Sunday, 16 November 2003

Report on the Berkeley Psychic Faire

Today I attended a fair sponsored by the Berkeley Psychic Institute in Berkeley, California. The event was interesting, to say the least.

The friend I drove to the fair with happens to be pregnant (by her husband, NOT me!) and shares my penchant for jokes, so we got started right away. As we waited out front for some other friends to arrive, we struck up a conversation with the woman handing out fliers at the door. After telling us that she worked at the Institute and had been trained in the psychic arts, she told us that we could have our futures told inside. We asked if she could tell us if "our" baby would be healthy. "Of course!" she replied, "and I can tell that you are very happy in your marriage. You two have excellent communication with one another." Did I mention that I met this friend ten days ago and that I barely know her?

Our first stop inside the fair was a booth for aura healings. A portly gentleman named Howard slowly stroked the air around me for a few minutes while he asked questions and offered suggestions for improving my health. After correctly guessing that I have a brother (low odds on that one, huh?), Howard informed me that my cutthroat competition with my brother was the source of the negative, navy blue energy concentrated around my heart. (I lacked the heart to tell him that we have competed in nothing more serious than a belching contest in the last decade.) Howard helpfully released that negative energy, which allowed the more positive crimson energy he found behind it to expand. Next, he asked how my injury was healing. Huh? "You were in a car accident or broke a bone recently, no?" No. He was puzzled by the dark, murky, green energy that looked like it was emanating from a painful physical injury. It is possible, he admitted, that he was misreading what was really an emotional injury. A recent breakup, perhaps? No. A death in the family? No. Unfortunately, the mystery remains unsolved. (Hours later, I realized that he must have seen the slight limp I have walked with for 11 years the result of a long-healed knee injury, surgery, and nine months on crutches.)

The other booths sported palmists, tarot card readers, or bold fortune tellers who used no props at all. I had demonstrated cold reading and explained the technique to my friends a few days earlier. They recognized it instantly in each session with these charlatans. The only one who was (temporarily) fooled was told by her palm reader that she should pursue the PhD she was considering. My friend had revealed nothing of her educational plans and was amazed until we pointed out that her shirt read, "UCLA 2003." (For those outside the U.S., UCLA is the University of California at Los Angeles.)

The day climaxed with a workshop entitled, "The Astral: Where Do You Go?" A panel of three "astralists" led by a moderator, "Reverend" Todd Williamson, promised to examine the aura of a volunteer and diagnose problems with his astral health. The Reverend guided the panel through a few minutes of meditation to ready them for the task. After this dramatic preparation, he called on me as his volunteer. He had not scripted the scenario where his volunteer was wholly unversed in astral theory and lingo. (Like me!) He was knocked off his rhythm when I could not even formulate a proper question for the panel because I had no idea what astral space was. I would have felt bad if the workshop's blurb had not said it was an introduction to the astral plane which was precisely what I wanted. He recovered quickly, however, and he had the panelists just tell me their first impressions.

Two of them used so much jargon in each sentence that I could not follow what they said. The third took a different tack. He told me simply that I was trying to achieve communion with the supreme being in my dreams but that I was being blocked by some other spirits who were interfering with my astral space. Once I asked him to explain what he meant, he and the other panelists would talk about nothing else. They had found the chief problem with my astral health. I am glad they told me I might never have known. We ran out of time before I could ask how this related to what the first two panelists had said at the beginning.

At the end, they asked me channel the negative energies of the interfering spirits into a balloon, then pop the balloon by stepping on it. This, of course, would free me from their influence. Unfortunately, the balloon refused to pop when I stepped on it. I am hardly a lightweight, but it took nearly a minute of me jumping up and down before it would pop. The poor, tortured thing kept squishing out from under my feet even when I stood squarely on it with both feet at the same time. Pesky spirits die hard, I guess.

In a half-hour sample period, I counted 41 readings and 28 aura healings being conducted. An average of eight people attended each hourly workshop while I was present. Each thing required one ticket per person, and tickets were given out at the front door as "free gifts" in return for "donations" of $12 (or three tickets for $30). Multiply that out by two days (seven hours each) and ten workshops, and the Institute took in over $13,000 not including the additional donations that many attendees gave. Over 80% of attendees that I discreetly polled said their readers or healers had strongly recommended that they take one of the Institute's introductory classes (such as "Meditation," "Women's Intuition," or "Male") to cure some specific ailment or deal with a specific problem that was identified in the session. About one third of these people said they were considering taking the class, yet none could name the tuition price any more specifically than the organizers' common refrain, "an appropriate donation." Polite persistent questioning of several readers failed to uncover a meaningful definition of "appropriate."

The day was fun for all. And they served good coffee for a dollar per (tiny paper) cup.

Posted at 11:51:09 PM | Permalink

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