Back in the mid 1990’s, during the Golden Age of Miss Cleo‘s benevolent reign, my friend Sarah called to announce that she’d landed a job as a telephone psychic. She’d been reading Tarot since her teens and was a natural talent, so going pro seemed like a logical step.
“I’m really excited to be doing something with this skill,” she said. “And who knows? Maybe I’ll get to help people.”
I cooed excitement right along with her, and I pounced on the phone the following evening when she called back to report on her first shift.
“How was it?” I asked.
“THEY ARE PIECES OF PAPER,” she screamed. “LITTLE PIECES OF PAPER WITH DRAWINGS ON THEM.”
Thus ended her career in prophesy.
Sarah approaches divination from a pragmatic, Jungian standpoint (i.e., “Let’s use the pattern created by a random scattering of archetypical symbols to access your subconscious mind and allow you to see what you already know about the matter at hand.”), and she anticipated the same from her clients. Instead, she was pummeled with questions like, “Will my five-year-old survive the surgery?” These callers weren’t seeking objective answers: They were desperate for the relief that comes with good news and were willing to fork over $1.99 for each additional minute until they got it. A few calls in and already emotionally exhausted, Sarah traded her deck for a tattered white flag and disconnected her landline.
Money, as Mam’zelle Lauper reminds us, changes everything. Transactions produce expectations. Just as you wouldn’t pay to have abuse heaped upon you (unless, y’know, you’re into that), people do not pay psychics to say, “Go ahead and pick out a tombstone; the spirits are partial to marble.” To put it in Medieval terms, there’s a reason why the position of Court Astrologer had an unusually high turnover rate and no health insurance.
Sarah’s foray into the “Call Me Now!” industry served as a heady warning whenever I started considering divination as a sustainable source of income. That is, of course, until I was actually presented with the opportunity to make money giving online readings, at which point any cautionary tales were drowned out by my Inner Fortune Whore yelling about celebrity and riches and maybe getting to hang out with Shirley MaClaine.
I don’t remember how we met or why she zeroed in on me, but a few years ago, a professional rootworker I knew peripherally through an occult listserv reached out to see if I’d be willing to take on some clients for her. She was overwhelmed with requests, she said, and needed someone to help her get caught up on the backload. I’d been practicing (and still practice) a relatively abstruse form of divination called geomancy, and while far from having any mastery over it, I was flattered to be recognized for my abilities and happily agreed to assist her.
A few days later, I was contacted by my first client: an earnest young woman with romantic concerns.
“Will my ex-boyfriend and I get back together?” she asked, skipping right to the point.
Her question firmly in mind, I ran a geomantic chart and was pleasantly surprised by the results. A figure translating as “boy” appeared in the area of the chart representing love interests, and the figure also appeared next to the area representing the client herself (where, auspiciously, a figure meaning “girl” had turned up). In other words, her ex would come back to her without any effort on her part. I gave her this information to much praise and remittance, and I thought that was that, until she got back in touch two weeks later with another question.
“I know you said my boyfriend would come back to me, but the last time I talked to him, he said he hated me and never wanted to see me again. Also, he’s dating someone else now.”
Okay, wow. While I’ve occasionally missed the oracular mark, I’d never had a reading go so far south before, much less while on the clock. I braced myself for the inevitable demand for a refund and threats of legal retaliation and negative Yelp review…
“So I’d like to purchase another reading to find out exactly when we’re going to get back together.”
… the actual fuck?
If I’d just received a reading that was basically, “Yes, but only in Bizarro World,” the last thing I’d do is return to the same incompetent fraud for another pile of horse pucky at cost. But hey, the customer is always right, and besides, I was too mortified by the whole fiasco to think clearly enough to say no. So I pulled out a blank chart, got to work, and responded with a blaring disclaimer: “According to A BUNCH OF ARBITRARY NUMBERS I CAME UP WITH BY ROLLING DICE, AND WHICH ARE SOLELY FOR ENTERTAINMENT PURPOSES AND ARE IN NO WAY REFLECTIVE OF MY PERSONAL VIEWS OR OPINIONS, you and your ex will get back together within six weeks.”
She was thrilled. I reluctantly adjusted to my new life as a con artist. And five weeks later, when she emailed to say that she and the ex had unexpectedly run into each other and rekindled their romance, I pulled in the tile and closed up shop.
I’ve read for strangers a couple of times since then, but for the most part, I keep the geomancy to myself, breaking out the dice or pebbles or sheep livers or whatever only when I need unbiased perspective. If recovery has taught me anything (aside from the fact that my own life runs more efficiently when I’m not shitfaced all the damn time), it’s that I’m at my best when I stay within my own hula hoop; when I’m focused on making the right decisions for myself, not taking responsibility for what other people decide to do for (or to) themselves. I forget this when I’m giving readings. I’m far more likely to say, “Here’s how you should handle the possible outcome” instead of, “Here’s a possible outcome, period.” And until I’ve got the punctuation down, I’m not doing anybody any divinatory good.
Some day I’ll be able to look a client in the eye and go, “Welp, the magical dots say it’s syphilis,” then walk away with cash in my pocket and pep in my step. But today is not that day, and this I can accept, although I will admit to being curious as to if and when the day might come.
Anyone want to give me a reading on that?