Mother Teresa called me an Idiot.

That’s right, the woman the entire world has recognized as being one of the kindest, most giving people who ever lived laughed at me and called me an idiot. It was all a misunderstanding, really. Lest you Doubting Thomases find that difficult to believe, I should mention that I have the entire conversation on cassette tape.

And that’s not all; she’s on top of a high mountain, sending streams of love to Earth. On other planes, Kurt Cobain lives a fantasy struggling with demonic serpents; Lady Di cultivates a beautiful garden. Jeffrey Dahmer, everyone’s favorite serial killer, is lost, enslaved by a crapulent, bulbous, calculating being—lost, alone and afraid.

But I get ahead of myself. Stories are best begun at the beginning, and this story began back in the spring. It has its roots in a conversation between RN&R Editor Deidre Pike and me, but don’t let that put you off—this isn’t about process, it’s about context. I made an unfortunate joke about channeling Mother Teresa, which led to a discussion about which dead people we’d most like to talk to. From there, it segued to a chat about what fun it would be to interview a bunch of dead celebrities for the Halloween issue.

“Can I put you on the cover story list?” she asked, somewhat demurely. I should have had second thoughts the moment Deidre appeared demure.

It’s all thoroughly logical, you see. In the months that passed, I mostly forgot about the promise, although thoughts of dead people niggled at my consciousness. I kept my ears open for clues about local people who could channel the dead, but, believe it or not, the topic did not arise conversationally even once.

However, I did take note of a national trend. I saw a man conversing with the dead on a rerun of Oprah. That medium was James Van Praag, host of the syndicated show Beyond with James Van Praag. I also noted another show, Crossing Over with John Edward.

Have you seen these shows? The hosts come on stage, and the spirits of dead people clamor for their attention. “She’s showing me a picture of a scar. Does anyone over in this section of the audience have a scar?” The host waves vaguely at the back of the room. A number of hands go up, and Van Praag dutifully heads up the aisle.

“Do you have a scar, sir?”

“Why, yes, James, I have this circumcision scar.”

“Oh, no, she’s showing me a scar that’s much farther south. Does anyone have a scar on their leg, maybe their knee?”

Half a dozen hands go up.

“Does anyone have a scar on their right knee? She’s definitely indicating her right side.”

Three hands go down.

“Does anyone have a scar on their right knee from a sports injury or maybe surgery or falling down?”

One arm remains vertical.

“Did you ever own a cat? She’s definitely showing me a picture of a cat.”

The woman confusedly shakes her head, “No, I’m allergic to cats.”

“Thank you.” Audience applause.

“Has your mother passed over?”


“I’m definitely getting a mother figure here. Has your grandmother passed over?”

“No, but my ex-husband’s father’s wife died four years ago.”

“Thank you. Did she pass over due to heart failure?”

“Well, it was kind of a stroke.”

“But did her heart stop?”


“This is definitely for you. She’s telling me that you should carefully prepare your tax returns.”

Audience applause.

I’m getting a “BS” word here. Can I have a validation? The episode leaves me cold. Van Praag looks like G. Gordon Liddy on estrogen.

It is into this maelstrom of gullibility and skepticism that I am flung. One famous dead guy, Ernest Hemingway, once said, “The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof bullshit detector.” What Papa failed to mention is that a teller of ghost stories must also have the ability to turn it off.

It’s 10 a.m. on a balmy autumn day. The temperature is 48 degrees, and the sun streams down, unfiltered by clouds. It’s altogether too ordinary a day to be driving to a séance. The Reno Psychic Institute is in a stone building on Hillcrest Drive. I’m here to meet Laura Peppard, the director of the school.

She meets me at the door, and she knows who I am, but that may be because I’d scheduled an appointment and my license plate says, “PRESS.” I don’t want to read too much into it.

I’d called Peppard the week prior for information. I figured if anyone knew the local mediums, it would be the head of the psychic school. When I asked who might be able to help me talk to dead people, she said, “Me.” She explained that contacting the dead was really one of the easier skills in the pantheon of psychic abilities.

Peppard has startling green eyes and curly salt-and-pepper hair. She’s wearing flowing sea-blue clothes and a silver-chained necklace with a New Age-y pendant. She leads me deeper into the building, into a room with chairs around the perimeter and a desk against one wall. It’s chilly.

She allows me to find my own chair, and after we sit and cue the tape player, she mentions that one of her students will join us. In the meantime, she answers some of my questions about discourse with the dead and the dangers associated with it.

There are several methods for contacting spirits, she says. One is channeling, which is where a spirit comes into the body and takes control.

“The body is like a car; anyone can drive it,” she says. “There’s a mechanical hookup at the top of your head where you as a spirit come into your body and leave at night.”

Peppard says she’s had the experience of channeling a foreign spirit, but she didn’t find it all that pleasant.

Peppard’s method requires less action on the part of the spirit. While the astral plane seems like a very democratic and egalitarian place, the idea of disturbing the dead makes me a bit queasy.

