Retired Minister Explores Realm Of Visions, Voices

Admits He Walks Fine Line Between Church, Occult

April 23, 1991|By Angela Gambill | Angela Gambill,Staff writer

The titles on the blackboard read like supermarket tabloid headlines: "Dream Telepathy," "ESP in Life and Lab," "Mental Radio." All that's missing is an Elvis sighting.

But the Rev. Theodore Swager, a retired minister lecturing on parapsychology at the Crofton library forthe next six weeks, doesn't smile when he speaks of visions and voices.

"No one has the authority to tell us what we have experienced is not reality," Swager told about 40 people who attended one of his recent lectures.

Certainly he isn't going to make such judgments, said Swager. A former medium, Swager seeks to help people understand anddeal with psychic phenomena.

The 60-year-old admits he's walking a fine line, balanced between the occultists and astrologers and New Age adherents on one hand, and on the other, a church community that generally disapproves of such things.

Swager, who left the ministry and founded the Spiritual Research and Development Institute last year, finds himself somewhere in the middle.

Swager says that as a Christian he opposes as unbiblical such experiences as channeling -- serving as a medium for a spirit.

And he thinks people are too gullible.

But as one who says he's foretold the future and seen visions of dead people, Swager believes it's wrong to simply condemn thosewho experience such phenomena.

He studied with Arthur Ford, a prominent medium, at the same time he was studying for the ministry, Swager says.

"As a medium, I had ambassadors, TV personalities and people from the Pentagon come for sittings to learn about the future," he relates.

He was so successful that his schedule was booked two years in advance, Swager says.

But he began to find that it was easy to become obsessive about the supernatural.

Says his wife Lois,"It's subtle. More and more is taken from you without you realizing it. It happens so slowly you don't know it. Our family was almost destroyed."

Still, Swager -- who holds a master's degree from Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, and a bachelor's degree in education from Indiana University in Pennsylvania -- has seen too much to believe it's all a fraud.

"These things are neutral in themselves,but inherent within every individual," he says.

He believes a person ought not seek out psychic experiences, but he also thinks dreamsand visions can be helpful.

"The benefits outweigh the dangers," Swager says, and people need help putting them in perspective.

With this goal, he speaks at universities and goes on talk shows and holds lectures series.

During one of the Crofton lectures, Swager tossed around psychiatric terms, drew pictures to represent the ego andthe unconscious, and warned that neglecting the energy captured in our subconscious can cause trouble.

"Has anyone ever seen a vision?" he queried, and hands popped up all over the group. "Anyone clairvoyant?" More hands.

"Dreamed a dream so vivid it seemed real?" Swager asked a mix of couples, middle-aged women and single men.

"How can you have a dream that tells you what is going to occur within thenext week or month? How can someone tell you something that happenedin your life 20 years ago?

"How can you hear someone speaking when nobody's there?"

Swager, who worked as a consultant in Paranormal Phenomena and Altered States of Consciousness for the Lakeside Psychiatric Hospital in Memphis, Tenn., says such experiences don't automatically mean a person is mentally unstable.

He sketched a few examples from history, such as Mary Sinclair, the wife of novelist UptonSinclair. Mrs. Sinclair reportedly had the ability to draw a pictureher husband was holding in another room without seeing what he held.

"People say they see something when they may mean they sense it,"Swager said. "This is clairsentience. Clairaudience, which is similar, means clearly hearing a voice."

Hearing voices also could indicate a psychological problem, Swager admitted. He occasionally recommends that people he meets seek professional psychiatric help.

"But that doesn't mean that's always the explanation. (Psychotic murderer Charles) Manson heard voices, but so did Joan of Arc."

Swager warned his listeners to pay attention if they have three unusual experiences in a row. "Something is trying to get through to you," he said.

He believes people seek psychic experiences because church is boring and they hunger after reality.

"If you go to church, and it's soboring you want to sleep, where do you find reality in your religion?"

He also believes some people respond to psychic phenomena because they don't want to respond to God, Swager says.

To evaluate psychic experiences, Swager suggests a person should ask whether the experience brings meaning to their life, is helpful to others and is in accord with biblical teaching.

"People can lose track of how to stay in reality. They come under psychic bondage," he warns.

But he quickly adds the other side of his supernatural coin: "I think psychic phenomena can occur because there is no limit on time and space. We're in the past, present and future all at once."

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