Ghosts? The afterlife? Does the 'other side' really exist, or is it a product of the human imagination? In the first of a two-part series Mark Anstead tries to make contact beyond the grave.

Spiritualism has never been more popular. Some of today's most famous faces have at one time or another consulted a medium, psychic or clairvoyant. Ghosts feature in a number of Hollywood movies and most of us believe that there is life after death (a recent poll puts the figure at 70 per cent).
We've all heard of people convinced that a relative is alive and well on the 'other side', watching over them. Maybe a medium has revealed some information that he or she cannot possibly have known - a secret shared just between them and the person who died.
Rita Rogers, 64, is a psychic who's given her life to offering readings. The blurb on the back of her latest book, Learning To Live Again (a guide to coping with bereavement), says that she was Princess Diana's favourite medium. The book is full of tales of how Rita was able to comfort grieving people with news of their relatives.
In many cases she she was able to tell them the name of the deceased person,to assure them that it was really them, and then go on to I communicate messages such as "he's alright now" or "he's watching over you and is very pleased with the children". And yet sceptics remain unconvinced. It's all very well hearing someone relate a story, but might they have I exaggerated the experience to themselves? I am not a sceptic - I'm agnostic. It is extremely difficult to convince someone whose mind is already closed.But can it really be true or is it all a con? My brother died nine years ago. If I were to have a consultation with Rita, would he 'come through'? Could she give me such proof of his existence that I would cast all my doubts aside? "I'd love to read for be whole world, I really would" Rita tells me sincerely when I call. "And I would do it free of charge. I believe God gave me this gift and I can't retire from it - you can't when there's such desperate people about" Rita, who is of Romany descent, is happy to conduct readings over the phone, because she says she's more clairaudient (hears voices) than clairvoyant (sees spirits) and so can operate purely by ear.

Gypsy Arts
Divination and prophecy have been considered the special province of Gypsies, a nomadic people whose folklore is replete with tales of secret powers and magical rites, and like the ancient arts they practice, the origins and ways of the Gypsies themselves have remained shrouded in mystery. Entangled in legends and traditions, Gypsies are thought to have lived originally in India, but sometime during the ninth century they began slowly moving westward. By the early fifteenth century, large groups of dark-skinned exotically dressed people, claiming to be religious pilgrims from a country called little Egypt, began appearing in Europe. These "Egyptians or "Gypsies" as they came to be known were at first welcomed by sympathetic villagers. But some wandering tribes soon gained reputations as petty thieves and tricksters who displayed no obvious religious convictions. The Gypsies were, in fact deeply religious. But their beliefs and practices were heavily influenced by magic regarded as authorities in matters of the occult, Gypsies were often credited with supernatural talents beyond even their own beliefs, and many eagerly peddled their alleged powers to local townspeople, usually just a few coin could purchase anything from herbal remedies for aches and pains to love potions and aphrodisiacs. But it was for their practice of the prophetic arts - reading tarot cards or tea leaves, a crystal ball or the lines on a palm that Gypsies became best known. Gypsy men typically worked as horse traders or metal smiths; the women told fortunes, often in wagons or small tents in which they lived. Palm reading, shown here and on the following pages, was the favoured method, and it has remained so today: Palmistry shops operated by Gypsies still flourish in cities and towns all over the world, and although complaints of unscrupulous practices have at time been levelled against them, customers keep coming to hear their fortunes told. Nothing, it seems can dispel the romantic image of the brooding Gypsy, whose dark piercing eyes gaze intently into the palms - and perhaps, the futures of the hopeful and the cunous. Palm reading is a practice that is well suited to the footloose ways of the Gypsies. No props are required, and fortunes can be told quickly from just about any location -the back of a wagon or in a gaudily decorated tent, apartment or shop. The eternal allure of the Gypsy fortune-teller may stem from the ancient belief that Gypsy seers had magical powers. These powers were thought to be inherited, signalled by a peculiar physical appearance, or bestowed upon a young girl by a water or earth spirit.

