In an energetic woman, and keen bridge player, THEO PANAYIDES meets a link to the spiritual world, a woman who will connect with dead relatives but loves life in this world
We’ve been sitting for almost an hour in the smallish garden behind Angelina Paraliki’s ground-floor flat in Nicosia, when she’s suddenly reminded of something. Tell me, she asks, “have you got a grandfather in the spirit world?”
I do, I reply.
“Listen,” she reports rather casually, “I got somebody. When I was sitting and waiting for you, I sat there and I said to the spirit world: ‘Maybe there’s someone coming for this gentleman?’ – I couldn’t remember your first name. And I got somebody…” she hesitates, glancing apologetically at my hairless pate: “I’m sorry, bald”.
That’s okay, my grandpa was indeed a bald man.
“Yeah, that’s the man I saw. A very studious man. Very precise. He loved taking his pocket watch [out], kept looking at it. He was very organised, this man.”
I smile, saying nothing.
“I don’t know, I just wanted to tell you that. Because as soon as you came in, I thought ‘Uh-oh, here he is!’.” Angelina chuckles amiably. “Anyway, I’ll come back to that if you want. Because he’s still around, that’s why I mentioned him.”
Do I want her to come back to that? Do I even want to speak to my late grandfather, assuming he’s still around when we finish? More importantly, how should I feel about the fact that Angelina – a cheerful, imposing woman, who’s already made me coffee and treated me to Japanese chocolates from her frequent travels in that country – claims to have seen a man who passed away 20 years ago?
On the one hand, the obvious solution is to examine the evidence. Did she get it right? Yes, my grandpa was bald – but so, very obviously, am I, and we all know it’s hereditary; it’s a safe assumption that a bald man would have a bald ancestor. Then again, it’s not a certainty. Angelina could’ve got it wrong – so why even mention it, especially when we’ve been chatting quite happily for almost an hour? If she’s hustling me, it’s not a very smart hustle. One might say she’s taking a risk with a big downside (making herself look foolish) and no obvious upside – unless of course she is indeed seeing what she claims to be seeing.
Could it really be that my grandfather’s spirit is hanging about in the other room, though? Surely not – yet her description isn’t too implausible. Yes, it’s somewhat vague and yes, almost all the men of that generation were conservative suit-and-tie types (the man she saw was wearing a suit) – but ‘studious’ and ‘precise’ were especially salient traits in this grandpa, a quiet, methodical man who wore a suit even in the house. The shoe fits, in other words. I don’t recall a pocket watch per se (it was years ago), but it wouldn’t have been out of character.
On the other hand, there’s a bigger question: does it even make sense to ‘examine the evidence’, when it comes to mystical matters? Angelina doesn’t mind, being a big believer in “evidential mediumship” – but it doesn’t feel right to try and debunk her, especially on a mere couple of hours’ acquaintance. For one thing, most people already know where they stand on these subjects (“Everyone can listen or not listen, or believe or not believe,” she shrugs at one point. “You can take it in one ear and out the other, that’s fine”). For another, it’s not like she’s some con artist making money by preying on the gullible. She does indeed charge her clients – many of them in Japan and the Far East – but for many years, till she retired three years ago, she was communing with the ‘spirit world’ as a kind of sideline from her main job as a high-school art teacher, partly for the extra cash but mostly to express another side of her being. “People used to say to me ‘What do you do?’,” she recalls with a chuckle, “and I was like: ‘My abnormal work, or my normal work?’.”
The two sides weren’t entirely separate. Tacked on her fridge is a recent note from a former pupil: “It occurred to me,” he writes, “that, back in high school, you were one of the very few who communicated a true sense of what lies ahead in life. Thank you for that precious guidance”. She did sometimes share her “more holistic understanding of the self” with her older students, recalls Angelina, thinking back to her many years in private schools (she ended up at the GC School of Careers, as head of department) – and she also recalls a slightly awkward conversation with a colleague one morning, as she was coming in and he was standing behind the desk at Reception. “I looked at him and said: ‘Are you expecting a baby?’. And he said [stunned]: ‘How do you know?’ and I said: ‘I… felt it?’”. She laughs wryly: “By that time, y’know, they’d got the gist that they had a weirdo around”.
The two sides tend to run together, making our conversation a fluid, slippery experience. One minute she’s talking about spirit guides, her own hidden mentor being a Native American (she even has a photo on her phone where he’s visible behind her – though it’s one of those smudgy, man-in-the-Moon images that depends on how you look at it), the next she’s being extremely direct and un-spiritual. Could I ask about lifestyle? “What I’m like as a normal person?” she replies, laughing merrily. “I’m a bridge player! Yes sir, I love bridge.” She was also an athlete in her teens, and held the London school record in the 100m and long-jump for a couple of years (she grew up in Britain, having moved there at the age of nine) – but then she also had some unusual experiences as a child, hearing musical sounds which she describes as “spherical” and feeling what she calls “an expansiveness” around her when she closed her eyes to go to sleep.
These are not easy things to describe. ‘Spherical’ denotes a kind of echo, as if the sounds were “out in space somewhere”; the ‘expansiveness’ was a shift in energy, a frightening experience for a little girl. (She recalls talking to herself, saying “Fygefygefyge” in Greek – ‘Goawaygoawaygoaway’.) Was it a bit like being on drugs? “I’ve no idea, I’ve never taken drugs,” she replies primly – but describes it as a sense of feeling simultaneously very large and very small: “It’s a very beautiful feeling. It’s a very – whole feeling”.
