What’s wrong with a little fortune-telling?

by Anya Jaremko-Greenwold

It’s hardly a mystery why “psychic” is a fruitful occupation. People are afraid of the big questions: Who are we? Where are we going? What happens when we die? Psychics, whether fraudulent or not, can assist in answering some of those questions, similar to a therapist – though psychics don’t need college degrees or licensing, which puts a damper on their public perception. Where a therapist might reassure you that everyone suffers in the same way, a psychic is more likely to try to make you feel special.

There is no shortage of psychic scams. A few years ago, a New York City storefront psychic named Tammy scammed a client out of $55,712. The woman even sold her house to pay the fortune-teller, who promised to rid her of a curse. And while there are plenty more psychics who have come forward to admit they made it all up, many others (including the three I spoke with in Durango) suggest the fakers shouldn’t give the rest of them a bad name.

Fake psychics take advantage of clients, but lots of professions rely on deceptive exchanges; it’s up to you to be discerning. One could argue journalism exploits the sordid details of people’s lives in order to deliver a good story. Lawyers will say anything to get their defendants off the hook. Retail workers assure customers everything looks good on them. Politicians … well, that’s a no-brainer.

How a psychic reading works Beverly Anderson has been a practicing psychic in Durango for 14 years. She has 2,500 clients, many from around the world; but she can’t Skype with her international patrons, as she claims electronics don’t react well with her electromagnetic flux, and she can blow up computers. Anderson doesn’t advertise her business because she doesn’t need to; she’ll only book an appointment via a referral, and says she accepts 20 percent of new clients who seek her out. She describes herself as a Chigung grandmaster, one of three women in the world at her level; Chigung is a highly-trained energy form, the equivalent of doing chiropractics on a person’s soul (in her words). “The human mind is designed to pick up five senses,” explained Anderson. “There are actually six; the psychic sense. If you’re walking in the woods and the hair stands up on the back of your neck, you probably know there’s a mountain lion or a bear close by. That’s a natural organic response. Well, I do that, times a million.” Apparently, psychic abilities are genetic, as Anderson comes from a long line of them. “It’s like having singers or dancers or painters in the family,” she said.

In a psychic reading with Anderson, there’s no hokey crystal ball. You simply sit on a chair in her office while she “plugs into you.” “I can hear their emotions, thoughts, the pattern of preconceived notions about who they think they are and how they were raised,” Anderson said. “I can see past life information that got them to the head space they’re in. I also can see the future quite clearly. I know people have trouble comprehending that. I’m notoriously accurate and direct – I don’t blow smoke up people’s butts, I give them exactly what I get.”

Amanda Fresh is a Durango psychic who specializes in “mediumship,” or speaking with people’s passed loved ones. She also conducts spiritual guidance readings to discuss life choices, but doesn’t project far into the future (that’s a misconception about what “fortune-tellers” do.) “I always ask for the information that comes through to be in the highest and best interest of the client,” Fresh said. “And I don’t think things too far out in the future are in someone’s best interest to hear – there’s a process to get from point A to B.” Fresh could always feel spirits (both in church and when she studied Taoism, in the temple) but never knew quite what they were.

Our third psychic, Whitney Lamb, is a student of Anderson’s; in fact, Anderson hopes to pass her business on to Lamb when she retires, as she considers the younger psychic vastly talented. Lamb, who has been practicing in Durango for five years, avows she has been “speaking with angels” for much of her life. Not to be confused with deceased human beings, angels don’t usually want to take a human form. “They don’t have anything to really learn, as they’re the closest to the Godhead,” Lamb said. “They’re here to help humanity.” Angels have revealed themselves to Lamb in varying ways, pushing books off a shelf or indirectly introducing her to someone she needed to meet. She feels her life became synchronistic to such a degree that it was impossible not to accept them working with her.

How to tell the good from the bad Money-grubbing psychics can give people false hope, make them believe in something that isn’t real or convince them their loved ones are OK, all without any evidence. There is a comfort in this, not dissimilar to the kind we find in religion. But the problem isn’t the comfort, it’s the money gleaned from taking advantage of vulnerable folks. You’ve probably heard of John Edward, the most famous medium in the world; his critics point out his guesses about people’s dead relatives are general and vague (things anyone could guess), and that the correct statements he makes are fewer than the incorrect ones, but clever television editing weeds out his misses.

