“A good primer on getting into the psychic realm, this is also, ultimately, a story of unconditional love and healing by a woman you might just want to have a drink with.” —Booklist
This inspirational memoir, told with uncensored Southern wit and guidance, recounts the story of a Hollywood film executive who journeys through the cosmic wilderness and, against all odds, discovers psychic superpowers that radically transform her life.
As a senior executive at one of the world’s largest movie studios, Julie Rieger spent her days marketing the imaginary stories of ghosts, faeries, superheroes, aliens, and more fantastical creatures. But after the devastating loss of her mother, the world of make-believe became reality when Julie captured her first ghost in a photograph and blew open a door to the Other Side.
The Ghost Photographer chronicles Julie’s wild ride down the spiritual rabbit hole. After a series of unexpected, mind-blowing, and sometimes frightening encounters with the spirit realm, Julie was forced to face this strange awakening, flying in the face of scientific dogma and her own die-hard skepticism. Ultimately, she discovered that what she thought she had lost with the death of her mother—unconditional love—was in fact the greatest superpower one can wield.
In a refreshing departure from traditional supernatural tales, Julie tells her story with bold humor and total candor. Her journey juxtaposes her down-home roots in rural America with the glam of Hollywood and her professional universe of hard, empirical data. As she fine-tunes her psychic abilities and comes to terms with the transformative power of grief, Julie is empowered to fearlessly tell her story, teach others, and invite them to share their own experiences of the paranormal and unexplained. She offers insights into our relationship with the spirit world, prayers and rituals for cleansing and protecting our homes from unwanted ghosts, and guidance on how to develop our intuition and sixth sense.
The Ghost Photographer INTRODUCTION Stumbling into the Cosmic Wilderness But once you have a belief system, everything that comes in either gets ignored if it doesn’t fit the belief system or gets distorted enough so that it can fit into the belief system. You gotta be continually revising your map of the world.
—ROBERT ANTON WILSON
Freedom is what’s left when the belief systems deconstruct.
Shit happens. We all have stories about events that changed our lives, but it’s the big ones—the life crises, the serious wake-up calls—that fundamentally reconstruct who we are. Grief was the dark alchemy that shook up my world. It blew open a door to the Other Side—and yes, I am talking about ghosts, spirits, and etheric creatures that looked like they’d pranced right out of a movie.
People come into their psychic powers in different ways. Some people are born with them. Others have to die first and actually come back to life. And some folks develop psychic powers after they’re literally struck by lightning. Well, ghost photography was the lightning rod that set my previous life ablaze, but thankfully I didn’t get electrocuted in the process.
My transformation was not as dramatic as that, but it certainly was strange—and scary. I sometimes felt like I was at the summit of a giant roller coaster, looking down at the puny diorama of life on earth below and thinking: Uh, excuse me? Can you get me the hell off this thing?
Of course, there’s no turning back.
If grief was the catalyst that kick-started my journey, ghost photography was the path that led me into the cosmic wilderness. I had the good fortune of finding an exquisite psychic Sherpa who guided me through this strange wonderland, though I didn’t knowingly seek her out. And while there’s no argument now that could ever convince me that the physical world is all there is, I’m still the least likely person to be into anything “alternative” or spiritually woo-woo. I may live in La-La Land, but I grew up in rural Oklahoma—and those roots go deep, my friends.
In fact, for most of my life I didn’t even believe in ghosts. My family was not particularly religious or godly, either, though I was raised Episcopalian. (Episcopalians are the stepchildren of the Catholic Church.) I was also an acolyte, which meant that I walked down our church aisle wearing a white robe and carrying a cross. I had no idea why; my mom me told me to and I was an obedient kid. I think only boys were supposed to be acolytes back then; I had shaggy hair, and a few of the old churchgoing geezers actually thought that I was a boy. Talk about a real cross to bear.
I officially gave up on organized religion when I came out of the closet at age twenty-three. Christians didn’t seem to be big fans of the gays, so I decided not to be a big fan of Christians. We didn’t miss one another.
More important, my entire professional life is deeply rooted in the empirical world of hard numbers. I oversee the data strategy for a major motion picture studio and build data management programs that deliver insights into consumer behavior through data science, natural language processing, and analytics. I also manage complex media budgets with multiple zeros at the end of them. My official title is long and fancy: President, Chief Data Strategist, and Head of Media. (Essentially, I’m a nerd in the midst of some of the most creative people in the world.)
To say that my life didn’t exactly turn out the way I thought it would is an understatement. (I think that’s evident by the title of this book.) By all accounts I should be living in a big city in Oklahoma, married to my high school boyfriend with a few kids, and working somewhere cool like Krispy Kreme. (Okay, that’s just a sugary fantasy. How about the Tulsa World newspaper?) I thought that by overcoming stuttering and a few other childhood dramas, my battles were over. I thought that I could live a normal and peaceful life.
That’s not what happened.
I now lead a rather private—not to be confused with peaceful—life with Suzanne (my wife for more than twenty-five years) and our little furry children. My personality type doesn’t lend itself to peaceful. I am constantly doing something. In fact, I’ve gotten up at least ten times while writing this paragraph alone. I always have a project going on, whether it’s sculpting metal, rock polishing, throwing pottery, or doing something crafty. I once beaded a wooden tissue-box cover for a friend. It was absolutely hideous, but we all have to start somewhere.
Everything in my life collapsed the day my mother died. Grief, by the way, is like Baskin-Robbins: There are at least thirty-one flavors. There’s money grief, death grief, boyfriend grief, health grief, divorce grief, sex grief, fat grief, empty-nester grief, got-fired grief, presidential-election grief (I just added this one), and even something called Christmas grief (probably because you have to spend time with all the people who participated in this list). Sadly, grief is not a delicious concoction of milk and sugar churned together with a delicious bag of Oreos. Grief makes you question why you’re even alive. Nothing matters, not even ice cream. You lose connections to other people, then ultimately to yourself, which leads to isolation. And isolation is not just abuse to the body; it’s a jail sentence for the soul. Ever wonder why solitary confinement is the harshest punishment for our most hardened criminals?
