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MY OWN ODYSSEY BEGINS
I can’t imagine my life as a psychic without a lifetime equally devoted to God and spirituality.
But then, I can’t imagine any life on this rough earth without the comfort, healing, purpose, and joy to be found in God’s arms and in spirituality, where His infinite mysteries and answers lie waiting.
I was lucky (although I would never have used that word when I was a child). I never had to wonder whether the spirit world existed. I knew it did. I saw it, I heard it, and I sensed it all around me, whether I wanted to or not. Without my brilliantly psychic and deeply spiritual grandmother Ada Coil there to explain what was happening and build a bridge between my unique reality and the sanctity of where it came from, I’m sure I would have lost my sanity. (There are those who would argue that the debate about my sanity rages on, but I stopped listening to them decades ago.) Grandma Ada educated me about the gifts I was born with and helped me appreciate them instead of fearing them. She also taught me never to stop questioning, learning, studying, and exploring every aspect of spirituality that keeps our genetic connection to God thriving and relevant. She inspired the spiritual journey to which I’ve devoted my life and gave me her clear footsteps to follow as I started, just as this book is my way of giving you mine.
As some of you already know, I’m a third-generation psychic. Among my particular gifts from birth were clairvoyance (the ability to see beings that originate in other dimensions) and clairaudience (the ability to hear voices and sounds that originate in other dimensions). For added flair, I was even born with a caul, or fetal membrane, around my head, which according to ancient legend is the sign of a psychic child. So when the spirit world came to me long before I would ever have thought of seeking it out, I didn’t understand it at first, but there was certainly no mistaking it.
I was five years old when I had my first psychic vision. We were at a family dinner when I looked over to see the faces of both my great-grandmothers melting like lava running slowly down their necks, leaving nothing but their skulls behind. The only thing that shocked me even more than this horrifying sight was the fact that no one else seemed to be seeing it but me—either that or they were awfully nonchalant about it. Less than two weeks later, both great-grandmothers died. And with the logic of a child, I was sure that somehow, because I was the only one who’d seen those melting faces, I was responsible for killing them. It was Grandma Ada who explained that I’d done nothing wrong, I’d just been given a visual form of psychic information about their impending deaths.
At around that same time I discovered (or, in my opinion, was inflicted with) the random, involuntary ability to view the insides of people who had serious medical conditions, as if I were looking at an X-ray. A neighbor or family friend or door-to-door salesman would stop by and all I would see was a blocked colon or a diseased gallbladder floating around the room.
I turned to Grandma Ada again, asking how I could go about getting rid of this supposed “gift” so that I wouldn’t have to spend the rest of my life surrounded by melting faces and ravaged organs. She patiently pointed out that God gave me this gift, and gave it to me for a reason, so refusing it wasn’t an option. I could, though, ask Him in my prayers not to show me anything I wasn’t old enough or emotionally equipped to handle. I did that, and my prayers were answered. The visions didn’t go away, but they were never again as graphic and terrifying.
In fact, on a couple of occasions I was grateful for them when they helped to make Grandma Ada very happy. One night she was terribly upset after unsuccessfully searching the house for a steel strongbox filled with important papers she needed. (Like all psychics, she was psychic about everyone but herself. If you lose your keys, I’ll tell you exactly where they are. If I lose mine, I’m as stumped as you are.) We were in her bedroom when she explained what the problem was, and at that moment a petite white-haired woman materialized, whom I recognized to be Grandma Ada’s mother, and pointed to the back of a massive bureau. I reported this to Grandma Ada, frankly proud to be seeing a spirit she didn’t see for a change, and it jarred her memory of slipping the strongbox behind that bureau months earlier where no one (including her, obviously) would think to look for it.
On another evening we were all gathered in the living room when I saw a man’s form take shape behind Grandma Ada’s left shoulder. I was sitting on the floor beside her and whispered, “Grandma, who is that man behind you?”
My parents had long since learned to ignore this kind of thing, so they just glanced over, saw nothing, rolled their eyes, and went back to their reading while Grandma Ada asked, “What does he look like?”
I described him—tall, reddish hair, round wire-rimmed glasses. Then I added, “There’s a string around his neck, and it has a horn on it that he uses to listen to people’s chests.”
