‘Psychic’ Fraud Comes Clean

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.


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  • Heh! Heh! there’s an ad for ‘Ask a psychic a FREE question’ next to your post.

    They MUST really be psychic!!!1!one!

  • baal

    My side bar is advertising a “Shockingly” accurate psychic. I’ve been known to visit other sites I like (architecture) before coming here. It biases the ad heuristics.

  • John Hinkle

    I gotta hand it to this guy. He worked the psychic circuit, and now he’s working the other side of the street with a book debunking psychics.

  • KG

    A relevant novel that’s both amusing and enlightening: Chris Brookmyre’s Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks. A minor character is a psychic-debunker who gets so pissed off with people who simply won’t abandon their faith in psychics, even when shown how it’s done (the “unsinkable rubber ducks” of the title), that she switches to gulling the gullible out of their cash. If you read it, don’t get put off by the first chapter – it is not in the authorial voice!

  • lancifer

    I did ten seconds of Googling and found that Mark Edward is not related to the despicable “psychic” John Edward.

    I loved the South Park episode where Stan exposes John Edward as a parasitic fraud, and an alien committee appears to whisk Edward away to the “Biggest Douche in the Universe” awards.

    He wins.

  • bmiller

    baal: I need to clear my cookies from this computer. I keep getting adverts for cycling clothing.

  • Pieter B, FCD

    I saw Mark speak at CFI West a few weeks ago. Very interesting fellow. He worked one of the call-in psychic lines and says that he had a big list of numbers that those calling in should really contact, such as Suicide Prevention, and he’d refer them.

  • laurentweppe

    (the rest may actually believe they have an ability that they do not, in fact, have)

    There was this guy who was so good at hypnotism that he hpnotized himself into believing that was good at hypnotism.

  • JustaTech

    There was a time when I genuinely thought I had telepathy. I was 10, it only ‘worked’ with my friends, and it lasted all of about a week before we got bored and went back to being sorceresses or ponies or princesses or whatever.

    Even then I knew that all the ‘psychics’ advertising on TV were frauds out for your money.

  • tbp1

    Some years ago I had a residency at a well-known artists colony. One of the other artists was a writer who had a day job writing catalog ad copy for a company that sold new age, psychic junk (crystals, tarot decks, and lots of other stuff I’ve long since forgotten) mail-order. I asked her if anyone working for the company actually believed in any of it. She said she thought the owner bought into some of it, but otherwise no. I didn’t get into the ethics of it with her, although I was dying to.

  • edmundog

    Awww, Alternet? Now I have to go read the comments and hate myself.

  • pipenta

    At first glance, I thought to myself, this guy lied for a living so why read his book? I mean, what degree of insight will we get when we can’t believe what he writes. But reading the clip, it looks like an engagingly-told tale. Which is, after all, what skilled psychics are good at. And they are, as we are told, highly skilled at doing cold readings and telling the audience what they want to know. So hmmm, I guess I will read it. But I’ll sandwich the chapters by watching Sapolsky lectures online. You know, just to flush out any sticky residues…