Psychic Mortician Avoids Skeptical Questioning

Mariah de la Croix, depending on where you look, bills herself as a psychic, medium, empath, and even a “sensitive intuitive.”  She claims to be able to communicate both with the spirits of humans and the “energies of the animal kingdom.”  For modest prices, she offers a variety of services, including, but not limited to:  astrological charts, past life therapy, tarot readings, and something called personal animal totems.  The slogan at LadyMariah.com is “Where answers are given…just not always the ones you want.”  Unfortunately, Mariah herself doesn’t seem to be willing to answer any of my questions at all.

It all started the week before Halloween when her publicist, Liz Donatelli, emailed myself and my co-host Bobby Nelson over at Strange Frequencies Radio.   She was requesting that we book her client for an interview to discuss her book, “Restless in Peace:  A Psychic Mortician’s Encounters with Those Who Refuse to Rest.”  In this paranormal memoir, it is revealed that Mariah de la Croix worked in several funeral homes as a mortician and embalmer and encountered a variety of spirits along the way.  For instance, Mariah relates a tale of a female spirit that left the confines of one mortuary to take up residence in her car for over a year.  Another spirit, who was apparently murdered outside the mortuary, returned annually to the scene of the crime to pursue justice.  Still other spirits Mariah met and communicated with were said to perform such mischievous acts as moving urns and hiding items on the roof of the mortuaries themselves.  And, yes, sometimes the dead assist in their own funeral proceedings.  Ms. de la Croix,  it seemed to us, would make a wonderful guest for our show.  We said yes and booked the date of November 4th with her publicist.

Mariah de la Croix (via: authors.com)

On the Amazon.com page for her book, I had been able to find out a couple names of the mortuaries she is said to have worked at.  I tried googling them but couldn’t find any precise matches in Arizona, where she resides, or anywhere else with an admittedly cursory search.  Because I didn’t have a physical copy of her book at the time, and her website didn’t provide much information, I wrote to Mariah personally to get a bit more background information on her story.  It’s not something that is altogether uncommon for me, and it has never posed a problem before to ask a few questions so I could gather a bit more interview material.  In the interest of full disclosure, here is the unedited text of the email I sent to Mariah:

Hi Mariah,

I was curious about some of the mortuaries you mentioned working at in your book.  Are they in the Phoenix area?  I was interested in checking them out.  Thanks so much!

Jason

Here was her response, also unedited:

Hi Jason,

Thank you so very much for your enquiry, but unfortunately, for legal reasons, plus the privacy of the establishments involved and the families they serve, I can’t give you their locations.  I’m sorry.  I would be able to chat with you about the book, though, if there is anything else you would like to ask.

Mariah

So, okay, fine.  She doesn’t want to give out the locations.  I was unaware that providing the cities or states they were in was a legal concern, particularly when in much of the biographical information of Mariah online, the Phoenix, AZ area is mentioned.  Judging by her response, the names of the mortuaries may very well be real.  But then why wasn’t I able to find them?  I decided to leave it at that and just ask any further questions to her personally during the interview.

Except, that ended up being canceled shortly thereafter.  We received an email from Liz Donatelli, the publicist, later that night to rescind approval for the interview.  Liz claimed that Mariah felt my email to her was “inappropriate” and had decided to cancel after listening to an archive episode of our show.
I was incredulous.  My email to her was in no way inappropriate.  And judging by her response, she didn’t think so at first either.  I began to suspect that Mariah checked out our show, saw we were skeptical, and backed out for fear of tough questioning.  At the time she canceled, the most recent archived episode involved us speaking about a recent psychic failure involving a missing child.  Could Mariah have seen this and decided to go into hiding?

At this point, it would seem so.  I tried emailing her again directly to express my confusion.  I explained that I have never had someone respond to an email query with a phrase like “thank you,” as well as an open-ended invitation for more questions, only to later determine my original communication was inappropriate.  I also asked Mariah to please tell me what about our show she suddenly found unfavorable.  I explained to her that, in the four years we have been doing Strange Frequencies Radio, we have never had anyone, from scientist or philosopher to ghost hunter or psychic, claim that we treated them unfairly.  I told her that, even in the cases where we disagree with our guests, the vast majority of the time we end up laughing and having a good time with them.  The point of Strange Frequencies Radio, I said, is conversation, not confrontation.  We only want the truth.  I hoped my email would calm any fears she may have and that she would reconsider.

Well, I can’t say that I anticipated getting a response.  I assumed by that time her publicist had already told her to avoid further communication from us.  As of this writing, now several days after sending that last email, she has not gotten back with me.

