Disclaimer: I am an optimistic skeptic. I root for eternal soul survival. Just the same, I require compelling evidence to back up my hopes and beliefs. We live in a world of much propaganda and deception, and sometimes what’s passed off as great proof simply isn’t that great.
Recently I purchased a reading from a famous medium who’d come with some rave reviews from friends. The reading was expensive and the wait was around a year. I anticipated this to be my most evidence-filled reading ever from a medium. I’d always heard that personal experiences were the most compelling for helping someone decide whether or not souls survive death of the body. Taking someone else’s word for it or even reading a library full of books just doesn’t cut it.
As a precaution against tipping my hand too much, I deactivated my Facebook account eight months ahead of the reading. The medium was a Facebook user, and I thought the reading would impress me more if I had nothing visible on that site.
At first blush I found the hour-long reading fairly impressive. I’d recorded it and afterwards went through the material line by line to analyze each statement made. Overall accuracy was in the neighborhood of 70%. Some of the specifics initially impressed me, like getting my mother’s and her mother’s names right.
In a very general way, the medium seemed to capture the essence of my parents and grandparents and several others. I could recognize them in the very brief descriptions given. However, I also noticed that much more obvious details of the person were completely missing. In a previous post, I compared it to having Babe Ruth come through without a single mention of baseball. Did these oversights reflect the medium’s lack of skill, my deceased loved ones not thinking to bring it up, or some nondisclosure agreement or other limitation imposed from the ‘other side’?
I was pleased enough with the reading until I began scrutinizing the details in a more analytical fashion. It seriously unraveled when I considered the topic of hot readings.
Simply put, a hot reading is when a medium somehow conducts research on a client before a session begins or even during a reading. That’s easier to do these days than I ever realized.
When ordering a reading online, people often use PayPal or a credit card, and in so doing disclose their full name. Same if you pay by check. If you gave your number for a phone reading, someone can deduce your general location (assuming you did not take an old cell number to a new location.)
Try it out yourself. Search on your full name. (To hurry things along, add your state.) See what comes up. Click on some of the links offered.
You don’t need to join a website or purchase a full identity report to discover a partial list of a person’s relatives. Whitepages.com is one site that lists a few names up front and in view. The exact relationship won’t be spelled out, but it’s a starting point. A medium can sound impressive just by reciting the name and having the sitter fill in the blank.
Some names turn out to be those of deceased people. Searching on those names could lead to an obituary or two. Obituaries sometimes contain general personality traits and specific details that would sound compelling if fed back during an emotionally charged reading. A favorite kind of evidence mediums cite is someone’s cause of death. That detail is often included in obituaries. Another site could be ancestry.com primarily used by people doing family history research. Still another would be findagrave.com where other details could pop out.
While I had taken pains to de-activate my Facebook account, I realized how much information was still online. If a medium or an accomplice searched on my mother or father’s name, obituaries were online from which names of relatives were easy pickings. During the reading, hearing my mother’s name spoken softened me up to accepting broad, general statements as accurate. Today I would not be so impressed.
Of course, that a medium (or their assistants) could do some online fact-finding doesn’t mean that they do or would. For me it means not to accept as great evidence what I could easily find about myself or my family online.
A sitter (the person getting a reading) can be much more susceptible to fraud if they have active social media accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. If you show up anywhere in social media, this can be used against you.
I used to locate, follow, or befriend mediums on social media. I did this wanting to read more about their experiences and perceptions, and I was perhaps naively supportive of their skills and talents. Those mediums were potentially aware of anything I’d written, commented on, photographed, etc. They could have also searched out likely relatives via social media posts to gain more insight.
Sting operations of mediums doing apparent hot readings have demonstrated how vulnerable people with social media accounts make themselves. Long-forgotten posts can surface packaged as if messages from the ‘dead,’ particularly if grief makes a sitter more receptive to the suggestion that their loved one is communicating.
People including mediums often say that researching clients on social media is absurd because it would be so time-consuming. Many show indignation at the suggestion that they may cheat. Admittedly this is picky, but a medium who says “I don’t research clients” is not saying that hired help isn’t doing that work. This objection also exaggerates how much time is needed in this computer age. If you know your data resources well, you can find out plenty in ten minutes of search time, not bad for a $500+ reading. (Fair disclosure: I have not purchased anyone’s complete online report to see how much detail they provide. It would be an inexpensive tool compared to the profit margin of a reading.)
