People have always believed in psychics. 23% of Britons have consulted a psychic according to a YouGov poll and even more have turned to psychics in the ongoing pandemic.
In times of uncertainty, turning to an unseen force removed from human mistakes can be comforting. The idea that psychics and mediums are frauds is pervasive and hard to shake but is it truly so harmful for people to spend their own money to visit a psychic and get a reading when they need guidance?
It’s easy to dismiss psychics as frauds who want money, like Sylvia Brown who recently gained popularity due to a vague claim that may have predicted the 2020 outbreak of Covid-19.
However, she was known for making false claims about missing persons. Can you really dismiss everyone who visits a psychic as someone desperate to believe in lies?
Everyone has to make a living, so can we blame psychics – real or not – for charging a fee? Of course, the idea that it is exploitative because psychics present themselves as real stands even if the same can be said for any organised religion – even if those are protected more than psychic practices that are just as old. Whether it’s religion, or tarot, or a daily horoscope, people like to find something to believe in.
People go to psychics for a number of reasons. They might want information on their future like their love life, their career or their finances.
Open up a horoscope and you might see a phrase like this “Don’t sweat it if you feel like your goals are out of reach today”. If that felt like it applied to you, then you must be a Virgo reading it on the 15th of May 2021, as the horoscope is intended.
That’s impossible though, and that’s because often the phrases used in horoscopes are very vague. You can take them and apply them to yourself and this makes them feel specific which any skeptic will tell you proves exactly why it’s all fraudulent.
A horoscope is not a reading, which can involve anything from studying the palm of your hand to drawing a series of cards from a tarot deck to communing with the dead. If you believe, these readings can give insight into your life. If you don’t, they can feel like vague leaps that you’re forced to match to yourself.
Isn’t that their power? Whether there is true magic to it or just vague wording, the readings bring up your own issues to attach to them. When they do,
Angela Welsh who runs Tarot By Angela in the Northern Quarter of Manchester has been working as a psychic and medium for nearly 30 years. She works in an assortment of ways including tarot, palm and crystal ball readings and works “on a spiritual level”.
She also uses psychometry, which involves doing readings from specific objects such as jewelry and photographs. Angela was born with her psychic abilities and recalled a time from when she was young, saying: “I did pick up about the channel tunnel, I think I was about seven. I’m not sure when it started getting built and that happened but I’ve also picked up that there’s probably more tunnels under the sea at some point in the future as well.”
People often consult psychics when they need guidance or encouragement. Angela spoke about a woman who she’d guided on passing an exam: “I told her she would but it took three attempts and I said don’t give up, keep going back, keep doing that studying, you know. I mean, sometimes life gets in the way and they’ve got emotional problems or confidence problems and then she sent me a message ‘I passed’ and I said, ‘I told you, you keep going you’ve got to push yourself, keep an open mind and it helps’.”
Psychics can serve an important purpose in people’s lives – the encouragement that you can do what you want to do and get through a period of struggling. For people who need encouragement, like the woman passing her exam, a belief in something more than you can see and hear supporting you can be inspiring and relieving.
That isn’t to say psychic claims can’t be fraudulent and unnecessarily upsetting. Famous psychics such as Doris Stokes have been exposed over the years for using a series of techniques such as planting accomplices in their audiences to call upon and even cold reading.
Cold reading involves using a person’s clothing, hairstyle, manner of speech, body language and more to employ high-probability guesses about a person while quickly moving on from incorrect ones. Other mediums like Sylvia Brown made pronouncements about criminal investigations later proven false. Angela spoke about how she doesn’t “tell people about deaths or anything like that” because “it’s a trauma, if somebody’s terminally poorly obviously they’re gonna die. We all are eventually. I just say be there for them, make them comfortable”.
Yet, Sylvia Brown had claimed in November 2004 that the kidnapping victim Amanda Berry was dead. Berry’s mother passed away just two years later believing her daughter had been killed, but Berry was found alive in 2013. It’s an unnecessary and painful thing to tell someone that but for many mediums like Angela, it’s a line they won’t cross.
Angela does use spirit in her work, saying that to some people it “brings comfort to know that their mother or father’s around them”. Others may just be looking for answers and it’s a harmless way for people to believe that their loved ones are looking over them. If they believe, hearing a lost family member is around can help soothe their grief.
However, there is a real risk of people believing that psychic healing can replace medical care. Vulnerable people should be aware that no amount of healing is going to cure serious medical conditions. Day to day psychics don’t usually tout these claims though. Angela spoke about when she performs healing, saying “We’re not allowed to diagnose. Sometimes it makes them better but I can’t say ‘alright, if I give you some healing you’re gonna be 100% better’. You can’t do that.”
Some false psychics can and will exploit their customers with false claims about healing and diagnosis, like Tony Agpaoa. He was arrested and charged for fraud in the United States back in 1968 after pretending to mend a bone in a patient’s neck. Psychic fraud goes back generations and can separate desperate people from their money, but these incidents are awful cases that give the whole psychic gift (or profession, if you don’t believe in it) a terrible reputation.
At the end of the day, mediums and psychics can be hard to disbelieve for some. Angela has experienced people who didn’t believe that eventually changed their minds after a reading.
She said: “There was one gentleman, he was very skeptic. I told him exactly where the pain was in his mother’s ear. There was something going on with his mother’s ear and he said nobody’s known.”, explaining that people do end up believing after a reading. This could be true power or a psychological trick, but how much does that truly matter? Not everyone will believe but it doesn’t change that readings can be so helpful for people. Like the woman who needed the reassurance to pass her exam, many people need that guidance.
It’s not like the majority of psychics present a terrifying and unchangeable future to people. Nothing in a reading is set in stone “because things can change, people can change. They might decide not to go with what they’re guided but most of the time it works”. Having a reading that is tailor-made to you, whether it’s by unseen powers or by vague wording and your own interpretations, can leave a lasting impression to guide you through life.
Angela is honest that some people don’t want to listen. When people come to her with relationship problems, she’ll be honest – “If I don’t see it working, I’ll say I can’t see it working but sometimes they don’t want to hear that. They want to know it’s going to work. They go come, they come back and say ‘It didn’t work, I ended up having to move on but someone got to find out for themself.’”. For some people, hearing a reading on what to do won’t help them but why shame those who find comfort in it?
There is an inherent power to what psychics and mediums like Angela do regardless of how real you think it is. Some people want that guidance that is so easily applied to their own situation and it can be the reassurance they need.
As Angela said: “It’s a form of healing as well when you do readings. It’s about making people feel better, feeling good about themselves and sort of helping to feel more positive about things.”