The Durango psychics are not scamming people out of their money – at least, not as far as I can tell. But does that mean their “readings” are true? That’s for you to decide. If you’ve had a bad experience with one doctor, would you swear off all doctors? Of course not. It’s common for someone to visit one psychic who feeds them insincere or transparent lines, and assume all psychics are like that.

Anderson is personally insulted by bad psychics. “That’s like someone hanging up a sign saying they’re a doctor and being a quack, then hurting somebody,” she said. “What doesn’t drive me crazy is people who do have talent, but have never been trained to know what to do with it. Like a person with a good voice who could end up being an opera singer with training.” She estimates one out of 20 in her profession are any good. Anderson is expensive ($300 an hour), but in her opinion, she delivers. “People on my level in LA charge $1,000,” she said.

Anderson has a few pointers for weeding out the imposters: “If you go in, and they present a schlocky ‘Madame Helga’ thing,” she said. “They have curtains or beads all over the place, flowy robes. That’s your first sign.” Everything in Anderson’s studio is clean-cut and feng-shuied. “If it feels dusty or dirty, walk out the door,” she continued. “If someone says, ‘I can remove a curse or get your boyfriend back for you …’ Oh no no no.” No good psychic will propose fixing a situation in exchange for money, Anderson adds; everyone has free will and choice, and her job is to give people the tools to make decisions. She won’t tell clients what to do.

Fresh advises that if your reading doesn’t feel right, it’s not right. And if they deal in negative or fear-based advice, be wary. “When you leave a reading, you should feel euphoric. Truth resonates,” Fresh said. Lamb doesn’t seem concerned about the con artists of her profession, assuming that clients are smart enough to tell the “used car salesman” psychic from the one with genuine intuitive abilities. “The ones that don’t have it aren’t going to be in business very long,” Lamb said. “Word of the mouth is the biggest thing.”

Reason and skepticism There is an understandable stigma associated with psychics, so it’s not the most widely-respected profession. That doesn’t bother Anderson, who was turned down for a loan application while living in Texas because she “worked for the devil” (the bank officer was a born-again Christian). Anderson grew up in a science-oriented family, and jokingly considers herself the “slow” one because she has a master’s, but no Ph.D. “I find that people who are educated are intrigued when you start opening up their perception fields,” Anderson said. “All a good scientist wants is proof. The proving is, I talk to them.”

Fresh and Lamb are similarly unphased by cynics. Fresh asserts a skeptic is only a skeptic because they don’t have the experience to know any different. But both agree that sometimes a person’s reluctance or resistance can make it more difficult to read them. Lamb describes it as a brick wall: “I’ve learned that when I hit that, I need to say, ‘I can’t read you,’” she said. “I can’t get in there fully.”

Technically, the fact that Lamb “speaks to angels” could be grounds for a schizophrenia diagnosis. But she doesn’t possess other symptoms of the mental disorder, so it’s unfair to pin her with that. Another inherent problem with claims like Lamb’s is the seeming disregard for darkness, and the almost ingratiating focus on positivity or light. Lamb insists every soul has angels around them, and those angels’ purpose is to help humanity; but what about the people who fall into deep depressions? Or commit suicide? Those who have suffered unimaginably with seemingly no reward? This is a question that arises when anyone combats the existence of God or religion, but what does a psychic make of it? Of depression, Lamb said, “When a person is at such a low vibration, it’s hard for the angels to cut through. It creates a static. The angels are trying their hardest to send some source of guidance or inspiration. They patiently wait until that soul is at a place where they can work their magic.” I suppose this means that when a person succumbs to evil deeds or gloom, their angels have failed them.

Another frequent criticism is that psychics give people inaccurate information; predictions never come to fruition, advice turns out to be bad. But psychics explain that discrepancy with the existence of autonomy. A psychic can suspect something about your future, but you might still make a different choice and alter the course of everything. It also seems possible readings result in self-fulfilling prophecies: A psychic says you’ll meet your future husband in October, so you spend the entire month on the lookout, far more receptive to romantic possibilities.

Don’t be too hard on psychics. The cliché of the powerful celebrity or solitary genius who cries alone at night is somewhat applicable. “To relax and be myself with someone is a rare gift,” said Anderson, when questioned about how her job affects her personal life. She can’t stand being in cities (too many energies) and always knows where her son is and what he’s been doing, which made his teenage life hard. “People who know what I can do never let me relax. It’s like with a doctor, asking them, ‘Would you look at my rash?’ at a party. It’s rare for me to be able to have a friend.”

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