As far back as ancient Egypt, we humans have been fascinated with psychic phenomena and the paranormal. And wherever you sit on the spectrum of believer or disbeliever, you probably grew up with a Ouija board.
Chip Coffey grew up with way more than a board game. The star of A&E's hit television show "Psychic Kids: Children of the Paranormal," Coffey is an internationally known psychic, medium, paranormal investigator and lecturer who has made appearances on "Good Morning America" and "Larry King Live." In his book released this week, Growing Up Psychic: My Story of Not Just Surviving but Thriving - and How Others Like Me Can, Too, Coffey shares his personal story of discovering his psychic gifts as a child, the challenges he faced coming to terms with it and his decision to embrace it.
Since 2001, Coffey has conducted over 20,000 readings for clients all over the world. Said Coffey: "Being psychic -- minus the woo woo -- simply means being able to access energy or information that can't be accessed using the give senses. People try to make it a lot bigger, weirder and spookier than it really is."
We recently suspended disbelief and telecommunicated with Coffey from Los Angeles.
What were some of the obstacles you faced as a kid growing up psychic?
I was one of those fortunate kids who really didn't face many challenges because I was psychic. My family was very accepting and had a history of paranormally related activity. My great grandmother was a medicine woman. My mom had some gifts of her own. My dad's mom read tea leaves. So nobody thought it was too weird, as a child of the late 50s, 60s and 70s, to have psychic abilities.
That explains why everyone in your family was so matter-of-fact when all that paranormal activity was happening in the house where you grew up. You wrote about seeing levitating pinecones and shirts rising up in the air. Most people would have gone berserk. But your family was so laissez-faire. 'Oh, there's that silly ghost again...'
We were never scared. And I remember the pine cone incident perfectly. My dad and I were sitting around watching TV at Christmas time. There were all these decorations and glittered pine cones. All of a sudden one of them lifted up about six or eight inches above the television, floated suspended in mid-air for a few seconds, and then dropped back down perfectly in place. My dad and I turned to each other a little wide-eyed, didn't say a word, then went back to watching television. That's how de rigueur it was.
No spook or fear factor?
None. In the beginning it was creepy. But we didn't feel like we were going to get hurt. There was no feeling of impending doom. We just assumed it was the Murphy family. It had been their house and we were totally willing to share that space with them.
So your belief in an afterlife comes not out of a religious conviction, but rather as a part of your own connection and experiences with Something Else?
The culture of paranormal asserts that departed souls linger on the earth plain. Assuming this is true, why would that be the case?
I don't believe that there are that many earth-bound souls. And I believe that there's a difference between a ghost and a spirit. I believe that when we die our soul leaves the body and makes this transition -- at least it's supposed to make this transition into the world of spirit. But sometimes for a number of reasons that doesn't happen. Maybe there's a family involved that is so grief-stricken and distraught that they feel the need to stick around and do something to help. Or maybe they feel that they have unfinished business. Those souls don't make that transition and become ghosts. Those are the ones that can be the most raucous and noisy.
Then there are those souls that say Okay, I'm good to go. But then, out of an attachment to a person or a place, they come back for a visit. That's a spirit. So there is a distinction between a ghost and a spirit. I encounter mostly spirits who are coming back to visit relatives with whom they were associated or places that were beloved to them.
So the way the child's experience is depicted in the film "The Sixth Sense" was not your experience?
I've never seen those sorts of things, but some of the kids I've worked with have. Nobody's ever come back to me after they died a violent death, other than the time I tried channeling a woman during a murder investigation and she actually took over my body and had me relive her murder.
That does not sound like a vacation.
Oh no, let me tell you. Never again. Never, ever.
What are some of the obstacles faced by children with psychic gifts whose families are not as open-minded as yours?
Once people find out about that a child has this skill set or ability, they can be cruel. Parents will take their kids to physicians or mental health experts who really don't understand the children. They don't know what to do with them. Some kids are called demonic. Some have had "you're a witch" spray-painted on their lockers. One little boy who appeared on our show was attacked in his local newspaper by a fundamentalist minister who wrote that this child was consorting with the devil. They are called mentally unstable; are bullied and mis-diagnosed. People who adhere to fundamentalist religions who condemn these children as being pawns of Satan are the worst. The whole psychic thing -- connecting with the paranormal -- really is nothing but another level of being different.
In your book you write about children who have vivid memories of places -- places where they've never actually lived or visited. It's been said that many children are born with a window of perception that closes up by the age of five or six.
There's a lot of innocence in childhood. Then, all of a sudden, we get involved in the real world. We're exposed to so much technology. Our brains develop and we're immersed more into the third dimension world, and sucked into it. And that can sometimes detract from any naturally instinctive or intuitive abilities that a child might have.
