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Contradiction: Panther Totem Story
Sylvia Browne tells the same story two very different ways.
A black panther.
One complaint I hear from ex-fans of Sylvia Browne (and even some current ones) is the fact that her books tend to be very repetitive, often containing anecdotes and entire topics and chapters already covered in previous books.
One review I read of Browne's then-latest book mentioned this tendency Browne has to pad her books with old material, saying that the book read as though it had been created by taking all of Browne's previous books and throwing them into a blender.
This article looks at a time when Browne reused an anecdote from a previous book, but this time, when it came out of the "blender," the details had changed in significant ways.
In order to understand the story, you first need to know what Browne means when she uses the word "totem." In Browne's theology, a "totem" is a sort of animal spirit which stays with a person throughout their life. The purpose of the totem is to protect the person, though I am unclear just how it is claimed to do that.
Version 1 - "Life on the Other Side"
The first version Browne tells of the story was in her 2000 book Life on the Other Side, written by Browne with Lindsay Harrison.
The story can be found on pages 206-207 of the paperback edition, in the chapter "The Return Trip", in the section "Totems" (All emphasis mine).
So in this version...
Version 2 - "Visits From the Afterlife"
She tells a very different version of the story in her 2003 book Visits From the Afterlife, written by Browne alone.
The story can be found on pages 38-39 of the hardback edition, in the chapter "More Visitors and Where They Come From", in the section "Animals" (All emphasis mine).
Now, in this version...
Is it possible that these are two descriptions of the same event? Perhaps her husband was the policeman, and for whatever reason, she did not want to say so when she told it the first time? That would still not account for some of the differences, such as:
The first question would be: which of Browne's ex-husband was she married to when all of this took place?
To my knowledge, the only one of her ex-husbands who had been a policeman was Gary Dufresne, who had been one when they had first met. Furthermore, if the apartment had actually been a "no children, no pets" building, that would also point to Dufresne, as the beginning of her marriage to him was the only time she did not have children.
I decided to ask Dufresne if any part of the story sounded familiar to him. The following are the questions I asked, along with the answers I received:
Dufresne also mentioned an interesting detail: they owned a lamp in the shape of a black panther.
I wonder - was that lamp in the front window?
First, even if there were only one version of this story, and even if you accept the existence of "totems" (as Browne uses the term), either story is simply ridiculous. Take a look at the picture of a panther at the top of this article: is there any way it could be mistaken for a housecat?
It seems highly unlikely that these are descriptions of two separate incidents. That the same story would happen to Browne and to a client seems highly unlikely.
It also seems highly unlikely that these are the same story, due to the differences between them.
Gary Dufresne is the only one of Browne's ex-husbands who matches either the policeman or the husband of the stories at all, and according to him, none of what Browne describes happened to them while they were married.
A 1950s black panther table lamp.
What about the "black panther lamp" that Dufresne mentioned? Evidently, they were somewhat popular in the 1950s (he and Sylvia were married in 1959), as this search of eBay listings shows.
But the lamp seems to add to the probability that Gary Dufresne was the ex-husband Browne mentions in the second version of the story.
So, we have two contradictory versions of the same story, and the one we can look into is - based on Dufresne's answers - fictional.
The two versions of the story cannot both be true. And if one or the other is true, why did she tell it again so differently?
I believe that Browne took some elements from her life (living in a second-story apartment, a black panther lamp), and wove them into a total fabrication.
It seems that Browne once again figured that nobody would notice that she totally changed the story the second time she told it. If so, she was wrong. Since this web site opened in November of 2006, several email correspondents have told me of this contradiction. I believe it was also mentioned in a Joe Nickell article a few years ago.
My thanks to Gary Dufresne, and to those email correspondents.
Update Sep 09 2007
More information regarding the "panther totem story" has been brought to my attention since this article first appeared on the site.
Several ex-Novus people emailed regarding which of Browne's ex-husbands the story was about.
One person who had been a minister of Novus Spiritus back in the late 80s and early 90s wrote to tell me:
Browne and Larry Beck were married in 1995.
Another person who was involved with Novus more recently wrote to tell me that Browne would tell the story about her most recent ex-husband, Larry Beck.
Others wrote and told me of two more instances where Browne tells versions of the same story in other books...
Version 3 - "God, Creation and Tools For Life"
On page 184 of her 2000 book God, Creation and Tools For Life, we find the following, apparently transcribed from Browne's "spirit guide", "Francine" (emphasis mine):
This time the story is about a husband, specifically Larry Beck. But instead of the landlord complaining, it is a neighbor.
(It may or may not be pertinent to note that the book was edited in part by Larry Beck.)
Version 4 - "Phenomenon"
Five years later, she tells the story yet again.
From page 290 of her 2005 book Phenomenon: Everything You Need to Know About the Paranormal, under "Totems" (emphasis mine).
This seems very similar to "Version 1", though it doesn't mention that the client was a policeman.
But after telling the story about Larry Beck five years earlier, why is the story is back to being simply about "a client"?
With this additional information, we seem to be no closer to a straight story than we were before.
It's a fairly straightforward tale. Why all the variations?
With this additional information, we are left with more contradictions, and seem to be no closer to a straight story than we were before.
And I can certainly see why some readers of Browne's books complain about the amount of recycled material in them.
My thanks to those who have supplied this additional material.
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