I’d never seen quite so much joy on her face as she instantly recognized it as her Uncle Jim, a doctor who’d died in a flu epidemic twenty-four years earlier. She was thrilled that he was there with her, and I was thrilled that I’d facilitated a reunion that made someone I adored so happy. And between those two spirit encounters with loved ones she missed so much, I started thinking maybe this psychic thing wasn’t so bad after all.
I began seeing spirits as clearly as I saw everyone else. They especially filled my bedroom at night, which frightened me, so Grandma Ada gave me a flashlight. (To this day I can’t sleep in a completely dark room. I’m not frightened anymore—it’s just annoying, like trying to lie down and relax in the middle of a convention.) I also began “knowing things” without having a clue how or why I knew them.
I announced my grandfather’s death to my family several minutes before my father rushed in to break the news.
I answered the door before anyone knocked and knew who was going to be standing there before I opened it.
One afternoon I pulled my father out of a movie theater in a panic screaming, “Sharon can’t breathe!” We arrived home to discover that my little sister had collapsed with double pneumonia, and the doctors said later that Daddy had reached the emergency room with Sharon with only moments to spare.
A little classmate of mine came to show me the crepe paper witch costume she planned to wear for Halloween trick-or-treating that night. The instant she stepped in the door, I “saw” her costume bursting into flames. Within minutes, while she was prancing around the room perfecting her menacing witch moves, she whirled too close to the wall heating grate and, identical to my vision, her costume ignited. I’m convinced that “seeing” this before it actually happened allowed me to help rather than panic, as I immediately threw her to the ground and rolled her up in an area rug before she even had time to scream. She left the house, completely unharmed, to go find a replacement for her ruined costume.
I “saw” my friend Joan violently slamming her head against the dashboard of a blue car, and it was such a clear, horrible vision that I told her about it and begged her not to get in any blue cars for a while. Within weeks she found herself climbing into the passenger seat of a blue car to run errands with a family friend, then remembered my warning and stayed home instead. A few hours later the brakes failed and the blue car was wrapped around a telephone pole. The family friend and the driver’s side suffered minor damage, but the passenger seat where Joan would have been sitting was destroyed.
Of course, I was a child, with what I prefer to look back on as “guileless candor,” so not all of my psychic efforts were humanitarian. I remember showing off by telling my mother where my daddy really was when she thought he was at work, for example, and describing with uncanny accuracy the lovely blond woman he was visiting. (If you’d known my mother, you wouldn’t have blamed my daddy any more than I did. As I’ve often said, my theory about why he never left her is that he didn’t want to have to kiss her goodbye.)
And then one night when I was eight years old, my life changed, and it would never be the same again.
I was in my bedroom, under strict orders to go to sleep, so I was wide awake, playing with my flashlight, shining it idly around the room. Suddenly, with no warning, the light began to grow and intensify until all I could see was a white-gold glow. And from its core I heard a woman’s voice, clear and distinct despite a rapid, unearthly, high-speed chirpiness. “I come from God, Sylvia,” she said. “Don’t be afraid.”
Looking back, I guess I could have found reassurance in the “I come from God” part, or been fascinated that after eight years of being clairvoyant, I could now officially add clairaudience to my list of psychic skills. Instead, I flew out of my bedroom in sheer terror and ran to find Grandma Ada, who was cleaning vegetables in the kitchen. She stroked my hair to comfort me, calmly explained that it was “just” my Spirit Guide, and went back to her carrot peeling.
My Spirit Guide has been a daily presence and a vital part of my life since that night in 1946. She spent her one lifetime on earth as an Aztec Incan and was killed by a spear in 1520 during the Spanish invasion of Colombia. Her real name is Iena, which I apparently didn’t care for, since I’ve never called her anything but Francine.
