Can we communicate with the dead? Some people hope it’s possible, and some are sure of it. Thousands of people consult mediums, but many wonder if their abilities are real. To find out for himself, author Stéphane Allix interviews six mediums. Without telling them that they are being tested, Allix sees if they can name the objects he secretly placed in his father’s coffin before it was buried. In "The Test," Allix has compiled the astounding results of these sessions by transcribing their conversations and exploring the personal histories of the mediums and how their gifts have impacted their lives. Readers are invited to discover what months of investigation and interviews have brought Allix to understand about the end of life, death, the afterlife, and communication with the other side.
I am meeting medium Dominique Vallée at her home in a large Paris suburb. The sun is flooding the small yard that is accessed through a modestly sized veranda. This very bright room is where Dominique usually has her consultations. But we decide to go inside, and her dog, who has been celebrating my arrival from the moment I walked in, follows, bouncing alongside us.
Dominique has laughing, twinkling eyes. I have known her for several years, and have seen how seriously she takes her role in this quite distinctive activity. She agreed wholeheartedly to participate in this test, but I sense that she is terribly anxious. I’m worried this might affect the quality of the experiment. I have also decided to begin the séance with the photo right away. In the grand scheme of things this won’t change anything—I’m giving her a photo she’s never seen, and she doesn’t know who the individual in the picture is—but this will allow her to concentrate on one person from the start, rather than reacting to all of the potential spirits that might be accompanying me.
As we take our places at the table, Dominique tells me what she always tells every person who comes to see her.
To begin, she explains that being a medium does not mean she has a magic wand. Even if a medium is successful 99 percent of the time, he or she may often encounter a failure. There are multiple reasons for this. For example, the deceased that a person is trying to contact may have had a difficult departure, or one that was too fast, and they may be in a zone of turbulence where they will be trying harder to get closer to the earth instead of rising above it. When the deceased find themselves in this zone, paradoxically, Dominique cannot connect with them. This makes me think of what Henry Vignaud says about the necessity of letting a certain amount of time go by between the moment of death and the first meeting with a medium, so that the deceased can detach themselves properly. Dominique has observed that communication depends on the position of the soul she is contacting.
Second, she recommends that clients record the séance, and if they don’t do that, that they at least write down what is said so that information is not lost. For if, in the moment, certain details don’t bring anything to mind, they may prove to be crucial a few days later with some emotional distance.
Finally, Dominique is very clear about the way the séance must begin: while the deceased person is trying to identify themselves, she does not want to know a single detail or hear a single question. The less she knows, the more effective she is. Also, in this first phase, she asks clients to only respond with yes or no to the specific questions she asks, without providing any additional explanations. At this stage, she just needs these markers to know whether or not she is in contact with the right deceased individual.
Evidently—I keep realizing this again and again—the need for identification reveals something rather significant: there are a ton of people up there. Perhaps it would be better to say that there are a ton of people around us. When the medium puts themselves psychically in a place of reception and opens their perception doors, they are lit up by a powerful projector in a parallel world, the world of the dead; they become visible to many of the deceased and, attracted by this living person who seems to see and hear them, many of the disappeared come close to the medium, impatient to be able to communicate.
(When you practice spiritualism for fun, exactly the same thing happens; you’re putting a spotlight on yourself and becoming visible in the world of the dead. In general, those who wander that world on the lookout for a little light are not those you would want to invite to dinner. But once you’ve said hello to them, they know how to find the warm and welcoming house. So here’s a tip: don’t play around with that. It’s not a game.)
All mediums protect themselves, and know how to do it. In fact, at the end of our interview, Henry confides to me that for a long time he had been invaded against his will. Everyone I talk to reminds people how careful they must be, because there are two forces present: the negative and the positive. In this way, the spiritual plane is not really so different from our material world, where light stands alongside the most sordid of shadows. Each world is a reflection of the other one.
* * *
The photo is placed flat on the table. Dominique wanted to give me the preamble without looking at it, then her eyes lowered to my father, her fingers brushed the image, and instantly things have started.
“Oh dear, there’s a heart problem . . . He’s having trouble breathing.”
Dominique’s reaction is very sudden, even physical, as if her own body is a soundboard for what she perceives.
I ask her, “What are you feeling?”
“Oh my goodness! I’ve had him for a while, this man. There is actually a kind of resemblance. This is your dad?”
Dominique tells me honestly that this information is a deduction and not a perception. But as I explained to her previously, I am not including this recognition as part of the test.
