PSYCHICS–Psychic Secrets


Can a stranger really see into your soul by reading your palm or flipping a few Tarot cards? There are a few tricks to the trade that thrives on faith and money.

The storefront psychic folds her arms over a stained T-shirt dress and stares me down. Her $50 Tarot card and psychic reading has concluded I’m “losing a lot of energy.”

“Now I’m gonna’ talk to you like a doctor,” she says in a faint Egyptian accent, canned laughter from a TV sitcom wafting in from a back room. “I want to take an X-ray of you.

“I want to do a past life progression, to find out why you got off the path, (discover) what was you in a previous life,” explains the middle-aged woman, whose blond hair falls loosely around her shoulders. “I want to look at your aura and look into your personality. I want to bring out the real you.”

And how much will this “progression” set me back? “One hundred dollars,” she says, without blinking. Of course, with a money-back guarantee.

That’s the way it goes in the world of L.A. soothsaying, where just as in the rest of the money-making world, your most powerful allies are repeat customers and it pays to sell extra services.

The business of spiritual counseling remains lucrative around the Los Angeles area, where in-person readings fetch between $25 and $100. Sidewalk psychics for example, those working the Venice boardwalk charge about $10-$15 for a quarter-hour, and telephone predictions through 900 numbers cost hundreds of dollars per hour.

It’s impossible to say how many professional psychics there are working the Los Angeles area; they don’t exactly have a trade association. But as organized religion loses its grip on the masses and the always-questioning baby boom generation confronts its own mortality, psychics often step in to fill the void. Hence the creation of telephone services that have grossed hundreds of millions over the past few years, and sidewalk seers who are doing a brisk trade.

Can strangers really look into a person’s soul, and provide answers to the burning questions? Like everything else in the spiritual world, that’s purely a matter of faith. But even avowed psychics admit there is no shortage of scam artists. Some are even willing to share some of the tricks of the trade.

Confessions of a phone seer

My sister, Vivian, worked on a telephone psychic hotline, being paid about $12 an hour while callers were charged about $240 hourly $4 a minute. “It was total deception,” said Vivian from her Oregon home.

When she wanted to work, she put herself on call. The first week, “the telephone was ringing off the hook,” she recalled. But then, “you lose your status quite soon if you can’t keep people on the phone. The longer you keep people on the phone, the more phone calls are routed to you.”

Vivian found herself receiving calls from deeply religious people who were “not being helped by their religious organizations.”

“I got a lot of calls from poor people in the South. They’d say, ‘I don’t have no money, what should I do?’ I’d think, ‘Get the hell off the phone,'” Vivian said.

My sister offered Tarot card and astrological readings. “I would help people understand what their feelings were. It was more empathic than psychic. I helped a lot of people, but it was frustrating. I didn’t think they should be charged $240 an hour when I was making $12, that felt wrong.”

Robert Leysen, chief executive of Psychic Eye Bookshops Inc. based in Sherman Oaks, calls telephone psychics a fraud. “There’s no such thing as a psychic,” Leysen says.

Yet Leysen employs more than 100 psychics, who give readings at his store’s 13 locations. He explains the apparent conflict this way: “A psychic session is really more of a counseling session. My perception is that consumers get entertainment, hope, direction and empathy.”

Leysen believes that such sessions he recently supplied psychics to work at a national American Express convention in Las Vegas have their place “as long as you don’t cross the line into intimidation and dependency, being fraudulent and giving false hope ‘Bring me money and I’ll take away the evil spirits.'”

At the Sherman Oaks shop, 19 staff psychics do between 55 and 95 readings daily, says Leysen. His posted prices, raised only once in the past decade, are $20 for a session up to 20 minutes, $30 for a half-hour session and $45 for a one-hour session.

While Leysen doesn’t believe in mind reading, his chief financial officer, Mary Kara, disagrees. “Everyone’s a psychic on one level or another,” Kara says. “To some extent we know about the future.”

But do psychics really know as much about a person as they pretend? Skeptics abound.

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine and author of “Why People Believe Weird Things,” calls the mind-reading business “a legal scam.” So-called psychics use several techniques to fool customers, Shermer says.

“They throw stuff out and see what sticks,” says Shermer. “For example, they might ask, ‘Who is Michael or George?’ You blurt out, ‘Michael, that’s my boyfriend.’ So you go home and say the psychic knew the name of your beloved. He didn’t know it. People will sit there and tell them the information and think the psychic told them.”

Leysen agrees, saying often the customer does 95 percent of the talking.

Silence is golden

“The psychic doesn’t say two words. But the person feels good because they got it out of their system,” Leysen says.

During “warm readings,” psychics “say things that are true for everybody,” Shermer says. “If a person is not wearing a wedding ring, the mind-reader might tell the person he once was in a long-term committed relationship. But who hasn’t been?”

Leysen agrees that his psychics observe physical cues, such as a wedding ring or lack thereof, to assist them.

And yet, sometimes, psychics make predictions that come true. That may be pure coincidence, a random guess that only serves to fuel the fires of belief in the customer. Or it may be something else.

During my reading, the psychic told me she saw uniformed men in blue and white around me. “Did you do something you shouldn’t have?” she asked. “No,” I replied. “Be careful on the road,” she said. “You could have an accident.”

Two weeks later, I was robbed at gunpoint as I got into my car outside a Silverlake restaurant. During subsequent reports to police, I was flanked by a man and woman in blue and white.

Just a coincidence? Who knows?

Certainly, my soothsayer used plenty of the tricks described by Shermer and Leysen. After consulting the Tarot cards, she asked me who broke my heart. Then she asked, “Who is this man with black hair with a little bit of gray?” My dad and three-fourths of the male population, I answered silently.

Perhaps the best clue to her authenticity, says Shermer, is that she had no idea I was writing a newspaper story on soothsayers. Notes Shermer, “If she were truly a psychic, she would have known what you were up to.”

So why do people consult psychics? “It’s a simple way of explaining a complex world, where chance can decide your fate and bad things happen to good people,” says Shermer.

Says Vivian, “People don’t want to look inside themselves for the answers. They want someone with a crystal ball to tell them their future.”

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