The Scientist and the Psychic, by Christian Smith
Reviewed by Ciaran Farrell.
The book’s title is aptly chosen because in this interesting and complex biography Dr Christian Smith examines his own experiences when he was young as well as those of his mother, the well-known Canadian and US medium Geraldine Stringer (formerly Smith). The book covers a huge span of years from the time she first set eyes on her future husband, Kevan, and had a premonition that she would marry him, to the death of Christian’s nanny and Geraldine’s old age.
In reading this book one is placed on a journey of self-discovery by Christian into his world, and through his eyes that of his mother, and her life as a psychic, as well as the toll that living with her psychic gift took on her life and health, and the impact it had on the relationships of those involved. It is not a true, ‘warts and all’ assessment of the characters and personalities involved because the darker side of some of the events which took place and the motivations involved are to a certain extent covered by a discreet veil. Therefore, the reader is left to read between the lines, to a certain extent.
Throughout the book Christian describes events in his relationship with his mother and their periods of relative closeness and estrangement due to the demanding nature of her work as a professional and sought after psychic and medium, as well as the impact of Geraldine’s disastrous second marriage on all concerned. He also describes his own experiences growing up, as well as his own development as a scientist, becoming a molecular biologist, and how he has used his scientific training and abilities to try to understand his own relationship with his mother and her gift. He does so from the point of view of a sympathetic skeptic, who does not fully realise or understand his own latent psychic abilities. Christian’s boyfriend often refers to him as being a bit of a psychic bloodhound in the way in which he integrates his intuitive sense of what is right, in the form of a hunch, into his scientific work, and his outlook on the world as a scientist.
In writing this book, Christian has integrated his own autobiography into what could have been a straightforward biography of his mother. In addition, he has interwoven into this quite a bit of the latest research into different aspects of the paranormal and of mediumship in particular, which he discusses together with his own personal research and experiments into Geraldine’s psychic abilities.
Christian’s journey begins when he was a small child living in a haunted house on Airport Road, outside Toronto, in which Geraldine and Kevan had set up home. He does not understand the ghostly phenomena that his parents experience. This leads Geraldine and Kevan to explore the history of the house and to seek the support and involvement of the local spiritualist church, the Britten Memorial Spiritualist Church in Toronto, which is one of the oldest and most respected spiritualist churches in Canada. Geraldine supported by Kevan became active members of the church, and Geraldine realised that she had a special gift which she needed to develop in order to accept her vocation, or possibly her destiny, to become a life-long psychic and medium.
Geraldine has a particular gift for psychometry and for reading auras, which led her to completely rework what was then the seminal work on the subject, Auras: An Essay on the Meaning of Colors by Edgar Cayce. She developed her own system for aura reading, and the divining of character and personality through the analysis of a person’s aura. This combined with the detailed use of psychometry became Geraldine’s main psychic toolbox.
In 1974 during a particularly vulnerable time for Geraldine when she was being successfully treated for Hodgkin’s lymphoma, she met her great friend and mentor George Raynault at a psychic fair. He was a Mind Awareness guru and she learnt from him how to become a teacher and trainer of his Mind Awareness, and other mental and psychological techniques which she used to complement and augment her psychic skills and abilities.
Geraldine’s big break came when she was interviewed on a local Canadian radio station and ended up having her own radio show as a psychic and medium carrying out aura readings and psychometry, where practical, live on the radio. This enabled Geraldine to set up an independent company through which she could practice as a psychic, called Psychic Quest, and also conduct Mind Awareness training from an office in town rather than the family home. Psychic Quest offered a unique service with a promise of 100% accuracy and a money-back guarantee. This led to the busiest and most productive phase of Geraldine’s career during which her relationship with both Kevan and Christian suffered, and Christian went to stay with Kevan.
At the pinnacle of Geraldine’s career she could fill Massey Hall with a capacity of 2,000 people who wanted to see her practice her psychic skills and demonstrate her mediumship. She even held a séance live on radio and in front of the national and international press to see if she could contact the spirit of a previous Canadian Prime Minister. She gave a great many press, radio and television interviews, and she was becoming a household name. This gave Christian a great deal of material to work from in order to assess his mother’s life and work, as well as to explore her psychic abilities.
Geraldine moved several times between Canada and the USA, and for a time she lived in Los Angeles, and worked with the families of murder victims, and used her psychic skills to find missing people, and murder victims. She was even involved in the cases of several serial killers, and worked with law enforcement agencies.
This high profile and highly stressful lifestyle took its toll on her and those around her as did her disastrous second marriage to Michael, which led to a downhill spiral of increasing use and dependency on alcohol as well as prescription and recreational drugs. When Michael died as the result of many years of alcoholism and excessive drug taking, Geraldine was not only totally bereft, she too was dependent on alcohol and drugs. Christian and his boyfriend, Dag stepped in and rescued Geraldine from this state and brought her back to live with them for a while before she was able to live independently once more for a period of time.
One is left in no doubt of Christian’s deep feelings towards his mother, and his belief that she is a very special person, not only for him, but in her own right due to psychic gifts and abilities which he tries to understand and evaluate from various points of view.
The text of the book is written in an open, free-flowing and easy to read, ‘cosy confidential’ style as if one were sitting in an armchair across from Christian in his office, or in a relaxed coffee shop, or restaurant, as he tells you the story of his, and his mother’s life. He starts out from being that bewildered boy to becoming a scientist with a sceptical professional attitude to the paranormal, which he is uncomfortable with, and this finally gives way to a greater understanding and acceptance of his mother’s life, work and psychic gifts. This is, however, not the usual voyage of discovery on a journey from professional skeptic to a destination of a believer with reservations, as there are many twists and turns along the way.
Unfortunately, the main threads and themes of the entire book are largely told through ‘flash forwards’ and ‘flashbacks’ centring on meetings between Christian, his mother and his nanny in the lead up to the death of his nanny, and similar meetings which took place after that between himself and his mother. He also recounts many meetings with his father who he considered to be more objective and reliable as a witness of Geraldine’s abilities than either Geraldine herself or his nanny. Christian seeks to compare and contrast more recent events with those of the past when he was younger with other meetings between himself and his father to discuss Geraldine’s life and work. This format makes it difficult for the reader to keep track of events and the people involved and their relationship to one another over time.
In my opinion, this makes the book very much a curate’s egg, although I would recommend it as it deals with interesting and complex family relationships and the way that they have intertwined with the psychic and mediumistic themes which run through the book from beginning to end.