For those of you who don’t understand exactly what a Spirit Guide (or “control”) is, it’s very much worth explaining, because I promise, you have one too, whether you’re consciously aware of it or not. A Spirit Guide is someone who, when we choose to come back to earth again from the Other Side, agrees to be our constant companion and helpmate while we’re away from Home. They know what we hope to accomplish during our time here, and it’s their divine assignment to encourage, support, and advise us along the way without ever interfering with our decisions or depriving us of our free will. The simple truth is, we’re all here for the further education and growth of our spirits, which we can’t do without making mistakes and learning from them. Our Spirit Guides would defeat the whole purpose of our trips away from Home if they shielded us from the lessons we mapped out for ourselves in the first place.
So now I had these legions of spirits visiting me, Francine chirping away in my ear, and Grandma Ada reassuring me that there was no reason to be frightened of any of it, that it simply proved that we don’t die at all when our lives on earth are over, we go right on living, real as ever, because God promised when He created us that each of us is eternal, which means we always were and we always will be. In the meantime, I was attending Catholic school (part of my Catholic, Lutheran, Episcopalian, Jewish upbringing) and got in serious trouble with one of the nuns one day when she was telling the class about how our spirits survive death. I helpfully chimed in that I knew that was true, because I saw them and talked to them all the time. She essentially called me a liar. I reported this when I got home. Grandma Ada marched down to the school, and the nun never called me a liar again, although the seeds were planted for my reputation as a troublemaker.
By now, though, I was thoroughly confused. We were supposed to believe that our spirits survive death, but it was ridiculous to believe we could see them and communicate with them. What possible sense did that make? And I didn’t just believe we could, I knew we could. I’d been doing it for years. The suggestion that I was imagining my encounters with the spirit world was as jarring to me as someone suggesting that I was imagining my parents, and I needed to understand what the truth was and where exactly these spirits came from. I wasn’t particularly interested in spirituality at the age of ten—“Cincinnati” would have been enough of an answer for me if that’s where spirits lived when they weren’t dropping in at my house.
So Grandma Ada and Francine started telling me about this breathtakingly beautiful place called the Other Side, our real Home, where we all come from for our brief trips to this “boot camp” called earth and where we all return to our busy lives in the perfection of God’s pure, all-encompassing love. It sounded enchanting, if maybe a little too good to be true. I didn’t have the attention span to pay much more attention to it than that at the time, but it sounded a lot more logical to me than what the nuns at school had been telling me. And it turned out to be the core of my relentless passion not too many years later for learning everything there was to know about the spiritual world.
When I was eighteen, Grandma Ada went Home. It was the first great loss in my life, the first time I experienced the bottomless ache of grief. She left with such peace, without a doubt in her soul about where she was going, and thanks to what she and Francine had taught me I knew I wasn’t grieving for her. I was grieving for me, for the unimaginable void she had left behind in my heart.
Two days after she passed away, I was in my bedroom going through the motions of getting dressed when the feeling crept over me that I wasn’t alone. I glanced past my reflection in the mirror and then turned around to look behind me, but no one was there. I’d turned back to the mirror again when I could have sworn I felt a brief warm breath on the back of my neck. I dismissed it as that word Grandma Ada told me a million times should be eliminated from the English language: my imagination.
At that instant two things happened less than a second apart: there was a deafening crack, like a bolt of lightning inside the room, and clear as a bell I heard Grandma Ada’s voice say, “Sylvia!” And then, nothing, except for that intense silence that thickens the air in the wake of an electrical storm.
My heart was pounding as I raced out of the room and literally ran into my daddy, who was running up the stairs as fast as I was running down them.
“Sylvia, what happened? What was that horrible cracking noise? It sounded like the roof collapsed. Are you all right? You’re white as a sheet.”
I was still trembling as I described the previous couple of minutes. Not much surprised him anymore, and he just smiled and held me and said, “You know, your grandmother told you she was going to send you a sign to let you know that she made it Home safely. I guess she kept her promise. But that loud crack scared the hell out of me. What was it?”
I had no idea, but I was determined to find out, because I knew it was a sound, and a moment, from somewhere other than earth, connected to Grandma Ada, and I wanted to know everything about it.
That deafening crack, it turned out, is called a “rapport.” It’s the spirit world’s version of a sonic boom. Occasionally, when a spirit pierces the invisible veil between the high-frequency dimension of the Other Side and our significantly lower frequency here on earth, it creates exactly the same shock waves in the atmosphere that any other object creates when it travels faster than the speed of sound. Those shock waves cause sudden, intense buildups and releases of atmospheric pressure, and it’s the release of that pressure that causes sonic booms—and rapports.
