'Messages of Love'
Annie Calloway (left) meets with medium Janet Shackelford in Mechanicsville. (Photo by Jay Paul)
Annie Calloway and her 30-year-old daughter, April Louis, were in the midst of rebuilding their relationship last year when Louis, a heroin addict, died from a drug overdose. The loss was devastating, and Calloway felt as if she would never recover.
A coworker told her about Janet Shackelford, a medium living in Hanover County, and Calloway called her last November.
During their first session, Calloway didn’t tell Shackelford anything about herself or her family. She simply told the medium that she wanted to see what would happen during the session. She was skeptical at first, but Calloway says that Shackelford was able to tell her exactly where her daughter was and what position she was in when she died, as well as how she was feeling when it happened. Shackelford also gave her names, dates and events, she says.
“There was no way she could have known that information unless my daughter was telling her,” says Calloway, who lives in the Bumpass area northwest of Richmond. “I felt like I was having a conversation with my daughter. I left with some peace and more questions.”
Mediums like Shackelford describe themselves as intermediaries between the spirit world and the living world.
“Every medium is a psychic, but not every psychic is a medium,” explains Shackelford. “Psychics help with the physical plane. It works off of someone’s energy. Mediumship connects to loved ones that have passed away.”
She acknowledges that many people find it difficult to believe she can communicate with the dead, and she knows that the practice of mediumship raises many eyebrows in the religious community. A passage in the “Catechism of the Catholic Church,” for example, states that “all forms of divination are to be rejected” including “conjuring up the dead” and “recourse to mediums,” as they “conceal a desire for power over time, history, and, in the last analysis, other human beings, as well as a wish to conciliate hidden powers.”
But Shackelford, who was raised as a Catholic and now is active in a Baptist church, believes that her gift is from God. “Many people in my religion would not agree with me,” she says of her Catholic background. “They feel that I talk to the devil disguised as their loved ones. I have lost friends over this. They felt that what I was doing was wrong.”
Calloway, who has had six sessions with Shackelford, doesn’t see it that way. “Without Janet, I wouldn’t be where I am right now with the healing of my daughter’s death,” she says.
All religions have people, such as pastors and priests, who are presumed to be “more spiritual than we are,” says David Bromley, director of the World Religions & Spirituality Project and professor of religious studies and sociology at Virginia Commonwealth University. “Mediums are one of those groups. They connect to the vision of a larger reality that transcends the reality we inhabit. They are an access point to a transcendent power. They play the role of connecting individuals to former loved ones who have died or people who have crossed over onto the other side.”
Some people who are religious may view mediums as “usurping God’s power,” says Karen-Marie Yust, professor of Christian Education at Union Presbyterian Seminary. “There is a longstanding belief that if there is a divine force for good, then there are also forces for evil. One thing an evil force can do is mimic the divine force of God.”
However, she adds, “One can go to the Bible and find support for a lot of different conclusions. There are plenty of stories in the Scripture that would seem supernatural. Some people choose to look for stories that see [mediumship] as evil, while others choose to see it as good.”
After a loved one has passed away, some people can hear in their minds what that person would say. A 2009 survey by the Pew Research Center found that 29 percent of Americans have felt in touch with someone who has died, an increase from 18 percent in 1996.
“You have a sense of the other person,” Yust says of that kind of experience, adding that a medium is simply playing that role. “Just because we don’t understand how they would know this, to be utterly skeptical seems a little judgmental.”
Shackelford, who operates under the professional name J.Marie Spiritual Psychic Medium, says her goal in becoming a medium was to help people heal from a loss.
“I connect with messages of love from above,” she says. “I want people to say they feel better or it brings them peace or healing. My readings are a moment to recreate a memory;
a moment to bring your loved ones to sit with you once again.”
Shackelford, 32, knows what it’s like to lose a loved one. Her mother passed away when she was 6 years old, and she misses her greatly. “On my 30th birthday,” she says, “I had an overwhelming desire to see a medium.”
During her session, the medium mentioned the name of Shackelford’s dog, Princess, who had died, and described her. “That’s what sealed it for me,” Shackelford says. “Princess was a gift from my parents. When she died, I felt like I had lost my mom again.”
Through the medium, Shackelford says, her mother told her that she had a gift. She recalled that as a child, she had always been fascinated with psychics and mediums. She found peace sitting in a graveyard, but she didn’t understand why.
“I didn’t put two and two together,” she says. “When I was a freshman in high school, I had a really bad fall and was knocked out. I was lying face down in the water of a rock quarry.” After she fell, a friend who was with her immediately ran to get help. “I remember hearing someone saying, ‘She is drowning, wake up, wake up.’ ” When Shackelford regained consciousness, she was told that there was no one else around after her friend had left.
Shackelford went on with her life, but kept the incident in the back of her mind. By age 30, she was a divorced single mom with two children, and she was seeking a new direction.
She decided to work with a medium who was known for helping others cultivate their gift. During her first experience with “Spirit” — her name for the cosmic presence, which she identifies as divine beings and the souls of loved ones, that she encounters during sessions — she realized there was “something to trust that was bigger than me,” she says.
During her two years of mediumship training, Shackelford took various workshops with mediums from around the world. She participated in exercises to determine her clairvoyant (seeing), clairaudient (hearing) and clairsentient (feeling) abilities.
Shackelford works as an evidential medium: She provides people with information such as birthdays, names, significant memories, places and things. “It’s about giving you validation that it is truly your loved one talking and not me,” she says.
Not everyone who professes to be a medium has had training or is trustworthy, however. “You have people that will swindle you. You have to be careful,” Shackelford says. She believes it is best to go to a medium who has been referred by someone you trust. “Or you can look for testimonials. If you feel uncomfortable or they are just throwing [information] out, you might want to leave.”
Alison Ray of Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach suggests asking the following questions after a visit with a medium: Did the experience have a ring of truth for you? Were there confirmable facts? Did you feel right about the experience? Did it empower you to take charge of your own life rather than becoming dependent on the psychic source? Did it leave you with a sense of hope about your life?
Rebecca Kelley of Perkinston, Mississippi, consulted with Shackelford after her father passed away in 2012. “I took it pretty hard,” she says of his death. She admits she was skittish about talking with a medium, but that soon dissipated.
“She knew things no one would know,” Kelley says of Shackelford, whom she talks with by phone or Skype. “She amazes me every time she does a reading with me. I don’t tell her what my problems are. I want to see if she gets it, and she does.”
During their first session, Shackelford correctly described Kelley’s parents’ home. “She said when you look out of the window from the kitchen, you see a wind chime. She described what my grandmother was wearing in a photo. She told me she had her hair up and the dress was from the 1960s. She said my grandfather was well dressed and he was wearing a hat. She told me they were standing in front of the house.” Every image Shackelford described was accurate, Kelley says.
Shackelford doesn’t want people to come into a session with expectations. “Spirit is going to give you what they know you need, not what you want,” she says. “They will give you what you need to help you heal.”