Articles and Outlines - Cults / Occult - James Van Praagh

James Van Praagh

Author: Russ Wise
Date: 6/12/2003 5:31:24 PM

Talking to Heaven and Reaching Beyond Credulity


We are in a time of renewed spiritualism. A growing number of individuals in our society are attempting to make spiritual contact with those beyond the veil of death. James Van Praagh is a medium and psychic who has been on the front lines in offering solace to those seeking communication with their departed loved ones. He has appeared in numerous media venues since he came on the scene in 1997 when his first book was published. He has had appearances on television talk or news shows such as Oprah, Dateline NBC, 20/20, Good Morning America, and Charles Grodin’s talk show on CNBC. You may have seen him on TV conducting a “spirit reading” (or seance) with members of the studio audience. He also does spirit readings with the listening audience when he is interviewed on radio talk shows such as Larry King Live and others. His dress, language, and manner all tend to belie his decidedly unusual occupation, and his young professional appearance disarms his subjects. This approach is very effective because it allows him to capture the attention and interest of those who would normally be skeptical or unreceptive.


His first book, Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death, came out in 1997 and was extremely successful. He followed that in 1999 by Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death. And in late 2000, he released his third book, Healing Grief: Reclaiming Life After Any Loss. As of this writing in July 2001, Van Praagh’s influence has not diminished.


Training and Education

James Van Praagh grew up in a Catholic family and attended a Catholic school in grades one though eight. The first steps in Van Praagh’s psychic journey began in the first grade. One day after the children had finished their lunches and were putting away their lunch boxes, he and his teacher locked eyes, and he was immediately filled with sadness. He instantly knew that the teacher’s son had been hit by a car and had broken his leg. He walked over to the teacher and told her that her son had been injured by a car and had broken his leg, but he would be all right. The teacher didn’t know what to think, but seemed shaken.  In about an hour, she got word that, indeed, her son had been hit by a car. His leg was broken, but otherwise he was fine. Later, referring to his clairvoyant knowledge concerning this incident, the teacher told him he was “one of God’s messengers” and that God had given him “a special gift.”1


Between ages six and eight Van Praagh commonly saw what he described to his mother as “lights around people.”  His capacity to see these lights (“auras”) largely disappeared as he grew older. Then in his early twenties, when he had started meditating and developing his inner awareness, the ability to see auras returned.2


When Van Praagh was eight years old he had a mystical experience that marked his life forever. It occurred one morning as he was lying in bed. He felt a blast of cold wind on his face, but when he looked all around the doors and windows were firmly shut. Then he looked up to see the palm of a large hand, glowing and pulsating with a white light. It seemed to be coming through the ceiling. He was transfixed but unafraid. Van Praagh said he “was suddenly filled with an overwhelming sense of peace, love, and joy.” Though he heard no words and received no mental message, “I knew that this vision was God.” He also knew that HE WOULD DO ANYTHING HE COULD TO EXPERIENCE THOSE WONDERFUL FEELINGS AGAIN.3 As a result of his experience with “the hand” he became “fascinated with the concept of death and what happens after we die.”


As a young student in a Catholic school, Van Praagh puzzled over the usual questions children ask, but was frustrated when the nuns sometimes answered his questions with threats -- hinting that people who ask too many questions might not go to heaven. In the second grade he used the wrong color of pencil for a particular project and claims that because of that mistake, a nun slapped him so hard he fell down and momentarily lost consciousness. So from an early age “my faith and trust in the Catholic Church soon became a delicate balance between what was preached and what was demonstrated.”4 (Of course, to some extent, the tension between what is proclaimed and what is lived out effectively is present in any religion or philosophy.  In this, the Catholic Church certainly is not alone.) Van Praagh states that he is grateful for the experience of attending Catholic schools. But it must be a reluctant sense of gratitude judging from his comments in Talking To Heaven.


