A Walk On The Wild Side: One Man's Experiences With Psychic Phenomena, by Gary Williams
Reviewed by Robert A. Charman
The problem for the reviewer lies in the subtitle. These are the author’s experiences of what he considers to be psychic encounters such as meeting psychics and mediums with some, like Alex Tanous becoming close friends, staying in houses said to be haunted and so on. All of this he recounts in a very readable way, but as there is only his account and only his interpretation of what occurred there is no way of knowing which of these dozens of experiences across many countries really had a genuine psychic origin and which could be attributed to some other explanation. They must either be taken in their entirety as true accounts (and my impression is of someone being as truthful as possible in his retelling) or, with respect to the cause of any experience, accepted or rejected according to what one considers possible or not possible.
A chapter is given to recounting what other people such as the physicist Stanton Friedman have told him concerning the Roswell incident, Unidentified Flying Objects (UFOs), and the possibility of aliens on earth. Another chapter is devoted to the interpretation of so-called Electronic Voice Phenomena (EVP) by Konstantin Raudive, Anabela Cardoso and many others who were, or are, convinced that voices from the dead are speaking through static which Williams also believes to be the case (for a sceptical take see Radford, 2018). Including his own experiences and investigations in each case Williams reviews what he considers to be good evidence for the existence of ghosts, poltergeists, and life after death on which he has written his own book Life After Death (1989) based upon his late father’s apparent communications with him. Williams also writes about astrology which he practices (after training with Isobel Hickey), reincarnation, precognition and more besides. A chapter is devoted to discussing the problem that the Catholic Church and other established Christian orthodoxies have with psychic phenomena.
Now aged seventy and living in Spain where Williams has set up a foundation ‘to investigate paranormal claims outside the boundaries of normal physics.’ His professional career has been as an American radio and television presenter during which time he has travelled widely, interviewed and received readings from many psychics, met mediums as well as developing his own psychic abilities. He also took up acting, landing the part of the psychic in the Paramount film “Brüno” starring Sasha Baron Cohen. He acknowledges that the history of psychics and mediums is studded with frauds and dismisses famous American TV mediums such as James Van Praagh and John Edward as phoneys who, he says, have been caught cheating time and time again. (Gary Schwartz, 2003, tested Edward and concluded that he possesses genuine mediumistic abilities). After attending a materialization séance held in darkness with UK medium Rita Goold he remained unconvinced. He numbers Edgar Cayce, Leslie Flint, Alex Tanous, Arthur Best, Brian Hurst, Tony Stockwell, Gordon Smith as genuine, and materialization mediums Warren Smith and Ethel Post-Parish as genuine. The problem is that some have been investigated and exposed as using fraudulent methods so, as ever, there is doubt.
His first experience as a naïve 16 year old of mediumistic materialisation during a séance has so influenced his life and thought that it is referred to repeatedly throughout the book as genuine beyond any possibility of being a faked event. Its personal impact was such that it ‘became so memorable that I have carried it with me all my life’, so it is only right that this review should include a summary of what occurred.
The author was born in Norfolk, Virginia, in 1949 and attended high school there. In 1966 their biology teacher and her husband commenced a series of class field trips, starting with a visit to the zoo. Their second field trip involved attending a Spiritualist Church service of hymns, bible passages and a sermon after which the medium moved around the congregation bringing messages from loved ones who had ‘passed over’. When she came to Williams she said ‘I have a man here who died of cancer and he tells me that he is your uncle.’ It seems that Lud Garthe, the husband of his father’s sister, had been his only uncle and it was true that he had died of cancer a year earlier. As they were leaving the church they saw a notice saying ‘Materialisation Séance next Friday. Medium is Warren Smith’ So their teacher signed them up for that as well. These materialisation seances were open to those who had attended the previous service with names noted down.
On the following Friday evening some twenty people, including some of his classmates, were sitting round a room bathed in an overhead red light. Williams was sitting with his back to the only door, the floor was solid concrete and he is convinced that no one came in or out during the séance. After everyone had settled down Warren Smith came in and they watched as he crossed the room to enter a curtained off cubicle. A woman, known as the cabinet attendant, stood up to say that they were not to touch any of the materialisations unless given permission and they then had to sing the same song again and again for some twenty minutes to create enough psychic power in the room to create ectoplasmic figures. When they had finished he saw a smoky substance starting to pour out from behind the curtain where the medium was sitting and ‘this substance slowly but surely built up into the solid form of a woman’. She said that her name was Firefly and that she was the medium’s Guide. She then pulled back the curtain to show Warren Smith slumped over his chair ‘apparently asleep’. Firefly then said that she would do her best to bring dead loved ones back for a moment of reunion. The séance lasted for three hours during which: ‘I saw little children materialise solid and run up to their parents who were sitting in the circle. Facial features easily distinguishable. The most astonishing thing about this exhibition was the way that the figures went away. They literally sank down and disappeared into the cement floor.’ Feeling rather scared he was called into the middle of the room and in a minute his uncle, Lud Garthe, was standing there in front of him, then as Williams backed away uncle Lud also ‘disappeared right down into the cement floor’.