SPIRITUALITY AS RELIGION
To learn more about what mediums do, I’d previously joined several online “afterlife” groups. I noticed how certain mediums were held up like rock stars and sports idols, treated with a religious-like awe. It also became apparent that peer pressure was in play, similar to how opinion police in religions enforce those brand’s dogmas.
In some groups, being skeptical, critical, or even too inquisitive is regarded more as being hostile than trying to discern the truth. It was like religions or cults where second-guessing the authorities is not tolerated. Believe or shut up and leave. It turned me off, especially when people spread what I saw as misinformation. I’m equally turned off by closed-minded skeptics whose rhetoric is insulting, often characterizing all grieving people as gullible victims.
When mediums are held up as celebrities, questioning them butts up against peer pressure not to question them. Do not arouse the wrath of the Great and Powerful Oz! So if a celebrity medium with an enthusiastic following doesn’t deliver a convincing reading, what then? My mediocre reading from a much-praised and adored medium was disappointing, possibly even criminal. No sympathy came from believers who did not want their hero challenged, which meant that I was left on my own to process the experience.
Some popular movies have explored this theme. Notable was Steve Martin’s Leap of Faith (1992) about a charismatic con man pretending to be a faith healer. Another favorite of mine was Kumaré, a 2012 documentary about a guy who pretended to be a guru. People who’ve paid big money for a reading from a celebrity medium will likely not be motivated to analyze that reading for failure or fraud if enough of it made sense or felt good.
EVIDENCE OF HOT READING
My suspicions were aroused a week after the reading when I discovered that the medium I’d chosen had a reputation for hot reading. First I searched on my own name as described above. (By the way, I also discovered that a chunk of “facts” about me were incorrect.)
I then re-analyzed the reading from information I could find about myself in simple web searches. If I removed the specific name hits that had most impressed me, the reading became even more mediocre. (It’s also worth noting that the medium got more first names wrong or unrecognizable to me than right. That was also suspicious.)
That said, the medium did accurately describe my relatives in general personality terms. Generalities might be something like “kind” or “quiet.” More specific, spot-on details for each relative would have been far more convincing. However, I was still impressed that generalities for seven people made sense. I can’t explain how those ideas landed in the medium’s consciousness.
When the medium began the reading, I did not understand the first two items presented. In the second item the medium asked about a female whose name rang no bells. However, the same name showed up on the list for the other person in my state—no relation—with whom I share a first and last name. Suspicious.
Another name the medium offered was the first name that appears on a list of people related to me I found online. The medium asked who [that name] was. I identified her as my ex-wife. Considering that we were divorced 30 years ago, long before my parents died, this seems unlikely as heaven-sent evidence. But it does show up prominently in the online listing that a hot reader could have used. (My parents would almost certainly have referred to a more recent partner whom they loved.)
All four people who had recommended this medium as off-the-charts outstanding were grieving parents who had active Facebook accounts. In their posts they would often refer to their children with photos and memories. The medium was an avid Facebook user.
While this doesn’t conclusively prove that anything criminal or deceitful took place, growing evidence does sound a cautionary alarm for me about mediums. The most specific and initially impressive details I got from the medium were those that could have been found online. The rest of the reading consisted of banal details and little emotion-stirring or cathartic content. It would definitely not make a Netflix special.
EVIDENCE FROM MEDIUMS
If hot reading is a possibility, it means that a new level of evidence should be required for mediums to produce. Names of family members along with birth/death dates and causes of death are no longer valid evidence if that information can easily be found online. Even if you know that you did not post that information, others (including bots) could have posted it to online sites without your knowledge or consent.
I left my most recent reading feeling that the odds were even that the reading was hot. Since it left more questions than gave answers, it wasn’t worth the time, money, and emotions spent on it when I was so undecided about its authenticity.
In a more analytical or academic sense, while people commonly assume that mediums talk to ‘dead’ people, it’s worthwhile looking for alternative explanations of what’s going on. Maybe the medium is using psychic talent or has some ESP-google skill going on and isn’t actually “talking” to my relatives.
Skeptics often cite hot reading cases to demonstrate that mediums simply cannot be trusted. That’s like saying that all lawyers, doctors, and politicians are crooks because some have been proven to be. Believers often cite rants against hot reading as unfair attacks on their favorite celebrity mediums. No one wants to see their hero defamed.