Later, after talking to a friend, I decided to run a search with the Arizona Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to see if Mariah de la Croix was licensed in the state.  She’s not.  There is no listing for her as a funeral director, embalmer or cremationist.  She’s not even an intern.  My friend and I have both sent messages to her on Twitter on successive days since neither she or her publicist have been responding to emails.  I asked if she is using a pseudonym or is perhaps no longer licensed.  The latter wouldn’t be a good answer, however, since the Board lists both current and former licensees right on their website.  Anyone can access them, both to verify licensure or even to see whether or not the person in question has faced any disciplinary action related to their profession.  Unsurprisingly, she hasn’t responded.

As of now, it has gotten to the point where I think Mariah de la Croix is hiding something.  She may or may not be using a fictitious name for her psychic business and book, but then she won’t divulge any information regarding the whereabouts of the mortuaries she is said to have worked at either.  A quick phone call to verify her employment and spiritual encounters is all I would like to do.  But since I can’t find record of her even having a license to do the type of work she says she has done, I have no evidence by which to back up any of the claims she is making.

Is it all a misunderstanding that Mariah de la Croix refuses to help clear up?  If so, why?  Or, even worse, is her entire story built on a foundation of lies and misinformation?  Only Mariah has the answers to the questions I have been asking.  And it seems that, after all this time, neither her or the spirits are interested in talking.

Advertisements
Psychic Mortician Avoids Skeptical Questioning

TAPS and Trickery at the Pasadena Playhouse

Britt Griffith, star of Syfy’s Ghost Hunters and Ghost Hunters International took the stage Saturday night at the Pasadena Playhouse to deliver a lecture on ghost hunting and to do a Q&A with excited fans.  Tickets to the event, originally $30, were lowered to $5 due to poor sales.  By the time Griffith took the stage, only about 1/3rd of the available seats were taken.

Credit: Luis Castillo

After saying that he was a bit rushed and would only be able to talk for about an hour, Britt kicked off his performance by stating, unequivocally, that he never faked evidence on Ghost Hunters, nor did he ever see anyone he worked with fake anything.  “I don’t know how they do things on other shows,” he said.  “But we never faked anything.”  And if that sounds like a weird way to kick off a show to you, I would agree.  But roughly 35 minutes later, these words would blow up in his face.

Lou Castillo, an independent paranormal investigator in California and self-proclaimed “believer,” attended the evening’s festivities and reported what went on directly to me throughout the night.  A longtime listener of the internet radio show and podcast, Strange Frequencies Radio, that I host along with my friend Bobby Nelson, Lou is affectionately known by us as our “West Coast Correspondent.”

Britt put on an entertaining show, Lou told me.  He told jokes, regaled the audience with tales from behind-the-scenes of the Ghost Hunters program and showed clips of pranks the cast has pulled on each other.  He also gave advice to would be paranormal investigators, explaining why the crew uses certain pieces of equipment and warning that, should they ever be traipsing around in abandoned locations, it may be smart to invest in a carbon monoxide detector.  Later, creating a bit of an “Us vs. Them” atmosphere, Mr. Griffith gave a few of his thoughts on skeptics, pooh-poohing “what skeptics would have you believe” as it pertained to paranormal photography and EVP recordings.

What really got the audience excited, however, was Britt’s buildup to a secret piece of video never before seen from one of their televised investigations.  “West Coast Correspondent Lou” described it as “black and white night vision footage of a hotel where, down a hallway, what looked to be an elderly man moving right to left, then left to right” could be seen.  It never made air, apparently, due to the request of the proprietors of the location itself.  They felt that showing this on television would possibly scare clients away, or maybe even stir up activity at the location more.

Griffith stated that there was no one down the hallway who could have been pulling a fast one on them.  Certainly no one that could have escaped the watchful eye of the video recording equipment set up.  And if a skeptic tells you that it could have been faked by the crew themselves, well remember, TAPS never faked anything while Britt Griffith was around.

Credit: Luis Castillo

It was at about this time, when the atmosphere in the Pasadena Playhouse was at its peak, that something strange happened.  A light fixture which was placed up on-stage began to flicker a bit.  What was happening?  Was the power going to go out?  Then, quickly, it moved, right around 3 inches or so and seemingly on its own, back and slightly toward the left of stage.  The audience gasped and one attendee shouted out, “Did you see that?  It moved!”  Tension was beginning to mount and excitement at what was thought to clearly be a paranormal occurrence was at a fevered pitch.