Wholeness is a tricky notion; feeling very large or very small is comprehensible, both together is hard to parse. “You’ve got to bring your mind where your heart is,” explains Angelina at one point, trying to connect me with the energy in the ‘symbols’ she creates, “and then just don’t think about feeling. Just allow yourself to be”. We’re not trained to think this way – or perhaps one should say we’re trained to think in the opposite way, from childhood onwards. No surprise that young Angelina “shut everything down and got on with being a teenager,” closing the door on her spiritual side from her teens to her late 30s.
She studied Art and Design, got assorted jobs – at Shell Oil, the Canadian embassy in London, a few months at Selfridges selling makeup products – came back to Cyprus in her 20s, got married, had a son. She and her husband divorced after 25 years, a big decision. She didn’t exactly repress the ‘other side’, it was more that a door remained shut till she chose to re-open it – and she’s naturally quite down-to-earth in any case, “a typical earthy person” (she’s also a Taurus, an Earth sign, born on 5/5/55). “People say I come across as very clear, and quite straightforward.”
She’s not airy-fairy, quite the opposite. She was always extremely demanding with her students – “Your average child needs to put a lot of study into achieving things” – and values honesty and directness to the point of seeming “a little bit raw” sometimes. Motherhood didn’t always come naturally and it’s telling, even now, that she singles out how smart and successful her son is (“I feel blessed, I have a very bright child”), not, for instance, how sweet and gentle he is. “People have said to me, at times, that I come across as a little bit – hard,” she admits – yet she’s actually “a fun person, a dance person”. She loves life, she’ll get up and dance at the drop of a hat. She’s a loyal friend, a good motivator; “I encourage people to look ahead”. She’s a stalwart of the Nicosia Bridge Club. And of course – almost as an afterthought – she also communes with the other side, “connecting with the source of universal energy that flows through us all” like it says on her website.
So she sees ghosts, for want of a better word?
“Not with my real eyes, as such,” she replies. “It’s like I’m a camera, and it’s in there.” There’s a process that allows her to connect – even on Zoom, which is where she’s done most of her work this past year: “I have a group online that I do twice a week, I call it ‘The Expansive Soul’”. She can “tune in to somebody”, that’s where the symbols come from (every client gets a symbol that’s unique to themselves), or just sit and tune into what you might call the spirit frequency. “It’s very simple for me. I’ve learned to trust that.” What proportion of people have this gift? “All of us,” she says simply, “to some level or another. Let me tell you why: because it’s our nature… Because, in essence, we are spiritual beings. We are Spirit – simply, and not very comfortably, living a physical experience.”
Transcendental meditation opened (or re-opened) the door for her. She recalls an “inner voice” calling her to meditate – she was going through a difficult period at the time – and suddenly it all came surging back. “I began to get communication – almost [in] a half-dream, half-real state – from an auntie of mine who’d passed away.” The auntie had an urgent message for her daughter, Angelina’s cousin: she had to check her car asap, something very dangerous was going on. “Chris, I had this dream with your mother. Do me a favour and check your car,” said Angelina on the phone, not really sure how seriously to take this. Half an hour later the cousin called back, in tears: she’d been about to drive off, but asked her husband to check the car just in case – and “the back axle was cut in half”. Disaster had been narrowly averted.
Wait a minute, though. How can spirits know about an axle being broken?
“Because they’re everywhere around us, my friend.”
This, I assume, is where the rationalists and debunkers tune out (actually, I’m sure they tuned out long ago). “I’m not trying to convince you,” shrugs Angelina. “I don’t come from a doctrine, or a school, or a religion. I don’t belong to any society. I never wanted to”. Instead she tells me about her experiences, as a kind of liaison between the two sides.
Sometimes she’ll draw a picture of her interlocutors, just to “capture an essence of their look”. Zoom is a meeting, of course, so visiting spirits must be matched to their loved ones. “So they give you things. They give you things about them”. A young man might arrive, bearing details of his sad demise – not just that he died in a car crash but also that he wasn’t driving, that the other vehicle was a truck, that it took place on a motorway; “Now, that’s specific. So you say: ‘Can anybody take that?’”. The young man wanted to talk to his ex-girlfriend, to soothe her guilt at having split up with him. Another time a mother came through, “I said: ‘She’s showing me yellow daffodils’. [Her daughter] said: ‘My first kimono had yellow daffodils’… Or: ‘Your grandmother’s telling me you have jewellery that belongs to her – it’s something you put around your neck – and you wore that piece of jewellery on the day you got married’. She said: ‘You’re right’.”
Angelina Paraliki’s is a positive message. None of this is scary, she insists; why should it be? After all, “we are consciousness. Can not be destroyed – because we’re energy, and energy cannot be destroyed”. The question isn’t what happens after we die, the question (the only question, really) is why we have to live this uncomfortable physical life in the first place. It’s a “process of learning,” she explains. “We have cycles, where we need to learn… You write a book,” she adds rather cryptically – meaning your life story, or I guess the story of your soul as it changes and grows. These are not easy things to describe.
So where does that leave us? Still in the garden, with the tang of coffee on my lips – the earthy, physical world which she doesn’t rebuff, far from it. Even as a child, she loved to explore, says Angelina: “I would spend hours in the garden, creating stories and fascinated by the cacti, what time they opened and closed”. We’ve been exploring for a while – but alas her next appointment has arrived, and it’s time to go. I don’t even get to talk to my grandpa, if indeed he’s still here.