One day I received a social invitation from Jorge Diaz Serrano, director-general of the state-owned oil company Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, whose job made him one of the most influential people in the country. It also gave him cabinet rank, and he had been present when I was invited to Los Pinos to give my demonstration to President Lopez Portillo and his colleagues in the government.
It was more than a social event, however, and before I describe it I have to go back a few years and introduce the man who was originally responsible for setting my career on its new course. His name was John Norman Valette Duncan, but all his friends called him Val, and when he was knighted he chose to be known as Sir Val Duncan. He was born in 1913, and served in the Second World War on the staff of General (later Field Marshal Viscount) Montgomery, for whom my father also served in a more humble capacity as a sergeant in the Jewish Brigade attached to the Eighth Army. After the war, he joined the Rio Tinto-Zinc Corporation, of which he eventually became chairman and chief executive, also finding time to become a director of both British Petroleum and the Bank of England.
We met at a party in 1973, one of many to which I was invited after my appearances on the Jimmy Young and David Dimbleby shows for the BBC had splashed my name all over the British newspapers. Soon after we had been introduced, he took me aside for a private chat.
‘How much longer are you going to run around the world performing in front of audiences?’ he asked. ‘Why don’t you start making money?’
I was surprised. I thought this was what I was doing. If you come from a family as hard up as mine was, a five-figure bank account makes you feel fairly secure, and the way my lectures and television shows were going led me to think that my fortune might even reach six figures one day. I asked Sir Val to tell me what he had in mind.
‘Do you know anything about dowsing?’ he asked. I was not even sure what the word meant. I had a vague idea that dowsers were crazy people who wandered around with bits of wood in their hands, looking for water.
‘I think you could be a dowser,’ he went on. He explained that I had already shown that I could dowse on a small scale when I had identified objects inside closed boxes and cans at SRI, and that dowsers did not look only for water. They looked for whatever they were asked to look for, and quite often they found it. He was a dowser himself, he told me, and he would like to show me how it was done. He promptly invited me to come and stay at his home on the island of Majorca: the company jet was at my disposal.
Sir Val and I soon became good friends. He had lost his wife about ten years previously, and as far as I know he had no children. At his beautiful house in the Mediterranean, he began to pass on what he knew as a father would to a son. He showed me how to hold a forked twig or a pendulum, and then he said he was going to test me, by hiding something or other in one of the rooms in his house, then bringing me in to see if I could find it.
I had done this once before in Israel at the request of General Moshe Dayan, but I had never thought of it as dowsing. Then, I had just used my bare hands, so when Sir Val came to fetch me, I put aside the pendulum and the twig and walked up and down the room where the hidden object was with my hands outstretched, palms down, like a kind of human Geiger counter.
Soon, I felt something on the palm of one of my hands. It was rather like the effect you get when you try putting two magnets together with similar poles facing each other, which you cannot do because they seem to bounce off each other. My hand felt like one of those magnets, and this feeling meant that I was getting warm. Then I closed my hand and pointed a finger downwards, moving it around until I felt that bouncy resistance again. I then followed the line in the direction it was pointing and found the object behind, inside or underneath whatever my finger led me to.
It worked almost every time, and Sir Val was very pleased and impressed. He explained that there was no reason in theory why, if I could find his wedding ring, or whatever he had hidden in his house, I should not be able to find hidden natural resources, such as oil or gold. And that, as he made clear to me, was where the real money was to be made.
We met on several more occasions in 1974 and 1975, and he told me that he had tried to interest the board of Rio Tinto-Zinc in making use of my services, but had been turned down. We also discussed a number of projects in areas other than mining in which he thought I might have a useful part to play, but sadly nothing was to come of any of them, for the man I had come to regard as my adopted uncle died suddenly in December 1975, at the age of sixty-two.
A few months after my first meeting with him, I had to go to South Africa for a lecture tour. Before I went, I happened to be chatting with my friends Byron and Maria Janis about my recent trip to Majorca, and what Sir Val had taught me there. Maria, who, by the way, is the daughter of Gary Cooper, promptly telephoned a friend of hers named Clive Menell, who was chairman of the board of Anglo-Vaal, one of South Africa’s leading mining companies, and told him she thought he should get in touch with me.
