OUT OF THIS WORLD
DEPENDING on whether or not you rate yourself a New Ager, Jeeta De Pasquale, Toni Franchey and Helen Forty form either a powerhouse of energy or a triangle of lunacy. And depending on where you stand on reincarnation, extra-terrestrial life and ethereal spiritual masters that float around the universe, channelling is either as natural as childbirth or as implausible as re-growing an amputated limb.
The trio admit there are no scientific explanations for what they claim to do. Instead they point to best-selling novelists and psychic healers like the late Edgar Cayce, Jane Roberts and Ruth Montgomery who helped to spearhead the channelling movement worldwide.
And where others go, Hong Kong invariably follows. On the heels of the crystal craze, the obsession with aromatherapy and the trendiness of re-birthing, channelling - conveying information from 'non-physical entities' - has created a frenzied following among those who say they are searching for clarity and focus. They believe the guidance they need to run their lives and deal with their problems comes from something they can neither see nor touch nor hear.
Many have gone the Life Dynamics and Inner Child route. They have seen the psychologist, hypnotist, reflexologist, had their tarot cards read, their auras balanced, their chakras healed. And now, they have the opportunity to save their marriages through the words of wisdom of Archangel Gabriel, of having their questions answered about the ending of the world through Electra from the Star Command, and of finding out from Athena and other entities from Planet Venus if they should take that new job. Moses, Mohammad, Guru Nanik, Sai Baba - take your pick. You want to hear what they have to say, see a channel.
It has nothing to do with seances and ouija boards and asking your dead grandfather where he left the keys before he popped off. It bears no relation to crystal balls and gypsy tents and rattling chairs. That is messing with the ghost world, say the channels, and channels don't mess with ghosts.
Ms De Pasquale, Ms Franchey and Ms Forty know what the difference is. Together, they have set up a company called Odyssey which cites channelling as one of its specialities along with work on auric fields, astrology and guided meditation.
Ms De Pasquale is tall and dusky, has exquisitely long slim fingers and runs a company that specialises in organising entertainment events. At least that is her day job. In her own time, she is sought out by clients who ask her to access one of the high level beings who speak through her.
Ms Franchey is a blue-eyed, blonde, New York-born architect who passes on messages from an entity called Simone. Simone's forte, says the channel, is answering personal questions and speaking on 'feminine power'. Ms Franchey discovered channelling when shebegan asking herself where creativity and new ideas came from.
Ms Forty is a British, freshly-scrubbed, girl-next-door type who said she was an atheist until her brush with channelling. Like her partners, who all happen to be close friends, she has always been fascinated by psychology and human nature, yearning to learn 'how to help herself and see what makes people tick'.
What the three have in common is an almost endearing earnestness about what they do. They make no apologies for it, certainly do not brag about it and say they face little criticism of their work because 'we attract to us only people who have achieved a certain level of growth and now understand what we are doing'.
Lucky them. To the layman, talk of energy fields, electromagnetics, planetary alignments and levels of consciousness can sound like half-witted gibberish. The barrage of metaphysical terms leaves you either flummoxed, bemused or outraged, depending on yourreligious views.
Those who channel professionally - and Hong Kong has more than its fair share of them - say anyone can do it. As they explain it, everyone is able to tap into a universal store of counsel, advice and information. It all starts with listening to your intuition, they say, and is closely linked to the relaxation brought on by meditation and the faith generated by prayer.
But it's the supposed appearance of entities from other planets and the talks allegedly delivered by the spirits of Jesus Christ and Buddha that really wind up the cynics. In group readings, these entities come proclaiming massive changes on Earth and humanity, or talk about relationships, money and work during one-on-one sessions.
'I have always received information but never recognised it,' Ms De Pasquale said. 'I started doing workshops in channelling, and that was the key that unlocked the magic box.' In the process, Ms De Pasquale discovered voices that identified themselves and visions of faces and forms that were from another dimension. It all may sound a bit Star Trekky, surreal and even a little eerie for most tastes, but Ms De Pasquale and other channels in Hong Kong say it is actually the most unforced, instinctive thing in the world. And if it at all works, it is because the information serves a purpose.
'There is a natural tendency in human beings to seek answers,' Ms Franchey said.
'A basic tenet of psychology is to determine why you are here. People have a strong desire to be loved and valued, and to have an understanding of their place in the world. In Hong Kong, people are so involved in being successful they have no time to look at what is really fulfilling and what makes them happy.' What makes channels - or 'facilitators' as they call themselves - happy is helping others, they say.
