Despite her trendy appearance, there is nothing modern about Lisa Williams’s performance (I saw her in Baltimore on the 20th November of this year). As with similar clairvoyants, her show consists of identifying details of her audience’s recently deceased relatives. Although many of these tidbits are predictably vague, her hits are sometimes remarkably on-target. For example, in Baltimore she asked one woman whether her dead mother had “taught her cat to use the toilet.” “Oh, that was her dog,” the woman replied. “She taught it to pee in the shower”. Once the connection has been firmly established between the presenting spirit and his or her worldly descendents, Williams dispenses love, forgiveness, and a little worldly wisdom (one lady was advised from beyond the grave to “get her transmission checked out”). If the details do not match or if advice seems confusing, the loved ones are instructed to “let it sit for a while,” to see if anything comes to mind.
If the make-up of the Baltimore audience was any indicator, Lisa’s fans are predominantly women, accompanied by a few bored looking boyfriends (including mine). Many of her fans were already clutching tissues even before Lisa arrived on stage, which suggests there is an enormous need for the comfort such performers can bring. This impression is confirmed by a glance at Lisa’s chatty and colorful blog, where each entry is followed by grateful comments, almost all of them from women: “Thank you for sharing your journey with us and giving us all inspiration in our own lives.” “Thank you so much for a wonderful evening and for bringing such peace and well-being to so many. Your energy was contagious and brought so much happiness.”
Like many clairvoyants, Lisa Williams believes her psychic powers are inherited. “My grandmother, Frances Glazebrook from Birmingham, had these powers too,” she reveals on her blog. In her transatlantic popularity, Williams is part of another tradition—that of British psychics, usually female, who are popular on both sides of the pond. Pet psychic Sonya Fitzpatrick was born in England and lived in London until 1991, when she moved to the United States with her husband. Before Fitzpatrick, the mystic du jour was Rosemary Altea, “Voice of the Spirit World”—another popular British-born clairvoyant who appeared on numerous national television shows including The Oprah Show, Larry King Live and Prime Time Live with Diane Sawyer. Altea’s predecessor was the ghastly and garrulous Doris Stokes (1920-1987), a grey-haired, grandmotherly figure associated with the Spiritualist church. Although Stokes was based in England, she often traveled to Australia and the U.S., and even helped out the LAPD with a murder case, or so she claimed. Her main psychic rival was a lady with the Dickensian name of Sybil Leek, who claimed descent from a line of witches going back to the 16th century. Leek moved to the US in 1964 and began collaborating with the Austrian-born parapsychologist Hans Holzer, who invited her to join him in his investigations into haunted houses and psychic phenomena. The duo went on to host numerous TV and radio programs on the subject, continuing to collaborate until Leek’s death in 1982.
When watching Lisa Williams’s stage performance, I began to wonder why British ladies make such popular and successful psychics. Perhaps their genteel accents hearken back to the heyday of Victorian spiritualism, the era of ectoplasm and ouija boards, séances and tinkling spirit footsteps. Or perhaps they fit the archetype of the magical English nanny embodied by characters like Mary Poppins and Nanny McPhee, a stock character closely related to those dotty British aunts played in the movies by Maggie Smith and Margaret Rutherford. Or maybe there is a connection to the tradition of Celtic witchcraft, passed along from Morgan-la-Fay, Vivian, the Lady of the Lake and other mythical mystics. Interestingly, these traditions long pre-date Christianity, which perhaps explains why, although mediums and clairvoyants will often discuss various planes of the afterlife, there is never any mention of heaven or hell, let alone any reference to the existence (or otherwise) of god.
But back to Lisa Williams, who, although she may have brought hope to countless loved ones, has seen a run of bad fortune in her own not-so-private life. She is separated from the father of her child, and her marriage came to an end in 2009. But things are currently looking up. In her latest blog entry—posted on December 10 of this year—Lisa has revealed that she is now in a same-sex relationship. If this revelation gives you a sense of déjà vu, it’s probably because she is far from the first psychic to have “Crossed Over” in this way. Miss Cleo—or Ms. Cleo, as she is now known—came out in The Advocate in 2006, and now describes herself as a lesbian activist. Danielle Agnew, host of Haunted Playground, is also openly gay, as are psychics Terry Iacuzzo, James Van Praagh, and Colin Fry. The correlation between psychic gifts and homosexuality, however, remains open to speculation. Could it just be one of those things that, in the words of H.P. Lovecraft, “man was not meant to know”?