He duly did so, and when I had finished my tour he invited me to come and see him, first at his home and then in his office in Johannesburg. He would, he said, like to test my powers. There were a couple of somewhat sceptical geologists present as well.
I was asked to leave the office for a few minutes, while they hid a small piece of gold somewhere in it. Then I was brought back and asked to find it, which I soon did, using the method I have already described. This made their attitude a little less sceptical. Next they rolled out a huge map on a table, asking me to have a look at it and tell them which was the area with the best coal deposits. Sir Val had already explained to me that some dowsers could work just as well from maps as they could on site, so I spread out my hands and moved them around in the air above the map until I felt that magnetic sensation on one of my palms. I then scanned the area directly underneath with a fingertip, and pointed to one specific location, which the geologists marked.
It never occurred to me to ask for a contract or any form of payment. I was merely doing a favour for the friend of a friend, and I never heard any more about this episode until several years later, when I was being interviewed by a reporter from Newsweek. I told him about this early attempt to find minerals by dowsing, and suggested he should contact Mr Menell and see if my suggestion had been followed up.
Evidently it was, for the magazine reported in its issue of 28 January 1980 that Menell confirmed that I had pointed to a strip of land near the border with Zimbabwe and insisted that something was down there. ‘Since then, notes Menell, miners have discovered large deposits of coal in that area,’ Newsweek wrote.
This was my background in the dowsing business when I was invited to the home of the head of Mexico’s oil industry.
Former president Echeverria may have been joking when he had asked me if I could find oil for him, but when one of Jorge Diaz Serrano’s colleagues asked me the same question, he sounded extremely serious.
‘Why don’t we try it, right now?’ I replied. ‘Do you have some oil in the house?’ I thought he must have a can of lubricating oil, at least, and it made no difference to me what kind of oil it was. Eventually, all that could be found was a big bottle of olive oil from the kitchen, so I told Serrano to pour some into a small liqueur glass and hide it wherever he liked. We were in a large room that was filled with splendid furniture, and there were maybe a hundred places where the thimble-sized glass could have been concealed.
Somebody took me out of the room to one of the bedrooms, which was a good distance away, well out of earshot. The aide stayed with me until Serrano himself came to fetch me and asked me to do my stuff, which I began to do in my usual way. The atmosphere was more relaxed and friendly than it had been in Menell’s office in South Africa, and before long I felt I was on the right track. As soon as I felt the signal on my fingertip, I followed the line, without noticing at first that it led me to – of all things – a flower pot. My finger headed for it like a guided missile, went through the earth and landed right inside the glass, which had been buried in the pot and now contained a lump of oily mud.
There was a burst of applause, and all kinds of Spanish expressions of surprise and pleasure. Serrano, however, said nothing. He glanced quickly at one of his colleagues, who was also sitting very still, and I saw their eyes glitter. They seemed to be saying to each other, ‘Geller doesn’t know what he has done, but we do. This is the jackpot!’
The subject of oil-dowsing came up at another social gathering a few days later, and I remember somebody remarking how fantastic it would be if Mexico could fully exploit her oil resources. This was desirable for both economic and political reasons: Mexico had a huge foreign debt problem (as it still has, with the figure moving steadily towards the $100,000 million mark), and as the United States was the main purchaser of such oil as Mexico was already producing, an increase in output would give her considerable clout in negotiations over a number of important issues that affected the two neighbouring countries.
Soon afterwards I was asked to go out into the field and look for some real oil, in its natural setting. I flew to an airport in a small provincial town, where a helicopter was waiting, with a couple of geologists on board, to take me first to an area where there was already known to be oil. They were testing me, reasonably enough, by seeing if I could confirm what they already knew.
