Wrapped in a leopard-print coat and a salmon-colored scarf, Jewels Crowe-Munoz walked into the TeleSpectral Living Light Center in Gaithersburg on Friday, eager to see Max.
"I love Max," she says. "The last time I was with Max, blue light shot from his third eye and I had a download of information."
Max is out on the porch, perched atop a rabbit skin on a makeshift altar, surrounded by crystals and plants and a statue of an angel. Max the Crystal Skull is an 18-pound piece of quartz crystal, carved in the shape of a human skull, complete with eye sockets and perfectly straight teeth. Max's owner, a Texas housewife named JoAnn Parks, says Max is more than 3,000 years old and possesses mystical powers.
Right now, Max is busy, meeting with a woman who paid $55 for a half-hour session with him. So Crowe-Munoz has to wait. She takes off her leopard coat, revealing a necklace made of beads as big as Ping-Pong balls. She sits on a couch in the living room of the TeleSpectral Center, which doubles as the suburban home of Jim and Sandy Young, who do "angelic readings" and host an "AngelicTalk" cable access TV show in Montgomery County.
"I feel as though I have had a personal experience with Max," says Crowe-Munoz, who says she is "over 50" and is a "master hypnotherapist" from Wheaton.
"On the way over here," she continues, "I already felt his resonance. I'm in a slightly altered state now, and I'm getting some communication. I feel it's an 'old friends' communication. It's a type of mentor energy."
Soon, the porch door opens and Sherry Dmytrewycz emerges from her session with Max.
"I feel an increased energy," says Dmytrewycz, 58, a "spiritual counselor" and "intuitive energy consultant" from Centreville. "It's almost like I'm sitting on a huge vibrator. The energy leaves you just, like, trembling."
During the session, Sandy Young, who translates angelic messages professionally, translated Max's messages for Dmytrewycz.
"According to Max, I've had past lives with him," Dmytrewycz says, smiling. "I have been with him before in other lifetimes."
There's a story behind Max the Crystal Skull and JoAnn Parks is eager to tell it, but she warns that it'll take a while.
"Hollywood knows this story," she says. "One of these days, they'll make a movie."
She's 63, a short, white-haired woman wearing a turquoise blouse over a black turtleneck. She says she's a perfectly normal Houston grandmother, married to a guy who makes custom furniture.
"I was raised a mainstream Lutheran," she says. "I'm not a guru or a shaman. I'm just me."
She got Max from a "healer" she met in Houston when her daughter was dying of cancer in the 1970s. The healer was an American, she says, a former undercover agent who became a Tibetan lama while he was in the federal Witness Protection Program. The lama got Max from a Central American shaman. He brought the crystal skull back to Houston and, Parks recalls, he "used to chant and talk Tibetan to it." In the late '70s, before he died, the lama gave the skull to Parks.
"His parting words were: 'Take care of this and one day, you'll know what it's for,' " Parks recalls. "We put it in a box in the closet. But it came to me in dreams. I could feel it calling me telepathically. I said to my husband, 'The skull talks to me.' And he said, 'Woman, you've taken leave of your mind.' "
In 1987, Parks was watching "Good Morning Houston" when she saw somebody from a UFO organization displaying a picture of a skull that looked like Max. She called the man, who put her in touch with somebody who told her the skull was a 3,000-year-old "pre-Mayan, pre-Aztec" relic with mystical powers.
The skull seemed happy that she'd finally learned its secret, she recalls. Telepathically, it said to her: "Wake up, woman. Now I can get out of this box and serve mankind."
The skull also said this: "By the way, my name is not 'the Skull,' it's Max."
For the past 19 years, she and Max have traveled all over the United States and Europe. Along the way, she says, she and Max have appeared on TV programs on the BBC, A&E, the Discovery Channel and the Travel Channel, as well as documentaries in Japan and France.
This past weekend, she and Max came to the TeleSpectral Center, where she taught a class about Max for 17 students, who each paid $25, and Max met privately with a couple of dozen people who paid $55 apiece for the privilege. Parks also sells miniature replicas of Max for about $20 each. But she says the money barely covers her travel expenses.
"I don't do this for a living," she says. "It's my passion."
Max is one of many crystal skulls traveling the New Age circuit, but Parks says he's one of only two that are authentic ancient mystical skulls.
"There's a lot of dupin' and connin' goin' on," she says in her Texas twang.
After the Smithsonian received a crystal skull from an anonymous donor in 1992, Jane MacLaren Walsh, a Smithsonian anthropologist, studied several skulls, including Max, and concluded that they were all made after 1850.
"They were carved with modern lapidary equipment," Walsh said in a recent phone interview. "Max is as modern as the rest."
Not surprisingly, Parks dismisses Walsh's study. "She doesn't know quartz crystal," Parks says. "She didn't know what she was looking at."
Sitting in the TeleSpectral Center, Parks and Dmytrewycz and Jim Young discuss UFOs and pyramids and other metaphysical topics. Then Parks shows everybody the box that Max travels in. It's an old green leather cosmetics case that her husband mounted on a piece of plywood with four little wheels, so she can roll Max through airports. On planes, she stows him under the seat in front of her.
She opens the case. It's lined with foam rubber to protect Max, and it contains the purple cloth that Max likes to be swaddled in when he's traveling.
"Max told me what box to go look for and how to pack him," she says. "And he said, "Put me in purple.' "
The porch door opens and Crowe-Munoz and her friend Wayne Danzik emerge from their private session with Max.
Danzik, 47, an engineer from Wheaton, enjoyed the meeting. "It was a very relaxing, peaceful experience," he says, sounding quite relaxed. "I felt a feeling of well-being and peace."
Crowe-Munoz seems less relaxed. In fact, she can barely contain her enthusiasm.
"It was fabulous!" she says. "It was a tremendous vortex of light! I've definitely had an experience! I was enveloped in love. He glowed in golden light. . . . I saw in my mind's eye and felt Max's enveloping arms."
Then she put on her leopard coat and headed out into the cold suburban night while Max sat calmly on his rabbit skin, waiting for the next customer. He'll be receiving guests until noon today.
JoAnn Parks, who says she got Max from a "healer" she met in Houston when her daughter was dying of cancer in the 1970s, has traveled with the skull throughout the United States and Europe for 19 years.