Mark Edward, a former “psychic” and now a member of the editorial board of Skeptic and a big supporter of the work of James Randi, has a new book out called Psychic Blues, in which he argues that the vast majority of “psychics” are con artists (the rest may actually believe they have an ability that they do not, in fact, have). And he relates his own experiences and how he got in on the scam. Alternet has a chapter from that book.
I had honed my magic chops and built my profile early on while working at a members-only magic club on Lido Isle called Magic Island. This was the OC version of Hollywood’s Magic Castle. In its early years, this elegant Egyptian-style club was a recognized jumping-off point for OC millionaires and their mistresses. Hundred-dollar tips were easily had for a mediocre card trick. It was here, in the splendor of Magic Island’s main bar and lounge, that I first became aware of the appeal of tarot cards and palm readings.
I was completely dazzled watching my friend Jules Lenier receive five to six times what I was earning as a magician (in cash, no less) by cannily chatting up the very richest of the rich. Luckily for me, Jules was happy to share his secrets. Jules has said I have him to blame for much of my slightly depraved and duplicitous psychic background.
But it took years before I even began to catch up to the level of charm Jules could exude and the profits he could make. Both grew slowly for me, and part of this growth came from the Light Path Foundation, a place that was just about as far away from a dark, seductive bar scene as one could get.
One particularly slow Sunday afternoon in 1991 I was working a small psychic fair in a hastily converted industrial mall in Fullerton, California, with my friend from the KYAK days, Peter. Psychic fairs were like small farmersmarket arrangements that rented halls or rooms at hotels and attracted a decent amount of interest from the local neighborhoods. It was hit or miss waiting for the bookings to come through. Peter and I were not doing well, psychically or financially. So Peter suggested that I contact his friend Betsy, who was the general manager at Light Path. Many psychic veterans, the walking wounded from either the Psychic Friends Network or the KYAK years, were gathering at various psychic fairs and venues in and around Los Angeles during the 1990s, and the biggest and busiest of their psychic supermarkets was the Light Path. Peter told me that people like Sylvia Browne and Kenny Kingston–two luminaries in the big-time psychic business–were regulars at Light Path and that the foundation’s reputation was top of the line, as far as working the masses went.Sadly, Jules has since passed on to that magic lounge in the sky and is no doubt flipping over tarot cards and gently pulling on his elegant cigarette holder there now. I called Betsy, dropped Pete’s name, and was greeted by a giddy-sounding woman with the happiest of voices. I liked her immediately.
“Hey, any friend of Pete is a friend of mine! Great to hear from you! We have psychics working every day, but our big psychic fairs are on Saturdays. We have a big one coming up next weekend. Why don’t you come on down and we can talk?”
“Sounds like a plan. If it’s okay for me to ask, how many psychics do you have working when you do a big fair?”
“Usually between twenty and thirty readers work the floor at one time. That includes astrologers, tarot readers, runestone readers, reflexologists, healers–you name it, we have it. We also have a huge marketplace where vendors sell books, incense, crystals–all that kind of stuff.”
“Wow, it sounds like a busy day. I hope you’ll have room for one more psychic.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem. The main church chapel has all the pews removed and holds a lot of people. What do you do?”
“Mostly tarot and palm readings right now, but I have also worked with ghost-hunting and mediumship over the years.” I was hedging my bets here.
The more skills a psychic can offer and more versatile he or she can be, the better–especially when dealing with someone who might like to turn a profit on those skills.
“If you’re a medium, that opens up a whole lot of other possibilities. Are you clairaudient or clairsentient?”
“Eh, well . . . I hear ’em and see ’em both, I guess. It’s hard to describe. It comes to me in a lot of ways. It doesn’t always happen in the same way twice in a row. It depends on the situation. Usually, it’s pictures that come to me. They make more sense later.”
“I totally understand.”
I think we all do.