By Ray Stern
By Ray Stern
By New Times
By Amy Silverman
By Stephen Lemons
By Stephen Lemons
By Monica Alonzo
By Chris Parker
"This is an all-day process," explains Renee Harel, a Scottsdale hypnotherapist who makes her living arranging "visionary reunions" between the living and the dearly departed. "My partner and I have the ability to communicate with people in another dimension that we call 'the dead.'"
Using that unusual talent--as well as astrology, clairvoyance and a variety of other techniques that fall somewhere south of science--Harel and partner Babs Andruzak claim to have orchestrated 200 such reunions since opening their Far Journeys business a year ago. In addition to psychic readings, the pair also conducts past-life regressions in which hypnotized subjects pick from a deck of cards denoting prior existences (Madam," "Extraterrestrial," "Wimp," etc.) while swiveling around in a motorized recliner.
Did someone say "ooga booga"?
"Oh, please!" groans the power-suited Harel, a New York native whose theatrical mannerisms and penchant for poking bystanders with a bejeweled finger conjure up the image of Joan Rivers. "This is not a s‚ance. In a s‚ance, everyone holds hands in the dark and suddenly--a spirit comes out! Well, uh-uh--that's not our thing. We teach people how to go into an altered state, and the spirit comes to them!"
And just in case someone's a little slow on the uptake, Harel and Andruzak help speed things up by playing go-between.
Take the hypothetical case of the ill-fated child Harel calls Little Johnny. Killed in a car wreck three years ago, the fictional tyke has had his soul released from his body and is now trapped in earthbound limbo.
"Little Johnny isn't dead," says Harel. "He's just energy vibrating at a very high rate of speed in a holding pattern. Our mission is to help Mama understand that Johnny is alive, still very much alive, and that he can't move on to the next world because she won't let go of him."
According to Harel, one method she might use to "prove" that Johnny is "alive" and well--albeit in another dimension--is describing a favorite toy fire engine that the child somehow managed to carry with him to the hereafter. (No word on how inanimate objects vibrate to the great beyond.)
"We find that we're mainly seeing people who are grieving over tragic deaths," reports Andruzak, a former lingerie buyer for a company in the East. "Much more so than the grandma who died after a good, long life, we're seeing sudden deaths from illness, drug overdoses, murders and missing children. One minute, these people are in this life. The next minute, they're in another life--and they're confused."
They are not alone. After all, there's something a mite disturbing about a woman who purports to chat up the dead and read the thoughts of her clients, yet still finds it necessary to ask an interviewer a mundane puzzler like, "Is this story going to be on the cover?"
Flashing a weary smile, Harel tries to clear up some of the misconceptions about her enterprise, not the least of which is that she and Andruzak are running an answering service for dead celebrities. "What are you going to say to Elvis, anyway?--I like your records'?" asks Harel, who nevertheless claims that she has been in psychic contact with Elvis, Marilyn Monroe and Abraham Lincoln (all of them reportedly much happier than they ever were on Earth).
"One woman called just the other day and wanted us to put her in touch with Elvis," Harel continues. Mimicking the woman, she lapses into vocal hysteria. "Oh, Elvis! Elvis! I want to go with you.' Immediately, my eyes roll. 'Babs, get on the other line--this you've got to hear!' We know this is a nut job, so we calmly but honestly tell the person that this is not going to work."
In answer to what is probably the second-most-asked question, yes, grieving humans can be reunited with dead pets. "We had one man in here with tears streaming down his face with joy when he was reunited with his dog," recalls Andruzak. "He told me that he envisioned being out in a field with the dog and the dog was doing the thing he loved to do best--shitting."
Just how these heartwarming visions are engineered was outlined last year in Reunions, a nonfiction best seller by Dr. Raymond A. Moody, the country's best-known afterlife researcher. Noting that ancient Greeks were able to commune with dead relatives after spending 30 days in dank caves that heightened their senses, Moody presents a fairly reasonable case that, under certain conditions, such visions can be replicated today by staring into a mirror in a darkened room called a psychomanteum.
Much like the California follower who is now using Moody's envisioning techniques to allow subjects to "hear" voices of the dead over telephone static, Harel and Andruzak have used their putative psychic powers to elaborate considerably on the Reunions concept.
"This whole mirror-gazing thing is fine, but we think we've come up with a better way to do it," says Harel. "That's why we're able to do in a day what it took the Greeks a month to achieve."
"Exactly," volunteers Andruzak, the more laid-back half of what appears to be a "good psychic/bad psychic" professional relationship. "Those people in Greece were getting ready as they walked to the cave; they weren't stopping at the 7-Eleven. And when you were in those caves, they were in for 30 days. You didn't leave the cave to see a movie at night."
Harel and Andruzak's answer to the Grecian grieving grotto is an east Scottsdale ranch-style home whose only remotely visual concession to the otherworldly is the spare bedroom psychomanteum, a room off the garage outfitted with the aforementioned galloping La-Z-Boy.
Ideally, pilgrims who venture into this chamber will be in search of souls who left Earth between six months and 30 years ago. (Don't ask how Harel managed to contact Abraham Lincoln, who's been gone much longer than four score and seven years.)
"We've had to turn some people down because they just haven't been ready yet," explains Harel. "If it's too soon, there's still too much anger. Maybe it's Father's Day and they still can't believe Dad is gone. You have to be relaxed or this just isn't going to work."
Helping to settle unfinished business with the dead is just one of the services available from Far Journeys. Thanks to their full-service psychomanteum, these tuned-in tour guides claim that they're also able to provide the terminally ill with a sneak peek at the other side. "We help disintegrate the fear of death, and some of these people actually look forward to where they're going," says Andruzak, who likes to think of herself as a "thought surgeon." "If you don't have fear, it's a great trip out. See, when we know what to expect, it becomes almost pleasurable, because we keep dying and coming back, dying and coming back until we get to perfection."
An ethereal look crosses the face of Andruzak as she contemplates that eternal cycle.
Could it be that this is what P.T. Barnum was really referring to when he said, "There's one born every minute