Van Praagh was involved in other paranormal experiences between eight and eleven years of age. He took part in a youthful seance that seemed to scare all the others when an apparent contact was made. Once, he and some friends encountered some spirit children playing in a graveyard. They never went back to that graveyard!5


After having him spend grades one through eight at a Catholic grade school, his Irish-Catholic mother saw to it that he enrolled in a Catholic seminary. She expected him to attend all four years there—grades nine through twelve.  He did not want to go, but the fact that he would be able to get away from home and see something different, helped him accept the idea. At seminary, he tried to give his life to God, but was frustrated. Then during a Good Friday worship service, as the students were taking turns meditating, he had another experience: “I became aware that God was inside the room.” He felt peaceful and tranquil. Then he felt that God was in him!  In fact, he felt that God is “everywhere and in everything. God is unlimited. I finally had an answer and knew this was the reason why I was in the seminary. I had to take this sense of God with me. From that day on, I never questioned the existence of God. I just had to look in my own heart to see God.”6


Through his seminary training Van Praagh came to a greater sense of self and was forced to learn how to get along with others. He was changed by, and very grateful for, his experience of God during the worship service. Nonetheless, he came to reject most of the principal beliefs of Catholicism, because of its belief system which he called “extremely archaic.” It was not so much the church’s position on social or gender issues that rankled him, positions that many liberal Protestants and Catholics call “out of date.” Rather, it was foundational doctrinal matters upon which most conservative Protestants and Catholics agree that he found insupportable—the reality of sin, the Trinity, the uniqueness and deity of Christ, and the idea of hell.). “Ironically the seminary also helped me to realize that Catholicism was not for me. I found something much richer and deeper to believe in—God. It was not the God who sat on a throne in heaven or the son of God who hung on a cross. It was the God of love that resided in me.”7 He continued, however, to hold to the conviction that if people would truly follow the ideals of their religion, whatever it might be, the world would be a better place.8 But it must be noted clearly that though Van Praagh’s alleged shabby treatment by the nuns in Catholic school is regrettable, and may have soured him on the Roman church, it is just an excuse. The archaic beliefs he actually turned against are the Bible as the revealed Word of God, our Heavenly Father who is the God of the Bible, Jesus Christ who is the revealed Son of God and Son of Man and Savior of the world, and even Christianity itself.


Van Praagh left seminary after his first year and graduated from a public high school, then enrolled in San Francisco State College as a broadcasting major. After graduation from college, he moved to Los Angeles with dreams of becoming a screenwriter. This was in the summer of 1982. He did temp work for a while, then got a gopher-type job at the William Morris Agency.   But it was there that his direction became more clear. His supervisor invited him to come along on a visit to a medium. He jumped at the chance, though at the time he didn’t know what a medium was. He mainly wanted a diversion from work, but the visit proved to be propitious. He was intrigued by what he observed. But what really got his attention was the comment the medium made to him, “You know, James, you are very mediumistic. The spirit people are telling me that one day you will give readings like this to other people. The spirits are planning to use you.”9 This statement haunted him for months. Although the idea of becoming a medium intrigued him, it ran counter to all his plans and goals. He was conflicted, but decided to read all he could on psychic and mediumistic activities and test his abilities.10 He started trying to follow his instincts, developing his intuition, and playing psychic games at work and with friends. After about a year, friends, friends of friends, and co-workers started asking him questions about the future, about their lives. Soon the number of these unsolicited requests grew to the point that he had to make a choice about his future. The decision he made was to press on and become a full-time medium.11 By 1997 he had been speaking and giving readings to thousands of people in private sessions, group meetings, and on radio and television for a decade. 


Major Beliefs

Much of Van Praagh’s life has been a spiritual journey. Contributing to this journey has been his childhood mystical experiences, his negative impressions of the Catholic Church, his youthful dabbling, and the revelation he received in the Good Friday service. Once his interest was stirred about becoming a medium, he read endlessly about spiritism and the spirit world. He also began communicating with spirits to test his abilities and validate his readings. All these elements shaped and influenced the person he is now and his beliefs.