We then flew around for at least an hour over both land and sea. The geologists marked their maps whenever I held out a hand and called to them ‘here, yes’ or ‘there, no’. I used the same method as before, although obviously I could not go down and stick my finger in the sea or the ground. Finding oil is a slow business, and even slower if you do not know exactly where to start looking. All I could do was show them where to start, and if I was right I would be saving the company tens of millions of dollars.
I was given no feedback, although some time later Serrano was kind enough to tell me that my hand-waving from the helicopter had been ‘very precise’. It is on record that in 1978, about a year after my trip, Lopez Portillo and Serrano jointly announced that Mexico could become the world’s leading oil producer, even bigger than Saudi Arabia, thanks to a number of recent successful strikes. It was now reckoned that just one of the country’s many oil-bearing regions had reserves three times the size of all the North Sea fields put together.
Again, I received no money and never asked for any. If I had been greedy in those days, I hate to think what my fate might have been. Serrano was the favourite for a time to become the next president, but he never made it to Los Pinos. Instead, one of his former employees, Miguel de la Madrid, became president in 1982. Four years later, I learned from the International Herald Tribune (29 October 1986), Serrano was then ‘in prison in connection with accusations involving a $34 million fraud in the sale of oil tankers’. The total embezzled from Mexico’s long-suffering people during the oil-boom years has been estimated at more than £6 billion, a fair percentage of the country’s foreign debt.
Some of that would have come in handy while I was repaying the $40,000 that Byron Janis had lent me to help set myself up in New York. However, I paid him back every cent, with interest, out of my earnings as an entertainer. And I still sleep soundly every night.
For any ambitious Mexican, the ultimate prize is a personal link with the president, preferably in the form of a photograph or a visiting card with an autograph and a dedication. The importance of a document of this kind may be difficult to appreciate by those who are not familiar with the way things are done in Latin America. If you have one, you can use it as an ‘Open Sesame’ credit card to open any door you choose. I mean any door.
A card or a signed photo from the president’s wife was just as valuable, and the lengths some of Muncy’s hangers-on were prepared to go to in order to get one were quite remarkable. It was a sign that you were close to the presidential family, and this in turn signified almost unlimited power, and also security long after the president of the day was out of office. As I was soon to find out, one of Muncy’s cards with the right inscription on it was literally worth more than its weight in gold.
One evening, I was invited to dinner in a very smart restaurant by one of these power-seeking individuals and a group of his friends. They all immediately began to talk about Muncy, what a wonderful person she was, and how they were having a special gift made for her – some elaborate piece of jewellery costing tens of thousands of dollars.
I listened without much interest. I could have told them that Muncy and her husband had received so many gifts from visiting heads of state and other dignitaries (and who knows who else?) that they had to store them in a special warehouse. Muncy had taken me to see it, and it was crammed to the ceiling with paintings, dinner services, carpets, clothing, stereos and so on. She did not have everything, she had two or more of everything, but she did not really care for them.
I excused myself, and went to the toilet. I did not need to, but I did need a break from all the hypocritical praise of Muncy that was clearly meant for my ears, and then hers. As I was going through the motions of relieving myself, my host came in carrying his briefcase, which struck me as an odd thing to take into a toilet. Seeing that we were alone, he waited for me to zip myself up, then opened his case and took out a leather pouch like those you see pirates use in films for keeping their loot in. He thrust it towards me.
‘This is from me, to you,’ he said, as he turned to leave. ‘Look at it later.’
I took it without thinking, and nearly dropped it, for it was unbelievably heavy for its size. As I made my way back to the table, I took a peep, and nearly dropped it again when I realized what was shining at me out of the darkness. It was a bar of solid gold. It even had the mark of a Swiss bank stamped on it.
I knew what was needed in exchange: Muncy’s card, with her signature and an appropriate message. For the rest of the meal, I was fighting with my conscience and my host looked very pleased with himself, as if he already had one in his pocket. As we were leaving the restaurant, however, I took him aside, heaved the pouch into his hand and told him I did not want it. He never spoke to me again.
