. Let’s experience something beautiful together,” De Angelis gushed. Everyone clapped enthusiastically, and it suddenly felt like we were in a televangelist game show.

“Who is Tony, please?” he began, to the audience’s silence. So he tried to encourage (or rebuke) us. “C’mon everyone, a fast game is a good game!” A good game for a medium is so fast-moving that one will notice the many errors in the confusing bombardment of names, illnesses, objects, and hobbies. “Who is Tony, please?” He asked again. The “ask a question with an answer” format was like a game of Jeopardy. The medium asks the active and specific “Who is Tony?” rather than the passive and non-specific observation “I see a Tony.” This presupposes the person existed, personifies the “spirit,” and involves the audience.

“Tony could be my Uncle,” replied a middle-aged man nearby. But there’s no tense marker in the reply to reveal if Uncle Tony is living or dead.

“Is Tony in the living world, or the spirit world?” De Angelis asked; but shouldn’t he, or Marcus, know the answer to this question?

“He’s deceased.”

De Angelis didn’t know if Uncle Tony was alive or dead, but now he suddenly knew his interests. “Why am I seeing greyhounds?” His modus operandi was to control the reading by asking questions, rather than providing explicit information (which could be inaccurate). This gave him the chance to reframe an error. The subject frowned a tacit “no,” so De Angelis broadened the guess. “This person liked a gamble. He liked a punt of some kind.” This was a safe guess, as we were in a club that allows gambling.

“Yes. He liked the pokies.” (“Pokies” are slot machines.)

“Yes. He likes it here tonight!” De Angelis joked, revealing his relief. He needed to end on this positive note, so he closed by conveying a “personal” message with spiritual undertones. “He misses you. He watches and protects you from the spirit world. God bless!”

(Em) Pathetic

Some mediums claim to be medical intuitives or empathetic; that is, able to feel the physical pain and symptoms of a subject’s illness, enabling diagnosis, or identification of the cause of death. De Angelis explained, “I pick up on their symptoms because these are their last earthly connections.” During the course of the show, De Angelis suffered from many conditions, including bladder problems and breast cancer. “I experience the pain until someone takes it away from me by telling me I’m right!” This was an appeal for audience sympathy, urging people to make connections. He also used this as an excuse for his mistakes; when one woman revealed that her father suffered from dementia, De Angelis claimed this was why he couldn’t perceive specific details of her father’s life.

De Angelis took a chance on a statistically high cause of death. “I feel tight in the chest area. Who died of a heart attack?”

“My Grandfather had a heart attack once,” answered a man nearby.

“Good,” De Angelis betrayed his relief. However, this was only a partial hit.

“But he died of cirrhosis of the liver.”

This “hit” wasn’t so amazing; we didn’t even get a name, so the message was short. “Your grandfather sends his love. Who is Jack, please?” The subject paused, then found a tenuous association.

“He was a friend of the family.”

“Was”; now De Angelis knows he’s dead. “He’s with your Grandfather. He says ‘G’day!’” The spirits speak Australian English! For the audience, slang seemed to validate the message.

“Who is Peter, please?” Unfortunately, Peter was someone else’s brother at the same table. “We have a “spirit tailgater!” De Angelis remarked, explaining that this is a spirit associated with someone nearby who takes advantage of the connection and interrupts the reading. “Has Peter passed over?” De Angelis needed to ask. Peter was still alive, so De Angelis asked, “Who is Mary, please?”

“I don’t know a Mary,” the subject replied adamantly.

The medium deferred blame to the subject for his miss. “Don’t get psychic amnesia,” De Angelis reproached. “You’ve just forgotten the names of relatives and friends. Take it away with you, ask your family. You’ll see I’m right.” He is “right,” in that people invent connections after the fact, or by the time they realize he’s wrong De Angelis is long gone!

Then he attempted to receive a message from the subject’s grandfather. He stumbled, so he used an ingenious defense. “The problem here is that your grandfather wouldn’t have talked with a psychic like me in his lifetime. He didn’t believe in psychics, and he doesn’t believe in me now!”

Wanted Dead or Alive

“Who is Greg, please?” There was no reply. “I see a Greg, or a Chris, or Craig; and a Richard, or Robert.” At this parade of names, hands shot up across the room. Uttering multiple names gives the impression that the psychic medium is narrowing the reading to address a specific subject; meanwhile he’s afforded additional guesses.