According to a lot of experts, including Francine, it’s not all that uncommon for rapports to accompany spirit visits. They’ve been reported countless times by psychics, mediums, “non-psychics,” and non-believers for many millennia. I’ve been on the receiving end of thousands upon thousands of spirit visits, but the only rapport I’ve ever experienced was the one that accompanied Grandma Ada to my bedroom all those decades ago to tell me she’d made it safely Home. I don’t doubt for a moment that she just wanted to give me a sign I couldn’t possibly miss.
By this time my childhood aversion to too much information had evolved into a passion for learning everything there was to know about anything that captured my curiosity, toward my determination to become a teacher. (This followed a brief obsession with becoming a nun. I’m sure the Catholic Church is as relieved as I am that I came to my senses.) I headed to St. Theresa’s College in my hometown of Kansas City, where I majored in education and literature with a minor in theology.
I’d also become fascinated with the working of the human mind, for obvious reasons that definitely included ten years of Francine’s constant chirping, knowing things it was “impossible” for me to know, and living among visiting spirits that no one else saw but me. I signed up for a hypnosis class at the University of Kansas City as well as a course in abnormal psychology. And that abnormal psychology textbook, listing symptom after symptom of the truly disturbed mind, shook me to my core, because as far as I was concerned the majority of those symptoms described me so perfectly that my class photo might as well have been printed beside them. The more I studied, the more obvious it became: I was clearly crazy, and certainly too crazy to be allowed anywhere near children, let alone teach them. This much celebrated multi-generational psychic legacy I’d been taught to cherish was probably a euphemism for three hundred years of hereditary insanity. Seeing spirits? Also known as “hallucinating,” common in various forms of dementia, right? As for my supposed “Spirit Guide,” Francine, could it be more sadly apparent that she wasn’t real, that she was just some imaginary alternate personality who didn’t exist beyond my own deranged mind?
Once I was completely convinced of my self-diagnosis, I took two immediate steps: I made an appointment with Dr. John Renick, a psychiatrist who’d become one of my favorite, most trusted teachers, and I officially said goodbye to this alter ego I’d been calling Francine for all these years. She took it with her usual unemotional patience, but she did ask me to allow her one demonstration before I permanently wrote her off as a voice in my head that was just more proof of my mental illness: for the first time since I had met her when I was eight, she offered to materialize.
The idea terrified me, but I accepted the challenge—at least when nothing happened, when she never appeared, it would prove once and for all that she didn’t really exist. I gathered my parents and my sister for moral support and ignored as best I could their excitement at the prospect of seeing this Francine person I’d been blathering about for so long. It was nighttime, and we could hear rain against the window. I dimmed the lights at Francine’s request to protect her eyes on her first trip to this dimension since the early 1500s, she claimed. Then we settled in to wait. It didn’t take long.
Slowly and silently the folds of a soft blue dress began to take form in the rocking chair beside me. Next came the shape of a hand with slender, graceful fingers, resting in the lap of the dress.
Daddy blurted out in what little voice he was able to manage, “Don’t anyone talk, so we won’t influence one another about what we’re seeing!” There was no danger of that. My mother and sister were too much in awe to speak anyway.
An arm with light mocha skin extended above the hand, and a long braid of black hair took shape, resting against the arm.
That was all I could handle. My family kept right on gaping, completely overwhelmed, while I turned away and never glanced back. She was tall and very thin, they told me later, with huge dark eyes and high cheekbones, almost Egyptian-looking and placidly beautiful. When they compared notes after Francine had disappeared, it was clear that they’d all seen exactly the same spirit, right down to the last detail.
Dr. Renick was surprised at my reaction when I told him about the whole experience at our first therapy session the next day. He thought I should be ecstatic that my family and I had witnessed proof that Francine was real. And if she was real, I was sane, which should have been cause for celebration. “So why did you turn away from her?”
I’d been awake all night asking myself that same question, but hearing it from this kind, brilliant, compassionate man made me cry. “Because I have to live in this world. I hear and see so much that normal people don’t. I want to be normal, Dr. Renick. I want to be a teacher. I don’t want to be some goofy, airy-fairy weirdo.”
