by Claus Larsen

Novus Spiritus – The Church of Sylvia Browne

Sylvia Browne is a modern-day preacher and founder of her own religion, replete with ordained ministers in robes, a “portable philosophy” and a 24-hour crisis line. Her gospel is a very befuddled mix of gnosticism, contorted Eastern ideas, New Age blabber and intense personal adoration. Her message is a very forgiving, non-committing promise of eternal bliss, combined with a complete absence of guilt. Browne runs a multi-million dollar show that could well be called “It Is Never Your Fault, Dear.”

Browne was born a psychic. She comes from a long line of psychics (she claims it runs in the family at least 300 years back), which clearly indicates that being psychic is hereditary. It will be interesting to see when geneticists find this “psychic” gene. They won’t find it, of course, since the obvious advantage of being a psychic would long ago have established itself much more predominantly in the human race.

Her “spirit guide”, Francine, is the link between our world and the spirit world. This imaginary friend has helped Browne find the answers in life and the hereafter. Some people have these spirits hanging around them, telling them how to live their lives. Francine speaks to Browne all the time, giving Browne a clear advantage: A constant, direct link to the spirit world, where the eternal truths are laid forth. Others are not so fortunate.

She markets her message well: Personal sessions are available (by phone, at $700 a pop), spiritual trips around the world to “sacred” places, books, tapes, newsletters, lectures, the talkshow circuit. She even claims to help the police hunt down killers with the help of transplanted organs.

What will happen to Novus Spiritus after Browne dies? Her son, also genetically gifted, will take over. The psychic money-making ménagerie can continue.


Browne draws on many pop-cultural themes, one of them being reincarnation. She claims we have lived many lives before, but that this is our last. The “end times” are near. We will go into an era of heightened spiritual bliss and awareness. Or maybe not. The familiar doomsday scenario is very much apparent.

Browne supports the New Age interpretation of reincarnation: When we reincarnate, we don’t come back as worms or dogs – that is way too yucky. No, we reincarnate as ourselves. We might switch sex and skin color, but we are essentially the same person, have always been the same person and will remain so – regardless of our behaviour. This is, of course, a gross distortion of traditional reincarnation beliefs, where you in the next life are punished or rewarded for your actions in this one. By misrepresenting the idea of reincarnation this way, Browne’s followers don’t have to worry about their past sins. The thought of being seriously held responsible for your actions does not give you a warm, fuzzy feeling. None of her followers has ever done a single thing wrong. It is always somebody else’s fault. Usually those who doubt Sylvia Browne.

No fingers must be pointed, at least not at her “subjects” (Browne’s term for her paying clients). She never puts any blame on them. Current maladies are either what people themselves decide they should have in the upcoming life, or are the result of events in previous lives. Those are always caused by other people from the “dark side”.

Beware of the Dark Side, Luke!

Dark entities have turned their backs on God. All they do is wreck havoc among the good people on the light side. They can be people like Hitler, Charles Manson or Ted Bundy. Or they can be your parents, children, politicians or movie stars. Anyone can deliberately turn to the dark side.

When these people die, they go through the “Left Door” and are born yet again to a life of misery and evil. This goes on and on and on, until they are rescued by people from the Light Side.

Dark Side People are not interested in their progress toward spiritual perfection. They are the ones who do not seek out Browne for salvation. Damnation is metered out by Browne only – if you don’t follow her, you are of the Dark Side.

Holocaust victims chose to be gassed

One of her most outrageous claims is that Holocaust victims have chosen their destiny – they are not victims, nobody should pity them. According to Browne, before we are reborn, we write a “chart” in which we determine how we will live our upcoming life. We have 44 different ways of living it, no more, no less. Apparently, millions of Jews decided to sacrifice themselves in order to make humanity aware of evil – as if we didn’t know evil before. Your fate in this life is determined by yourself, no matter what happens to you. Unless, of course, you are a victim of the actions of people from the Dark Side…

And as for the victims of 9-11…

Guess what? The victims who died in the World Trade Center attacks agreed to do so (before they were born) to make Americans more “cohesive and patriotic”. But nobody suffered in the attacks! Not even the people who made heartbreaking phonecalls from underneath the rubble before they died a slow, agonizing death. And yet, Browne “didn’t feel anyone suffered” when she visited Ground Zero…

She didn’t see the attacks coming, either:

“I really didn’t see it, that’s what all the skeptics have said, “Why didn’t you see it?” And if it’s supposed to happen, you can’t see it. All I saw the whole week before was fire. I kept calling my son’s house. When it hit I was like “Oh my God, that’s the fire.” But I don’t know any psychic that got a bead on it. ”
From the MSN chat session with Sylvia Browne, on October 30th, 2001

Not a single psychic saw this coming? If it is supposed to happen, then you can’t see it? What is the use of psychic abilities then? Can you only see what isn’t supposed to happen? Are all her predictions about what will not happen? Or can she only see the future after it has happened?

If your stomach churns, you are not alone…

Hypnosis and past life regressions

Browne is also a healer. She heals people by hypnotizing them, and then “guides” them back in time to their previous lives. Even though hypnosis is a highly suggestive state of mind, she refuses to even acknowledge the possibility that she might be the one who makes people “remember” past lives, although she freely admits that others are capable of it. People can be healed simply by going back to a previous life, realize what happened, and they are almost instantly cured, when they are brought back from the hypnosis.

