Pseudo-Psychology & Psychics
The Pseudo-Psychology of the Psychic Reading
An Exposé from a Recovering Participant
by Sofia Dax
The most dangerous part of going to a psychic is the possibility that they might say something true, either accidentally or intuitively, and that one small truth will become the focal point around which your concept of your life and your self revolve. For people who ultimately have strong senses of identity and do not feel the need to ask for advice, or take it when they do, the idea of relying on someone else’s intuition might seem like a novel way to pass time, or better yet, a fun experiment. Able to forget or discard what does not serve them, they leave their sessions with tarot readers and pendulum artists ultimately unscathed. I envy these people.
The New Age is hip. When Urban Outfitters is selling Ouija Boards and high-schoolers, who not even a decade ago were wearing cardigans and pearls, are now sporting crop tops with the phases of the moon, it’s easy to see how Western pop culture has commodified spirituality. Everyone reads tarot (or at least owns a deck of cards), half your friends are amateur astrologers, the empty warehouse across the street has turned into a new hot yoga studio that plays Top 40 hits during class. Practicing magic(k) is not considered dorky or creepy; it’s cool. Hipster witches cast love spells with their period blood, salt circles for protection, and light green candles for financial prosperity, all as advertised on Instagram.
I was brought up in a semi-spiritual household. My mother never intended to raise me as a religious person, but the importance of her own beliefs affected my childhood in ways I am still uncovering. It was not uncommon for her to pause mid-sentence and tell me that a soul of someone (living or deceased) was at that moment, visiting our apartment. She referenced astrological transits to explain my moods and compared my star chart to those of boys I had crushes on. She worked at a holistic health market-café-massage-yoga-bookstore amalgam that was the hub for New-Agers in Virginia Beach, and attracted visitors from all over the country. The facility operated a lab that manufactured products recommended in the Cayce Readings, and was an unofficial partner to the Association of Research and Enlightenment, or A.R.E., Edgar Cayce’s (sometimes referred to as The American Prophet) world-famous center of operations prior to his death in 1945.
The beginning of my dependence on psychic advise occurred while I was seventeen and dating my first boyfriend, who I would refer to as the love of my life for many years to come, though we only dated for six months and broke up about thirteen times throughout the course of our relationship. During this tumultuous period, I began to see Karen (not her real name), an older woman, gigantic in stature, who was a cancer survivor and possessed a maternal and comforting quality that I gladly took as a bandage for my fragile emotional state. Karen used tarot cards but more as a prop than for actual guidance. She claimed her main source of universal truth came from a spirit guide named Tanya (also not her real name), who communicated with her on an astral level and offered council to her clients by way of a human conduit. Karen had apparently been consulted by phone from overseas by a member of a royal family, and that seemed to provide her with a weird pedigree of legitimacy. My boyfriend had been diagnosed with Bipolar Type 2, and to make a long story short, whenever he broke off our relationship (in the middle of us having sex, right before my birthday, by letter, by phone, in person) teenage me would feel the urge to consult my psychic therapist. She would console me by telling me he was my soulmate, or, at least that he could be if only he would get his life together and didn’t end up committing suicide, something that he had attempted multiple times already.
At first, some of her insights into his mind and character seemed accurate. I wanted so badly to have control over my chaotic life and my emotions and to understand the reasoning behind his actions, that I didn’t address the issue that I was feeding Karen tons of information and details that she would simply regurgitate back to me in different orders with new addendums. She really seemed to care about me, and one of the ways I rationalized our relationship and convinced myself that she was not conning me or herself, was because she would offer me a sliding scale. Which, by the way, if you’ve ever been to a psychic, I now realize is still a decent amount of money. She would tell me that I could give her whatever I had, or “just give me a $20 or $40, and not charge me by the minute. I would think: what reason has she to lie? I recorded some of the sessions on an audio cassette player that she provided for clients and would often play them back for reassurance even though the contradictions were obvious.
Like many psychics, she promised the immediacy of a new romance, “over the summer,” “by the New Year,” etc . . . all things which never transpired at the time, place, mode, or with the person she described. Years later, when I was taking a year off from school and moved back to Virginia, I was trying to decide between living in New York or moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career as an actress. One month she said that I should go to New York, but that I wouldn’t live there forever. The next month she said that I should not move to New York, that it wasn’t my kind of place, that I should move to California instead. She even referenced my mother’s slight New York accent as a positive connection between me and the city, and then later said that California was in superior alignment with my personality because I was from a beach town, and LA, as we know, has beaches.