He gave me the greatest smile and replied, “What a perfectly sane thing to say.” I finally smiled back.
To this day I have the piece of paper with his written diagnosis: “Normal, but has paranormal abilities?” Even with the question mark, I treasured it, and I never questioned my gifts or my sanity again.
Now that I’d accepted beyond all doubt that Francine was indeed a very real separate entity from the spirit world who was apparently going to be with me for the rest of my life, I started trying to negotiate some kind of compromise about her voice—if maybe she could find some slower, easier to understand, lower-octave, less annoying way to communicate? She reminded me that she had no control over the sound distortion between her dimension and mine. But there was one alternative: if I was willing to trance, she could channel her voice through me, using my vocal cords. I wouldn’t have any awareness of what she said while I was channeling her, but I could tape her and listen afterwards as often as I wanted.
So logical, and so out of the question as far as I was concerned. I wanted no part of trancing, let alone handing over control of any part of my body to my Spirit Guide or anyone else. She assured me that trancing was risk-free, it would never happen without my permission, and whenever I chose I could break the trance and take control again. In fact, how about if she tried it sometime when and if the opportunity presented itself, just so I could see what it was like?
I don’t remember exactly what my response was, but I probably said something like, “Yeah, right,” forgetting as I occasionally did how literally Francine interprets everything. (Ask her, for example, “Can you tell me what you look like?” and she’ll reply, “Yes.” The end. Technically, it’s an accurate answer. But if it’s not what you had in mind, you need to reword that to, “Please tell me what you look like.”)
Two days later I was in hypnosis class with my oldest friend Mary Margaret. I remember Dr. Royal “counting down” the roomful of students. The next thing I remember was regaining consciousness. It wasn’t pretty. I happen to be double-jointed, so I was completely doubled over in my chair with the top of my head touching the floor. For a moment or two I thought that was the reason everyone in the room was gaping at me, including Dr. Royal. But as I sat up and tried unsuccessfully to hide my embarrassment, I started catching excited comments around me—“Never heard anything like that …” and, “Where did all that information come from?” and, “Was that for real?,” and the one that particularly alerted me, “It was like you were someone else.”
Hopelessly confused, I turned to Mary Margaret, who’d known me since kindergarten. She leaned over and whispered, “Francine was here. Talking through you.”
I listened, stunned and mortified, as my classmates described the previous half hour. It seemed that while I was “gone,” Francine introduced herself to the class and began telling them all about the Other Side, the facts about reincarnation, how and why we acquire our Spirit Guides, and God knows what else (so to speak). There was no doubt in anyone’s mind that someone other than me was speaking—apparently, with the exception of my voice itself, the speech patterns, the terminology, the rhythms, and everything else that came out of my mouth bore no resemblance to me at all. Oh, and by the way, everyone loved her and hoped she’d come back soon.
I confronted Francine that night, furious, demanding to know how she could betray me like that. She patiently pointed out that she had said she’d be watching for an opportunity to channel through me. And since I’d voluntarily allowed the hypnotic trance that enabled her to accomplish it, she’d technically kept her promise not to come in against my will. The one point I couldn’t argue no matter how hard I tried: I woke up from channeling her with no harm done (if you don’t count abject humiliation). In fact, Francine was clearly able to share a lot of fascinating information with a roomful of people who’d had the experience of meeting, “in person,” a full-fledged resident of the Other Side and would probably never look at life and death in the same way again.
In other words, the potential value of channeling Francine was undeniable, and I agreed to it with a few non-negotiable conditions: never again would she surprise me as she had during hypnosis class; she would never tell anything but the truth while speaking through me; she would never use my voice to cause harm to me or anyone else; and I would only channel her for the highest possible humanitarian purposes, to benefit as many people as possible with messages of comfort and clarity about the Other Side and our intensely personal relationship with a God who created and unconditionally loves each one of us. Fifty-three years later, she’s never breached that sacred contract between us.
