My friend is coming out of the closet. No, not that closet. A channeler for more than 20 years, the last 10 in Ashland, Stephanie Nead, 49, has been sharing her intuitive powers with clients well under the radar. An accomplished fabric artist, writer, poet and Rabbi David Zaslow’s right-hand “blesser” at the Havurah, she assiduously avoided recognition of perhaps her most remarkable gift.
That’s been changing. For the past month, Nead has gone public, marketing herself with a web site blog promoted with an email “whisper” campaign and frequent postings on Facebook. And, at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 30 on the creekside deck of Ashland Art Works Galleries (291 Oak St.), she is throwing herself what I’m calling a “Coming Out Party” with a talk and poetry reading.
I’ve looked on from the sidelines, folks. Her emergence has been breathtaking.
But what took her so long to come out? Why did she insist on cleaving so tightly to the shadows?
I think I know why. Because of people like me. I confess, when she first came out to me, I practically pulled a muscle in my face to keep my eyes from rolling. Journalists are notorious skeptics, if not cynics. As a reporter on the Boston Herald, circa 1980, I once helped the parents of a missing toddler hire a psychic to aid in the search. I did it hoping for a Page One headline, as in: HERALD FINDS TOW-HEADED TOT, not because I was a believer. I can still hear the snickers in the newsroom when my colleagues got wind of it. Typically, we wrote those kinds of people off as “nut cases” and worse.
So sure, I can appreciate Nead’s reticence about hanging out a shingle. But here? In Ashland, an oasis of openness where psychics, channelers, tarot card readers and the like are as omnipresent as therapists? A place, in fact, that’s so tolerant, it has supported a metaphysical library since 2001.
With the expectation of validating my contention, I spoke with Jordan Pease, founder and director of the Rogue Valley Metaphysical Library. (The library, a fixture on A Street, will soon be moving to 400 West Hersey St.) I told him about Nead coming out, and asked my leading question, “So, Ashland must be a great place for this kind of stuff?”
“Yes and no,” he replied, catching me by surprise. “If I had to start over, I would never use the word metaphysical in our name. If anything,” he added with a wry smile, “I’d like to go back into the closet.” Toward that end, in fact, he and his Board have been noodling more “innocuous” and vague alternatives to make mainstream folks feel comfortable.
“You’d think Ashland would be the best place for that,” he said, “but a large segment of the population finds this sort of thing ‘flakey.’”
And “flakey” is just the kind of characterization that causes Nead to cringe. If you know her, you’ll understand. Aside from what she does in her sessions with clients—she consults with them in person and on Skype—this is one grounded woman. I call her “The Channeler Next Door.”
There’s no theatricality, no shtick, no marketing-driven mystique, no claim to be the mouthpiece of a holy historical personage. And, in fact, she has a knee-jerk negative response to anything dubbed New Age. “I’m not into this being magic; I’m not into this being otherworldly.” She believes that science will someday confirm that the brain is hardwired to experience what’s beyond the five senses.
What Nead does claim to do is provide a voice for her spiritual guide, a sentient energy that she relates to as “Our Friends.” They, in turn, refer to her respectfully as “The Woman,” borrowing her vocal cords as well as her extensive vocabulary. “When they’re looking for just the right word, it feels in my head as though they’re thumbing through the pages of a dictionary.” During the typically hour-long sessions, Nead withdraws her conscious awareness while clients call on the guide for advice, counsel, clarity and “a higher perspective” about issues in their lives. Only on the rarest of occasions will Our Friends foretell a future event, says Nead. “They do not prophesy.
Some clients describe the entity as male; some as female, and others as having no sex. For me, it was decidedly female, with a personality, body language, affect and a soft Russian-British accent that bore little resemblance to the woman I know. She was so different, in fact, that I found myself needing to confess to a guilty attraction. I may even have flirted, but with what or whom I have no idea.
Following my initial engagement with Nead’s “daimon,” as she refers to it on her web site, I tactlessly failed to restrain myself, invoking the dreaded “c” word. “So,” I blurted, “Are you crazy?”
I was relieved to learn that Nead had asked herself the same question when Our Friends first entered her consciousness during daily mediations more than two decades ago. Believing that “this was too weird,” and worried what people would think, she tried to discourage Our Friends from returning by establishing explicit boundaries. “I told them that they had to channel through my heart; they couldn’t just be in my head. They had to guarantee that my own opinions, judgments and personality would not interfere with what needed to come through.
And I insisted that they totally honor that this was my body and they needed to take care of it. “I was certain that this would put an end to it,” Nead recalls. “Surely, I thought, you are not allowed to place rules on an energy coming through you; you’re just supposed to be grateful.”
But even before she could finish laying down the law, she heard them say, “That’s fine. No problem.” Nead smiled and shrugged at the recollection. “I really thought that would get rid of them.” Flush with uncertainty, Nead then invited two of her confidants to experience Our Friends separately.
“After the sessions, my first question to both of them was, ‘One, are you sure that this isn’t just me? And, two, am I crazy?’ “They both said almost exactly the same thing: ‘Steffie, you’re good, but you are nowhere near this good. This is definitely not you.” And to her relief, neither of them questioned her sanity. While Our Friends didn’t make themselves known until she was an adult, Nead said she exhibited her unique gift as a young child.
“My mother remembers me going up to adults and giving them a reading. I guess I publicly reamed out a guy for having multiple affairs when I was about 3 years old. I sensed all these other women in his energy. And he was being very rude.” She said she learned long ago to keep such impressions to herself. “I can still find myself caught off-guard when I’ll hear someone say that so-and-so is a real nice guy, and I’ll be thinking, ‘Do you not see?’ Of course, they don’t see; most people don’t generally see what’s in someone’s energy.”
Curious how Nead might be received within the mainstream Ashland community, I cautiously approached her rabbi at the Havurah, David Zaslow. Though Nead came out to him only a few months ago, she’s been his choice to bestow extemporaneous blessings on fellow congregants for the past six years.
“So,” I asked, “what did you think when she told you?” “If someone else had said the same thing to me, I might have said, ‘Oh my God, get back on the drugs, get some help, this is dangerous.’ I would have been concerned,” Zaslow said. “But from Stephanie, it feels authentic, right and appropriate. To me she’s the real deal.”
(Note to Our Friends: If you read this, and “The Woman” is out of town, I’d love to take you out for dinner.” Just give me a…call?)