The Nature of God and Human Nature “First of all, I do believe in God. In fact, I BELIEVE THAT WE ARE ALL GOD.”:12 Because of Van Praagh’s belief that human beings are all God, we face a difficulty speaking of his conception of the nature of God. That is, in order to discuss his view of God, we must simultaneously discuss his view of human nature. His views make it difficult to separate these two concepts, because for him they are so interrelated. In Reaching to

Heaven, he states the idea this way, “Each dawn we can move one step closer to comprehending our own divinity.”13


Van Praagh holds that though humans look different externally, everyone is alike inside.  He writes, “We are all made of the God spark. Even the lowest creature crawling on the ground is made from the same God spark. Even those who appear evil and bad are made of this same God spark.”14 


“The beings who are evil are perhaps the furthest from that which is God.  God is perfection in everything. God is creativity in all things. EACH OF US IS PERFECT if we would only seek our divinity.”15


Van Praagh’s conception of God is revealed in a guided meditation he recommends in the closing pages of Talking to Heaven. The visualization involves a beautiful lake and a mountain with a waterfall at its top. As you stand under the waterfall, the flowing waters wash away negativity and a beautiful LIGHT shines through the streams of water and touches your body, filling you with positive energy, a sense of creativity, happiness, and love, especially self-love.  Van Praagh concludes the meditation with these words:

You leave the waterfall and feel a whole new and wonderful BEING inside yourself. You are excited about your new self. You look at your clothes. They have been replaced by a beautiful spirit robe. You put on the robe as a reminder that you are invincible. You are truly GOD!16

Jesus Christ — Van Praagh rejects the idea that Jesus is the unique, virgin-born Son of God, the second person of the Trinity. “Where does God reside? My answer is: within you. Within the very core of you. GOD IS YOUR ESSENCE. God is life itself. I don’t believe that God is a figure in space looking down on us. And while there have been many who have represented the great Light of God in human form, the same God spark that was in them is in each one of us . . .  everyone else has this same light, too. The difference may be in the degree—some lights are brighter than others, and some lights are very dim.”17 


Van Praagh rejects Catholicism, the God of the Bible and Jesus Christ. “I found something much richer and deeper to believe in—God. IT WAS NOT THE GOD WHO SAT ON A THRONE IN HEAVEN OR THE SON OF GOD WHO HUNG ON A CROSS. IT WAS THE GOD OF LOVE THAT RESIDED IN ME.”18


Heaven — Van Praagh believes that heaven is very similar to the physical world you and I know. In his heaven you can play games, paint a picture, plant a garden, sail a boat, or swim in a lake. You can do practically anything you desire in heaven, but you must have earned it or qualified for it. The main difference in heaven seems to be its brilliance. Everything there is more intense, pleasures are more exquisite, and the colors are more vibrant.19 What about different religions and their different conceptions of heaven? Van Praagh’s answer to this question is simply staggering. He writes, “I have often asked myself: Where do the Muslims and the Jews go when they die? Certainly not to a Christian heaven! Suffice to say, each religion has a heaven and hell based on their particular beliefs.”20 When I first read that I thought he wasn’t serious, or that he was speaking figuratively or perhaps, psychologically. But just a few lines later he says the following; “I believe there are many levels to heaven, and we go to that level WE HAVE CREATED by our thoughts, words, and deeds while on earth. Those of us who have grown to the same spiritual level will reside with one another in the same heaven.”21


Hell — Van Praagh has a similar response about the nature of hell.  “So where do bad or evil people go? They go to the heaven, or the hell, that they have created based upon their words, thoughts, and deeds while on earth. They, too, exist with other beings who are on their level of spiritual evolvement.”22


Ultimate Reality — In Van Praagh’s view, the ultimate reality is energy, energy is everything.   Energy is composed of molecules in vibration. In the physical realm we normally experience, molecules vibrate at a slow, but constant speed. This makes everything appear solid and dense. In the spiritual realm, however, Van Praagh claims that things vibrate at much higher rates and may be more variable. This may explain why objects and spirit beings in the spiritual realm appear to be less solid or dense than earthly objects and human beings. 


