Sally Morgan: Psychic Versus Skeptic

I was trained to be a cynical hard-nosed scientist. My PhD in biochemistry taught me that logic, rationality and devotion to the truth are the most important qualities for any scientist. When I became a journalist, I kept these values close to my heart.

Recently my ‘rational' view of the world was shattered. Whilst researching a story on the late Princess Diana, I interviewed the medium Sally Morgan. Sally had, apparently, been receiving messages from the Princess.

After telling Diana's story, Sally offered to give me a psychic reading. I was intrigued enough to take up the offer, viewing it as a possible opportunity to expose psychics as charlatans who exploit the gullible through good guesswork.

Yet, on the surface at least, Sally did not appear to be a fraudster. She was a delightfully level-headed and thoroughly charming middle-aged woman. If it wasn't for a strange look that occasionally flickered across her eyes, I would not have seen her as being special in any way. Even her tastefully furnished house appeared entirely suburban, with pastel coloured sofas, cushions and chairs. There were no crystal balls, pentangles or occult trappings of any kind.

Her reading was also thoroughly down to earth. From common expectation, I had imagined that Sally would begin with a few minutes of guttural chanting before slipping theatrically into a trance. Instead she took a sip of coffee and dropped a bombshell.

"You're going to Greece," she said.

A few days earlier I'd decided to go on holiday to Crete. It was the beginning of a long list of insights that left me physically shaking and chilled to the core.

When I showed her a picture of my girlfriend, Sally said that she would soon be moving to either Oxford, Cambridge or, most likely, Bristol. The previous month my girlfriend had accepted a job as a lecturer at a college in Bristol. Sally could not have known this.

Hardly pausing for breath, Sally informed me that my dead father was in the room. His ‘spirit' then set out to prove his continuing existence by giving me a long list of facts about myself and our family.

One of the most stunning revelations concerned a long-running argument between my parents - a dispute Sally cannot have known anything about. When my parents married in the early 1950s, my mother wanted to keep her maiden name. My father was equally determined that she should accept his surname. Sally could not have known anything about this argument. And yet she knew about the dispute in detail. It was obviously not on any official records and I doubt if anyone outside the family knew anything about it.

This stream of revelations continued for over an hour. At one stage it seemed as if all my dead relatives were queuing up to speak to me through Sally.

My grandfather popped in to say hello. He introduced himself by the name we knew him, not the one on his birth certificate. He gleefully told me that his feet were better - he was a postman who often suffered from gout. Lastly, my mother arrived to offer me advice about my current girlfriend and warned me to avoid a previous one.

My first reaction to the psychic reading was one of fear - I suddenly remembered all of my ‘sins' and expected instant divine retribution. Despite this, I decided to accept a paranormal explanation for Sally's powers only after ruling out all conventional ones.

Sally had only three working days to gather information about me from such official sources as births, deaths and marriage certificates. Even a skilled detective would have problems building up a comprehensive picture about my family in the time available. However, even if Sally had unlimited time and money, much of the information she gave me was simply unavailable.

I quickly ruled out the possibility that Sally was lucky and simply guessed the details of my unusual and chaotic family. Her reading was just too detailed and accurate for that.

I was then left with two possibilities, both of which were equally ‘irrational'. Firstly, Sally had interrogated me under hypnosis, extracted deeply buried stories from my past and then fed them back to me. The second possibility was that my dead relatives really had come back to talk to me and proffer advice for the future.

I decided to secretly test Sally by sending along three customers. Two were equipped with surveillance gear to see if Sally was hypnotising her customers.

After my exhaustive investigation, I can confidently say that Sally was not hypnotising or manipulating her customers in any way.

Here are the views of the people we sent along to test Sally:

Larry Livermore, 56, is a writer and retired music industry executive. He discovered and managed the band Green Day.

He says: "In the 1960s I followed every New Age bandwagon that rolled through San Francisco. I have probably trudged along every mystical path known to man, whether it's the I Ching, astrology, tarot or Hare Krishna.