For myself, I’ve become too suspicious of much “woo-woo” marketing. My cynicism has increased. I am stingier giving my benefits of doubt. It’s gotten harder to win my trust. I wonder how many other people feel this way. I have generally found the “afterlife research” community loathe to call out bad apples, and I can only speculate why.
Meanwhile, actual hot readings impugn by association the reputations of honest mediums. I would love to see more industry standards and practices established and more discussion of fraud from legitimate research organizations.
An ultimate irony: If a supposed medium is deliberately committing fraud via hot reading, it logically suggests that they are the ultimate skeptics who believe that there will be no future judgment on them for hurting and cheating people. They may teach karma in their gatherings but they apparently do not believe it will come back to bite them.
In retrospect, the reading which took place in February, 2020 made no mention of Covid-19. The medium discussed travel plans and career successes as if my future was rosy. So what’s the takeaway of not mentioning a pandemic that was already perceived privately by President Trump (according to Bob Woodward) as world-changing and would highly impact my personal life? Was it the medium’s lack of ability or some nondisclosure agreement?
As my doubts increased, I checked in with two “experts” who had personal dealings with the medium. It was far too early then to mention Covid-19, but they both endorsed the medium as the proverbial real deal who they insisted didn’t do hot reading. This left me having to decide on my own what happened with me. Had my imagination turned coincidences into evidence of hot reading? Or were these experts hot reading deniers because they needed to have this medium’s reputation be unsullied?
CHOOSING A MEDIUM
My need for purchasing additional readings from mediums is low right now. I’ve had enough exposure not to regard their offerings as impressive evidence, especially if hot reading is possible. It was worth the experience but if I was looking to be comforted or to have a major revelation about soul survival, this pricy medium did not provide it.
It may be next to impossible to insure yourself against hot readings unless you were part of a scientific study under controlled “blind” laboratory conditions. Most readings aren’t like that. I would make a few recommendations, however.
I would avoid expensive readings with mediums with long wait lists. Being high priced and popularity doesn’t automatically mean they’re that good. It could mean that they have a good marketing team (that you’ll ultimately pay for in the high fee.)
I would avoid mediums who actively send marketing emails announcing cruises, retreats, and use phrases like “don’t miss out” on any promotional piece. I’m not opposed to mediums making an honest living, but I become suspicious when they use normal fear-based, scarcity-based advertising.
I would avoid mediums who do show business events or who appear on radio or TV frequently. Mediums in this league justify their high prices this way and often shine on the narcissistic side.
I would avoid websites set up to recommend mediums. These are sometimes plain and simple advertising sites where mediums pay a fee to be listed and are not always vetted as the site implies. Follow the money. Denying a medium access to advertising means losing money.
I would avoid mediums who habitually build clients’ egos. They may talk about your awesome aura or all the spirit guides and/or family crowding around to greet you. When a medium tells you how great or important you are, this is feel-good flattery, not evidence.
While it’s good advice to ask others for recommendations of mediums they like, be discerning. Some people may get a reading and not wisely discern the quality of the evidence they received.
I would not patronize any medium who does not allow voice recording. I am a horrible note-taker, especially when trying to process the incoming data at the same time. Further, not allowing recording amplifies my distrust.
Especially if money is tight, I would seriously ponder what you wish to get from your reading. Be aware that it may or may not happen the way you hope. You might even get more benefit from writing a dialogue between you and the person you hope to contact. It may feel like writing fiction, but you may be surprised at how healing and comforting it can be. And it’s free.
That all said, research does seem to indicate that mediums perform best under friendly circumstances. Attempts to outsmart or trick a medium probably won’t lead to any great ah-ha moments. Choose a medium with care and hope for satisfying results.
If you’re thinking about purchasing a reading, I also recommend checking out the material found at windbridge.org. Windbridge Research Center has good advice on choosing mediums.
Plenty of circumstantial evidence suggests that I got a hot read. I would have preferred the joy of amazing evidence rather than the vague feeling that I was cheated. Now I am even more suspicious of the “medium industrial complex” that controls the narrative of communicating with ‘spirit,’ especially in the United States. I still like to believe in mediums, but I am becoming a tougher sell and a more vocal critic.
You may be wondering why I do not identify the medium. I don’t want to turn this into that kind of story. I want it to be more about methods than personal identities, and as I mentioned, my evidence is circumstantial (much of which I did not include.)
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