I recently came across this New York Times article by Irina Aleksander titled In Good Spirits. The subtitle summarizes it well: “Carissa Schumacher channels the dead for her A-list celebrity clients. But most days, she’s in the forest.”
Schumacher’s clients include Jennifer Aniston, Uma Thurman, and Andie MacDowell. She doesn’t have a website, she’s booked up months in advance, and she charges $1111 an hour for consultations. Among other historical figures, she claims to channel Yeshua – Jesus Christ.
Some are skeptical. Rooney Mara (who is a client) said “Carissa is human like the rest of us, so you have to take from it what resonates and leave the rest.” The NYT reporter talked to Susan Gerbic, founder of a group called Guerrilla Skeptics, who said “It’s all BS … it is not possible to communicate with dead people. They are dead.”
Needless to say, some Christians aren’t happy about this. Over on the Patheos Evangelical channel, Anne Kennedy has a blog post titled You Can’t Channel Him Because He’s Not Dead. Which, even if true, misses the point about direct communication with Gods – something Evangelicals officially believe doesn’t happen even though they often talk like it does.
It’s easy to glance at this article, see the celebrity names and the exorbitant amounts of money, and conclude that Schumacher is delusional, a con artist, or both. But on careful reading, her story sounds sincere.
There’s a long history of mediumship dating back to ancient times, and especially in the Spiritualist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. There’s a long history of Gods using people as oracles. If what they say has official recognition they’re called prophets. If not, they’re called heretics and may end up burned at the stake.
At the same time, “divine power surrender, repairing the fragmented self after trauma, and accessing the God self” sounds more like New Age misappropriation of psychotherapy than any legitimate religion or spirituality. “I am the weather, and the weather is always peace” sounds nothing like the Jesus of the gospels.
It is not my intent to judge Carissa Schumacher – certainly not on the basis of one newspaper article. I see nothing here that strikes me as harmful, so if her clients find her helpful and they can afford her rates, so be it.
But it’s important to consider how we think about these things. As Pagans, polytheists, witches, and other magical and spiritual people, it’s important not to jump to an atheist position just because we see something that strikes us as somewhere between “not quite right” and “outrageously impossible.”
At the same time, it’s equally important not to mindlessly accept spiritual pronouncements from anyone just because they have a following, or a book, or because they tell us what we want to hear.
In 2018 I wrote Discernment: Distilling the Truth from our Pagan Experiences. That post stands as a guide to the process of figuring out what something means – what we accept and what we reject.
In this post, I want to provide some context for this story. How can we read it and understand it from a Pagan, polytheist, and magical perspective?
The dead live on
There is perhaps no more universal question than that of what – if anything – comes after death. Different cultures and different religions have different ideas: an afterlife, reincarnation, reintegration with the Universe, or nothing. Or all of the above. Ultimately, we have no way to know with certainty.
But we do know that ancestor veneration is an important part of many religions, including the one I practice. They are our most accessible spiritual allies. And they speak to us, sometimes in memories, sometimes in dreams, and sometimes more directly.
Traditionally, the dead have been closer (or at least, easier to hear) at Samhain and at Beltane. Most of us only hear them with mindful practice. But others can hear them easily – some so loudly they can’t shut them off.
I hear my own ancestors. This includes my ancestors of spirit – people who were influential in my life even though we’re not related by blood. They’ve never given me a message for someone else. But I know people who get these messages, and there have been examples of such people throughout history.
There have also been examples of fraudulent mediums – people who falsely claimed to speak with the dead so they could exploit grieving families.
So when someone says they speak with or for the dead, on its face that tells us nothing. It’s possible they’re relaying genuine messages, it’s possible they’re mistaken, and it’s possible they’re lying.
It falls to us to determine which is which.
The Gods are active in our world
I’m a polytheist. As such, I recognize the existence of many real Gods, each with Their own sovereignty and agency. Perhaps the “Old Gods” left our world with the rise of Christianity and perhaps we just stopped listening to Them, but in any case They are active in our world today.
And They speak to us. Not in grand spectacles but in subtle thoughts and impressions; sometimes in rituals, sometimes in meditation, and sometimes in direct communion.
I have had Gods tell me to deliver a message to another person. Talk about a scary assignment – the phrase “don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind rather quickly. Nobody’s attacked me yet. In every case, they weren’t surprised. That helped confirm that I heard and relayed the message accurately.
I’ve also approached Gods on behalf of other people. Usually that involves divination (“from the divine”), but after a recent such approach, the Morrigan told me “you know my voice – stop being tentative and do the work.”
An awesome responsibility
Conveying a message for a God is an awesome responsibility. You have to make sure you get it right: that you’re telling someone what They wanted said and not what you think should have been said.
How do you know it’s a God and not your own subconscious? If the message tells you what you want to hear, or if it plays on your fears, it’s probably you. If it tells you something you had no way of knowing, or something you know is true even though you’ve been avoiding it, it’s probably a God (or an ancestor or other spirit).
You can use divination to confirm what you hear. But the best confirmation comes from other devotees of the same deity. If I hear something and my local co-religionists hear the same thing and someone in another part of the country hears something very similar, then it’s probably accurate. The Gods rarely choose only one oracle. And conversely, if I’m the only one hearing something, I probably need to pray and meditate to insure I’m hearing correctly.
A good oracle is someone with enough doubts to keep them honest and enough confidence to keep going despite the doubts. Mainly, a good oracle is someone with a deep reverence for the source of the messages they receive, and the sacred tradition of which they are a part.
A foundation for hearing from an oracle
When someone says they have a message for me (that’s not common, but it does happen), or when they say they have a general message I should hear, I listen in the context of my own experiences.
Does this make sense within an animist and polytheist worldview? Or is it rooted in monotheism, or worse, in concepts presented in entertainment and pop culture?
Does it align with what we know of the Gods, especially the God who is supposedly the source of the message? There is no reason to expect Gods to always appear in Iron Age garb with Iron Age sensibilities, but the essence of who and what They are does not change (and the Morrigan is not a Sex Goddess!).
Does it align with what my Gods and my ancestors have told me before? Their instructions vary from time to time, but Their values and virtues do not.
This context only comes by developing a strong foundation of study, practice, and experience. Without that foundation, it is difficult to discern genuine messages from those that represent wishful thinking or flat-out mistakes.
Is Carissa Schumacher for real?
I’m pretty sure Carissa Schumacher isn’t a fraud. Beyond that, I don’t know. But even though I’m eternally curious, it doesn’t matter.
Her messages aren’t for me. Her God is not one of my Gods.
My Gods and ancestors tell me what they want me to know directly. If I’m not listening (I do my best, but I can be dense at times) they know who will relay a message faithfully. If I need to know something, I ask them myself. If I’m unclear, I have a number of priests and diviners I can call for assistance.
Schumacher isn’t planning a crusade. She isn’t trying to use government to force other people to live the way she says Yeshua wants them to live – unlike some of her Christian critics.
Honestly, this looks like well-meaning but bland New Age pablum for the already overprivileged… who, lest we forget Robin Williams, can hurt just as much as any of us. If it helps them, that’s a good thing. If it doesn’t, they’ll move on to something else.
But if you need something stronger, something deeper – something that doesn’t cost $1111 an hour – here’s one way to get started.