• Katie Calautti

What I Learned While Studying to Be a Spiritual Medium

When I signed up for an eight-week beginner’s mediumship course this past January, I assumed it’d transform me into the kind of person who stops strangers in the grocery store to relay extraordinary messages from spirit or conducts readings with such accuracy that sitters are moved to tears. A person who—mid-conversation—suddenly stares into the middle distance, eyes gone fuzzy, and delivers a humdinger of wisdom from the great beyond. In short, I was an idiot.

Before I continue, it may be helpful for you to read up on my spirit-sensitive past and the activity kicked up in my historic cottage while I wrote my novel (unsurprisingly, it’s a ghost story). Of everything detailed in that post, there’s one experience that ultimately pushed me to study formally. But before I get into that, allow me to explain the particular brand of grueling that was spiritual mediumship class. Understanding the journey makes the impetus for starting it even more fascinating.

The group, which met once a week for a two-hour video conference call, consisted of me, six other students, and my teacher. We were given weekly lessons and meditations through an online portal, which were to be completed before each class. I also had a weekly hour-long one-on-one video call with my teacher.

In our first class, we learned the basics of spirit communication—developing our clairs (my strongest are claircognizance and clairvoyance), meeting and working with our spirit guides (when mine descend they look like tiny pricks of light floating in the far corners of my eyes), and becoming acquainted with a checklist of questions to ask spirit while channeling. My teacher is an ex-lawyer and is quite committed to evidentiary mediumship, so uncovering things like “survival of spirit” (proof that a sitter’s deceased loved one has seen what they’ve been up to recently) was strongly emphasized.

I felt good walking out of week one. Empowered. Intrigued. And then week two happened.

My teacher threw us right into the deep end. For two hours, we—all of us beginners—took turns calling forth our classmates’ loved ones. We learned not to describe changeable aspects of a person’s appearance and focus instead on indelible characteristics like facial build and mannerisms. Try describing one of your friends to someone who's never met them without using hair, age, or clothing style and you’ll understand how difficult this is.

Imagine, if you will, seven sets of eyes on you as you attempt to find a relaxed headspace, speak to your guides, and identify and describe a spirit brought forth. That’s a lot of awkward silence—the performance anxiety is crushing. Add to it the fact that you must allow your senses to take over and call out everything you see and feel without thinking twice—it’s very easy to feel like you’re making everything up and psych yourself out (a common issue among mediums).

So you work through it, you eventually say, “I see a woman, she’s leaning over on a cane, she’s hobbling. She has this really boisterous laugh. I see her in a garden planting flowers. I smell fresh-baked bread. Does this sound familiar to anyone?”

And the entire class is silent. You attempt to push forth, terrified you won’t find a connection, your heart thundering.

“She’s showing me a photo of a man in a green military uniform. She’s holding it to her heart. Now she’s leaning over to pet an orange cat. I feel pain in my stomach—perhaps she passed of an ailment attached to that area?”

This is where someone either steps forward to claim the spirit, or you have to start again. If the former, you essentially work to have a conversation with spirit (walking through that aforementioned question list) and check in with their loved one from time to time to confirm or deny the facts. Consistent denials really take you out of the moment—your training is to push past those. If you have to start again, it’s painful—your confidence is wrecked and it’s very easy to allow the fear of failure to overtake you and cloud your senses.

As with anything, spiritual mediumship gets easier with practice. But I’m told the fear of not making a connection (especially once someone is paying you to do so) never quite goes away. You have to, as my teacher repeats constantly, “not give a shit” about the sitter. It’s important to always remember that you serve spirit, first and foremost. It’s not your job to interpret or second guess, you just have to say exactly what you think/see/smell/feel/know, regardless of how strange. Building that bridge of trust with yourself and spirit is everything—it is the work.

In that first group session, every one of us was able to channel someone a classmate knew. It was, frankly, astonishing—all of us bumbling our way through it for the first time, finding success even if it meant just two minutes of conversation and a few undeniable facts. And yet despite the unexpected achievement, I felt weighed down after class.

In an honest moment with myself, I realized I absolutely despised the act of giving a spiritual mediumship reading. I had no idea what that meant for me—it was the entire purpose of the course. Worse yet, our teacher gave us homework to read at least one person on video and post it to our private class Facebook page for analysis.