But she does like to make herself ready by sitting in a certain room in her house, where everything is quiet, so that she can 'tune in'. In the book, Rita says she often gets whole names at a time. For example, "My name's Jack. I'm with my Nana Kathleen and I want you to know I'm alright?' But on some occasions she says she gets names one letter at a time - the spirits seem to spell it out if she's having difficulty hearing them. I wonder which way it will be for me.
Straight away she scores a hit by giving the name of my grandfather - William. She doesn't say, "Your mother's father William is here:" like she does in the stories in her books. Instead she asks me who William is and I fill in the rest. It's not a bad start though. After all, I don't have that many dead relatives. Admittedly William is a common name, but she goes on to score another hit with, "Who's n?" Must be my father, who's alive. I'm getting excited now. There's still no progress on my mother's name, but she tells me she can feel that he is near "Did he pass tragically?" she asks, but I can't help thinking it likely anyone near my age would in circumstances that weren't as tragic. "Quite sudden towards the end wasn't it?" she confirms.
It was, but can it really anything other than sudden as it gets "towards the end"?
"Who's Stephen? Or Shaun?" she gropes. Sorry-I have no idea. And then things begin to deteriorate. Our conversation feels like a guessing game. Rita asks me the questions in ways that seem to make sure that she can't lose, such as, "Did he go to your wedding?" No, he didn't. "I didn't think so." So I can't resist the temptation do something that feels very naughty indeed. I give her wrong answers sometimes - just to see whether they become another, " I thought so" And I find that Rita happily accepts them. The spirits, who appear to be so very accurate her stories, don't seem in the slightest bit interested in actually trying to correct her. Things get really bizarre when she tells me there's a young male on my wife's side trying to make contact. The only person I can think of is my wife's cousin Tracey, who died a teenager By this stage the is falling apart. "Does his name begin with an M?" No - it's a T. "Is it Tony?" No. "Trevor?" No. "Tim?" No. "Tom?" No. "Is it Terry?" No... She begins to try spelling it letter by letter, failing because it's such an uncommon name for a boy. I notice that I'm desperate to help her along the way, to give away a letter or scream the name outright. "Is it spelt T-E?" No. "Is there a Y in it?" Yes. "Is it spelt T-Y?" No. "It's not Tyrone?" No. "Is it T-R?" Yes. "Troy?" No. "Ah, but is it a No. "Just a minute - they'll tell meY what am I to make of this? Could it be that she's used to her clients forgetting all the mistakes and errors and simply remembering the hits? It's a proven human trait that we like to forget failures and concentrate on success. The next day, I was lucky enough to see illusionist Derren Brown on stage. And it was an outstanding contrast to see him tell someone in the audience the surname of a dead relative they had written down during the interval. He went to great lengths to choose the woman randomly - throwing a ball into the audience and asking the catcher to throw it again (backwards over their heads) and repeating the same instruction to the next catcher, who unwittingly threw it to this woman. Derren, who you may know from his Channel 4 programme - Derren Brown: Mind Control and his Russian roulette stunt live on television last year, is a specialist in the art of reading minds by trickery, using tried and tested methods researched by magicians over many years. He is happy to explain the techniques he uses. He is of medium height and very fashionable. He is also the master of reading unconscious mental signals. For starters he manages to predict, with amazing accuracy, in which hand a volunteer is hiding a coin - five times in a row. He even bets £50 he will get it right - and tells us each time how he knew (a mixture of informed guesswork and predicting the ways in which she tries to catch him out). When he does the surname trick, he asks his victim to look at what she's written, fold the paper up and put it into her bag. Then he talks to her for a while, asking seemingly irrelevant questions about her childhood and reminding her to keep thinking of the surname but not to say it aloud. Every now and then he surprises her by saying "And the name is just to watch her reaction. Then he turns triumphantly to the audience and announces that it contains no 'plosives' (p's, b's, or t's) - he worked this out just from her body language. He concentrates and thinks some more. He suggests that the name has a double meaning. That it rhymes with something. Finally he turns to her and asks, "Is it Cheam?" Yes indeed it is. Olive Cheam. Straight away I know I must meet this man. He has just scored an astounding direct hit with a name - more quickly and without any of the guesswork used by Rita. If he did it on stage, I find myself wondering can he do it in person, face to face in a restaurant?
Read part two next month - how will Derren score with Mark? Is it a skill or a stage trick?And can he reveal how the mediums do it?