“Seeing the photo has really heightened my emotions. I’m feeling him having a lot of respiratory difficulty. When I was speaking to you at the beginning, I was already working with him because I was having trouble breathing. Did he have this kind of problem?”
“Your dad is someone who’s a little torn in two; he can be pretty tough and at the same time he’s someone with a sense of humor. He’s also a very sensitive person . . . There’s a lot of emotion; he almost made me cry, actually.”
“A very sensitive person.” My father projected the image of a man living inside his bubble. But in the rare moments when he allowed himself to come a little bit out of that shell and express his emotions, they overwhelmed him. Many years ago, when I was a young journalist who never stopped asking him for writing advice, he had snatched up from his desk a volume of Nicolas Gogol’s work published by La Pléiade and began reading me a passage aloud from “The Overcoat” so that I could hear the musicality. We had gone out onto the terrace in front of his studio, but after a few sentences his tears had quickly forced him to stop, overwhelmed by what he was reading. That was a lesson I never forgot. A few well-written sentences, restrained and true, from this great Russian writer had hatched the distress of the character in the story, Akaki Akakievitch, in my father’s heart. Russian writers are great authors, certainly, but my father can still be classified as a “sensitive man.” An emotional person beneath a thick steel shell.
But shells, as thick as they are, only protect us from what’s outside. Never from what is seething inside of us.
“Okay, I know the story of Thomas, and I know that interferes,” Dominique continues, “but one thing’s for sure: he never got over it. He’s telling me that he never got over it . . . There is also perhaps a certain amount of guilt on his part. Not about the accident itself but guilt as a father, in relation to Thomas’s personality, you see?”
Dominique knows the story of my brother Thomas’s death, just like nearly all of the mediums I will see. However, this event probably has greater significance for her because she lost her own son the same year I lost my brother. And her son was also named Thomas. I still make a mental note that there is one thing she doesn’t know, which Henry also picked up on: the relationship between my brother and my father. She will return to this later.
"He’s very proud of his children, of what you all have become. Your father is interested in many subjects. There are lots of things around him, paintings, sculptures; he’s passionate about this.”
My father was a painter and my mother a sculptor. Dominique seems to be capturing many small details at the same time that she is experiencing the sensations and feelings that belonged to my father’s life. As if her mediumship were corporal. It’s very pronounced.
“His health problem was a long one . . . He departed not very long ago, is that right?”
“Did his respiratory problem last a long time? Answer me with just yes or no.”
“I get the feeling that there’s something encumbering him . . . I’m getting the idea of suffocation . . . He’s also someone who can be very warmhearted. I see him: he’s taking people in his arms, patting them on the back.”
My father’s heart problem had affected his lungs very early on, and the last months of his life were difficult on the respiratory level. I have been noticing another curious thing since the beginning of the séance: each time that Dominique mentions a period of illness, my father leads her toward more pleasant feelings. Why?
“He’s talking to me about Coco; he has a parrot? What is Coco? Or Cloclo?”
My mother’s name is Claude. My father didn’t call her Cloclo but he would sometimes use the nickname to tease her. This séance is really starting to get interesting. I answer Dominique: “It might have to do with Claude, my mother.”
[. . .]
“Does this woman have a problem with her thumbs, her hands?”
“I don’t know.”
“As if she had worked a lot with her hands. She’s kneading, I don’t know if it’s dough.”
My mother, as I said, is a sculptor. She has never really mentioned anything to me about pain in her hands, but she has worked a great deal with the earth. She has sculpted stone and wood, but also made tremendous amounts of pottery, and today she no longer works with anything but the earth.
“Is your dad someone who traveled a lot?”
“Because I’m seeing the trip, he’s a bit of an adventurer. He didn’t have a very easy childhood, did he? Did he feel abandoned at one time in his childhood?”
“I don’t know.”
“Abandoned either due to the absence of his father, or his mother, or the fact that he had been put in boarding school very young.”
“I don’t know,” I say, but it’s pretty interesting that he’s giving me information I wasn’t aware of but that I could verify later on.
Which is the case. I know that my father was an only child, but while we are discussing this séance weeks later, my mother tells me that she had gotten the sense that during my father’s childhood, his own father must not have been very present. Not to mention the war breaking out, then the Occupation, when my father, a young teenager at the time, left to live by himself in the countryside. This difficult childhood is incidentally something that several other mediums mention.
“He’s a very reserved person, your dad, anything that touches something private, he has a hard time. He came to me very quickly, but there are things he didn’t talk about on earth, and on the other side he still has a little trouble talking about them, it’s who he is . . . It’s almost like your mom’s family was more his family than his own relatives.”