When I moved to New York to finish school and pursue the performing arts, I started seeing Jenna (not her real name). She had been recommended to me by a friend from my hometown, who had gone to school with her in the city. About six months into my first year of New York (the obligatory blood-sweat-tears first year), I met up with Jenna at her studio. Sage was burned, candles were lit. Jenna told me that I felt relaxed when I was driving—which was true, though my car (which I had no idea what I was going to do with after I moved) had been fortuitously totaled in a minor accident two weeks prior to my leaving for New York. I was lucky enough to move into a house with three strangers who became my close friends. Either not picking up on the happy circumstance of living with roommates from Craigslist and actually getting along with all of them (if you’ve ever cohabitated with strangers, you understand the gamble), Jenna recommended that I move from my current, conveniently located neighborhood to South Brooklyn so that I could drive around in a car that I had yet to purchase. She told me that I would be in a feature film sometime within the next two years and that I had been a victim of negative encounters with the opposite sex, so I should take a break for a while.
About six months later, I went to see her again, but this time she informed me that I was trying too hard to be an actress, that I should focus on other aspects of my performative career, such as music and dance. Give it another six months, and she would say that I had lost my way in all things, despite having been accepted into a choreographic festival, busking in the subway, auditioning for films, and getting gigs at small venues around the city. Basically, she made me feel like shit. Jenna told me that she respected the fact that I was a broke artist and that I could pay her on a donation basis until I became famous. She also said that I would meet a life partner in the near future, and I guess on some level I believed her because she had also said that I had a hole in my aura around my solar plexus, and that felt true. She began to physically describe him in a vague way. “You’re going to be loved and desired in a way that you didn’t think was possible.”
I became involved in a complex romantic friendship with the guy who was producing my album. There were mixed signals and subtle manipulations, and at some point, he told me to wait until he broke up with his girlfriend so that we could be together. When I brought up the soulmate comment to her, Jenna said that “it could be that person,” “that she didn’t know if it was that person,” and that “yes, it was” in almost the same breath. I was trying to move the relationship forward, to get a resolution for myself, and she suggested that I wasn’t paying him enough attention even though I texted him often, expressed interest in his life, and attended his music performances. The next time I went to see her, she said that I wasn’t playing hard to get and that I was actively lowering the percentile probability of us being together. “You need to be more of a bitch,” she said. “You’re not his usual type. He likes popular girls.” She told me to watch the movie, Mean Girls for inspiration. A little while after this reading, he and I got into an intense argument and it’s safe to say that we both decided for totally separate reasons, that our relationship, on any level, was not working. I called Jenna to tell her what had transpired and she blamed me, saying that I had lowered the probability of us dating. That was the last time I spoke to her.
It's been a little over a year since I’ve been to a psychic, and I’m ashamed to say that I still sometimes get the urge to give up all of my personal intellectual, emotional, or intuitive insight, as well as the people in my life, not to mention freewill. I'd be willing to give these up just to feel like there might be some guiding hand in the universe that is watching out for us, a greater power that we can actually understand. The hardest part about writing this piece, was that even while I typed out the predictions that I know to be inaccurate, there’s a small part of me that continues to legitimize their meaning.
The normalization of mysticism within popular culture is not without merit. People have actively invested themselves in self-improvement and awareness, but with this increased interest comes capitalistic opportunism. Famous medium Sylvia Browne professed on television that missing girl Amanda Berry was deceased, when she was actually very much alive in captivity. The intangible world of the occult has transformed into a business that sells a product, and that product is an assurance, a contentment, a resolution to what ails us in a world of increasing personal, financial, and political uncertainty. Like any item or service being offered, the object varies in quality and there is no standard or agency to protect from fraudulence and harm. Do I believe that real psychics exist? Probably. It’s just that from what I’ve encountered, most of the people working parties, flashing their abilities with neon signs, and generally trying their hardest to fuck up your life for a mere $2 a minute aren’t worth the trip or the comedown.
Sofia Dax is a writer and multi-disciplinary artist currently living in Brooklyn, NY. Her fiction and poetry has appeared in 12th St. Magazine, Wingspan Journal, and The Pointed Circle. She has performed dance and theatrical work at Dixon Place, Virginia MOCA, and Peninsula Gallery.