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William V. Rauscher Class of 1954

(Reprinted from the Fall 1999 issue of Rowan Magazine, Rowan University)

Against the backdrop of a 36-year tenure as rector of Christ Church in Woodbury, William V. Rauscher has quietly pursued twin interests that, at a glance, seem far removed from his parochial ministry: stage magic and the paranormal. But a sense of mystery and "purposeful coincidence" has permeated his life, he says, beginning with his boyhood in the Highlands, his first performance as a magician at 13 and throughout his adulthood and ministry.

While studying to become a teacher at Rowan in the early 1950s, Rauscher acknowledged his "gnawing for the ministry" and became a postulant in his hometown's Episcopal church. He attended the Episcopal Divinity School of Philadelphia after graduation and was ordained a priest in 1957. Following three years as the rector of a small church, Rauscher was assigned to Christ Church, Woodbury. He recognized that he needed relief from the "pressure cooker" of parochial ministry. His abiding interest in stage magic and absorption in the paranormal provided an outlet.

"Real psychic events are quite rare."Fascinated by "the study of consciousness on all its various levels," Rauscher began amassing a library of texts and research concerning healing, prayer, cults, comparative religion, magic, illusions, parapsychology and psychic frauds. "We are re-born with a trickster mind," maintains Rauscher. "Real psychic events are quite rare."

In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Rauscher became a "pioneer interpreter of the so-called psychic revolution, " translating the phenomena from a Christian mindset. In 1969, he produced the first of 23 issues of Spiritual Frontiers Journal, which explored such subjects as prayer, meditation, healing and life after death. Then, in 1973, he co-authored Arthur Ford: The Man Who Talked with the Dead.

In his early books, Rauscher, a former grantee of the Parapsychology Foundation, seeks to reconcile the psychic and the religious experience, urging the Church "to rediscover its mystical and psychical roots." In The Spiritual Frontier (1975), for example, Rauscher argues for a responsible connection between psychic research - including communication with the dead, possession, hauntings and telepathy - and the current, accepted teachings of Christian faith. "There are, in the church and out, some who wonder about the propriety of a man of God treading such strange paths," writes Rauscher. "But the moon is no less a strange place to man, and can it be less admirable to explore the canyons of man's psyche than to map the mountains of the moon?"

By the 1980's, Rauscher was busy chronicling the zaniness that passed for liturgical celebration in Christian churches. "Has the church gone too far?" Rauscher asks in Church in Frenzy (1980), as we describes beer-and-pretzel communion services, a pastor who wears clown suits "to help his congregation concentrate," and a wedding in which the bride wears white - a cape, stockings, shoes and G-string. Then, predicting that rational suicide would become as controversial an issue in the Church as abortion, Rauscher appeals to readers - "Don't do it!" - in The Case Against Suicide (1981).

Rauscher's most recent books showcase his achievements as a historian of stage magic: John Calvert: Magic and Adventures around the World (1987); The Great Raymond: King of Entertainers, Entertainer of Kings (1996); and Servais Le Roy: Monarch of Mystery (1999). He has produced a number of monographs on magic, too, including ESP or Trickery? and The Wand in Story and Symbol. The retired rector has belonged to the International Brotherhood of Magicians since 1949 and is also a member of the Society of American Magicians. Inspired as a child by the a Mysto Magic Set, the amateur magician stages "Rauscher's Magical Wonders" for numerous community events, and closed the 49th Annual Boston Magicale with his act.

Rauscher has managed to align seeming disparate interests through his writing. "Not everything can be explained," he acknowledges. But that doesn t prevent him from continuing his investigation of mystical subjects.

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