“Robert was my husband. Craig was his colleague,” answered a woman. Now De Angelis knew the subject’s husband was deceased.

“Your husband tried to be a good man,” De Angelis asserted, at which the lady nodded. Who would deny this compliment? It also serves as a hedge, if he were a “bad” man. “He wants you to remember him like that. And is Mom still with us?” De Angelis had to ask.

“Yes, but she has diabetes,” the lady offered.

“Yes, I know,” De Angelis said, despite not knowing if the woman was alive or dead.

Mediums often claim the messages they receive include sights, sounds, and even smells. This frames the spirit world in a way we can understand, as an extension of the natural world. “I can smell a Labrador, a smelly dog,” De Angelis said incongruously. The woman tried to make sense of the message. “Umm...We had a fish that died.” The dog-fish connection was good enough for De Angelis, so he continued.

“Who was Pat, please?”

“I don’t know.”

There’s safety in numbers, and vague advice. “Well, you have lots of spirits around you. You have lots of help and support. Keep close to the people who are close to you,” he said cryptically.

Prematurely, De Angelis attempted a specific hit. “Who was Belle, please?”

“I don’t know,” the lady frowned. De Angelis amazed himself with his quick rationalization, “That’s what Belle said! She said, ‘She doesn’t know me, but I’m a distant relative!’” Then he made the woman feel guilty that she couldn’t remember this fictitious character. “In fact, Belle tells me she’s the one who’s helping you the most!”

Are You Talking to Me?

“Who is Martha, please? And who is John, please?” Martha was my great-grandmother’s name, and is my middle name, while John is my father’s name. I put up my hand as hands went up across the room. In this impersonal context, we perceive familiar names as a personal message directed to us. This is part recognition of a known name, and part egotistical excitement that we’re “chosen” for a reading.

So many responses meant De Angelis had to narrow the reading. “This is what I call ‘Me Toos’,” he explained. “I need to be careful that my message is for the right person. Who is Bill, please? Who is Margaret?” Hands went down, until he had a profound vision. “I see a garden, and a tree.”

“My great aunt Margaret liked to garden,” a lady replied.

De Angelis had a personal message for her. “The baby’s alright. Does this make sense to you?” She shook her head, but he dismissed her denial. “This will fit elsewhere for you. Think about it.”

The audience did make the readings fit, even if they had to completely restructure the message. At one point De Angelis asked, “Who is Jan, please?” No one replied, until a lady offered a supportive interpretation: “I was born in January!” With a willing subject, De Angelis invoked a common social dilemma. “Do you have legal problems?” The lady nodded. “Don’t worry. It will all work out for you,” he told her what she wanted to hear. Then he told her something she didn’t want to hear. “Do you have heart problems?”

“No,” she said nervously.

De Angelis turned his miss into an ominous warning. “Well, take that on board.”

Mixing Spirits

The sprits seemed to cover the room in a proportionate way. De Angelis darted about like a chat show host, to increase his chances for a hit. To divert attention from pauses he continued to bark, “It keeps the energy raised if we’re fast!”

“Who is Eric, please?” There was silence, so he morphed the name. “Who is Rick? He’s Irish by birth. Maybe that’s Mick?” he asked a room full of third- or fourth-generation Australians, many of Irish or British descent. A woman acknowledged “Mick” as an in-law. De Angelis appealed to a stereotype: “Mick liked a laugh, and he liked a beer,” at which the woman nodded.

Mick was a charmer, even from beyond the grave. “He likes your hairdo. Did you do something to your hair?” De Angelis asked the woman, who had obvious blond highlights.

“Yes, I did!” she marvelled, fluffing up her hair.

“He says ‘sorry’, and that you’ll understand. Do you know what that means?”

“I think so,” she replied with uncertainty, but still affording him a hit. This sounds like a private message, but most of us recall (or could easily forget) an occasion that warranted an apology we never received.

The woman had an English accent. “You’re not from here originally,” De Angelis observed, and the lady nodded. “But you try to go home as often as possible.”

“Yes. When I can,” she confirmed.

“Who is Anne?”

“Anne’s a cousin.”

“Anne sends her regards,” De Angelis relayed, as if it was a telephone conversation. “Who is Willy, please?”