I graduated from college at nineteen, ready to progress toward my teaching career, and my husband and baby son Paul and I moved to Northern California. (As I always say, I’m not one bit psychic about myself, and I’ve got the ex-husbands to prove it.) That’s where I started doing psychic readings and trancing Francine for lecture groups to pay for my tuition at San Francisco University as I studied for my master’s degree.
My creative writing instructor at SFU was a wonderful man named Bob Williams, who accelerated my spiritual journey more dramatically than either of us knew at the time.
For starters, he and I had shared a mutual interest in metaphysics and the paranormal, which we discussed exhaustively. So imagine my shock when one day in class he announced that I was going to demonstrate my ability to give accurate psychic readings to anyone who cared to volunteer. Of my fifty classmates, fifty volunteered. I apparently demonstrated well, since those fifty told fifty more, and so on and so on, and I quickly acquired a full schedule of clients.
But of far more significance was the day Bob took me to a tiny, wonderful bookstore and began showing me a wealth of books on the paranormal and the amazing history of spirituality—everything from psychic healer Edgar Cayce and Theosophist/physical medium Madame Helena Blavatsky to the Aborigines and the Incas to the Buddhists and the Baha’i and Tarot cards to phrenology. He told me my assignment was to read them all. In many cases, I already had—I’d minored in theology, after all, and I’d become an insatiable reader in general.
“So read them again, and whatever you haven’t read, start now,” he said. “And then, do something about it.”
“Like what?” I asked him.
“Study. Teach. Explore. Write. Exceed your own grasp. Start a research center to share the wealth of the spiritual world that you might never have found without your gifts. Think of the difference you can make for more people than you can imagine.” I’m sure he could read the doubt and insecurity in my silence, because he put his hands on my shoulders and looked right into my eyes when he added, “I believe in you. Just do it. I’ll help you.”
Sadly, he had to keep that promise from the Other Side. Two weeks later, he left for a long anticipated trip to Australia. I begged him not to go—I “knew” he wouldn’t make it back alive. He assured me he’d be careful, but he came home in a pine box. I’ve missed him, loved him, and thanked him ever since.
Between the shock of losing Bob and the non-stop busyness of my life as a wife, mother, student, and working psychic, I thought I’d forgotten about our conversation in the bookstore until one night not long after Bob’s death when a small group of us went to a lecture given by a well-known psychic. No one in that audience was more enthusiastic and receptive than I was when we walked in and sat down. And no one in that audience was more furious and offended than I was as the lecture progressed. I was having enough trouble politely sitting still for the duration that my friends threatened to strap me to my chair. But at dinner afterwards, I exploded.
“All those people showed up tonight looking for some kind of spiritual nourishment, some way to connect to these beautiful unseen forces around them where they can find all the hope and comfort and joy they’ll ever need, or just a new perspective on life and death and eternity that might enlighten them or elevate them or at least pique their curiosity and make them think. But instead, all they got was a bunch of trivia, clichÉs, half-truths, and outright lies. How dare that so-called psychic waste an opportunity like that, let alone those people’s time and money?”
When I’d finally finished spinning out about it, the friend sitting next to me simply smiled and said, “Okay, so what are you going to do about it?”
Suddenly my afternoon at the bookstore with Bob Williams came flooding back to me, and my anger gave way to gratitude when I realized I hadn’t forgotten that conversation and Bob’s challenge to me at all, because in that instant at dinner I knew exactly what I was going to do about it.
Within months I’d founded and registered the Nirvana Foundation for Psychic Research, a non-profit organization with two primary purposes: to teach psychic development; and to explore and prove the survival of the spirit after death.
That was in 1974, and looking back I know that both professionally and personally, my real spiritual odyssey started then. I’ve spent every day learning and researching and testing and being tested and looking for the same answers to the same questions you have, the same questions humankind has been asking since God breathed eternal life into us. The specifics of what brought me to the threshold of this odyssey might differ from yours, but we share the identical goals: to spend our time here with as much depth, purpose, and peace of mind as we can; to leave this earth better than we found it; to find that truth that resonates so deep inside us that we never feel afraid again; and to know with absolute certainty that we’re never alone, we’re never as helpless or hopeless as we sometimes feel, and that there really is no such thing as death.
© 2009 Sylvia Browne Corporation