Van Praagh states that he can feel these vibrations and feel the energies around him as they shift and change. He is a mental medium with the gift of clairsentience, which means he can sense the presence of spirits that are nearby. He is aware of the personalities of the spirits and is able to communicate strong feelings and emotions from spirits to the sitter. He is also clairvoyant, that is, able to see things, events, people and spirits.23 


Sin — Van Praagh is appalled that the Catholic church and Bible-believing Christians everywhere still believe in such archaic concepts as sin, guilt, and punishment. After his revelation during the Good Friday service in the seminary, “I could no longer believe in a MYTHOLOGY that centered on guilt and punishment.”24


The Afterlife — Reincarnation is an integral part of Van Praagh’s world view. He writes, “We are on an endless journey between here and heaven. . . . The truth is that we have taken the journey many times before and will take it many times again.”25 From what I can tell (see the section on Heaven), for most souls Heaven is a temporary stopping off place, where one can rest up before taking on a new life. It is similar to a very extended vacation. To help each soul prepare for reentry to the realm of earth, Van Praagh claims there is a group of highly experienced and evolved beings called the Etheric Council. These wise spirits have a suggested plan, something like a preferred career path that maximize the soul’s opportunities for growth and advancement.  However, a degree of choice remains with the individual soul.26


He states that before we are born back into earth, we have already mapped out our life’s plan. In fact, we chose our own way of death long before we return to the earth plane.27 That seems strange enough, but Van Praagh makes reincarnation seem even more bizarre. He says that when groups of people die at once in natural disasters, wars, plane crashes, etc., they die as a soul group. They have all pre-decided on a spiritual level to die together to burn off a lot of Karmic debt.28 This decision, he insists, is a spiritual decision, not a conscious one.29 This idea seems to be an attempt to explain one of the arguments against reincarnation, that when large groups die in an airplane accident, as an example, it stretches the imagination to believe that they all had the same spiritual timing to accomplish in their respective lives. To believe such a possibility one would have to believe there must be an incredible logistics office in heaven.


The Future — Van Praagh sees an endless journey of life, death, temporary time in heaven, then a physical rebirth on earth, and the cycle goes on and on.30 He believes that nothing happens by chance. “Everything in life occurs as part of a spiritual plan. All of life is about learning from our experiences. In order to learn the fullness of life, each soul has to experience it all.”31


Common Elements of a Spirit Reading

There is no typical spirit reading in the sense of a model or pattern that they all follow. In near death experiences, for example, several common sensations are reported in many, though not all, accounts. Most reports include a sensation of rapid movement through a narrow tunnel, darkness with flashes of light, loud noises, a small point of light in the distant end of the tunnel, followed by arrival at the end of the tunnel, then release and a sense of floating, etc. Nothing quite like this exists in Van Praagh’s work, but the summary that follows will give the reader a feel for what usually happens in spirit readings.


The reading may take place in various formats. It could involve several individuals within the studio audience of a TV talk show, people from the listening audience of a radio show, a desperate caller on the telephone, or a frightened, nervous person in Van Praagh’s office.   Sometimes he is able to walk the person or persons through relaxation exercises to put them more at ease and lessen their distress. As the session begins, Van Praagh will ask questions to learn the reason for the visit and to gain the client’s confidence. Soon he will indicate that some male or female spirit is nearby. Or, it could be several spirit people. Then the communication begins as a transference of pure thought rather than spoken words. Sometimes this is hard to decipher and the transmission is somewhat garbled, but normally it works. When special secrets are shared that were known only to the participants, the trust in the medium soars. Normally, according to Van Praagh’s books, hope is restored that the deceased loved one is still alive though in another dimension. Greetings are often exchanged, expressions of love or friendship are exchanged, forgiveness may be requested and is usually granted, and many “relationships” are allegedly restored. Sometimes the deceased person indicates that he or she has grown personally and/or spiritually on the other side. According to Van Praagh’s examples, hope and joy are often restored for the living person and he or she is now freed to go on with life.      


Nature or Nurture? 

Thoughtful people may well wonder about Van Praagh as a person and about the nature and source of his apparent psychic and mediumistic abilities. Is it nature or nurture?  Is It predisposition or preparation? Is it real communication from the other side, or fakery? Is it a God-given ability, or is it deception from Satan and his demons? Or, is it a very profitable scam? These are good questions. The following information represents a critique in a summary fashion.

