The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher

By Martin Gardner | Go to book overview

28 Look, Shirl, No Hands!

"Rain in the Northeast, clear skies to the South, while large portions of the Midwest continue to be blanketed by Shirley MacLaine's aura."

Caption of a New Yorker cartoon ( March 30, 1987) showing a television weather broadcast.

In the halcyon days of spiritualism, a psychic whose vocal cords were seized by a discarnate, or in whose presence the dead were able to speak without using a live mouth--often by talking through a floating trumpet--was called a "direct-voice" medium. In the United States the most gifted direct-voicer was George Valiantine, of Williamsport, Pennsylvania. His entities had more than a hundred different accents and spoke in half a dozen languages. One of his controls was Confucius. Valiantine's followers were typically undismayed whenever he was caught in fraud. After a luminous trumpet was found warm on the side and moist at the mouthpiece, doubters were told that spirits couldn't use it without materializing warm hands and wet lips. A thumb print of Conan Doyle, produced in a séance, proved to be a print of Valiantine's big toe.

Today's direct-voice mediums, now called "trance channelers," no longer float trumpets or materialize fingerprints of the dead. Some even speak in their own voices without troubling to acquire strange accents or personality changes. For decades the occult shelves of bookstores have been crammed with volumes supposedly dictated through channelers, notably the popular Seth books of the late Jane Roberts, of Elmira, New York. Roberts liked to fling her thick glasses on the table when Seth, in a deep, booming voice, took over her body. Tam Mossman, formerly her editor at Prentice-Hall, edits a quarterly journal called Metapsychology: The Journal of Discarnate Intelligence, out of Charlottesville, Virginia. (Another channeling journal, Spirit Speaks, is edited in Los Angeles by Mollie Nickell.)

Among those who are into New Age trends, searching for occult

____________________
This review, in a slightly cut version, originally appeared in the New York Review of Books, April 9, 1987, and is reprinted with permission.

-188-

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The New Age: Notes of a Fringe Watcher
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page 3
  • Contents 7
  • Preface 9
  • Part 1 11
  • 1 - Project Alpha 13
  • 2 - Margaret Mead 19
  • 3 - Magicians in the PSI Lab 25
  • 4 - Shirley MacLaine 32
  • 5 - Freud, Fliess, and Emma's Nose 38
  • 6 - Koestler Money Down the Psi Drain? 44
  • 7 - Targ: From Puthoff to Blue 50
  • 8 - The Relevance of Belief Systems 57
  • 9 - Welcome to the Debunking Club 65
  • 10 - The Great Stone Face 72
  • 11 - From Phillips to Morris 79
  • 12 - George McCready Price 93
  • 13 - Wonders of Science 99
  • 14 - Tommy Gold 103
  • 15 - Rupert Sheldrake 109
  • 16 - The Anomalies of Chip Arp 115
  • 17 - Thoughts on Superstrings 119
  • 18 - The Third Eye 123
  • 19 - Irving Kristol and the Facts of Life 129
  • Part 2 135
  • 20 - The Great SRI Die Mystery 137
  • 21 - Perpetual Motion 145
  • 22 - Psychic Surgery 167
  • 23 - 666 and All That 170
  • 24 - D. D. Home-Sweet-Home 175
  • 25 - PK (Psycho-Krap) 179
  • 26 - Chicanery in Science 182
  • 27 - Fools' Paradigms 184
  • 28 - Look, Shirl, No Hands! 188
  • 29 - The Channeling Mania 202
  • 30 - Who Was Ray Palmer? 209
  • 31 - Prime-Time Preachers 223
  • 32 - L. Ron Hubbard 246
  • 33 - Psychic Astronomy 252
  • Name Index 265
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