They certainly have plenty of opportunities to do so: numbers are steadily climbing at the Monday evening public channelling sessions run by New Zealander Paul Walsh at the New Age Shop in Old Bailey Street. And California-based channel Dorothy Bodenburg, who spent two weeks doing private readings and workshops there, was booked solid. Odyssey started holding channelling evenings, and because of a growing number of participants would also be using the New Age Shop workshop facilities from next month.
Ms Bodenburg, who would return to Hong Kong in November, said the surge in interest in what was sometimes called 'channelling therapy' was because people wanted to live their lives more independently and to escape from religious, social and political dogmas.
'We are getting away from having an authority figure that is in charge - the church, the government, even within corporations. No longer can someone tell you what is best for you. With dependency comes feelings of powerlessness, helplessness and despair. With this new energy, a person can choose whether they are going to stay stuck or whether they are going to say 'there is no longer just one way and I am an individual'.' Which is fine if the world is full of simpletons, but the sceptics remain unconvinced. How can these channels prove they are indeed relaying messages from angels or the founders of the world's religions? More importantly, how dare they even suggest the existence of a power beyond what is tangible? Being a first-time witness of a one-on-one channelling session can be just a little creepy: sometimes there is no change in the persona or demeanour of the channel, but at other times, voices deepen, eyeballs roll back, the channel goes into a trance and either laughs uncontrollably or sobs hysterically. The words that then emerge can be befuddling, the message long-winded. They can be a little hurtful, or immensely soothing. Or sometimes, they make no difference at all. Theatrics? Maybe. After all, in the world of the New Agers, anything is possible.
The trio behind Odyssey say channelling is on the same level as fung shui, palmistry and psychic readings. There is no scientific basis for these either, but there is mass appeal and sometimes pure blind faith.
'It is surprising how many people want to know more about it,' Ms Forty said. 'We can sense who is open to it. There are times when people change the subject once we bring up what we do, and we respect that.' They say the core of channelling is found in the writings of the late Carl Jung. 'He talked about a collective pool of information we all share,' Ms Franchey said. 'People know everything isn't contained by the logical mind and it doesn't all come from schooling. There are other places to find answers to life.' Ms Bodenburg agrees the subject of channelling can be maligned, but only because it is misunderstood. Each person, she says, has an energy field about them that is 'unlimited in its ability to connect with the spiritual teacher, the guide'.
'I in no way tell someone what they must do. I help them to see what it is they need to learn. Acknowledging and acting on their intuition is the first step, and from there it is a question of practising a skill like anything else, identifying higher levels of consciousness and receiving information.' Which begs the question, how much of what channels receive is from some higher, invisible source and how much is a combination of first impressions, body language and commonsense? Disbelievers say it is easy for a channel to deduce if a client is married or unattached, happy or depressed, wealthy or struggling. From that, logical deductions can be made, and it does not take a spiritual master from the seventh dimension to figure out the obvious.
'A spiritual guide is a representation of a level of consciousness within a person,' says Ms Bodenburg, who is also a psychologist-therapist and a marriage and child counsellor. A spiritual being called Vywamus is her partner. 'And I don't do parlour tricks,' she said.
She knew she had a natural aptitude for channelling at 19 when she found herself saying things to people, or offering a point of view, that she had no real experience of. 'I recognised I was able to access information and points of view that were beyond myage and level of experience. Since then, I have helped people to see the commonalities between channelling and prayer and meditation. Now, I use it in every moment of my life.' She and other channels agree there are people who 'fake it' and that, as in any field, there are charlatans. 'That gives it a bad name, but there are also doctors and lawyers who are manipulative and others who are wonderful. But sometimes it is embarrassing to say I am in this field.' The channels from Odyssey do not seem to think so. They relish the prospect of being able to slip away mentally for an hour or so for a bit of extra-terrestrial travelling, bringing back gems of enlightenment and pearls of prudence.
'We don't want to be gurus and we are not into hard-sell,' Ms Franchey said. 'We have not run into any opposition here. Yes, to some people it can be frightening and it can look like a hoax. And to that we say that if that is how it feels, then that is what it probably is. Channelling is hard to quantify, impossible to explain.' Ms De Pasquale said: 'There is so far you can go to scientifically explain something. We don't have the language or the mechanics for it. We are on the edge of what we know, and we are pushing that edge constantly. In life, you are always dealing with areas that are inexplicable. People believe in God, but there is no scientific explanation for God.' Or, as the cynics might say, perhaps the channels should just drop in and ask Him for one.