But following his uncle’s smoky appearance and disappearance something much more dramatic was to come. He was called back into the middle again and he was told by Firefly that ‘a man who had only recently passed away wanted to come and speak to me and that this was a very important person.’ Once more the smoky substance started to build up and out of it a figure materialised who looked to Williams to be about seventy five years old. This man came forward, shook his hand and said ‘My name is Carl Jung. I am in your band. I am one of your guides. Each and everyone has a guide or two and I am in your band of guides and helpers. Let me assure you that when you are older you will delve deeply into these mysteries of life and death and make many discoveries of your own. For now, just know that I am around you’. Feeling understandably dazed, young Williams found it difficult to believe what he was seeing, but he had the presence of mind to take a piece of chewing gum from his pocket and hand it to Jung saying ‘If you are real, crumple this up and hand it back to me.’ Undaunted by the challenge Jung promptly crumpled up the piece and handed it back to Williams who kept it for three years. At the time he had no idea who Carl Jung was, but next day he went to the school library and found a book with a photograph of Jung as an old man. He immediately saw that his face was the same face as the man he had shaken hands with and spoken to during the séance. Without any doubt he says that ‘It was the same man! There is no way it could have been faked.’ A conclusion that he repeats several times throughout the book. It should be added here that Carl Jung had died five years earlier in Zurich on the 6th June, 1961, aged 85.
Accepting that his description of his experience corresponds to what occurred, the question is whether it was a genuine ectoplasmic materialisation phenomenon as he still believes without doubt, or whether it was all clever fakery meaning that this experience that so influenced him the rest of his life was based upon deliberate fraud. A typical séance with Warren Smith is briefly described on PsychicTruth. The priest and magician William Rauscher (2006) describes a séance with Warren Smith: ‘It was an amazing performance, and I say performance, because not only was the medium doing the materialization, but he also had to remember all the gathered information about the different observers’ (p. 127). M. Lamar Keene (1976), a self confessed fraudulent medium, provides a full account of the fraudulent world of mediums Warren Smith and Ethel Post-Parish among many others during the 1960s and 1970s, explaining how they carried out their meticulously researched deceptions. Details about the life and relationships of every attendee were known to the medium and their assistants. Nothing was left to chance. Unknown to Williams who assumed that they knew nothing about him, this central experience that so determined the course of his life was probably built on skilled, unscrupulous, fakery which he had no chance of detecting. This does not, of course, mean that many of his experiences with other psychics and mediums in completely different circumstances were not genuinely psychic experiences.
In his chapter on precognition Williams quotes Air Marshall Victor Goddard’s (1975) claim that in 1935 he flew over a WW1 Scottish airfield that he had seen as derelict the previous day but, in a sunlit precognitive vision next day, looked as it would look four years later in 1939 as a newly rebuilt and equipped RAF Drem. This is what Goddard genuinely believed as he was unable to account for it in any other way, and it is widely accepted in the literature as a precognitive experience beyond all reasonable doubt. It now seems that it was an honest misinterpretation of his experience (Charman, 2019).
In his Introduction the late Guy Lyon Playfair says that ‘the author comes across as an honest seeker after truth who does his best to clarify an often misunderstood subject’ which is true. He advises frauds such as ‘fashionable TV mediums’ to ‘run away and hide if they meet Gary’ but I doubt if meeting him would worry them very much. You will need to read his wide ranging account of his experiences for yourself to decide whether his journey has been a true Walk on the Wild Side.
Charman, R. A. (2019). Research note: Was wing commander Victor Goddard’s unexpected
observation when flying over Gullane airfield in 1935 a precognitive glimpse of that airfield
in 1939? Journal of the Society for Psychical Research, 83, 18-30.
Goddard, V. (1975). Flight Towards Reality. London. Turnstone books.
Keene, M. L. (1976). The Psychic Mafia. New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Radford, B. (2018). Speaking in tongues: The perils of polyglot EVP research. Fortean Times, 372,
Rauscher, W.V. (2006). Religion, Magic, and the Supernatural. Woodbury, NJ: Mystic Light Press.
Schwartz, G. E. (2003). The Afterlife Experiments. New York: Pocket Books.
I wish to thank Nemo C. Mörck for drawing my attention to the Keene and Rauscher references.
Robert A. Charman can be reached at email: firstname.lastname@example.org