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    Believe in angels? They certainly do

    "Everybody has angels, whether we believe in them or not,'' a therapist says. "There are also billions of angels that are not assigned. They always come when you ask.''

    By WAVENEY ANN MOORE

    © St. Petersburg Times, published March 4, 2001


    ST. PETERSBURG -- Doreen Virtue sees angels and spirits of the dead.

    And talks to them.

    On Monday, Virtue, draped in a flowing black and gray caftan-like dress, shared mysteries of the invisible realm with an awed crowd that packed First Unity Church at 469 45th Ave. N.

    "Let me just take a look and see your angels," the California native said to the mostly female crowd.

    "Mmm . . . mmm. There are a lot of believers here. . . . This lady in the pink, she has lots of angels. Oh, there's another angel lover over there. The one in the blue and white. That's you."

    Members of the audience, who began gathering an hour before the event, had paid $25 to $30 apiece to attend the three-hour "Messages From Your Angels" workshop. Their excited chatter effectively drowned what was meant to be a mood-setting prelude by Palm Harbor harpist Bonnie Whitehurst.

    But in a culture steeped in things angelic, from books to candles, records, note cards and a popular television show, the ethereal strains were almost superfluous.

    Gail Harley, adjunct associate professor in the department of religious studies at the University of South Florida, says it is not surprising that angels have captured the imagination of so many.

    "People are hungry for something beyond the mundane, beyond the everyday life," said Harley, a Hernando resident who teaches a class called Life After Death at USF.

    "Everyone knows someone who is dying of a dreadful disease. . . . They see their parents dying and we have children dying of cancer and AIDS and I think there is something within the human condition that seeks the supernatural as a comforting, healing method."

    Angels or spirits appear in the world's major religions, Harley said.

    "The Catholic Church has always had the groundwork of guardian angels and therefore the groundwork for interaction between the visible and invisible worlds is there," she said.

    "In Islam, the angel Gabriel came to Mohammed and gave him the Koran, their holy scriptures, when he was meditating. So for them, that angel is very prominent. Buddhism is more likely to talk about high-level beings. They, too, have a highly developed invisible world, these beings who are salvific figures. In Judaism, the angels, of course, helped God free the Israelites from bondage in Egypt."

    Fast forward to modern times and angels as pop culture.

    Around the 1980s, said Harley, "There began to be a revival in the interest of angels and spirit beings. And we've seen the phenomenon of UFO-ism, which seems to be the scientific advancement where angels now have mechanized vehicles of travel. There is an idea that the angels who were with wings were the older, medieval angels and when we went technological, they went technological too."

    For her part, Virtue describes the current interest in angels as "phase two of angelology."

    "In the '80s and '90s, people talked about what angels are. Now we talk about how to interact with angels," she said.

    This week Virtue, who has written several books about angels, tried to help her eager audience do just that.

    "Everybody has angels, whether we believe in them or not," she told the crowd.

    "There are also billions of angels that are not assigned. They always come when you ask. . . . There are angels to help us with every life issue."

    She assured those attending the workshop that it is not blasphemous to ask an angel for a parking space or a green light. And there's certainly nothing wrong with asking for help with financial concerns.

    However, she told them, "I rarely see the money angels telling us to buy lottery tickets."

    Additionally, there is a "special division" of angels that helps with matters of romance, she said. Workers in this unit "exude a pink glow."

    But how does one ask for help from angels and spirits of the deceased?

    They can hear our thoughts, but also respond to letters, singing and shouting.

    Similarly, their answers come in various forms, Virtue said.

    One way to hear them, Virtue said, is to use her angel cards, which were inspired by her late Grandma Pearl, who appeared in a dream.

    "The angel cards are for people who are just starting out," she said.

    "(Users) ask a question and they pull a card and every card is positive. . . . You'll keep asking the same question and you'll keep pulling the same card."

    The cards are "the no-brainer way" to talk to angels, she said.

    Virtue, 42, says she has been clairvoyant since childhood. She was born in Burbank, Calif., and has been practicing "angel therapy" since 1995, when she says an angel saved her from a carjacking. Now referring to herself as a spiritual clairvoyant, Virtue has a doctorate in counseling psychology and was the founder and director of WomanKind Psychiatric Hospital in Nashville, Tenn. She grew up attending Unity churches, which advocate "practical" Christianity. Most of her workshops are conducted at Unity centers. After leaving St. Petersburg this week, she headed to Orlando and will leave for a three-city tour of Australia at month's end.

    Her St. Petersburg stop was an apparent success.

    Clutching a pack of 44 Healing with Angels cards that sold for $16, audience member LuAnn Justi gushed with excitement.

    "It is uplifting and positive," she said during a break in Virtue's presentation.

    "I already believe in angels. . . . I can't believe anyone who won't," said Justi, who attends Grace Lutheran Church. "This is just reinforcement."

    Malika Changoo, a nurse, concurred.

    "I am a believer, through different experiences in my life," she said.

    "I could identify with what she said," said Changoo, explaining that her grandmother had appeared to her in a dream with instructions to pray and read the Bible. The dead woman also promised to be with her always, Changoo said.

    Additionally, said the mother of four, when her father was dying, he often spoke of seeing angels in his room.

    Virtue is accustomed to being surrounded by ardent believers like Changoo and Justi.

    "The actual experience I've had is that people believe, but they don't have the opportunity to talk about it freely or safely," she said.

    "They are afraid that people would think they are crazy or lying, so at my workshop, they feel safe to let their hair down. It's a community gathering of believers, like a town hall meeting. . . . You get to be with other people who believe like you do."

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