I’d always been an A student—people-pleasing and agreeable to the max. But I couldn’t—didn’t—do this homework.

Every time I contemplated it, I was washed with a sickly cold chill, like standing in sea spray on a sub-zero morning. I felt as though I was being called to perform, and it churned up some very deep trauma. I’d been raised to constantly monitor and recalibrate my family’s emotions, to take on their well-being as my own responsibility. I grew up to be the rodeo clown of any situation—always deeply aware of the energy in a room and expending my own to balance it. It’s something I’ve since railed against, hard.

This tilling of deeply-seeded discomfort, I learned, was the entire point. Because, walking into a mediumship session, you must drop all your personal baggage at the door so you can be a pure, unbiased channel for spirit—to bring your own insecurities, expectations, or analyzations would forfeit their—and your—trust.

By week four, I felt like an utter failure—I went along with the exercises in class and did all my other homework, but I flat-out could not make myself read sitters on video. I finally admitted it to my teacher in our one-on-one that week and she shot me a broad smile. “You walked into this class someone who never questioned an authority’s edicts, always went above and beyond to do what was asked of her. And now you’re telling me that you’re breaking this cycle in order to stay true to your deepest needs. That’s spiritual growth. Which is also a major point of this class.”

This is when everything fell into place—I gave myself permission to write a new curriculum. I found that developing my spiritual mediumship was less about what I could do for the outside world and more about how I could enrich my interior one.

My teacher told me many of my issues with spirit hinged on the fact that I was an “uncontrolled medium”—that I wasn’t setting boundaries with the spirit world, so they were arriving unannounced and bothering me at all times of the day and night. I needed to begin a regular meditation schedule to bring my vibration to a higher place (low-vibration spirits are the “scary” or “evil” ones we so often recognize in books and movies) so I’d only be interacting with crossed over spirits. I began creating a protective energetic seal around myself daily, cleansed my home, and set strict boundaries that I am the only one to enter it. I also set aside a specific amount of time every day to meditate and work with my guides to speak with spirit.

I learned that there are many kinds of spiritual mediumship—while I may not enjoy reading people, I love reading buildings. I’ve always been drawn to historic spaces, and feel almost instantly connected to the past lives that moved within. Just like any inanimate object that’s been used by a person for a long period of time (ever had a medium ask you to bring a ring or necklace you wear every day to a session?), homes hold memories. Reading the energy of an object or place—psychometry—also allows me to call forth its previous occupants. If they’re interested, I now know how to converse with them.

This work—while not flashy or entertaining to a rapt crowd—has proved invaluable. My entire way of life has changed, as has my sense of my place in the universe. I notice everything now. I listen to my intuition and look for signs—they always herald comforting and enlightening messages.

Which leads me to that experience I mentioned—the one that pushed me to sign up for the class.

Last October, I walked into the bathroom and noticed something scratched just below the handle of my salvaged wood medicine cabinet. It was three letters: LEE. Had that been there when I purchased the piece from an antique shop? I pulled up old images on my phone and confirmed that—no—it hadn’t. This was well into the pandemic, and I already live a very isolated life—I’d had no visitors for many months. There was no earthly explanation.

Within the context of everything else happening to me at the time, this wasn’t particularly scary. It made me uneasy, sure, but it didn’t involve being touched or surprised by objects falling or random knocks. I surmised that the letters—a message, perhaps?—could stand for either a last name, a first name, or someone’s initials. I shrugged it off, not knowing how to investigate further, and moved on with my life.

Until my friend Diana came to visit for Thanksgiving and asked me why I’d carved up the cabinet. When I told her the story, she paled. “I’m literally afraid to sleep here, now,” she said. Her fear transferred to me—the more we discussed it, analyzed it, puzzled over it, the more it made me realize I needed to get a handle on things for good.

I remembered a medium I saw in the Catskills years back telling me about her teacher. I’d written her name down in my notebook—so I pulled the old worn yellow Moleskine out of a storage box and flipped through the pages until I found the session notes. Circled a few times was a name under the words “beginner’s mediumship teacher.”

Lee.

And that is how I “found” my teacher, as well as the understanding that there are things at play in this world that none of us can conceive of.