Van Praagh a man of spirit-

He may be perfectly sincere, but if he is, he is sincerely deceived by Satan and his demons. When he rejected the Biblical revelation regarding Jesus Christ, he opened himself up to demonic influence. He thinks he is dealing with spirits that are born as humans and then die and go to heaven for a while and then get reprogrammed and return to be reincarnated on earth again. Satan and his angels are a special order of spirits far more powerful that the spirits he thinks he is dealing with.


Nature and source of Van Praagh’s alleged abilities as a medium -

(A)  If he sincerely believes he is in contact with benign spiritual forces who are helping him carry out a mission of comfort to the bereaved, then he is greatly deceived. In this case, the source of his mediumistic abilities is Satan and his demons. This means satanic forces are supplying information to him to help him and to deceive many more grieving people. 


(B)  If he is not sincere, he is a liar, a faker, and a reprehensible con artist. He is a cruel man preying on those who are deeply grieving over the loss of a loved one. In this case, this is a very heartless, but profitable scam. He is using trickery to give the appearance of having knowledge from the other side. In either (A) or (B) great harm is being done, people are being deceived, people are not being pointed to Jesus Christ and to the Scriptures as the answers to their fear of death and the fate of their loved ones.


(C)  It is clear from his books that Van Praagh tried hard to develop his abilities as a medium.  He nurtured any inherent sensitivity or capabilities he had. However, the number of paranormal experiences he had during his childhood and during his youth suggest very strongly that he had some natural or inherited (familial) tendencies toward demonic activity. Someone in his family was probably heavily involved in spiritualism or some similar activity. I believe he trained and prepared himself for this role, but was already predisposed toward spiritualism through some family member’s cultic or occultic activity.


(D)  Any involvement in spiritual activities expressly condemned by the Scriptures invites God’s condemnation and eternal judgment. The Bible has numerous prohibitions against witchcraft, astrology, necromancy, spiritism, sorcery, divination, seeking familiar spirits, and so on. (See Deut. 18:10-12; Levit. 20:6; Isa. 47:12-15.)


The answer for any who are involved in these activities now or in the past is to turn to Jesus Christ and repudiate these works of spiritual darkness. It’s not too late, but it could be if you keep putting this decision off. If you need help or have questions, please contact us by phone, letter, or e-mail.  (See these verses: John 1:12; Acts 4:12; Rom. 3:23; 6:23; 5;8; 10:13-14; Eph. 2:8-9.)




1    James Van Praagh, Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death (New York: Dutton, Penguin Putnam, Inc.,1997), p.4.

2    James Van Praagh, Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death (New

York: Dutton, Penguin Putnam, Inc.,1999), pp. 19-21.

3    Talking, p. 7.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

4    Ibid., p. 16.

5    Ibid., pp. 14-15.

6    Ibid., p. 19.

7    Ibid., pp. 19-20.

8    Ibid., p. 17.

9    Ibid., p. 22.

10  Ibid., pp. 22-23.

11  Ibid., p. 26.

12  Ibid., pp. 27,191.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

13  Reaching, p. xiii.

14  Talking, p. 27.

15  Ibid.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

16  Ibid., p. 191.  (Bold capitals added for emphasis.)

17  Ibid., p. 28.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

18  Ibid., pp. 19-20.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

19  Ibid., p. 28.

20  Ibid.

21  Ibid.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

22  Ibid.

23  Ibid., p. 35.

24  Ibid., p. 20.  (Capitals added for emphasis.)

25  Reaching, p. 46.

26  Ibid., p. 76.

27  Talking, pp. 27,62.

28  Reaching, p. 40. Talking, p. 69.

29  Talking, p. 69.

30  Reaching, pp. 74-82.

31  Talking, p. 69.




James Van Praagh.  Talking to Heaven: A Medium’s Message of Life After Death.  New York:

       Penguin Putnam, Signet,1997.  292 pages.

________.  Reaching to Heaven: A Spiritual Journey Through Life and Death.  New York:

       Penguin Putnam, Signet,1999.  281 pages.

________.  Healing Grief: Reclaiming Life After Any Loss.  286 pages.


Videos and Audio Tapes:

James Van Praagh.  Develop Your Psychic-Self.   Videotape.

________.  Tuning Into: HealingForgiveness.  Audio Tape.

________.  Tuning Into: AbundanceIntuition.  Audio Tape.

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