At about this time, I was able to make myself useful to the presidential family in a way I would never have expected, by giving some practical advice on personal security. I knew something about this, thanks to my army training in Israel, where security is taken very seriously, and I was becoming quite alarmed at how sloppy it was in Mexico, in some areas. Muncy’s bodyguards, for example, were fine and loyal men, but they would frequently fly around in her aeroplane with their guns cocked and safety-catches off. Thank God we never hit any hailstorms with them on board. Airport security for the presidential plane was particularly bad: it was often left unguarded, and seldom checked thoroughly before a flight. Pepito was more security-conscious than his father, and he listened carefully whenever I suggested something that needed tightening up. His father in turn listened to him, and I noticed several changes following my recommendations.
One day there was a terrible tragedy that made the family, especially Muncy, realize how careful one should be in matters of security. Her brother Sergio, a wealthy businessman in his own right, had a real obsession with personal protection, and there were guns lying around all over his house. One day, his teenage son picked up one of these and shot himself with it, fatally. It was, I gathered, suicide and not an accident.
Every time I catch myself going on a toy-shopping spree for my children, I think of that unfortunate boy. He showed what money, power and influence can do to a child: they can lead to depression, misery and a final desperate act of rebellion against the world his parents created for him. I try to make my children appreciate what they have, to explain how fortunate they are and to make them understand that there are still children who starve to death in this unjust world. The terrible scenes of famine we all saw on our television screens in 1985 gave me the chance to illustrate this to them very vividly.
In the course of a conversation with the president one day, he showed me something I had not noticed on my previous brief visits to his office. It was a Colt semiautomatic plated in gold and silver with the emblem of Mexico engraved on it. I am not particularly fond of guns as weapons, having been wounded by one, but I cannot help admiring fine craftsmanship of any kind, and this was the most magnificent hand-gun I had ever seen.
Seeing the look on my face, President Lopez Portillo took the Colt out of its leather box and handed it to me. ‘It is yours, Uri,’ he said.
I was thoroughly confused, and made the first excuse I could think of for refusing the gift. ‘Senor Presidente,’ I stammered, ‘I – I can’t accept this . . . I could never take it to America with me.’
In reply, he simply took out one of his personal cards and wrote something on it. ‘With this card, Uri, you can do anything. If anybody questions you about your gun, you show them this.’
I could not believe it. Having turned down a chunk of gold in exchange for a card like this, here I was being given both at once, without asking for either. Life does have its ironies. Yet even with my precious card I had to obtain more formal authorization to carry arms, so I did the rounds again and eventually obtained an official identity card as Agent of the National Treasury.
Some time before this, one of my American friends had suggested that it would be useful if I could somehow obtain an official position of some kind in the Mexican government. I thought he was being rather optimistic, yet now I was at least nominally a member of one of its security services. One way and another, my progress up the ladder in Mexican society was exactly what Mike had hoped for, and I had not had to betray the trust and friendship of the president’s family in the process. After all, nobody had asked me to steal any Mexican state secrets, merely to give them something in the form of pep talks about Soviet aims, of which they already seemed to be well aware. At one of our meetings, Mike broke the no-feedback rule to the extent of mentioning that my remarks on this subject seemed to have been well received.
On that same occasion, Mike brought out a large book with a plain blue cover which he opened and placed in front of me.
‘Would you tell me what impressions you get about this man?’ he asked.
It was a black and white photograph of Yuri Andropov, of whom at that time I had never heard. The first thought that came to me was that he had some connection with my father’s native land, Hungary, and Mike told me that he had been Soviet Ambassador there at the time of the Soviet invasion in 1956, since when he had become head of the KGB.
‘This is quite a nice fellow, on the outside,’ I went on. ‘Very low-key, rather pleasant in some ways, but ruthless inside. He’s doctrinaire, very loyal to his beliefs, and he’s inflexible.’ All of this is now common knowledge, and I am sure Mike knew it then. He told me a little about a remarkable new technique that CIA psychologists had developed, whereby they could learn a good deal about a man’s character and even his future prospects just by studying a photograph of him. Then he began to ask me some very strange questions.