Griffith, seemingly oblivious to the movement of the light fixture asked for details from witnesses.  He asked folks to keep an eye on it and, before continuing with his presentation joked, “if it moves towards me, someone please let me know!”  He pressed on with his talk, but it is easy to understand why many of the eyes in the room were focused elsewhere.  Just then, mere moments after the original event, the light fixture moved again.  Not quite as far this time, but certainly a noticeable distance.  People began to scream once more and onlookers rose from their chairs.  The room filled with the light of a dozen or more flashbulbs going off in an effort to capture real-life paranormal phenomenon on camera.

Soon thereafter, and once things settled down, Griffith finished up with the Q&A portion of the evening and those curious about the light fixture walked up onstage to check it out for themselves.  Mr. Castillo hurried to be among them.  He witnessed a few people taking photographs of the fixture, but jumped in front of them to get a better look at the setup before they could start touching it.  The first thing he noticed, he said, was how heavy it was; certainly not something that could be moved easily.  He also noticed the base of the fixture and the thick electrical cord that was attached to it.  But immediately doubts about the authenticity of the event came to his mind.  The cord was was stretched out as straight as could be, not at all how a cord would look if the light fixture it was attached to had moved on its own.  In that case, one would expect the cord to have some slack to it and perhaps even be in an “S” shape.  And it was then that he noticed where this very straight cord led:  back and to the left of stage, behind the curtain of the Pasadena Playhouse.  Exactly the direction the fixture had moved toward two times earlier.  Easily, Lou saw how someone could have pulled the cord from behind cover to make it appear as if the fixture was being moved by an unseen phantom.

While Lou could see all the evidence pointing to fakery almost immediately, the others folks around him couldn’t.  Nor, he says, would they listen to reason.  While they were discussing their luck at having witnessed true paranormal activity, Mr. Castillo tried in vain to explain to them what probably really happened.  In fact, he even had a suspect in mind to who pulled off the stunt.  A younger blonde woman, who he says attended to Britt throughout the evening and was possibly an employee of the theater, was suddenly nowhere to be found.

But the other TAPS True Believers (TTBs) were unswayed.  Lou was told that he was taking the wrong perspective, or even just denying what they all had seen with their own eyes.  “But it moved!” one said to him.  “You’re just a skeptic.”  A friend of Lou’s, who was attending the event with him, stepped in at this point.  Lou, he told them, was not a skeptic at all, but someone who very much believed in ghosts.  And though Lou tried his best to explain to the onlookers that, while he would love for it to be real, what they had all seen was likely a very simple trick.  But it was useless.  The others had saw what they saw and their minds were made up.  It was a paranormal event and no one could tell them otherwise.  Their money was well spent.

I have seen similar instances much like Lou described to me in so-called paranormal hotspots across the country.  In both private residences and public locations, “seasoned paranormal investigators” and other curious onlookers fall for obvious hoaxes or fool themselves into believing that a natural event is something paranormal.  In many of those cases, the expectation of ghostly activity trumps rational explanation.  But with Britt Griffith and the Pasadena Playhouse, I think the fame and respect factor played in heavily.  Not wanting to believe that Britt Griffith, a TAPS team member they look up to and have enjoyed watching on television, could be involved with staging paranormal activity, they ignored all the evidence that pointed toward a hoax and instead walked away believing it was genuine.

Was Britt in on the fakery?  There is no way I can say for sure.  Perhaps a rogue Pasadena Playhouse staff member decided to spice things up a bit.  After all, the theater has a few paranormal legends attached to it and has welcomed amateur groups in before to investigate.  This could have been a perfect opportunity to add to the stories.  And, probably, add to the ticket price of future events as well.

What I am sure of, however, is that there was no paranormal activity involved Saturday night.  But a number of people, falling victim to expectation and the loss of critical thinking in the face of someone they deem to be an authority figure, became yet another case study in the psychology behind perceived paranormal experiences.

Then again, some folks call me a skeptic.  So maybe that’s just what I would have you believe.  Right, Britt?

TAPS and Trickery at the Pasadena Playhouse

A Picture of Paranormal Fraud

There is a paranormal group that goes by the name of Ghosts of New England Research Society.  G.O.N.E.R.S, for short.  Recently, they began publicizing a hoaxed ghost photo as authentic.  They have also been using the hoax, in part, to promote an episode of the Discovery Channel series “American Haunting” that they’ll be featured on this fall.

Understandably, this has gotten a number of people in the paranormal community up in arms.  Fraudulent ghost photos are something most investigators decry and, indeed, it was skeptical paranormal investigators themselves who spotted the fraud in the first place.

