When Chris Moon turns on his radio, he’s not listening to music. Rather, the self-described paranormal investigator says his “ghost box,” which he first believed was a broken radio, allows him to talk to dead people. He has quite a lineup of dead people to chat with—including, he claims, John Lennon and Thomas Edison. And for only $150 he will let you have your own twenty-minute phone call with the “other side.”
Moon’s “ghost box” shtick may be unique, but it is simply a new twist on a claim that has been around for several millennia: that we can talk to the dead with the help of a go-between, a medium, who seeks to facilitate conversation between his clients and the deceased people they want to talk to. Most mediums may not have a phone line to the beyond, but they do claim to use other occult practices, usually one of the various forms of divination, to contact the dead.
The Church forbids contact with the dead
The popularity of mediums and divinization in our culture shows how strong the human desire to contact the dead can be: to communicate with deceased loved ones, to discover hidden information, or just to feed our curiosity. But whatever the motivation for those who seek out mediums, and whatever the motivation for mediums in pursuing their work, the Church forbids attempting to contact the dead through occult practices:
[The] phenomena of clairvoyance, and recourse to mediums . . . conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers. They contradict the honor, respect, and loving fear that we owe to God alone (CCC 2116).
The Church’s teaching on mediums goes back to ancient prohibitions against contact with the dead that are found in Scripture. In the Old Testament, King Saul originally enforced God’s prohibition of mediums (Lev. 19:31, 1 Sam. 28:3), but after the prophet Samuel’s death and in the face of a coming battle with the Philistines, Saul turned to a medium for the answers he was not receiving through prayer to God:
Saul said to his servants, “Seek out for me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her.” And his servants said to him, “Behold, there is a medium at Endor.” So Saul disguised himself and put on other garments, and went, he and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And [Saul] said, “Divine for me by a spirit, and bring up for me whomever I shall name to you” (1 Sam. 28:7-8).
With Saul’s promise that no harm would come to her for doing so, the medium agreed to summon Samuel for Saul. As punishment for Saul's sin, Samuel then prophesied that he and his sons would be killed in battle with the Philistines (1 Sam. 28:18-19).
It was not Saul’s desire to speak with Samuel that was his sin but the forbidden means by which he did so. It would have been fine for Saul to have prayed to Samuel, asking for his intercession—in much the same way that Catholics pray to saints and ask their intercession but do not seek to bring them back from the dead. Instead Saul had a medium “conjure” Samuel.
Some claim that since God forbids recourse to mediums, the spirit Saul spoke with must have been not Samuel, but some other spirit, such as a fallen angel. The biblical text, though, gives us no reason to think that the person with whom Saul spoke was not Samuel. The spirit summoned by the medium identifies himself as Samuel, and there is no indication that this spirit was lying. Assuming that the spirit was Samuel, this Scripture passage suggests that although such contact through mediums is forbidden, God allows it to occur on occasion in order to bring good out of evil. In this case, the good would be to allow Samuel to warn Saul of his fate, which would be an opportunity for Saul to repent of his sin.
The dangers of mediums
Mediums act in much the same way in our own day. They claim to facilitate communication between the living and the dead, usually gearing their services to those who are grieving the loss of loved ones. Some claim they can also help “restless spirits” complete their journey to “the other side.” Many times those seeking contact with the dead are suffering and thus are vulnerable to promises that they can still talk to their deceased loved ones. And, perhaps, some of the mediums may rationalize their activities by believing they are offering a valuable “service” in facilitating such “conversations” with the dead.
But most mediums are clever frauds, skilled in observational techniques that allow them to give the appearance of receiving secret information from spirits. Once a medium has gained the trust of a client, the client is vulnerable to being charged large sums of money for the “service” of receiving messages from his loved one. There is also the possibility that unscrupulous mediums may access their clients’ personal information, through credit card information and public records, to tailor their “messages” for clients—which, in turn, inspires client confidence in the medium’s “powers” and a greater desire for the medium’s “services.”
Occasionally, mediums will admit that what they are doing can be dangerous. Chris Moon, for example, told an interviewer that he’s been possessed by demons four times, and that “there are ways to protect yourself . . . but with Ouija boards and wide-open spirit communications [distinguished, presumably, from his “ghost box” device], it’s only demonic entities you’re dealing with. Human spirits have no interest in fooling people.”
If you or a loved one is grieving and considering seeking out a medium, I recommend seeking help from a priest or spiritual director instead. You may also find healing through grief counseling offered by qualified mental health professionals. Your local Catholic Charities may be able to provide a referral to specialists in your area, many of whom work on a sliding scale based on ability to pay and do not take advantage of their clients’ grief and vulnerability.
The hope of heaven
Temptations often are based on legitimate desires of the human heart. In the case of mediums, the desire for connection with the deceased is a valid human yearning. We want to say to our loved ones what was left unsaid when they were alive. We want to know that they are at peace, and that they love us, no matter the obstacles that separate us. Mediums prey on those needs by offering to give us direct access to our loved ones beyond the grave.
As Catholics, though, our hope should not be placed in mediums but in the resurrection of Christ, which is the basis for our own hope that we will meet our loved ones again in heaven and that “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
Michelle Arnold's booklet, 20 Answers: Witchcraft and the Occult, is available from the Catholic Answers shop.