“I don’t know,” the lady replied, dumbfounded. De Angelis refused to be wrong, leaving her to connect the dots. “You need to double-check this with your relatives, someone who knows your family tree.” Since he had relegated this to obscurity, he boldly added some detail. “Think Queensland.” Many Australians have a connection to the state of Queensland: vacations, relatives, or friends.

“Did Mum get very ill before she passed?”

“She’s still alive!” the lady cried out in wide-eyed shock.

“No wonder I can’t see her then!” De Angelis quipped to the audience’s laughter.

Trying to appear specific, De Angelis asked, “Who has a jumping castle?” (This is a large inflatable castle for children to bounce on like a trampoline.)

“I do,” a lady responded. “Well, I know someone who does,” she added, demoting the hit.

“This is where the skeptics nail me,” De Angelis whined. “They’d say, ‘It isn’t at her house!’” (This isn’t the only technique for which we can nail him.)

“Are you on a health kick?” he asked the woman, who was wearing gym clothes.

“Yes!” she answered in surprise.

“The spirits suggest you try carrot juice,” De Angelis suggested.

She gave an unconvinced “Umm... okay.”

De Angelis cut short the reading with a “God bless!” and moved on quickly.

“Is your grandmother on the other side, sweetie?” De Angelis asked an elderly lady—a safe bet. Her mother might feasibly be alive, but her mother’s mother wouldn’t be. The lady nodded sadly.

“Tell me, who is Frazer?” She didn’t know, but De Angelis insisted that this was a long-lost relative. “Talk to others for proof of what I say.” De Angelis tried to salvage the reading by saying that the unknown “Frazer” didn’t even know that he had died. “I just had to tell him he’s passed over. You see, the dead are skeptical of me tonight!” They weren’t the only ones.

Finally, a hit?

Then De Angelis stumbled across the hit of the night. “Who is Audrey, please?”

“Me!” squeaked a lady nearby, as the room erupted into so much applause that most people didn’t hear her add, “It’s one of my middle names but I never use it. No one ever calls me that.”

“You have a nice energy about you,” De Angelis said pointlessly. “You also have a sorrow about you.” Indeed, most people in the room were grieving.

“My husband died of cancer,” the lady revealed.

“Don’t be sad. The grief can stop the communication flow from happening,” De Angelis scolded her. “Who is Dennis? Do you remember Dennis?” If she didn’t know, De Angelis could position this as her not “remembering” Dennis.

“No,” she answered.

“You say ‘no.’ Dennis says ‘yes.’ I trust them more than you. Who is Arthur?” She didn’t know Arthur either. “But he’s standing right next to me!’ De Angelis claimed. “It’s disrespectful to them when you say ‘no.’” De Angelis doesn’t have the compassionate bedside (graveside) manner that mediums typically adopt.

He tried for a hit with another common condition. “I’m getting a pain in the breast area. Did anyone have breast cancer?”

“No,” she replied firmly.

De Angelis reinterpreted this with a metaphorical meaning, “The chest pain is love; the spirits’ love for you in their hearts.”

(In) Sensitive

“Are there any suicides in the room?” Sadly, there were many in the room, including two at one table alone. De Angelis scurried over there, where he could increase his chances for a hit. “I see a rope.” This was a good guess; guns are outlawed in Australia.

“Yes, my son” whispered a lady. Now he knew the subject’s gender. Demonstrating apparent sensitivity, but quitting while he was ahead, De Angelis said, “I won’t go into any more detail about his death, for your privacy.” Then he used a classic cold reading technique. “You have mementos of him. I see a silver photo frame.”

“Yes. I have heaps of photos in frames.”

“Was he a surfer, or liked windsurfing? Or someone near him?” De Angelis was asking a woman who lives on Sydney’s northern beaches if she knows someone who enjoys beach activities.

“Yes. He used to surf at Freshwater Beach every morning.”

De Angelis offered a stock comforting message. “He is always with you. He says, ‘Mom, I am being looked after, don’t worry about me. Everyone’s here. God bless.” De Angelis didn’t even need to guess the man’s name.

Losing It

In the last reading of the evening, De Angelis amazed the audience by guessing that one lady’s husband suffered from emphysema. The amazement didn’t last long. “He’s in the spirit world,” he added, but the lady snapped, “He’s not dead yet! Although he’s so sick, he probably should be!” De Angelis was saved by a ripple of nervous laughter.

