STEPHEN LEWIS has a mind-bending experience at York's Psychic Museum.

THEY'RE a mean-spirited bunch, ghosts. They only come out to play when they want to, never when you want them to.

Apparently, 35 Stonegate is full of them. Well, the house is 600 years old house and sits in a part of York which has been occupied for nearly 2,000 years.

But were these famed ghosts going to show their faces? Not them.

It's a wonderfully spooky building, 35 Stonegate. It's easy to see why astrologer Jonathan Cainer fell in love with it and decided to turn it into a Psychic Museum.

A shadowy spiral staircase creaks up for three floors. Passages, dimly lit by light filtering through square windows, open off it. Lining them are dark wooden doors. Through these doors are dark rooms - and through those rooms further dark rooms and even more dim passages.

It's a warren of a building which, from its comfortable Stonegate shop front, seems to extend backwards for ever into the dark heart of York's history. Some rooms lie beneath Stonegate and, through a small window high above, you can see the feet of shoppers passing along the street.

A perfect setting for ghosts - and ghosts there are aplenty, Jonathan insists. Initially, after buying the building in 1999, he was aware only of a handful. A couple in one of the back rooms and a distraught lady who used to hang around in the kitchen.

"And there was a male presence that one or two people had seen."

Then Jonathan began to renovate the old building. This involved digging in the foundations. The workmen must have disturbed something. "Suddenly we couldn't move for spectral figures," Jonathan said. "It was like Piccadilly Circus."

Something had to be done. "We felt obliged to gather them all together and give them a talking to. We went right around the house saying 'come out, whatever you are, we would like a word with you'.

"We took them up to the large boardroom. It wasn't done in a grand ceremonial way, but a few of us felt we were able to vocalise at them and effectively say 'Look, you know, here we are, it's the 21st century. Feel free to go back to sleep and don't worry about us. We won't worry about you.' After that the whole place quietened down a lot."

They haven't all gone, Jonathan insists. Which is why I was disappointed when they resolutely refused to show during my visit. There weren't even any to be seen in the ghost room - a shadowy room humming with darkness, which is monitored by a ghost-hunting camera.

When I expressed my disappointment, Jonathan gave me one of those pitying looks reserved for people who have said something stupid. "Ghosts often tend to prefer the half light," he said.

Of course- I should have realised! It was mid-afternoon. The ghosts were all asleep.

Thankfully, because most visitors come during the day, there is more to Jonathan's Psychic Museum than a few ghosts. There is Uri Geller for a start. When Jonathan first bought the building, he didn't know what to do with it. Then he thought of a psychic museum. And then Uri popped into his head.

"I'm a writer, fishing in a creative pool for my ideas," he said. "I've had many ideas in my life. Good ones, bad ones. But this was the first time I've had an idea, I've picked it up and something was written on the bottom. Property of Uri Geller. It was as though I had been hypnotised."

Uri became involved, contributing ideas of his own and popping in occasionally to see how the museum was shaping up. He was there when I visited on Tuesday for an event to promote the museum - larger than life and twice as hypnotic.

Uri is tall and earnest and a little odd. But when he looks at you out of those big eyes of his, you can feel their power.

"Has anyone got a spoon?" he asked, almost before we had had time to sit down. I produced one guiltily from my pocket. He seized it, held it in one hand, and proceeded to stroke it gently with the fingers of his other hand. It bent. There, right in front of my disbelieving eyes, it began to curve.

He held it up in front of him in the tips of his fingers and it continued to curve until it had kinked into almost a right angle. Then he signed it with a flourish and handed it triumphantly back.

I am sceptical when it comes to all things paranormal but I have no idea how to explain what he did. Uri himself wasn't much help. He gets tired if he does it too often, he said. But as to how he does it..."I don't know." The first time it happened, he was four and eating a bowl of soup. The spoon bent in his hand. He thought nothing of it at the time. "I thought everyone could do it."

Uri and Jonathan make a great double act as they lead us round the museum's many rooms, which are filled with paranormal equipment. In one room there is a wooden dowsing table with 24 large squares - a bit like a giant, lopsided chess table.

The pair turn their heads away and cover their eyes, then ask one of us to touch a square. A girl in the party duly does so. Uri and Jonathan turn back and pick up their dowsing equipment - long, golden chains with heavy pendants - which they swing backwards and forwards across the table.

Uri's dowser hones in on the square the girl had touched, Jonathan's does not. "I will make a guess. You touched it here, somewhere," Uri says, indicating not only the correct square, but even the right part of the square. We nod assent, impressed.

Jonathan looks crestfallen. "I would have said it was the one next to it. That's the story of my psychic life. I can get close..."

They play so well together it's a shame visitors to the museum won't get the Jonathan and Uri show. They will both pop in occasionally, Jonathan insists, but usually the man guiding visitors around will be the museum's manager, Andy Dextrous. Yes, that's a stage name.

There is plenty to see, and plenty of fun, however. Museum is not quite the word for this extraordinary place. It's more a giant psychic laboratory - a place where visitors can try their hands (and minds) at different paranormal experiences.

Various rooms in this rambling, ramshackle, spooky old building have been turned into mini-laboratories. Up at the top is the boardroom. Here you can sit at a large round table with a pack of Zenner cards (which each have either a square, star, circle, cross or wave inscribed on them) and try to throw images at each other using the power of your mind.

In a room below, you can try dowsing, or have a go a telekinesis - using the power of your mind to move real objects.

The room has been equipped with a set of Egely wheels for this purpose. These are tiny metallic wheels finely balanced on a point. Curl your hand around them and they respond to the energy flow given off by your hand and begin to turn.

With the right practice and training, Andy says, you can change the direction in which the wheel turns simply by the power of your mind.

In another room, there is a screen on to which your aura is projected in strange pastel greens and purples.

In yet another, brainwaves can be analysed - and visitors are then shown how to control these to induce a kind of alert sleepiness. This is a state, Andy suggests, in which your psychic abilities may be at their most powerful.

You can even peer into the darkened ghost room, and scrutinise the monitoring cameras for evidence of previous ghostly activity.

I failed all the psychic tests. That was not unexpected, Jonathan insisted. We all have latent psychic abilities, we just need help in bringing them out.

Because those abilities are dormant in many people, he cannot guarantee all visitors will have an experience. That is why he insists people come in groups of 12. The likelihood is that in such a large group, at least one person will be responsive to some of the tests.

"So, if you can feel as part of a team you're all working together, it increases the likelihood of success."

Jonathan is certain that paranormal powers do exist. Uri Geller, he says, has had to put up with a lifetime of scepticism.

"People, when they see what he can do, are amazed and don't have a mental category to put it in. They are fine with what they have seen until they go to bed, then in the night your brain tries to rationalise away what you've seen.

"But of course these powers exist. It is time the world understood them and it is time the world stopped being cynical."

A trip to the Psychic Museum may or may not convince you, but it is great fun - and worth the money to see that wonderful building alone.

There are two 90-minute tours of the Psychic Museum every day. Advance booking on 0800 138 9788 is advised to ensure you have a place. Tickets are £15 Friday to Sunday, £10 Monday to Thursday.

Updated: 09:34 Thursday, June 23, 2005