Superstition Makes Her Paranoid

It’s all fun and games until somebody (maybe/possibly/are-you-kidding-me?) dies.

DEAR ABBY: I have found the man I will be with for the rest of my life. I knew from the moment I met him that he was The One. We are very happy and very much in love.

Ever since I was about 9, my mother and I have had our palms read, our tarot cards done, charted our birth signs, etc. It’s a little superstitious, but hey — we have fun with it. We still do it to this day.

When I was 17, our palm reader proceeded to tell me about my life and explained that I will have two husbands, and my first husband will die. Abby, I can’t stop thinking about this, and when I do I can’t hold back the tears. I can’t tell my boyfriend because, as anyone would, he’ll think I am being silly.

I wouldn’t take this so seriously if the palm reader hadn’t been so accurate regarding past experiences in my life. I need some sort of relief from my fear because I’m afraid that when we’re married I’ll always be waiting for the day my husband doesn’t come home. Please help me. — MISERABLE IN MILWAUKEE

Your husband’s not going to come home one day because you’re crazy.

Now that that’s out of my system…

(No, wait, not done yet. What’s with her little disclaimer about how tarot card reading is “a little superstitious, but hey — we have fun with it” and then proceeding to freak out when she doesn’t like the results?)

Does this guy know the type of family he’s marrying into…?

How does Abby respond?

DEAR MISERABLE: I live in a community where psychics and palm readers are as omnipresent as head lice. While some of them can be remarkably accurate in their predictions, others are charlatans. What your letter illustrates is that while palm reading, tarot, etc. can make for lively entertainment, superstition can be a powerful and destructive force.

May I point out that statistically most women outlive men. Viewed in that light, what your psychic told you wasn’t necessarily bad news. It could be interpreted to mean that you will have a long and happy union with the man you love. And when he predeceases you — as most men do — you will once again find love. And, honey, from my perspective, that’s GOOD news.

“… others are charlatans”???

That implies that some are not. Which is untrue.

At least Abby says that superstitions can be destructive.

Why can’t she just chew MIM out for believing a psychic in the first place? That’s what Dan Savage would do. Which is why I read him and not Abby.

(Thanks to Joseph for the link!)


[tags]atheist, atheism, paranormal, skeptic[/tags]

  • Jon Strong

    [...] my first husband will die.

    I’m reasonably sure her second husband will die too. Someday.

  • Mriana

    May I point out that statistically most women outlive men. Viewed in that light, what your psychic told you wasn’t necessarily bad news. It could be interpreted to mean that you will have a long and happy union with the man you love. And when he predeceases you — as most men do — you will once again find love. And, honey, from my perspective, that’s GOOD news.

    She does have a good point with this last. Statistically women do outlive men. So, the psychic wasn’t saying anything unique or special. My grandmother lost her husband 17 years before she died. IF she wanted to remarry, she could have, esp since she died at 94. No telling who would have out lived who if she married someone with the vitality of George Burns.

    So her first husband may live the average of about 79 years say. If she outlives him by 20 years, she could possibly live her last years with a second love. So if she would think of it that way, it’s really not bad at all. I’m with Abby on the last.

    While my grandmother never remarried, some women do and they are very happy living with the memories of the late husband and making new memories with the second husband. It happens sometimes.

  • http://blog.lib.umn.edu/fole0091/epistaxis/ Epistaxis

    Statistically women do outlive men.

    It’s even simpler than that. If her first (then, perhaps, only) husband outlives her, she’ll never go back to the psychic to demand a refund.

  • Shane

    Trying to create a more favourable interpretation of the reading is the wrong approach. Don’t worry about it because it has no effect on reality. Just show her how any previously truthful predictions were simply the result of chance combined with techniques that take advantage of common human psychological biases.

    P.S. If you don’t forward this comment to 12 people in the next 5 minutes, your spouse will die before you do.

  • Jen

    Of course some are good at their predictions. They are better at being charlatans than the rest of them.

  • Stephen

    It’s bothersome to see Abby give any credit to psychics and their ilk. No psychic is “remarkably accurate.” They all speak so vaguely and universally that the duped customer could potentially apply the “prophecy” to just about anything. People also tend to underestimate just how much a skilled observer can tell about them – as most of you here probably know, that’s called cold reading.

