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A Book Not for the Faint of Heart

Book Review

John Rael

Skeptical Briefs Volume 23.2, Summer 2013

Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium. By Mark Edward. Feral House, Port Townsend, Washington, 2012. ISBN: 978-1936239276. 242 pp. Softcover, $18.95.

This is not a book for the faint of heart. That is, this is not for the skeptic who has been living in an echo chamber. Your first clue should be the fact that Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium has a foreword written by James Randi, but it includes Uri Geller in the acknowledgments. If you’re looking for a critical exposé on the inner workings of charlatans, let me remind you that you still haven’t read your signed copy of Flim Flam. You will also not find a great amount of animosity toward these peddlers of bullshit. Psychic Blues not only empathizes with psychics but at times even admires them and their artistry. Whatever you think of these vultures, let it never be said that they aren’t creative.

This gentle treatment was especially surprising coming from Mark Edward, but it wasn’t the biggest surprise I received in reading the book. What you may not know, and what may shock the hell out of you, is that Edward is still a practicing psychic “entertainer.” Edward is truly a conflicted medium . . . and person. At times it feels like two different people are writing. There are moments that are apologetic and dark, though often followed by defensive self-aggrandizing.

There are several instances when Edward admits to being called out on his psychic act, but then slyly defends his brand of entertainment. This is understandable in a time and place when his very livelihood might have been on the line, but even now (years later) Edward doesn’t give any credit to the skeptics of his past. “Unfortunately, like most shortsighted people, these brief moments of unexplainable mystery only served to increase Ed’s sense of alienation and aggravation toward the psychics,” (107) and ironically, “he was clearly one of those people who is never happy unless he’s the center of attention” (102).

The greatest tragedy of this book is that Edward seems to miss out on his own lesson, and it’s a really good one: We should listen to each other and talk to each other much more than we do. This is the point that Psychic Blues demonstrates so wonderfully over and over again. We need to connect more often and with more honesty.

“That’s the real magic; there is a serenity and wisdom to quiet listening” (220).

Edward sees this but somehow wants to believe that the listening he did and does as a psychic is the same thing. It is not. It reminds me of some of my friends who are Life Coaches (a.k.a. unemployed). I mean, they’re just being good listeners, giving the best advice they can, and helping to fulfill a very real need of their clients. What’s the problem? The problem is that they are not actually friends or family members of their clients. The clients are giving them money and putting them in a relative position of authority, but they are not a doctor, psychologist, licensed therapist, or even an on-call EMT at a Skrillex concert. They are screwing with people’s lives without the least amount of expertise. That’s not just unethical, it’s downright dangerous.

To Edward this is a form of entertainment, and since you don’t run out halfway through Hamlet to explain “this guy’s not really the prince of Denmark,” why would you tell a sitter that you got her name off her tacky gold necklace? Another analogy that Edward likes to use, courtesy of his friend Docc Hilford, is that “doing a disclaimer is kind of like walking into a really fancy French restaurant, and right before they serve your food the chef comes out and says it ‘came out of a can.’” Of course, I’ve always believed that talking about canned food isn’t the problem, canned food is the problem.

I understand that Edward is an entertainer first and a skeptic second. However, Edward would like to believe that he has “infiltrated” the psychic industry in much the same way that I want to believe I “infiltrate” the world of chiropractic every time I’m hired to play a patient for an unnamed school’s video series. However, the truth is that we both need the money and, more importantly, these jobs offer us at least a minor opportunity to put our most prized talents to work.

Are we ignoring some of our principles to do it? Probably, but sometimes an artist is willing to give up a little bit of decency for the chance to pay a few bills with art. And now, after I’ve lost a chunk of my soul in exchange for a bachelor-degree-justifying paycheck, I can return to my skeptic pals with some brand new insights about the inner workings of the chiropractic industry. This is a bonus. This is not a free pass of self-justification that will allow me to rename myself as the Double Agent of Chiropractic. But Edward had this to say about his work as a psychic: “I pretended I was Patrick McGoohan in an episode of Secret Agent. I was undercover. There are many similarities between what a good magician or mentalist does and what a spy is tasked to do; it’s all down to staging, misdirection, and sight lines” (65).

This is an important work that should not be overlooked. It presents a unique insight that you will not find anywhere else, and it could not have been delivered by anyone but Mark Edward. As James Randi says, “he has the background experience to write such a book from a totally different point of view from anyone else I know.” Yes, this book may also piss you off and even have you face-palming at times. But do you want to learn about psychics? The people, not the tricks? Do you want to understand who psychics are and not just how they operate? Here is your book.

John Rael

John Rael is the producer and lead kicker of the web series SkepticallyPwnd. The rest of his skeptical time is spent investigating paranormal claims with the IIG (Independent Investigations Group) in Los Angeles. John has two BAs in philosophy and theatre arts from the University of Northern Colorado.