The popularity of the television show "Crossing Over" with international psychic medium John Edward sparked a local interest in large group readings, so Haverhill psychic medium Susan Deren held her first large group session this month at Winnekenni Castle.
Deren, who has done private readings for decades, knew she would eventually be asked to do group readings, so she readied herself with small groups of eight in her home, or the homes of clients.
Those small ventures blossomed into her first large scale event this month at Winnekenni Castle where she read for a crowd of 80.
"People were intrigued with the castle," said Deren. "They were interested in the large event, but the idea of it being held in the castle really piqued their interest."
The event was May 10 and sold out 10 weeks after she announced it. People came from Haverhill and its surrounding communities, as well as Florida, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Canada. Deren said she had met 50 percent of the people who came, the rest were new.
Interest in large group readings may have stemmed from "Crossing Over," but when people attended Deren's event they discovered that her means of delivering messages is a little different.
Deren feels the emotions and physical symptoms of the deceased — she physically feels the reason for their death within her own body.
"I feel the symptoms and emotions of the spirits ... and the people I deal with. I feel their physical pain. I see things too, but mostly, I feel," said Deren.
During the castle event the lights were flickering nonstop — first dim then bright like a spotlight. Castle caretaker Tricia McNeil, who was there for the event, said the lights had never done that. Deren says it's quite common for spirits to affect lighting and other electrical objects.
Members of the audience cried as Deren connected them with their loved ones — mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children, one a stillborn infant. "It's important that you know it was nothing you did that caused it," Deren told the weeping mother. "They say you have to get over this so you can mother your other children. I keep getting it was DNA ... something was physically wrong."
Deren believes in what she does because she has seen how it heals people — the good it can do.
During group readings Deren can feel when a spirit has entered the room, then she must figure out who the message is for, so she mentally divides the room into quadrants.
"The spirits vibrate me — give me chills — as I look at the different sections of the room, and that is how I narrow down who the message is for," said Deren, adding that if she gets chills on her left side she knows the message is from a family member. On the right, it's from a friend.
How a spirit comes in depends on the personality of the spirit.
"If a person was pushy here on earth, they're pushy on the other side. If a spirit was quiet here, they may not come in during a group reading, not wanting to air their dirty laundry in public. That spirit will wait for a private reading," Deren said.
Deren is pleased that psychics and mediums are becoming accepted and sought after nowadays, but there is one trend that disturbs her.
"You have no idea how many parents call me because they want me to help make their child the next Harry Potter," said Deren, who does not allow anyone into her group readings unless they are 18 or older. She created the rule when a family booked a group reading and brought their 12-year-old daughter.
"The spirits wanted to talk, but not with the child in the room. They didn't think it was appropriate. The family refused to remove her, saying she was psychic herself and could handle it. They finally had to leave," said Deren. "Children should be allowed to be normal as long as they can. If this is something they want to pursue as an adult, that's fine."
Deren has had her abilities since she was a child. When she became an adult, she started animal communication and spiritual readings, but never together.
"Some people wanted me to talk to their animals but did not believe in the medium work — it's considered evil in some religions," said Deren, who sometimes had spirits come in during animal readings. "I learned not to mix them."
About two years ago Deren went to a medium herself, and was told that her spirit guides wanted her to read the masses, which she knew was large groups, but could not bring herself to do it.
"I began to escape the medium work because I was afraid. What happened was, I would go to read an animal and the spirit of a dead relative would come in," said Deren. "I would deliver the messages and the results were always wonderful."
The next new event for Deren will be on Nov. 8 from 2 to 4 p.m. at Winnekenni Castle when she teaches about the mystical connection between pets and their human counterparts.
"I'll talk about how humans have partnered with animals across the generations. We develop special bonds with animals, and they sometimes take on human characteristics. People can find out why that animal is, or was, in their life," said Deren.
People can start booking seats for the event in July.