  • Tao Jones

    I’ve done Tarot and other “psychic” predictions for people that have turned out to be quite accurate.

    Some of the times I have played it up for entertainment purposes.

    I wouldn’t say I’m psychic (though I have said it, for entertainment purposes).. just that I’m generally pretty good at reading people.

    Does that make me a charlatan? Would it make a difference if I charged for my services?

    IMO, good psychics are just good at reading people and putting on a show. There are psychics who are only good at putting on a show and being vague… these would be the charlatans IMO.

    Don’t discount all of metaphysics because of the floopy language.. there is quite likely some rational and/or scientific explanation going on in the background.

    Tarot/palmistry == psychology, NLP
    Religion == IDEA of religion.

    Just because there isn’t a psychic connection between people, doesn’t mean there isn’t a psychological connection dressed up as a psychic connection.

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff

    If I were an evil tarot (terror) card reader, I would recognize that within the framework of Christianity (as the bible says), the door to Heaven is very narrow and the door to Hell is very wide. If I sized the customer up as being religious (as most are who go see psychics) I could predict that her husband will be tortured for all eternity in Hell. Then she could spend her time worrying about the man she loves being eternally tortured and not worry so much about the slight statistical advantage that her husband will pass away first.

    If she wasn’t religious, she would not worry about either tarot card predictions or eternal torturing and just concentrate on living her life with quality in the here and now. Eat well, exercise, reduce stress and you just might live a little longer and better.

  • http://merkdorp.blogspot.com J. J. Ramsey

    Shane: “Trying to create a more favourable interpretation of the reading is the wrong approach.”

    I’d say that it is less about finding a “favourable” reading and more about implying how a cold reader can use known probabilities, i.e. that wives usually outlive their husbands, to make a prediction that appears to be specific.

  • http://daybydayhsing.blogspot.com Dawn

    While I might have prefferred a slam-down Abby’s intent might be more about offering some help the letter writer would be willing to accept. People generally aren’t willing to accept help when it makes them feel like an idiot.

    And I think Abby’s right. Some palm readers aren’t charlatans. Some are skilled cold readers who are entertainers in the vein of magicians and don’t pretend otherwise.

  • Siamang

    Did dirk plagerize Hemant and steal his joke?

    Or is it merely coincidence?

  • Stephen

    Don’t discount all of metaphysics because of the floopy language.. there is quite likely some rational and/or scientific explanation going on in the background.

    I know there’s a rational explanation going on – it’s already been mentioned here several times. A) Psychics/mystics read people, and b) they speak in vague and extremely general terms. “Your first husband will die” is hardly a good prophecy, because it has a decent chance of coming true either way; if a psychic told me on what day my spouse would die, or how, then I would be impressed when it came true.

    That’s all there is to it. Readings that come true are coincidences, intentionally made more likely by dodgy language. I’m more than willing to discount pseudoscientific nonsense that says otherwise, along with whatever weird definition of “metaphysics” you’re using.

    As for the other issue, every psychic and tarot reader has disclaimers that it’s all just for entertainment purposes. That’s how they shield themselves from liability. It’s hard to say how many of them actually take themselves seriously, but I honestly don’t care. There’s nothing illegal or harmful going on; my only point is that Abby is entirely wrong in her distinction. It’s all fake, whether the psychic/mystic says so or not.

  • gsb

    Does that make me a charlatan?

    If you are representing your readings as anything other than a parlour trick, yes, that makes you a charlatan.

  • Tao Jones

    gsb said,

    If you are representing your readings as anything other than a parlour trick, yes, that makes you a charlatan.

    I wholeheartedly disagree. My “readings” were often illuminating and helpful. One of my very best friends I met while doing readings for people at University. He eventually came to understand how I was able to do it but he always respected the value of my “ability.”

    I never did it for money, but I really don’t see any problem at all with people making a living off of this, IF they are good at it. If a psychic atmosphere makes a person feel more comfortable (than say, talking to friends about their issues, or a therapist) then I don’t see the problem. Again, I’m making a distinction between entertainers (the frauds) and the intuitive/NLP/psychology/people reading/cold reading experts. The latter definitely exists, even if the former is more common.


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