‘Can you read somebody’s mind even if they are thinking in another language? Do you have to be near them? Does this man have any serious diseases? When do you think he will die?’
I was silent for a moment, and before I could say anything Mike continued with a question that really shook me.
‘We know you can affect computers, Uri, and we know you can do telepathy.’ He leaned forward in a caricature of a conspiratorial gesture. ‘Do you think you could – uh – induce sickness in a person’s body? Could you maybe, like, have his heart stop?’
I said nothing, and began to come out in goose-pimples. Mike went on to talk about voodoo, black magic, and reports of people sticking pins in dolls. Eventually, he must have realized that all this kind of thing was turning me off completely, and he switched into another of his little talks. This was one of his own, I felt, and not one of those that he had been trained to deliver.
‘You know, Uri, both the United States Congress and the military ridicule the whole psychic scene,’ he began earnestly. ‘This is partly because of the negative results we’ve had with psychics, but there’s more to it than that. How do you study a subject thoroughly unless you’re prepared to put money into it? The Soviets are doing this, and there’s enough in the open literature to indicate that they’ve been doing it for over fifty years, if you read it carefully. They’ve gotten themselves a head start, because they’ve been spending the money, and we haven’t even begun on a serious level. Even if we had, the press would have picked it up and torn it apart, and the grants would have been cut off. It’s the non-believers in key positions in the media whose open ridicule influences the scientists, and they in turn influence government thinking. It’s a vicious circle, and it can only be broken from the top.
‘Now for the good news: our next president, Jimmy Carter, is a believer. At least, he’s a religious man, and his sister Ruth is a faith healer. He’s sighted a UFO and said so publicly. He’s also a trained scientist. He could be receptive to the idea of research in new areas.’
* * *
I might already have had something to do with that interest. When Rosalynn Carter, wife of the American president-elect, visited Mexico together with Henry Kissinger, it was Muncy, as Mrs Carter’s counterpart, who gave a formal banquet for the visitors. Lopez Portillo himself was not present, but I was, and Muncy sat me right next to her two distinguished visitors. Pepito and the American ambassador were also at our table, together with the son of President Ford.
Mike had specifically asked me to do some demonstrations for them, such as bending a spoon for Mrs Carter and reading Mr Kissinger’s mind, and during the meal I made polite conversation and waited for the right moment. Rosalynn Carter was very natural and unaffected, and seemed quite open to the idea of such things as telepathy and psychokinesis. So, to my surprise, was Kissinger, although he was more cautious.
‘It would be very unwise for people not to accept certain phenomena that cannot be explained,’ he said to me at one point. Perhaps he was just being polite, for he was after all one of the most experienced diplomats in the United States.
When coffee had been served, the atmosphere became less formal, and at last I felt it was time to do my stuff. I took a pretty solid dessert spoon and handed it to Mrs Carter, asking her to hold it in one hand, by the bowl.
‘Now let me put my hand over yours, so,’ I said, ‘and I’ll just stroke it with this finger.’ I particularly wanted her to feel it bending in her own hand.
I stroked away for a while, and it soon began to curl upwards in the usual way. Mrs Carter looked both astonished and pleased, and she began to laugh.
I took my hand away. ‘Now, you hold it and watch as it goes on bending.’
She did so, and watched wide-eyed as the spoon curled slowly upwards in her own hand until there was a right-angle bend in it.
‘Oh my!’ she exclaimed. ‘I wish my friends at home could see this. I must show this to Jimmy.’ This she may have done, for as I recall she kept the spoon as a souvenir of our first meeting.
Several of the guests had left their tables to come and watch, and I have a photograph taken by the official American Embassy photographer showing Mrs Carter still clutching her souvenir after she and I had changed places so that I could sit next to Henry Kissinger.
‘Now, Mr Kissinger, I’d like to do something totally different with you,’ I said.