This is something astonishing, yet another thing I don’t know that my mother will reveal to me later. About his wife’s parents, my father used to say, “I have finally found my family.” Not that he didn’t love his own parents, but he had discovered a large family, one that was perhaps more jovial, easygoing. Dominique continues.
“It’s like he had been adopted by your mom’s family, who may have been more warm, more laid-back, nicer.”
It’s peculiar—Dominique talks to me with visible ease, then her gaze goes back into the void for a few seconds, she listens attentively and simultaneously transmits what she’s channeling, without this back-and-forth seeming to bother her. And she always has these physical manifestations that make her start breathing exactly the same way my father did, searching for air with a large inhale. She punctuates the conversation by saying, “He’s sighing.” I feel like I’m seeing him this very moment; it’s startling.
“Is he giving classes? There are a lot of people around him, young people, and he’s sharing his knowledge.”
“Yes, he was a teacher.”
“Ah, he was a teacher? Why is there also art, painting, and sculpture?”
“He was a painter, it was his passion. His career was teaching.”
Now I really can’t believe how accurate Dominique is being. But it’s not over yet.
“Were his trips connected to his teaching? Because he’s bringing me over different countries.”
“Yes, he taught geography.”
“Still, he was at the end of his rope, he had a sadness in him. He tried not to show it for your mom’s sake, but this departure is a real break.”
“Thomas’s. He doesn’t understand his personality, he’s telling me again. He probably could have listened to him more, or been a little less hard on him. I think there is something he didn’t understand or that he maybe hadn’t imagined happening.”
As I said earlier, Thomas suffered as a result of the distance he felt between him and our father, to the point of loudly making this known to him on several occasions. It’s astonishing to see this detail emerge again.
“Does he want to talk about it?”
“They must have talked about it up there. Now it’s as if they were able to touch one another . . . I don’t know if it’s something they did very often because Thomas was a highly sensitive person . . . Who is Pierre, or Jean-Pierre?”
“That’s my father’s first name: Jean-Pierre.”
This avalanche of details is pretty staggering. It’s not so much my father’s name that overwhelms me most, but these details about his relationship with my brother Thomas, his personality, his capacity to feel emotion.
“You know, with the mention of Thomas we’re moving too close to emotions for him. All of this sorrow he’s making me feel . . . as a mom who has experienced similar things myself, he trusts me. I finally feel he’s really being nice to me. Like he’s saying to me: ‘Okay, stop, this is hurting everyone, that’s enough, and up here we were able to find each other again.’ It’s funny, regarding Thomas I’m now getting an image of freedom. Your brother, as if he were with my son. Mine was an Alpine hunter, he was someone who did a lot of skiing, climbing, he was very physical. They’re together now, as if they’re climbing. I see our two Thomases climbing.”
My brother Thomas was literally crazy about climbing. I’m troubled by this image and I say this to Dominique, who cannot help but be surprised herself by the clarity of what she’s capturing. Dominique’s son passed away from leukemia in 2001, the same year as my brother. The sickness took him away in fifteen days. How can a mother even conceive of her son’s imminent death? How does a medium experience the death of someone so close to them? Had she known it would happen? Does she communicate with him?
[. . .]
Did Dominique’s mediumship help her in her grief? Yes, even though the loss of a child is a wound that never closes. One can never finish grieving for a child. Every year, she imagines him one year older. Would he perhaps be married today? Would she have been a grandmother? The mom in her, the woman, is not the medium. She is amputated for life. This being said, when mothers come to see her, she understands what is impossible to understand for those who have not been through such an ordeal. She knows that she has to move on, help people, and not let herself go. There are women who fall apart, and this is not in Dominique’s nature. The day of the funeral, in shock, she didn’t shed a single tear, not one, to the point that she was even bothered by it.
No, mediumship does not heal.. On the other hand, mediumship does help her by giving her the certainty that she will see her son again. This is the only thing of which she is totally convinced: she will see him again. Sometimes she hears him, too. Those moments are times of great peace. This doesn’t happen every day, far from it, only when Thomas has things to tell his mother. She repeats that she doesn’t like looking at photos of him because those images bring her back to the past, to the pain. When she hears him, though, he is an adult. He is the person he has become today.
# # #
Excerpted with permission from The Test: Incredible Proof of the Afterlife by Stéphane Allix. Copyright 2018 by Helios Press, an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.