“When I do the communication, it’s more on a clairvoyant level [than channeling],” she says. “I’m seeing that spirit and letting them have their say to me. And then I ask them your questions and communicate their answers back to you.”

Peppard says that many of us have experienced the impacts of negative spirits coming into our lives. It’s usually something as simple as a negative thought that gets into your head, under your skin, as when someone points out a personal idiosyncrasy, “Did you know you say, ‘Well, you know,’ all the time?” This sort of thing may infuse people with bad self images, make them self-conscious and distract them from their true thoughts, feelings, self.

“The danger of doing this is that lower-level entities, the negative spirits, come in,” she says. “Sometime you don’t realize it, then weeks later your life starts going down the wrong trail.”

It can get worse, though. Sometimes a low-level, low-vibration entity can come in and take over. That’s a sort of possession, and sometimes the negativity causes the body to lose its resources to kick out the offending spirit.

At the risk of oversimplification, the image I developed as a result of my conversations with Peppard and her student, Sharon Green (who didn’t want us to print her real name), goes like this: All spiritual life is a spectrum. At the bottom end, the low-vibration end, are beings we humans would say are bad. Beings we’d interpret as good are at the high-vibration end. Our life on Earth fits somewhere in between.

Picture it like a skyscraper with Buddha, Mohammed and Jesus living on the top floors, but not in the penthouse; Hitler, Stalin and Torquemada live downstairs, but not in the sub-basement. Peppard is the elevator for the rest of us.

Christians can probably accept this explanation on some level, if their belief indicates that hell is below and heaven is above. Peppard says the idea of an ideal, unchanging heaven is foreign to her own beliefs.

Photo By David Robert

“Can you imagine a heaven where everything is perfect?” she asks. “That would be boring to the max. That’s not how spirit works. Spirit is about creating, not about perfection.”

Well, you know, a perfect heaven would have that boredom factor figured out and would incorporate creativity. But I didn’t say that to Peppard.

As the clean, morning light streamed in through the horizontal blinds, Peppard went into trance, and I prepared to meet one of my favorite musicians, Kurt Cobain.Peppard begins by having me say his name three times: Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain, Kurt Cobain.

I guess this is to set the mood. She didn’t have me do it for any subsequent spirits. I’ll mention one other thing: When the séance started, I immediately became extremely tired, and I could barely keep my eyes open. I don’t have an explanation; it wasn’t tedium.

On the other side, Cobain lives in a fantasy world. He dresses in a loincloth and has a body like Atlas. He is fighting giant snakes, and his wife and child clamor at him, fighting for his attention, preventing him from moving on.

“I’m busy,” he says through Peppard. “I have a job to do.”

That job is snake-fighting. I feel a little snubbed.

Behind him is a cloud made up of his audience’s hopes, fears and evocations. That’s his karma, says Peppard. He has to release those feelings. He is avoiding the task, living in the fantasy world where he is strong enough to carry the weight of the world.

One face comes forward out of the crowd/cloud. It’s someone Cobain knew when he was younger, and there are feelings of jealousy attached. The medium can’t make out any more than that, and she attempts more one-on-one, but it causes him too much hurt.

“I can get his attention, but it causes him a lot of pain when I do, so I’d better just leave it how it is,” she says.

Peppard says it’s the adoration of his fans that have trapped him here, and while this isn’t the worst place she has ever seen, it’s not Nirvana either.

“On a spiritual level, it doesn’t look like it would be really pleasant,” she says. “On a physical level, you might not think it would be too bad. But as spirit, it’s pain. It’s like being imprisoned in that, because you don’t have a choice to go somewhere else or do something else—like sit in the sun or share a lighthearted laugh with someone.”

I ask if Mother Teresa is available. Peppard says, “I’ll ring the doorbell.”

Her “trance state” is a little unexpected. Peppard seems pretty close to the surface, humorous at times, but there are changes in manner, facial reactions to what she’s seeing. I can see her eyes moving below her eyelids, which remain closed nearly the whole time. Her head shimmies at times. Her fingers work nervously. When she goes from one spirit to the next, her fingers twitch, like she’s flicking water off them.

Mother Teresa glows with a golden light that streams from her like hair. That light represents love to Peppard. While Mother Teresa is projecting an image of herself in her 50s, Peppard says she also glows with pretty blues and yellows and greens and lavenders.

“She’s still overseeing her projects, but from a spirit level,” Peppard explains.

I ask if Mother Teresa has a message for those of us on this plane. She says, through Peppard, “’Happiness sets you free. Don’t believe the badness; it’s only real because you believe it. You have a choice.’ Mother Teresa is showing me this green energy, and that translates, like, I don’t know, something new is coming. Don’t worry, something new but unexpected is coming.”

“Can she be more specific?” I’m a little concerned about fortune cookie platitudes; platitudes are hardly better than the menial details suggested by the TV mediums.

