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James Van Praagh: Spirits in a material world
Special to the Online Edition
by Andrew Davis

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In his new book, Ghosts Among Us, famed medium James Van Praagh takes the reader on a journey that answers many questions about the spirit world. Van Praagh—who helped create TV's The Ghost Whisperer—talked with Windy City Times about 'going into the light,' death and bodybuilding ghosts.

Windy City Times: We all know about ghosts, but could you give us the official definitions of 'ghost' and 'medium'?

James Van Praagh: Well, let me tell you the reason I wrote the book Ghosts Among Us. I wrote it because I co-created The Ghost Whisperer, and I saw that what I know and what they put on television were two different things. They made it very Hollywood, so I thought it was my responsibility as a teacher to make sure what ghosts are and what they're like.

The hard thing about this book was that people perceive ghosts as people who haunt places. I'm a medium—someone who contacts the spirit world, and I've been able to do that since I was a child; I see them, hear them [ and ] feel them. It's like that movie, The Sixth Sense. My ability is that I can see those who have crossed over into the light.

When you die, there's a light for you, but you don't have to go into that light; you can stay behind if you have unresolved issues or unfinished business, or are afraid to go into the light. Some gay people, for example, don't want to go into the light because they had judgmental parents or grandparents, and they're afraid to meet up with them again. Some are afraid that God will judge their lifestyle and that they'll go to hell.

WCT: There are people who say, 'Only God can judge me,' and when they're about to cross over, they think, 'Uh-oh.'

JVP: That's right—especially if they have a religious background or are thinking of [ encountering ] someone who's religious.

People's perceptions of ghosts are of those who are earthbound and haunting, so the hard part of the book was differentiating between a 'ghost' and a 'spirit.' So I said that we're all ghosts; ghosts and spirits are interchangeable. We're spiritual beings having physical experiences. So when that spirit leaves the physical body, you have a choice to go into the light or to stay around the Earth—that's called a 'ghost.' Ghosts are spirits who hang around and can attach themselves to living people, can attach themselves to places, can siphon people's energy or can even be nosy and check things out. A medium is open to spirits.

The show is based on Mary Ann Winkowski, a woman I met on a daytime show I did called Beyond. On Beyond, I said that I wanted to do a segment on the paranormal, and [ spotlight ] different types of people with different types of gifts. My producers found a lady who they said was a 'ghostbuster'—someone who can communicate with earthbound spirits, and she can communicate over the phone. She will describe, over the phone, where you're sitting and tell you where ghosts are.

I came back to my house from Ghost Whisperer. Things were going crazy, like my garage door kept going up and down—and I wondered what was going on, so I called Mary Ann. She said to go to my garage, and she described it [ perfectly ] —including the gym in it—and said, 'There's a 42-year-old guy who died in northern California. He was a marine and was also a bodybuilder. He had two kids and had intestinal problems; he went to the set of The Ghost Whisperer because he knew who you were and followed you home.' So she came here and [ directed ] him into the light, because she has to do that in person. It's interesting: She can see the earthbound ghosts and then, once they go into the light, I can see them.

WCT: I'm sure you run into your share of skeptics.

JVP: Sure; even I'm a skeptic. I taped the Dr. Phil show the other day [ which ran recently ] and a spirit told me the first ones he was going to say: [ Imitates Dr. Phil ] 'Well, you know I'm a skeptic.' I said, 'You, too?' He didn't know what to do with that one.

I'm skeptical to a point. I'm very aware that it all exists; you can't negate hundreds of thousands of spirits. But you have to be an open-minded skeptic; being closed-minded is being a cynic, and you're prejudging something.

WCT: What are you skeptical about?

JVP: I'm skeptical when people say they can do certain things; they have to prove it to me. I believe that some people can do it, but not everyone can. And I have such a high level of integrity and responsibility, because you have people's lives in your hands. One thing that has concerned me over the years [ is the ] development of building sensitivity. It's a lot of responsibility, having people's lives in your hands.

WCT: Something that made me apprehensive is thinking that ghosts could be everywhere—in the shower …

JVP: [ Laughs ] Damn right. While you're having sex, on the toilet …

WCT: I'm not doing anything ever again.

JVP: [ Laughs ] It's the number-one question from people at my conferences. If I have to loosen people up, I ask, 'How many people worry about the ghosts in the shower this morning?' They can see you, but there's so much more going on in their world that they don't pay attention about that.

WCT: If I were a spirit, I'd consider hanging out around Matthew McConaughey's shower.

JVP: [ Laughs ] I understand that—but, at the same time, when you're on that level of consciousness you know that [ doing that ] might not be right. You have to respect their privacy.

From what I've heard, they do respect privacy. But Mary Ann and I once went to [ The Ghost Whisperer star ] Jennifer Love Hewitt's house, and she had a ghost who was definitely a perv. He used to watch her all the time.

WCT: Your book almost makes death sound appealing: no pain, being guided by deceased loved ones, etc. Do you worry that you make death sound almost too appealing, with people saying, 'Well, if death is like that … '?

JVP: No; I just don't want them to be afraid of death. People are afraid of the unknown. Knowledge is definitely power, and if they're aware of what death is about, they know what to look forward to.

WCT: On a different note, you've worked with HIV/AIDS organizations.

JVP: Yes. I was one of the starters of APLA [ AIDS Project Los Angeles ] , along with [ people such as ] Matt Redman. I was in the original volunteer groups, and it started about 20 years ago.

James Van Praagh will be on Transitions Bookplace, 1000 W. North, Thurs., May 29, at 7 p.m.; see . He will also be at the Celebrate Your Life conference, being held Fri.-Sun., May 30-June 1, at the Westin Lombard Yorktown Center ( see ) ; and at Borders, 1500 16th St., Oak Brook, on Fri., May 30, at 7:30 p.m.

See for more information.

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