New Scientist How does it feel to die?   What happens after you die?  Light at the end of the tunnel

  • Author Marian Keyes became the queen of chick lit in the 1990s after the success of books such as Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married. More recent, less frothy fare included her last novel, the bereavement-themed Anybody Out There? Her book, Under The Duvet, is available free as part of a Wilkinson Sword promotion until the end of June. www.wilkinson-sword.co.uk
  • Your books are being given away with razor blades. Isn't that debasing your art? Not at all - anything that gets books to more people is a great thing. It's not just me; there are another five authors involved, too.
  • Where would you draw the line? I wouldn't want my books associated with companies that exploit people. I'm a bleeding-heart liberal and am terribly worried about globalisation so I wouldn't have anything to do with companies that don't have a clean pedigree. I turned down an offer from a company that may have sold powdered baby food to women in Africa to persuade them it's superior to breast milk. You can work out which one yourself.
  • You're a judge for the Orange Prize this year. Are fiction competitions really worthwhile? Yes, anything that promotes books is a good thing. Books have to jostle with so many other kinds of media. People often say: 'I won't read the book; I'll just wait for the movie.' There are 20 books on the Orange long list and 4,000 of each were sold to libraries - so even if those authors don't win, they've already had exposure and sales. It's given me the chance to read more literary books than I normally would. I prefer thrillers and autobiographies of people who've had disastrous lives.
  • Your books haven't been embraced by the literary scene. Has that bothered you? People have stopped reviewing the covers and genuinely read the books now. I feel that people 'get' me now. It didn't used to be like that. One review for my first book devastated me. It was quite personal and I thought: 'What have I done to this person to make them so spiteful?' I've now learned that everyone is entitled to their opinion. Let people think what they want. She didn't like the book, fair enough. In the grand scheme of things, getting a bad review isn't up there with being imprisoned without trial in some dungeon for 20 years.
  • Have you read any good autobiographies lately? I'm in recovery from alcoholism so I like ones about people with worse drink and drugs problems than I had. The last good one I read was Scar Tissue by Anthony Kiedis. It was spectacular that he relapsed so many times in so many disastrous ways. I felt I'd gone out there and caned it without having to leave the comfort of my home. I love vicarious debauchery. It makes me feel I was pretty tame.
  • Could it encourage you to go out on the lash again? Like, 'if he could do that, I could get another ten years out of it if I play my cards right'? No! That hasn't happened, mercifully.
  • Your last book featured mediums. Did you research any? Were you convinced? I met around ten in London, Dublin and New York, both one on one and in big audiences. I thought they were all complete swizzes, every single one of them. I went into it hopeful. I was prepared to give them a chance but they were such liars. I was only doing research but if you'd lost someone, you'd be in a terribly vulnerable position. I found some of them downright disgusting, onstage saying: 'I've got a Maureen coming through; has anyone got a Maureen?' It was so obvious it was fake.
  • Do you believe in life after death? I haven't got a clue but, no, not based on that evidence.
  • You've sold millions of books. What has been your most extravagant purchase? Buying my husband a Maserati sports car. I know that's bad and an indulgence. I also spend a lot of money in Marks & Spencer buying pineapple that has already been cut up. I could buy a pineapple for a tenth of the price and cut it up myself but don't. I think twice every time I buy it and always manage to feel ashamed. That should count for something.

What's Marian's new novel about? Find out at www.metro.co.uk

Scientists bring dead back to life

BY ROB LYONS

ZOMBIES rising from the dead sound like the stuff of horror films and nightmares - but it could soon be reality. Scientists have discovered a way to bring dead dogs back to life. Using a so-called suspended animation technique, they emptied the dead animals veins of blood and filled them with ice cold saline solution to preserve the tissues and organs. The animals had no heartbeat or brain activity and were classed as being clinically dead. The saline solution was then replaced with fresh blood and electric shocks were used to restart the heart. The dogs appeared unharmed by their suspension and had suffered no brain damage.Scientists at the Safar Centre in Pittsburgh hope to use the technique on humans within a year and are in talks with hospitals about trials on trauma patients. They believe it could save the lives of people who have suffered massive blood loss, such as battlefield casualties or stabbings victims. 'The results are stunning. They have these dogs with complete cardiac standstill for three hours and they recover to normality,' said trauma surgeon Dr Howard Champion.


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