ImageThe photo, taken at Ryder’s on Main, a bar and restaurant in Meridan, CT shows the hazy silhouette of what G.O.N.E.R.S calls “The Holy Grail of Paranormal Research:  A Full Body apparition of what appears to be a women in 1920s-30s period attire…”  Of course, anyone familiar with famous ghost photos recognized this image as the well-documented “Madonna of Bachelor’s Grove” taken at the Chicago cemetery by members of the Ghost Research Society in the summer of 1991.  It had simply been superimposed on a photo taken inside Ryder’s on Main by way of photoshop or perhaps even a smartphone app.

Skeptical paranormal investigator Kenny Biddle who, in full disclosure, must also be noted as a contributor to The Bent Spoon, first spotted the forgery on Facebook, drawing attention to the striking similarities between the images and quickly swayed opinion.  While many on the thread were originally hyping it up as a great piece of evidence, they soon turned to castigating the paranormal team in question for using it to market themselves.

Image
The story soon went viral and Ghosts of New England Research Society took the image down, apparently not commenting publicly on the matter.  Many in the paranormal community have taken this incident to be the prime example why paranormal investigation is not accepted by the scientific mainstream.  Even Brian Harnois, former cast member of the longest running fraudulent paranormal reality series on television, Ghost Hunters, said it is incidents like this that caused him to retire from the field.

In defense of G.O.N.E.R.S, it is unclear whether they hoaxed the photo themselves, or were duped by the bar/restaurant.  Either way, however, the paranormal team is culpable.  They should have known how famous the Bachelor’s Grove image is, for one.  Secondly, they should not have publicized and promoted the photo from Ryder’s on Main to get attention for their upcoming television exposure.  They fell into a trap they set themselves with their own ignorance.

But is this really the cause of paranormal investigation not being taken seriously by science?  Is fraud really the reason ghost hunters don’t get more credit from the scientific establishment?  I think not.  Fraud happens in science as well.  Things like peer review help eliminate it, something most paranormal enthusiasts don’t seem to use.  But even having examples of fraud throughout the history of science gives no one logical license to distrust the scientific process.  It has worked for hundreds of years.

No, the reason ghost hunters are not taken seriously by science is because they do not respect science.  Ghost hunters, by and large, have a fundamental misunderstanding of how to operate under proper scientific methodologies or even to control their experiments.  The evidence they put forth is not given credibility because it isn’t evidence.  At best, it is often just anomalies they found on their digital voice recorders or readings they took on their EMF meters.  Anomalies which, by the way, have been explained countless times by science-based investigators.

If there’s a lesson that can be learned from Ghosts of New England Research Society, it is this:  your photographs are not proof of ghosts.  But it can be proof that you don’t seem to know what you are doing.  So, if you want to be taken seriously by science, start taking science seriously and educate yourselves.

A Picture of Paranormal Fraud

Losing Faith: an Interview with Peter Boghossian and Matt Thornton

Credit: Portland Mercury

Is faith a reliable means of aligning your beliefs with the truth?  Professor Peter Boghossian says it is not and, in fact, calls faith both a delusion and a cognitive sickness.  Having watched his lecture, “Jesus, The Easter Bunny and Other Delusions: Just Say No!” we decided to ask him to share his thoughts with the readers of The Bent Spoon in an effort to further discussion about this important topic.  He was kind enough to invite MMA coach and voice of reason Matt Thornton to participate as well.

What follows is the full text of our interview.  We hope you’ll find it engaging.

Before we get started, Professor Boghossian, can you please give a brief introduction of yourself to readers who may not be familiar with your work?

I’m in the philosophy department at Portland State University (PSU). My specialty is critical thinking and reasoning. Here’s my PSU homepage:  http://pdx.edu/philosophy/peter-boghossian

I’ve invited Matt Thornton to answer these questions with me:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matt_Thornton_%28martial_artist%29  Matt was a pioneer in reality-based martial arts training and remains a strong voice of reason.

Matt and I will be debating religious leaders at some point in the near future. This is a good opportunity for readers to understand our positions.

You have gotten a lot of publicity lately for speaking out against faith-based reasoning. Can you explain why you use words and phrases like “delusion” and “cognitive sickness” when talking about faith?

I’m being honest. When one sees faith claims as knowledge claims then it becomes clear that one of three things must be happening: 1) people are pretending to know things they do not know; 2) people are delusional; 3) people use a process to access information about the world (Jonas lived in the belly of a whale, Mohammad flew to heaven on a winged horse) and that process is inaccessible to me.