“I am just about out now. I’m losing it,” De Angelis said weakly. He explained he felt a tingling sensation, indicating that he was losing his connection to the spirit world. This was good timing, as his show was almost at an end. In closing, he attempted to allay any disappointment. “Don’t be sad if your loved one didn’t appear tonight. Some spirits are louder than others. Sometimes, your loved ones will stand aside for those who need it most.” Evidently, the cousins, uncles, great aunts, in-laws, forgotten family friends, and unknown distant relatives needed the inaccurate guesses and impersonal messages the most.

De Angelis left the stage accompanied by applause. In a medium’s encore, he reappeared with a final spirit message. “Colin says ‘hi!’”

The “Romper Room Effect”

One of the main cold reading techniques of mediums is to list numerous names to increase the chance for a perceived hit.3 De Angelis is no exception. During his performance he mentioned these names (a partial list):

Adam, Adams, Tony, Mary, Jack, Peter, Peachy, Greg, Richard, Craig, Chris, Robert, Bell, Matthew, John, Bill, Margaret, Johnny, Eric, Mick, Leo, Leonard, Anne, Willy, Pat, Patrick, Barry, Bill, Frazer, Paul, Shane, Sarah, Audrey, Dennis, Denise, Arthur, Jimmy, Bertie, Anthony, Joan, Dave, George, Eddie, Sam, William, Mike, Harry, Jase, Jay, Jason, Kylie, Karen, Katherine, Elizabeth, Melanie, Michelle, Michael, Dickie, Jan, Wayne, Wendy, Lynne, Max, David, Rocky, and Colin.

As usual, there were nearly more dead people in the room than living! Given his audience of over two hundred, these common names were bound to resonate with many people. There were even some were old-fashioned names—Dorothy, Gwen, Polly, Beatrice—to appeal to the older demographic. As Ian Rowland, author of The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, once said to me, “The hard part would be to be find a name that wouldn’t work.”

I call this listing of names the “Magic Mirror Effect,” after the former children’s television show Romper Room. At the end of each episode the host pretended that she could see the viewers through her “Magic Mirror.” She would recite a list of random names, to give the impression that her farewell is personalized. After a few episodes, even kids realize that the host can’t actually “see” them. This stage act works on adults too, if our vulnerability and grief allows us to believe.

Conclusion

De Angelis uses cold reading to give the illusion that he can talk to the dead. He appeals to generalizations and stereotypes; he searches for clues and makes observations and assumptions about his subjects. De Angelis wriggles out of his misses with manipulative excuses: “He’s shy, I can’t read him”; “The connection is faint. I’ve lost her”; and “I’m right. Think outside of the box.” Alternatively, he ordered the subject to defer judgement, e.g., “Don’t say no. I’m not wrong. You need to think about what I said more.” He told one woman she was seeking employment, but she disagreed, “No. I want to stay at home with the kids.” De Angelis boomed, “You’re not allowed to say no! Don’t make me look bad! When I’m wrong I’m really right, you’ll see...” De Angelis is a mean-spirited medium.

However, there’s no evidence that De Angelis cheated by used hot reading techniques. He simply wasn’t very good! Nevertheless, it is telling that he is considered one of the “best of the best.”

References

1. Australia Identifies Bones of Storied Criminal Ned Kelly. Fox News. Accessed 09/26/2011. Available online at www.foxnews.com/world/2011/09/01/australia-identifies-bones-storied-criminal-ned-kelly/.

2. Ezio de Angelis. Accessed 10/17/2011. Available online at www.eziodeangelis.com.au.

3. Stollznow, Karen. 2011. Running Hot and Cold: “Psychic Medium” Rebecca Rosen. Committee for Skeptical Inquiry web column. Accessed 10/18/2011. Available online at http://www.csicop.org/specialarticles/show/running_hot_and_cold_psychic_medium­_rebecca_rosen/.

Karen Stollznow

Karen Stollznow's photo

Karen Stollznow is an author and skeptical investigator with a doctorate in linguistics and a background in history and anthropology. She is an associate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a director of the San Francisco Bay Area Skeptics. A prolific skeptical writer for many sites and publications, she is the “Good Word” Web columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the “Bad Language” columnist for Skeptic magazine, a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer, and managing editor of CSI’s Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Dr. Stollznow is a host of the Monster Talk podcast and writer for the Skepbitch and Skepchick blogs, as well as for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift. She can be reached via email at kstollznow[at]centerforinquiry.net.