“She’s calling you an idiot.”

Peppard finds this hilarious, and her laser eyes open for a moment, the trance apparently interrupted.

“I hope you didn’t take that the wrong way. It’s just how it translated,” she says.

Mother Teresa goes on to explain that the “unexpected thing” is going to be a twist on the concept of power.

“It will be realized that the people who seem to have it only have it because we gave it to them,” Peppard says. “It’ll be reclaimed in the little things, in the little people, in the women and the children.”

“The meek shall inherit the earth?” I ask.

She goes on to say that Mother Teresa is not impressed with her impending sainthood—honored, but not impressed. She’s not particularly happy with what the office of pope has become—that should win her points with the beatification committee—and she thinks society should take better care of its boys, particularly at time of puberty. Somehow, the treatment of boys is related to images of war and disaster that Mother Teresa presents to Peppard.

Peppard, whose face glows with pleasure throughout the connection, says that she feels as though she received a blessing.

We move down the astral spectrum.

Half of Lady Diana, the former Princess of Wales, plants flowers in a pastoral landscape. It’s flat where she is, but farther on are clouds and rolling hills. There’s a big, red energy behind her; it represents her physical death, and she can’t turn around to look at it. There is a face in the sky above her; it’s Dodi Al Fayed. He’s accepted his transformation, and he’s waiting for Di to come around. No appearance from the drunk driver, Henri Paul; he’s probably on a lower plane.

The main job of this half of Di is to heal from her sudden separation from her children.

There is another half of Di that’s able to communicate.

“She’s kind of telling me some stuff,” says Peppard. “It’s not real coherent, because of this block in the way. She’s showing me a picture of a cat that’s in a castle or whatever where the other side of the family lives. Let’s see about that. There are some books or papers or something; it’s like where the cat goes, where these papers are. They’re like larger-size, not regular-size books, not a book, but not just sheets of paper, like pamphlets. Seems like she wants the older one to find it, but it has something to do with the younger one. Something she didn’t get a chance to tell him. That she wants him to know about.”

No word about what that might be.

On the other hand, Di faints when asked her opinion of the monarchy, and questions about her butler—who is on trial for theft of some of her belongings—make her feel unsafe.

Di’s message to us, and a validation of her unfinished work on Earth, comes to us in the form of a Tom Robbins expression, “Find where love lives.”

“I’d better come out for a minute,” Peppard says. Wind chimes tinkle, and the UPS guy comes into the room. He doesn’t seem surprised at the activity therein. Of course, he wouldn’t be.

We are going to interview one more celebrity. I want to meet somebody who embodied evil in this life, and the only person who occurs to me is Jeffrey Dahmer. Hitler just seems so cliché somehow.

Peppard’s student, Sharon Green, is going to handle this one. Of the celebrities I mentioned when I made the appointment, Dahmer wasn’t one of them.

Our séance goes from light and dismissible to a little creepy even as the day outside passes like any bright, autumn Monday in northern Nevada. Green’s style is more descriptive, in some ways, than Peppard’s, or maybe it’s the subject that inspires her.

“I’m looking at this bundle of energy. It’s like the very bottom, a very, very low level of energy. It’s a slow-moving energy, but it’s very calculating and methodical. It gets so absorbed in the finest details of all the deeds. Because it’s calculating, there’s a detachment. That’s why there are no emotions. It’s all about experiencing the finest detail. It doesn’t allow him to feel guilty or feel remorse.”

Green suggests that there was a different energy that caused Dahmer to murder and, in some cases, eat his victims. Its physical shape is long, she says.

In my mind’s eye I see something that looks a living, midnight-navy-blue slug undulating in a dimensionless black room. At one end of the psychic slug is a bit of diffuse color.

“This energy used his physical body to do these things,” she says. “The energy is kind of reliving it. It knows it quite well. It’s not actually a reliving of it; it’s like an existing in it. It’s like a foreign energy. It was in his space his entire life. Jeffery Dahmer, the true energy for that person—it is separate. This energy, it consumed him. So what we called Jeffery Dahmer, it is that energy.”

Green is describing a place that sounds pretty hellish to me. Dahmer has to repair his karmic damage, but he’s not even developed enough to distinguish between himself and the foreign energy that took over his body.

Peppard tells Green to come out of the trance; the air is getting kind of thick in here. The women tell me that the spirits of Dahmer’s victims have begun to assemble. The spirits want Dahmer removed from their space, and Peppard has called some healing spirits to help them.

I can’t help with anyone’s spiritual healing, and so I make my way back to work.

As I go into the bright sunlight and leave Peppard’s little school, I wish there were an interviewer to debrief me, like Lisa Canning on Van Praag’s show.

It is said that fools will go where angels fear to tread, and I can’t help but to wonder if bothering dead celebrities won’t mar my karma—they call it eternal rest, don’t they?

Maybe Mother Teresa is right.

Maybe I am an idiot.

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