A man with connections Medium: James Van Praagh tells a reporter about his gift for talking with the dead.

March 14, 1998|By Chris Kaltenbach | Chris Kaltenbach,SUN STAFF

For James Van Praagh, rising to the top of the best-seller list was simply a matter of talking to some friends.

Of course, it wouldn't have worked if his friends had been alive.

Using a talent that he says became apparent after the glowing hand of God appeared to him as an 8-year-old, Van Praagh, 39, has spent the better part of his adult life as a conduit to the dead -- the real-life equivalent of the Whoopi Goldberg character in "Ghost." His book about those conversations, "Talking to Heaven" (Dutton, $22.95), is No. 1 on the New York Times best-seller list.

This weekend, he is bringing his message to Baltimore; at 10 tomorrow morning, he'll conduct a 2 1/2 -hour workshop at the Whole Life Expo, the three-day New Age extravaganza that opened yesterday at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Sit with him for a "reading," says the Los Angeles-based medium, meditate with him, and before long friends and relatives who have died will start talking to him about you. They'll even answer your questions, providing details only you could possibly know.

"The other day in New York," Van Praagh said yesterday, "I did a reading for this couple, and I said to these people, 'Your daughter's here, and she's showing me a pink ribbon, and she's standing behind you. And she loves the wallpaper.' I asked, 'Did she pick out the wallpaper [at home]?' and they said yes. And then she showed me little bunny rabbits, and they said that was on the wallpaper, little rabbits were on the wallpaper. Now that's so detail-specific and so incredible That's the evidential details that I'm known for. That's what sets me aside from most mediums."

Van Praagh's invariably upbeat messages-from-beyond -- that there is life after death and that it is beautiful -- have earned him a devoted following: He had a three-year waiting list for private readings when he stopped giving them. "Talking to Heaven" explains his conviction that we are all surrounded by spirits who exist only to help us, who in fact are responsible for those lucky breaks and happy coincidences that make life worth living.

The book had an initial printing of only 6,000 copies and hardly any promotion. But armed with assurances from the spirit world that "Talking to Heaven" would be a success, Van Praagh says, he hit the promotion trail himself. The result can be seen on the Times list for nine weeks.

In advance of his workshop tomorrow, The Sun asked Von Praagh a few questions:

Judging by sales of your book and the number of people who come to hear you, there are a lot of people out there who feel a real need to talk to the dead.

They want to be reassured that there is life after death. Everyone wants reassurance that people just don't die, and that these love bonds created on the Earth in a lifetime just don't cease to exist.

How many people are you expecting this weekend?

About 1,200; it's the largest crowd I've ever worked with. I'm going to talk about my background, so people will know who the heck I am. Then I will go into the type of work that I do, the medium-ship. I will do questions and answers. And then I'm going to do some little exercises, like the psychic exercises about learning how to use the energy around themselves. Then I'll do some meditation with them. And then I'm going to start showing them a demonstration of communication with the other side.

Will you be taking people from the audience?


You talk in your book about mass readings, where you stand in front of a crowd and let whichever spirit is going to come to you first get to you

I'm not sure that is going to work. In such a large crowd, it's so hard to home in. Usually I wait for a spirit, my guide, to give me information about someone, like "Your garage door broke today, and you couldn't fix it because you had the wrong tools," something that links me to an individual. But there's going to be so many people out there

You say in your book that your talent, while maybe better honed than others, is not unique. Why is it that not everyone can hear what the spirits want to say to them?

Everyone is psychic to some degree. It's really learning to tune into that energy inside yourself, and learning to trust. Everyone is psychic, but not everyone is mediumistic.

What is the difference?

A psychic tunes into the energy around a person, around yourself. He feels things around that person, or feels intuitively what's going to happen around that person.

A medium goes into a higher level of energy, a higher frequency of energy, where the spirit people live. Medium means in between the spirit world and the physical world. I think mediums are born, and they can develop their medium-ship talents.

How did you discover this within yourself? You talk in your book about seeing the glowing hand of God before you. Why did he choose you?

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