Browne also hypnotizes children without their parents being present. A very telling sign that past life regressions are fantasies is that none of the children speak the way an adult would, even when they are “remembering” past adult lives.

Is there a history professor in the building?

Usually, our previous lives turn out to be mundane, short, and full of suffering. Despite the lack of detail, these regressions are described as true. However, often the historical information brought “back” is wrong. And never has a historical fact been revealed in a previous life that was later verified by archeological findings. Never!

So the obvious question arises: Why not have a history professor sit in on these sessions, ready to jump in with relevant questions that desperately need answering? “Dave” used to be a tailor in medieval France? Speak the local dialect, please. “Jill” was born in Assyria 4,000 years ago? Translate these scrolls and tablets, please. “James” was a neanderthal? Explain the usage of this artifact. “Amanda” was born in 1834 B.C.? How does one determine that Jesus will be born 1834 years from now?

There is a wealth of information buried in these recollections. It is only a matter of asking the right questions. Why won’t psychics allow this? Why keep humankind from knowing about its past? Why not verify if these past lives happened at all?

Privacy and protection of the subject in question? Get his/her acceptance before and after the session! I am sure there are plenty of people who want science to progress. Whatever embarrassing facts are found, let’s keep that confidential, although you would hardly be blamed for what you did in a previous life. Heck, we don’t even have to be in a therapeutic session – let’s make it a fact-finding session instead!

If it is true that we can experience past lives through hypnosis, then it is a direct pipeline to the past. This is better than any monk’s drunken, prejudiced scribbles, better than nasty dictators’ self-serving revisions of history – this is the real thing! Historians should be jumping with joy! No need for research grants or field studies anymore. Just ask the people who lived through it! It’s easy, fast and incredibly cheap! Science never had it so easy!

Psychics are enemies of the historical truth

Will psychics allow a controlled supervision by competent historians? No? Then I will put forward that psychics are enemies of the historical truth. They are not interested in what actually happened, they just abuse history to claim credibility for their own beliefs.

Paradoxically, each of Browne’s hypnotic seances are taped, and the subject is given the tape as part of the reading. A copy must find its way to Browne’s library, since each account is “true and documented.” But, alas, unavailable to any researcher.

Doctor Sylvia

Even though Browne has no formal medical education, she freely dispenses medical advice to her subjects. She has told people to take specific drugs, something only educated doctors are allowed to do. She confuses hemorrhages with clots (they are opposites). She claims bilirubin is a liver enzyme, when in fact it is a degradation product of human hemoglobin. She has suggested a test be made for Epstein-Barr disease related to the examination of fecal matter, when no such test exists. She has told someone just diagnosed with multiple sclerosis that the person didn’t really have the disease. And she has suggested that a person with stomach pains really had a metal object inside the body, forgotten by doctors – and therefore should get a MRI-scan. Having a metal object inside you while being inside a very powerful magnetic piece of machinery will tear out the object with possible death as a result.

It takes skills, effort and dedication to become a doctor. Doctors can save you from discomfort, disease and death. But it takes education. Knowledge. Sylvia Browne is a half-baked quack. If people believe her, they could forego crucial treatment in favor of her “spiritual” advice. Don’t see this “doctor”, if you want to keep your health. She has no idea what she is doing.

Cold Reading

Browne cold reads people. She’s reasonably good at it – after all, she claims to do 15-20 readings a day (at $700 each, you do the math), along with a busy schedule of media appearances, interviews, as well as running a church. But she is not getting her information from any spirit world – it is always the subject that gives the information.

When you cold read people, you seemingly know all about a person, but it is really is the person himself who tells you everything:

“Cold reading refers to a set of techniques used by professional manipulators to get a subject to behave in a certain way or to think that the cold reader has some sort of special ability that allows him to “mysteriously” know things about the subject. Cold reading goes beyond the usual tools of manipulation: suggestion and flattery. In cold reading, salespersons, hypnotists, advertising pros, faith healers, con men and some therapists bank upon their subject’s inclination to find more meaning in a situation than there actually is.”
From The Skeptic’s Dictionary.

Check out Ian Rowland’s definitive book on the subject: The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading   to see how Browne does it. All psychics do it this way, with a few variations. You can do it, too.

The Spirit Queen of Mean

Despite her sanctimonious appearance, there is a mean streak in her. Even though she claims that she is not offended by criticism and that one should always maintain a positive outlook, she plays very dirty when she is cornered.

When she finally appeared on Larry King together with James Randi, investigator and demystifier of paranormal and pseudoscientific claims, in September 2001 to discuss the terms for her taking the Randi Challenge  , she told Randi to have his doctor check his left heart ventricle – there was something very wrong with it. There wasn’t. However, five months later, James Randi had a gall stone removed – this completely went by without Browne taking notice. So much for Sylvia’s psychic powers.

The day after the show, she also posted a link on her website to another site that accused Randi of being a pedophile. The link, as well as the site, was removed later, without explanation.

Positive outlook, indeed.


Will any exposé have any effect on those who believe in her? Sadly, no. Believers will find excuse after excuse, rationalization after rationalization, and eventually lie after lie. It is a perilous web of deception. Once in, it is very hard to get out.

It is very much a matter of belief.

Read more about Sylvia Browne at  

Specifically about the MRI scan: Montel: Susan and the MRI