He recoiled slightly, and even moved his chair back a little. Then he raised a hand. ‘No, no,’ he said. ‘I don’t want you to read my mind. I know too many secrets.’ He really looked quite apprehensive. I told him all I wanted him to do was draw something while I was looking the other way and then cover it with his hand. All eyes were on us by now, and he generously obliged.
‘Now,’ I said, as I looked into his eyes behind their wide spectacles, ‘start sketching it over and over in your mind.’ I have done so many of these things that I cannot recall what it was he drew, but I do remember that this was one of my better efforts. What I drew was not only the same shape as his drawing, but exactly the same size.
Kissinger went a little pale. ‘What else did you get from my mind?’ he wanted to know.
‘Oh, I’d better not talk about that here,’ I replied.
He looked at me sternly. ‘Is that so,’ he growled in his guttural voice. ‘Are you serious about that?’ Everybody around us became suddenly quiet, and I was reminded of the time not long before when I had been having a meal with the top brass of Paraguay during my tour there, and had asked if it were true that the country was a refuge for some well-known Nazis. I have never seen so many forks freeze in mid-air as on that occasion. (President Stroessner, by the way, was another one who wanted to bend a spoon himself after I had bent one for him.)
‘No, Mr Kissinger, I was only joking,’ I said, to break the tension. ‘I just got your drawing, that’s all.’ I had in fact picked up something else, but this was not the time to mention it. He looked relieved, and I do not know what he would have said if I had told him that I had just been carrying out a private request from a CIA man.
‘So all I’ve heard about you seems to be true,’ he concluded. ‘I’ve heard a lot about the powers of the mind, but I never realized they could be so precise, and that you could demonstrate them just like that, at parties. I thought you had to concentrate, and you didn’t even do that.’
‘Oh, I did,’ I replied. ‘While you were sketching your picture over in your mind, that was the crucial moment of concentration for me.’
‘Amazing,’ was his final verdict. It may not have been a scientifically controlled experiment, but it gave him something to think about.
Mike was clearly very pleased at the way things had gone at the banquet. He thought for a moment, then he asked me, in his usual relaxed way, ‘You can draw something and project it into somebody’s mind, can’t you?’
‘Sure, I do it all the time.’
‘Let’s try it, now?’
I hesitated. I had still not recovered from all that talk of black magic and heart-stopping, which had really scared me. Then I decided to forget it. After all, he had not actually asked me to bump off Andropov. SO, while he looked away, I drew something he was not likely to guess: the flag of Turkey with its moon and star. I put the pad face downwards and pushed it to him.
Mike immediately took the pen and drew a rectangle with a crescent and a star-shaped blob inside it. Then he turned the pad over and stared for a moment at our two almost identical drawings.
‘That – is – incredible!’ he declared. People are always amazed to find that they can do what I do, whether it is bending spoons or sending and receiving messages, if they stop worrying about whether it is possible and just do it.
Then he became serious again. ‘Listen, Uri. You have just put something into my mind, haven’t you? Could you, in the same way, put something- an idea – into the mind of somebody in such a way that you make him act on it? Even if he may not want to? Even if he doesn’t know what he’s been asked to do?
‘I’m talking about the President of the United States.’
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“There is no spoon!”
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“Uri Geller gave an absolutely resonating talk on his life and career. He had every single magician in the room on the edge of their seats trying to digest as much information as they could. Uri emphasized that the path to frame is through uniqueness and charisma and that professional entertainers must be creative in their pursuits of success and never shy away from publicity.”
Tannens Magic Blog
“The man is a natural magician. He does everything with great care, meticulous misdirection and flawless instinct. The nails are real, the keys are really borrowed, the envelopes are actually sealed, there are no stooges, there are no secret radio devices and there are no props from the magic catalogues.”
James Randi (In an open letter to Abracadabra Magazine)
Sir Elton John
“Eternity is down the hall And you sit there bending spoons In your mind, in your mind”
“I Have watched Uri Geller… I have seen that so I am a believer. It was my house key and the only way I would be able to use it is get a hammer and beat it out back flat again.”
“Better than watching Geller bending silver spoons, better than witnessing new born nebulae’s in bloom”