 

Have you gotten any backlash from your friends or colleagues due to your recent outspokenness on the topic of faith? How has religion affected the world negatively? In other words, what’s the harm?

There’s been considerable backlash from my colleagues—including formal complaints. I’ve not experienced any backlash from my friends.

When thinking about why people are upset with me, it’s really rather remarkable. I’m asking to people to do two things: 1) formulate their beliefs on the basis of evidence, and 2) stop pretending to know things they don’t know. It’s both amazing and tragic that this is considered controversial.

Let’s re-phrase the second half of your question: How does superstition affect the world negatively, since religion is by definition superstition. It’s an ongoing, global catastrophe.

 

Do you feel there is anything good about having faith, or believing in a personal god? If so, what?

 

What do you make of the people who say that it takes faith to be an atheist? 

As I said in my May 6th lecture for the Humanists of Greater Portland, these terms need to be unpacked.

Let’s define faith as, “Pretending to know things you don’t know”. Let’s define atheist as, “A person who doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t know with regard to a creation of the universe”.  While somewhat clunky, after these substitutions the sentence becomes:

“I don’t pretend to know things I don’t know enough to be a person who doesn’t pretend to know things he doesn’t know with regard to a creation of the universe”.

 

How do you feel about the position of agnosticism? Is it maybe an easy way of getting out of answering a question about one’s belief system, or is it a justifiable position to hold?

Atheism is a statement of non-belief. Atheism is not a knowledge claim. The atheist thinks that there’s insufficient evidence to warrant belief in a god. Atheists don’t definitively claim there’s no god.

Once this is clear, there really is no need for the term “agnostic”.  I’m not a Tooth Fairy agnostic. I’m a Tooth Fairy atheist.

 

One popular argument people use to justify faith is that, without God, the world would take a downward spiral into immorality and anarchy. How do you react to this?

I just spoke about this in a recent NEPA Freethought Society podcast. Morality exists despite religion, not because of it. The hijacking of morality by religious clerics is one of the greatest scams of history.

It’s never been clear to me what the relationship is between a god and morality. What does God have to do with morality? If the universe was created by a being that we call “God,” how does this necessitate that we should behave in certain ways? I just don’t understand this move.

If one wants to claim that God is imbued with certain characteristics, like kindness and charity, then I want to know how someone knows this. Perhaps there was a being that created the universe but it doesn’t care one iota what we do with ourselves. Again, the relationship between God and morality can’t be accepted by fiat. Just as one can’t accept by fiat that God created the universe and now it doesn’t care about us.

Now if the claim is that there’s no God, but that we should tell people there is so they’ll act like reasonable human beings and not go on killing sprees, then this is another claim entirely. This is an empirical claim. It’s also one that promotes lying, dishonesty, and insincerity. We’re being asked to compromise our personal and intellectual integrity for the hope of some kind of social consequentialism. I’m not buying it.

 

 

Some who identify as having faith often say things like, “Atheists have faith as well. They have faith their family loves them, or that their wife won’t cheat on them. And they have faith in science.” How do you respond to that type of argument?

Stating, “You have faith that your wife loves you,” does not do what the utterer thinks it will do. He thinks that this statement will show that even you, the “militant atheist,” has faith in some things–you just choose to have faith in different things. One person has faith in the promise of an afterlife, while another has faith in a worldly concern that you know to be true.

These claims are not parallel. One is an empirical claim about a living breathing person, the other is a claim about a make believe “spirit” being. It would be akin to comparing belief in horses to belief in unicorns.

 

 

Recent studies suggest that atheists are among society’s most distrusted groups, comparable even to rapists in some circumstances. Why do you think being an atheist has such a negative stigma attached to it?

Ignorance.

 

 

Many people agree with what you are saying, but are afraid to “come out of the closet” as atheists themselves. Do you have any advice for someone who may be struggling with this decision?

Try living life authentically. Try having genuine, honest relationships with people. You’ll probably lose some friends, but in all likelihood even your ex-friends will respect you. (It may also be interesting to learn what those lost relationships were based upon).

Being honest, epistemically humble, and not pretending to know things you don’t know, are qualities that you should not be afraid of. These are virtues to which you should aspire.

Follow Peter on Twitter @peterboghossian

Follow Matt on Twitter @aliveness_ape

Join Peter’s mailing list and learn about his upcoming public lectures and debates, from your mobile phone text “DELUSION” + your email address to 22333.

Losing Faith: an Interview with Peter Boghossian and Matt Thornton