The Case For The Occult

Jersey’s paranormal practitioners take their craft seriously, skeptics be damned.

When it comes to the paranormal, New Jerseyans have plenty of options. The mildly curious can consult a psychic; the adventurous (and determined) can get naked with a coven of witches under a full moon in the Pine Barrens.

Purveyors of the paranormal tend to experience a spike in interest as Halloween approaches. However, the Garden State psychics and seers we encountered do not align themselves with the dark arts. Despite their daily immersion in activities some would call creepy, New Jersey’s A-list of paranormals mostly want to show you the light.

It might be tempting to try to debunk New Jersey’s practitioners of the spooky or spiritual. But be forewarned: From science-steeped neo-pagans in Princeton to a professor turned pet psychic in Bayonne, some of them can be highly convincing.

What follows is a look into the world of the otherworldly.

The Mediums

Tia Belle says she has communicated with the dead since she was a preschooler. She offers custom spells to clients to counteract their troubles.

Tia Belle. Photo by Christopher Lane

Tia Belle is best known as the psychic to The Real Housewives of New Jersey. She once burned sage in the Towaco McMansion of Teresa Giuduce to rid it of negative energy, and she still counts Jacqueline Laurita as a regular.

“I’ve read all of them,” she says from her Ridgewood shop, the Craft by Tia, on a sunny afternoon in June. The Craft sells candles, incense, Wiccan items, spells and spiritual gemstone jewelry. The gems are handmade and blessed by Tia, with each meant to confer its own healing properties. Tia, who grew up in North Haledon, concocts custom spells for her clients at the store to counteract whatever is troubling them. She also gives readings behind closed doors, seated on an elaborately carved throne.

“The biggest misconception about what I do is that it’s anti-God, or it’s dark. That couldn’t be farther from the truth,” says the former crime-scene detective with the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department.

Tia’s gift for communicating with the dead has been with her since she was a preschooler, she says, but she tapped into it professionally nine years ago after a health scare prompted a career switch. She was instantly successful. In 2013, she landed a TV show on A&E, Psychic Tia. The show lasted a single season, but not because Tia wasn’t a credible medium. “It just wasn’t a good match,” Tia says. But the show had a positive outcome. “It has allowed people to see the white light of magic and of credible psychic mediums,” she says.

Tia is about soothsaying and straight shooting. In a sample session—most, including mine, last a half hour—Tia had me select cards from a special (but non-tarot) deck and asked to see a few iPhone shots of my family. She nailed personality traits, both mine and those of my loved ones; suggested I start taking a multivitamin (though I hadn’t mentioned a recent physical that turned up a vitamin D deficiency); and sent me on my way with greetings from a beloved, deceased grandmother, along with a hand-written spell for ridding my household of negative energy.

These days, a consultation with Tia requires a year-long wait (call for prices).

Concetta Bertoldi says she brings "peace of mind to people who are wondering about someone they've lost."

Concetta Bertoldi. Photo by Christopher Lane

Concetta Bertoldi is so widely known,  it takes several years to get an appointment. Bertoldi is based in Boonton and has read for members of Britain’s royal family, including longtime client Sarah Ferguson. She is the author of 2007’s best-selling Do Dead People Watch You Shower? And Other Questions You’ve Been All But Dying to Ask a Medium (William Morrow Paperbacks), and two other books on life as a medium. She is currently at work on an autobiography.

When she is not writing, Bertoldi sees clients. But don’t mark your calendar for an appointment if you’re a skeptic.

“I get very upset if I suspect someone is a nonbeliever, because it hurts my feelings,” Bertoldi says. Like Tia, she discovered her abilities as a child. Also like Tia, she never wants to spook or rattle her customers. “I bring messages of love and peace of mind to people who are wondering about someone they’ve lost,” she says.

“When you have a true ability and contact with the other side,” adds Bertoldi, “you walk around with light and joy in your spirit. I want people to understand that this place we live in is a camper, and that life in it is uncomfortable. The place we’re going has none of that discomfort.”

Bertoldi and Tia agree that our state’s boardwalks and highways are not the place to find credible mediums. “People in places like that just take your money and give what we do a stigma,” says Tia.

Jennifer Davino Lall, of Keyport, calls herself “the straight-talking Jersey medium,” a nod to Theresa Caputo, TV’s Long Island Medium. She has been in business 18 years. A typical new client waits about three months for an appointment ($145 an hour, $80 for a half-hour in person or over the phone).

Don’t expect Davino Lall to edit what comes through from the other side. “Life is not all puppies and unicorns, and sometimes I do have to tell people things they don’t want to hear,” she says. For example, she once used her “intuitive energy” to tell a couple whose daughter was missing that the girl had died. Later, the girl’s body was found.

“I’ve had some really creepy encounters,” she says. “But I find that the people who come to me often have more light behind them than anything else, and that usually leads to really good, positive energy from the other side. Most people leave feeling uplifted by what I tell them.”

The Pet Psychic

Psychic Catherine Ferguson is often contacted by pet owners who have had dogs or cats euthanized and want to know is they did the right thing.

Catherine Ferguson. Photo by Christopher Lane

Catherine Ferguson used to be a French professor at Wilson College in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Now she is an energy healer and psychic for pets and people in Jersey City.

“I feel like I’m making a difference doing this work,” says Ferguson, who offers reiki treatments (touch therapy based on energy exchange) and flower readings (in which she reads the vibrations left on a flower after a client holds it) in addition to the practice she is best known for, communicating with dead pets.