But grief is also transformative, and it eventually catapulted me on a journey. In The Hero with a Thousand Faces, mythologist Joseph Campbell wrote about the hero’s journey, a narrative that’s become a major trope for self-awareness: A hero has to lose himself before he “ventures forth from the world of common day into the region of supernatural wonder,” writes Campbell. “Fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”
The concept of the hero’s journey has inspired millions of people and was partly the inspiration for George Lucas’s Star Wars, among other great tales.
My own journey was radical, transformative, and completely unexpected. That’s why I was drawn to Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail. Grieving the loss of her mother, Strayed hiked eleven hundred grueling miles solo across the Pacific Crest Trail to find herself. She effectively had to survive her journey in order to thrive in her life. In so doing, she changed her personal story and the story that women are told about their limitations and place in society. She grappled with her fears until she embraced her own power. “I knew that if I allowed fear to overtake me, my journey was doomed,” she wrote. “Fear, to a great extent, is born of a story we tell ourselves, and so I chose to tell myself a different story from the one women are told. I decided I was safe. I was strong. I was brave. Nothing could vanquish me.” You go, girl!
I was lost and found in a different wilderness than Cheryl Strayed’s. Mine was a cosmic and spiritual wilderness that started with ghost photographs of disembodied spirits and fantastical creatures that sometimes looked like the very creatures in the movies I was marketing. In the course of finding myself, I found my sixth sense (and other senses that you’ll learn about later in these pages). I was able to communicate with spirit guides, spirit animals, and deceased loved ones. I started using magical tools like pendulums, prayers, crystals, and sage. I fought dark spirits and started to believe in God after a long breakup. I can’t turn metal into gold, but my journey through loss and grief was alchemical in its transformative power. In fact, virtually every aspect of my journey is alchemical in its transformative nature; some might even call it magical.
But like every roller coaster ride, the spirit world can be scary. I thought that I was a badass in real life, but I had to learn some hard lessons that even my spiritual tribe hadn’t prepared me for. I had to work my way through some serious dark stuff to become a real badass in the face of the unknown.
Every single fiber of my body now understands that we humans have spiritual power over disembodied spirits precisely because we inhabit bodies. This is our true, essential power, and it can protect us if we learn to harness it. You are in charge of yourself. You call the shots, not some incorporeal ghost or dark spirit. Use this knowledge from the Other Side for the good of yourself and others on this human side—in this world, on this earth—and you are protected. That is the heart of the journey I’ll share with you in these pages.
Julie Rieger is the award-winning President, Chief Data Strategist, and Head of Media at 20th Century Fox, responsible for marketing such notable films as Avatar, Deadpool, The Fault in Our Stars, and The Book Thief. An Oklahoma native, she now resides in Los Angeles, California with her wife, dogs, and a growing group of ghostly friends.
“I fell in love with Julie and her journey and you will, too. I know a real story when I feel it, and this is authentic and funny! For those of us who’ve had similar experiences, this book will make you smile all the way through. For those of us who haven’t, welcome. Get ready to read a book that can change your life.”
– Dannion Brinkley, International and New York Times bestselling author of Saved by the Light and Secrets of the Light
"Love love love it! The Ghost Photographer unfolds into a wondrous journey. The 'ah ha' moments are restorative and provide a spirited ride into an unknown world for some and a gentle reminder for others to continue down their paths. And, for those of you who want Julie to clear their homes—the front of the line starts with me!"
– John Schneider, actor (Dukes of Hazzard, Have and Have Nots), singer & storyteller
"The Ghost Photographer is a hugely entertaining must-read for anyone who’s ever struggled with loss or wondered what might be beyond the veil of our five senses. Julie, fierce and funny, puts a whole new spin on the term "ghost-buster" in this fascinating journey to the Other Side. Told with incredible wit and down-home humor, Julie captured me from page one as her journey unfolded from skeptic to believer, from curious questioner to fearless adventurer."
– Anita Moorjani, author of Dying To Be Me
“A soulful and hilarious memoir about the mysteries of life that should be read far and wide. Julie’s big heart combined with her fearlessness makes her the perfect modern day ghost whisperer. Move over Shirley MacLaine (with love) and make room for a new voice full of humor and insight into the supernatural wonders of our world.”
– Cathy Byrd, author of The Boy Who Knew Too Much
“Most of us have had, or will have, an intense and traumatic life event, where everything we thought we knew about our lives and ourselves is called into question. As a psychologist, I can tell you that, contrary to any logic, these traumatic events can produce extraordinary personal growth—what we call post-traumatic growth—exactly because it’s so disorienting. Julie’s story is undoubtedly a journey to post-traumatic growth. What Julie reveals is how a regular person handled her personal trauma and by being open to some really new and, for the uninitiated, entertainingly bizarre encounters. So even if you think ghosts are figments of the imagination, you’ll feel better after reading Julie’s book because she’ll make you laugh and even the skeptics among you will probably buy a little sage, just in case.”
– Pamela Rutledge, PhD MBA, psychologist, social scientist, and author of Exploring Positive Psychology
"I love this book. Julie takes the 'para' out of paranormal. Her everyday life is stranger than fiction and she shares her remarkable journey into the spirit realm with sharp humor and a good dose of skepticism."
– Jason Blum, founder and CEO of Blumhouse Productions
"A good primer on getting into the psychic realm, this is also, ultimately, a story of unconditional love and healing by a woman you might just want to have a drink with."
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