I grew up in California, where seeing a psychic or an astrologer is a pretty accepted part of the local culture. Is there a certain demographic that's more receptive to seeing psychics?
I have not been able to segregate a single demographic. I have people of all colors, all income levels, all religions, all ages and all socio-economic status in numerous countries. I'm always flabbergasted that interest in this is so far-flung and widespread.
Historically, interest or belief in the paranormal has been around for ages.
Look as far back as biblical times. People saw prophets and seers. Look at the times when oracles were consulted back in ancient Greece and ancient Rome. Look at the Egyptians who had a fascination with the afterlife, with the process of preserving and honoring their dead and making sure they had everything they needed in the afterlife. Since time immemorial one of the greatest mysteries of life is death. There's a part of me that asks: What really happens at death? How does the process work? And while I'm not terribly afraid to die, I'm quite content hanging out for now in the 3-D.
You must enjoy being Chip Coffey in the Here and Now.
If we do indeed live multiple lives -- if reincarnation is a fact and the Buddhists have it right -- why don't we remember our past lives?
I would have to say that we're supposed to focus on the Here and Now. We've come back into a present incarnation with a plan. To get a little spiritual on you, I believe that in its purest form our souls want to be as close to divine perfection as we can. And I believe that the things we need to learn and our soul's evolution is a little like being a boy scout or a girl scout and getting a merit badge. I believe we have certain goals that are set up prior to our incarnations and that they are part of our purpose for our lifetimes. I think that if we remembered clear details of things that happened in our past lives, that might derail us.
Some people believe that the obstacles we have in our current lives are in fact obstacles we faced and couldn't overcome in previous lives. Do you believe that?
I do believe that that's an operative principle. Some people call it karma. I absolutely believe that. It's one soul in many different bodies. It's really just a matter of moving from one dimension to another, and death is not either the end or this huge gulf of separation.
Did your psychic abilities or experiences change when you hit 50?
I didn't do any of that talking to the dead until 11 years ago.
What shifted 11 years ago?
Talking to the dead came at a time when I was able to deal with it. It actually happened for me organically. All of the pieces of my life came together to bring me to the point that I'm at right now, which is this delicious recipe that I have that allows me to be of service to people.
Your mantra is "No fear, no doubt."
What's the one thing you know now that you wish you knew growing up?
I know now that every second of every moment of every day is a gift and you should live your life accordingly. I've learned to always say "thank you" and "forgive me." Those are the two most important things. Thank you for everything and forgive me for everything. That's how I live my life.
(Check out the slideshow below for some other famous psychics on TV -- both real and fictional.)
John Edward, 42, produced and hosted "Crossing Over With John Edward" and "John Edward Cross Country," in which he connected people with loved ones who have passed on. He has sold 2.4 million copies of his books, which include several New York Times best sellers, according to his website. Edward was raised on Long Island, New York, where he still lives with his wife and children.
What is it with New York and psychics? TLC features Theresa Caputo in its program "Long Island Medium." Caputo told Entertainment Weekly: "I've seen spirits since the age of four. I thought it was normal until I hit my teenage years and and sharing things with my friends and they said 'that's not normal.' In my family it was normal, but to my friends it wasn't. I started suffering from anxieties. In my late twenties I went to a spiritual healer and that's when she told me was that a spirit was trying to communicate with me and that's what caused a lot of my anxiety and aliments."
"The Mentalist" stars Simon Baker as Patrick Jane, an independent consultant with the California Bureau of Investigation (CBI), who solves crime by using his uncanny observation skills. Before he joined the CBI, Jane enjoyed minor celebrity for his psychic gifts, which were faked.
James Roday also plays a fake psychic and police consultant -- Shawn Spencer -- in the USA Network comedy/mystery series "Psych", which also stars Dulé Hill as Shawn's best friend and reluctant partner Burton "Gus" Guster, and Corbin Bernsen (of L.A. Law fame) as Shawn's father, Henry. It premiered in 2006 and still airs Fridays at 10pm EST/9pm CST.
Actress Jennifer Love Hewitt attends the "Ghost Whisperer" 100th espisode celebration at XIV in March 2010 in West Hollywood, California. The series ran from 2005 to 2010. Love Hewitt played Melinda Gordon, a married antique store owner who can see and communicate with ghosts. She helped the spirits resolve their problems and cross over into the light (or the spirit world).
Patricia Arquette, pictured here at last year's White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, played Allison DuBois, a mother of three who also works for the Phoenix, Arizona district attorney, in the show "Medium." It ran from 2005 to 2011 (one year on NBC and the rest on CBS), according to IMDb.com. She talks to ghosts, sees the dead and can see past events in her dreams (or nightmares). The show was based on the real Allison DuBois, a wife and mother of three who consults with law enforcement agencies in Phoenix.
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