“I’m still sort of amazed that people respond to what I do with animals, that the things I can tell them through my mental telepathy make sense to them,” she says. Ferguson works with clients over the phone, in person and via e-mail; she also does readings at events such as fundraisers for animal shelters. Often, those who contact her are pet owners who have had dogs or cats euthanized and want to know if their timing was right. “They want to be comfortable with their decision,” she says. Others hope to address behavioral problems or confirm veterinary advice about living pets’ health issues.

Ferguson’s skill at reaching animal spirits was honed through classes and spiritual mentors after she left academia. “I never expected to be good at it, but I was,” she says. “And people have responded.” Ferguson charges $60 for a 20-minute phone consultation; $70 for a 30-minute in-person, phone or e-mail consultation; and $100 for a 60-minute in-person, phone or e-mail consultation.

The Astrologer

Judith Aurora Ryan says her readings provide a road map to what's going on in a client's life.

Judith Aurora Ryan. Photo by Christopher Lane

“Astrology to me is like electricity. You turn on a light and it works, so why question it?” says Judith Auora Ryan, an astrologer and feng shui master in Bayonne who has been in business for 30 years. She compiles astrological charts ($168 for an initial chart, which she can e-mail or provide in person) and gives her insights a grade of A for Accuracy.

“Clients come for advice in all areas of life: business, career, relationships. A lot of times, people come to me wanting advice about when to pursue lawsuits and divorces. I have never been wrong. Never,” she insists. Most clients return annually for chart updates. “It gives you a good road map of what’s going on, where you need to be,” she says.

Ryan claims she has been clairvoyant since childhood, but steered herself into astrology as a teen after studying under well-known astrologer Charles Jayne in New York. Her work is substantive and consuming, she says, and she has no time for those who feel otherwise.

“I don’t look like I just walked out of Shirley MacLaine’s closet, and I don’t go around with a pound of crystals around my neck trying to convince people what I do is real,” she says. “If someone wants their life changed, then they’ll come have their chart done. It’s a way you can shift the planets into very different houses, and it can affect your health, your career and your relationships.”

The Psychic Teacher

The Montclair Metaphysical and Healing Center opened in 2007. Its owner, Lee Van Zyl, a native of South Africa and former lawyer who lives in Clifton, moved it to Rutherford in 2012 to accommodate an ever-growing flurry of psychics-in-training from New York who wanted easier access to her classes. “I feel that mediumship does not belong to the select few, and that we’re all psychic. What we offer is a chance to develop those skills,” says Van Zyl.

Lee Van Zyl says there's a little bit of the psychic in everyone.

Lee Van Zyl. Photo by Christopher Lane

Prior to training others, Van Zyl studied under psychics in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The center’s classes include psychic development, channeling, energy healing, intuitive tarot-and-oracle card reading, spirit rescue, mediumship development and hypnotherapy. Prices range from $20 for a single class to $400 for a weekend-long seminar. Van Zyl works in several modalities, “but my focus is on past emotional and even health issues. I try to bring healing,” she says.

She says people should trust their instincts when seeking a credible medium. “If you can get a verification of what you know deep in your heart, then you’ve had a good reading,” she says. “If you get into fortune-telling, you’ve gone wrong, into ooga-booga land.”

Wiccans and Neo-Pagans

Like most Wiccans, Niki Somers does not travel by broom or wear a pointy hat, and she is not overly fond of our tendency to associate witches with the occult.

“Wicca is an earth-based spiritual path. Some people go to church to pray; we like to go to the forest,” says Somers, the high priestess of a coven of 16 fellow New Jersey witches and the leader of the Bergen Wiccan and Pagan Group, a monthly meetup group with more than 200 members. Somers, of Paramus, is also a legal secretary.

Somers discovered Wicca as a high school student in the 1970s in Hackensack, where she had a teacher who mentioned during a Shakespeare lesson that she was a practicing witch. “My ears perked up, because using the word witch can be shocking,” she says (Somers prefers the term “lightworker”). “Then I started going to chat with her after school, and my whole world opened up.”

Since becoming an active Wiccan in the 1990s, Somers has watched Wicca mushroom throughout the state. “There are at least four or five covens in the real close area, but we’re all over the place now. It’s hard to count because we don’t have a formal hierarchy and we all operate independently. But people are tired of one-size-fits-all religion, and being Wiccan is something that opens your heart and feels good,” she says.

Some covens take the feel-good equation farther than others. There are groups, including one Somers knows of that meets in the Pine Barrens, who practice nude. “That’s called ‘skyclad,’ and it’s not something a group that’s open to the public would do,” she says. (All covens have their own prerequisites for membership.)

Neo-Pagans
The Evergreen CUUPs, a group of neo-pagans that meets at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Princeton, are an offshoot of the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans, a national group. “We meet to take our best shot at reinventing what worked before us, practicing our religion like our ancestors did 40,000 years ago,” says Elissa Hoeger, the Evergreens’ “convener.”

That does not mean creepy animal sacrifices or bloodletting. Instead, like Wiccans, who are a subset of neo-pagans, the Evergreen CUUPs celebrate full moons, solstices and equinoxes—outdoors or in the congregation building.

At every meeting, “we do some spiritual work and we talk about science,” says Hoeger, of North Plainfield. Gatherings can involve the passing of a talking stick, a practice borrowed from Native American tradition. Group prayers, which may include drumming, singing, meditating and chanting, have been known to bring on altered states of consciousness. Hoeger says she once had to revive a fellow neo-pagan whose words “were going in all directions.”

Outdoor full-moon celebrations can bring wild visitors: “The top of our circle makes a nice resting place for bats and nightbirds,” Hoeger says.

Tammy La Gorce is a frequent contributor. She very much hopes Psychic Tia will not stick pins in a voodoo doll of her after reading this article.

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