I recently received an email which I felt worth sharing here on the site. It is another example of how tragedy and grief can put someone in a frame of mind which leaves them vulnerable to what Sylvia Browne is selling.
Here is that email, with the author's permission.
Subject: From a disgusted ex-believer
Date: Sun, Nov 18, 2007 4:59 pm
I'm writing today for two reasons: to thank you for your invaluable website and to describe to you and your readers my journey from a firm believer in Sylvia Browne to a thoroughly disgusted skeptic. First, let me tell you a little bit about myself. I have a Master's Degree in English, and I teach critical thinking to college students. My experiences with Sylvia Browne, however, had little to do with my own critical thinking faculties and everything to do with my own need for spiritual healing and the grief over the loss of my parents.
My journey begins in 2000, when both my parents died on the same day, twenty minutes apart, from separate illness. Needless to say, I was devastated and, yet, a bit awed by the phenomenon of both my parents dying almost simultaneously. This event led me to begin researching metaphysics and other spiritual explanations for how something such as this might occur. I bought Sylvia's book "Life on the Other Side," which, as you know, offers a beautiful picture of what happens to people when they die. I admit that I found immense comfort in her description of a place where the weather is always beautiful and everyone is happy. I voraciously read every book she ever wrote, purchased her lectures on tapes, travelled seventeen hours by car to see her in 2001 at the Journey of the Soul conference in Anaheim, and seriously considered joing her church, Society of Novus Spiritus. I must have spent hundreds, even thousands, of dollars and hundreds of hours studying Sylvia's books and philosophies.
Several warning signs presented themselves along the way, but I ignored them because so much of what she writes and teaches feels good, particularly for those of us who are a little lost and confused but don't feel comfortable in the confines of traditional organized religion. The first warning sign came when, after reading a few of her books, I realized how much of the content of each was lifted from her previous books: the same stories, the same descriptions, the same philosophihes repeated over and over, just packaged differently and sold separately. I got the impression, perhaps belatedly, that I was wasting my money. If you've read one of her books, you really don't need to shell out more money to read the others. They're all pretty much recycled.
The second warning sign came when I realized how few of her "predictions" actually surfaced, but I chalked that up to "Well, perhaps predictions aren't Sylvia's strong suit. That doesn't invalidate everything she does." But I was beginning to worry that she wasn't as fabulous as I had previously thought, so I began reading other mystics' books and other spiritual material. Sylvia's philosophies and teachings aren't anything new, I discovered. She's just incredibly well-researched. People have been writing about reincarnation, cell memory, etc. for millenia. Sylvia simply found a clever way to market this ancient knowledge.
Nevertheless, a few years ago, wanting to talk to other people about Sylvia, her books, etc. I contacted her website's webmaster to volunteer, without pay, to establish a blog where people could discuss her books, ideas, and their own psychic experiences. He declined, stating that he didn't want an open forum where skeptics could bad mouth Sylvia. I assured him that a well-monitored site would weed these people out. I urged him to reconsider becauase I felt that an open forum, while it would draw detractors, would draw more people interested in spirituality and mysticism. I couldn't understand his unwillingness to have free publicity. I now think I understand this after reading your article "A Matter of Control," which detals Sylvia's need to charge money for study groups. It seems that everything associated with Sylvia Browne costs money, even discussing her books and work.
I really began to sour on Sylvia when I saw her on Montel, which I wasn' able to watch very often, but when I did, I realized how vague her descriptions of dead loved ones were. She would describe the deceaded person's shape or size, but never anything definitive. It always seemed that the person being "read" was reaching to make the connection. "Oh, yes, the round-faced man with the skinny arms was my grandfather!" As a teacher who is always telling my students to write with specific details, her lack of specifics frustrated me. Also frustrating was the seeming disdain Sylvia showed to obviously grieving people. She seemed bored, irritated, or just plain disinterested most of the time. It is my opinion that she treats people like idiots, and though I consider myself an ex-idiot, it is just plain cruel to treat people this way who are suffering.
The final straw came when I learned of her cruel and incorrect prediction regarding Shawn Hornbeck. The story is well known by now, but I was so saddened to hear that the Hornbecks believed their son dead for so long, that they had given up hope because of Sylvia's reading on Montel.
I hadn't thought much about Sylvia Browne in a while, though I still have many of her books, tapes, and other merchandise laying around. Somehow, and I'm not really sure how, I ended up at your website, and after speding a few hours reading your articles, I've come away thoroughly disgusted, both with her multi-million dollar con and my own weakness that contributed to her wealth.
My parents had died, and I needed to find some meaning, some explanation for it. There's a sucker born every second, yet I thought I was immune. I thought I was enlightened, educated, and open to new ideas, even ones with no proof. I told myself that some things just don't need proof; some things just have to "feel" right. It's been seven years since my parents died, and I still grieve for them, but it's been long enough now that I can see that time in my life clearly. Just before I sat down to write this email, I gathered up all the books, tapes, and other Sylvia Browne garbage I could find, and tossed it in the garbage where it belongs.
Thank you for your website; it is an invaluable tool to help those of us searching for truth. Your truth may not offer any spiritual healing or grief counseling, but it is real and shows immense respect for your fellow human beings, and Sylvia Browne cannot claim to have the same respect for people like me, who she continues to exploit for her own selfish gain.
p.s. you have my permission to publish this so long as you remove my last name.
There are people who are under the misconception that those who believe in Sylvia Browne are all uneducated. I have corresponded with enough current and former believers in Browne to know that this is not the case.
As this email demonstrates, a formal education is no guarantee that a person will think critically in personal matters. This is doubly true when a person goes through a personal tragedy, when logic and reason often fall victim to grief and despair.
And it is people in these vulnerable situations who are Sylvia Browne's primary prey.
My thanks to Jodi for sharing her story.