With my previous excesses in mind, I went along to see Sally. There's quite a lot of information about me on the Internet so I told Sally my given name, which is Lawrence Hayes.

I wasn't expecting to receive any messages from my dear departed relatives, but neither would I have been totally surprised if I'd done so. I am religious but maybe not in a conventional sense. I cannot see how the individual can survive death but I believe that fragments of our consciousness may live on in some form.

Sally opened the sitting by stroking my house keys to ‘connect' with me. She asked if I lived at house number 30. Then she corrected herself and said number 33. I live in a flat in Notting Hill. The street address is number 35. Close-ish, I thought, but she could have done better.

Sally often works with photos to focus her mind. From a family snapshot, she very accurately described the out-going character of my eight-year-old nephew but warned me that he was in danger of becoming more insular. Strangely, he has started to become more introverted.

Sally warned me that I might be devoting too much time to helping people addicted to drugs or alcohol. A major part of my life is now devoted to helping alcoholics. I don't know how she could have known this. She also picked up on the fact that I'm a writer who travels a lot. I thought that was quite perceptive - not paranormal - just perceptive.

Sally spent a lot of time telling me about my future. Obviously this can't be verified for some time. Some of it was believable, much of it less so. She predicted that I would soon be travelling to America. I'm an American, albeit one who has lived in London for 30 years, so it was a reasonable guess on her part.

Other predictions were completely off-beam. She said that I would travel to South America and the Amazon. That's very far-fetched. I can't see any reason to go to the Amazon. I'd only consider it if they'd just drenched the place with DDT and all the piranhas were on holiday.

She also said that I would get a parrot. I hate parrots, so I can't see that happening.

My feeling is that Sally is right more often than chance alone would allow but not so often that she blows you off your feet. She is a genuinely decent person. She's not a fraud nor is she mad or self-deluding. She has a gift but I think it's for insight and intuition rather than a form of magic.

If you want somebody to pay attention to you for an hour then she's worth the £70 fee. She's at least as good as many psychotherapists I've met."

Claire Jakeman, 48, is an administrator at a factory near Chester.

"Like most people I like the idea that there is some kind of life after death. But equally, I've never quite wholeheartedly believed in it. There isn't exactly a lot of evidence for it is there?

Following a psychic reading by Sally Morgan, however, virtually all of my doubts disappeared.

Sally did a telephone reading for me. Distance is apparently no object for psychics, so she is quite happy to do her readings over the phone.

Sally called me ten minutes before the agreed time and sounded very worried.

"I've got your mother here," she said "She told me to contact you urgently. She's comforting a young girl who's been brutally murdered."

She went on to explain that the girl was recently murdered near an old railway line. She warned me that this story wouldn't mean anything to me for a while but its significance would soon become apparent. A colleague in work knows about the murder, she added.

I assumed that Sally was mad. But I soon changed my mind.

When I returned to work I told a few friends about the prediction. One turned ashen grey. It turned out that three weeks previously a colleague had stumbled across a young girl dying by the side of a path. She'd been repeatedly stabbed and left to die. The murder happened near an old railway line, just as Sally predicted.

I was in shock. How on earth could she have known this? I could think of no rational explanation.

But this wasn't the only prediction that she got right. Sally said that she could see my house. It looked like an old dairy and was piled high with bottles and crates. My home is part of a converted brewery. In the past it would have looked exactly as Sally described.

Sally claimed that there was an old woman in the house by the name of Hilly, Tilly or Millie. The lady was fascinated by my kitchen and would occasionally play with the electricity. An old lady called Millie died here and the electricity does flicker on and off for no obvious reason. Again, I was stunned by Sally's insight and could find no logical explanation for it.

She also mentioned that my mother is with a woman called Lotty. This is the name of my mother's closest friend, who died a few years after my mum. How could she have known this?

Another spirit supposedly close to my mother is a woman called Maureen - that is the name of my aunty who died a few years go.

