Channel Surfing: Is Visiting A Spiritualist Entertainment, Education or Something Else?


    The magician.

    That tarot card points to skill and talent, and even a sense of something left uncompleted, says David MacKenzie, an intuitive reader and co-owner of Arcanus Tarot Parlor. The magician is the card the spirits have chosen for me, MacKenzie says.

    I’m sitting in a Victorian-style reading room located at the end of a long hallway in a mostly vacant strip mall in Longmont, Colorado.

    We are stirring things up, MacKenzie’s business partner, Dennis Perez explains.

    You can’t just dive into a séance head first, apparently. You have to ease into it, because you’re opening a gateway, and you have to know what you’re dealing with before letting anything in.

    “It’s not like Disneyland,” Perez says. “It’s not something you can turn on and off.”

    We even have to sign a waiver before we began this “stirring” that states the readers are not responsible for anything summoned or any psychological disturbances that occur thereafter. In the parlor’s waiting area, a framed certificate clearly states the parlor is only allowed under Colorado law to provide “entertainment services.” It continues, “We do not provide legal or medical advice, and are not responsible for misuse of advice given as it is only for entertainment.”

    Aurora Magazine - Subscribe!Back in Perez’s reading room, we go through the Zener cards. These cards — a wavy line, a star, a box, a circle, or a cross — were used by Dr. J.B. Rhine in numerous experiments with extrasensory perception, or ESP, at Duke University in the early 1930s. The exercise involves guessing which card the handler holds. I get about half of them right when I have to guess four, a sign I may have some telepathic ability, according to Perez.

    The next test is a pendulum that, if it moves while dangling between your fingers, suggests a spirit is present.

    MacKenzie, whose long brown hair, black suit, and Scottish brogue give him an impish air, has for most of the night been joking about how much blood he will need for the sacrifices.

    The name Arcanus comes from MacKenzie’s great-great-great-great grandfather who worked as a coffin repairman for Scotland’s great estates. He was the sole repairman for vast mausoleums, MacKenzie remembers, where his great ancestor would gather the unused coffin nails, which were handmade by a blacksmith.

    “Before you know it, he had a grand number of them,” MacKenzie says. “He made his way to London and found there was quite an underground cult community there. He started selling those coffin nails because they used them in magic and traditional witchcraft.”

    He named the shop where he sold the nails Arcanus, which means “hidden” in Latin.

    “My family has been doing this type of work for generations,” MacKenzie says.  “We’ve been working on doing both traditional witchcraft, divination, so forth.  My grandfather was the cunning man of his village of the Inverness area.”

    A large portion of the artifacts decorating the Longmont tarot parlor are objects people brought to the two men believing they were cursed. 

    Amidst a jar of plastic doll parts, a monkey’s paw, rings, pearl necklaces and even a shrunken head, the most disturbing artifact sits in the séance room, which also serves as Perez’s tarot-reading office.

    It’s a barely discernible gray doll, but you wouldn’t know it right away, locked in a wooden box.

    “There ended up being a physical altercation between a little girl and this doll,” Perez explains. “The father tried to intervene and tore the doll’s arm off. Her father was so freaked out, he saw fit to take the time build this prison, and she’s been in there about 50 years. I got it from a man who said don’t let her out.”

    Perez was introduced to the supernatural through his grandmother Rosalita, an upstanding Spanish Catholic who lived in the Bronx.

    “She used to spend her off time down at Coney Island hanging out with the readers and the American gypsies. As a kid, at probably seven or eight, she hauled me down there too,” he says.

    The idea of communicating with the dead is as old as humanity itself, which is why so much of the Old Testament advocates against the practice. But the idea that humans can conveniently, and for a price, communicate with the other side is a more recent invention.

    Séances trace their origins to 19th-century America’s obsession with spiritualism, the belief that the dead can communicate with the living.

    Spiritualism was popularized by the Fox Sisters in New York in 1848, who claimed they could receive answers from spirits who rapped on the walls in response to their questions. From there, the phenomenon spread around the country, leading to the invention of tools such as the Ouija Board, created by the Kennard Novelty Company in the 1890s to make communicating with the other side  even more convenient and also more profitable.

    Scholars believe spiritualism reached a fever pitch in the United States in the 1800s because it came at a time when rationalism and science were forcing the Victorian world to question its firm belief in Christianity. Spiritualism was particularly  popular among the American and English upper classes, with men like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as its vocal proponents.

    In 1888 the Fox girls revealed that they had faked their communications with the spirits, which also coincided with the peak and slow decline of spiritualism in popular culture.

    Throughout the course of the night during my own séance experience, I have  “direct contact” with a spirit, meaning the entity is related to me. That’s versus random apparitions that like to contact just anyone opening the supernatural gateway. At one point, a woman, wearing pearl earrings a flower dress, big hair. She could be my Jewish grandmother  telling me to ‘take care girl,’  MacKenzie says.

    Perez says we’ve potentially stirred too much before we leave. He says to try to remember our dreams that night. We could encounter the spirits that way, especially if they follow us home.

    I do as instructed when I get home. I take a stone and placed it in a ceramic bowl filled with spring water. They say it will help the spirit who contacted me find me.

    I’m supposed to dream about this spirit, supposedly my grandma. Instead, I end up dreaming about an African dancer at a mall in Brooklyn.


    Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who authored the Sherlock Holmes series, wasn’t the only famous person to get swept up in the Spiritualism craze of the late 19th century. Here’s a few more famous people that were particularly susceptible and amenable to contact with the other side.

    First Lady Mary Todd Lincoln grieved over the death of her 11-year-old son, Willie, through séances, which were rumored to have occurred in the White House. Turning to spiritualism was common for Civil War families coping with the loss of so many loved ones to battle.

    Author Charles Dickens was not just the most well-known novelist of the Victorian era. He was also one of the founding members of “The Ghost Club” in 1862. Still functioning, it’s considered one of the oldest paranormal investigation and research organization in the world.