Sally also made some very personal predictions about my future. Right now they seem very far fetched but given her track record I'm not ruling them out.

Sally's reading lasted for only an hour but it turned my life upside down. I'm more convinced than ever that there is far more in heaven and earth than meets the eye. I cannot see much shaking my new found faith.

Dr Emilie Buchanan, 31, is a lecturer in ancient history at a major English university.

Immediately before meeting Sally Morgan, a story from ancient Greece popped into my mind. It warned of the dangers of prophets and their predictions.

Croesus, the 6th century BC king of Lydia, in modern day Turkey, wanted to extend his empire eastwards by conquering Persia. He consulted the Oracle at Delphi to see whether his plans would succeed.

The Oracle predicted that if Croesus attacked Persia, he would destroy a great empire. Greatly reassured, he waged war on Persia - and lost. Croesus did indeed destroy a great empire, but not the one he expected. He ended up destroying his own. This shows the danger of prophesies: even if you believe in them, you still have to interpret them correctly.

I found Sally no less enigmatic than the Oracle at Delphi. Many of her statements were eerily accurate but others made no sense to me.

Sally started the sitting by asking if I was a doctor. I am not a medical doctor but I am a lecturer and do have the title ‘doctor'. I made sure that Sally did not know my full name beforehand so it wasn't possible for her to gather any background information on me. To get this right was quite impressive.

She also said that my boyfriend was a doctor. Again she was tantalisingly close - he has the title doctor but has long since left academia.

Sally then warned me that he was in danger. He would soon be given the opportunity to do something secretive and dangerous. Curiously, he is currently working as an undercover reporter on a major BBC documentary.

She warned me to take care. She predicted a burglary in the near future and could see the street name Dref associated with it. She added that the prediction was fuzzy as there could be some letters missing from the word ‘Dref'. I live in Ferndale Road. Dref is curiously similar to the first five letters of Ferndale when read backwards.

Oddly she knew that I have problems with my throat. I lose my voice at least once a year. Could she tell this just by looking at me? I don't think she could have.

I showed Sally pictures of my family and she quickly focused on a relative and identified his recent health problems. Again, I was impressed and left asking the question ‘how did she know that?'

So what do I make of Sally? It is easy to get carried away by the things she got right but she also made a few mistakes. However, she told me things that she could not have possibly known.

I have no idea whether there is an afterlife or whether it is possible to predict the future. However, from my studies of the ancient world, it is clear that even if you don't believe in the powers of oracles or mystics they can still help people make difficult decisions.

When there is no right or wrong answer, and everything is shades of grey, they can help crystallise your thoughts. Where logic and rationality fails, consulting a medium can be seen as just as good a way as any other of making a decision.

The verdict
With varying degrees of accuracy, in all three cases Sally had provided at least some amazing insights that defied rational explanation. But was her ‘gift' paranormal? After my encounters with her, I have come to believe that the idea is not as far-fetched as many claim and that there are possible explanations from within the world science.

Strange as it may seem, in scientific principle at least, time can theoretically flow forwards and backwards. If this were to happen in practice, Sally might be able to ‘recall' events that have yet to take place in our own ‘real' time (fans of Back to the Future will find this easier to comprehend).

The other possibility, of course, is that we really do live on after our physical bodies die. The universe is composed of energy that ceaselessly fluctuates in space. Given that our minds may reside in energy fields generated by our brains, isn't it at least possible that our consciousness somehow becomes imprinted on the fabric of the universe where those with special skills can detect it?

Above all, the fact that we cannot understand how psychics such as Sally operate does not mean that they are not genuine. Nearly two-thirds of physicists believe in the existence of God, though there is little hard evidence to support their faith. Is it so very different to believe in the powers of the paranormal?

I remain as confused as ever about how Sally was able to provide so many accurate details about my own life. But I have come to the conclusion that only the foolish mock what they cannot comprehend.

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