Well, it was Halloween yesterday, and I've noticed a new phenomenon: people in Australia now celebrating Halloween as a holiday. Far from bemoaning this example of the incresing encroachement of American culture, I really don't mind; anything which manages to hold off Christmas for a while longer has to be a good thing.
For most people it's just an excuse to celebrate a holiday, and why not. But I was amused yesterday when a couple of people told me that they were going to visit psychics or attempting to contact dead relatives, since on Halloween, the boundaries between "us" and the spirit world are thinner than at any other time.
Then I realised that they were serious.
I don't really understand all that stuff. Tarot cards, horoscopes, palm reading - as a Cancer, I don't believe in it. But it's harmless enough. What does irritate me though are psychics.
Often I listen to the radio before going to sleep at night, and once a week my local station has a phone-in show where listeners can put their questions to a psychic. And of course, the psychic always tells them exactly what they want to hear. A listener saying, "My father passed away three years ago, is he watching over me?" will be told, "Yes, I feel your father's presence with you very strongly." Anyone could give answers like that, "psychic" or not.
For once, I'd like to hear a psychic say, "No, your father is far too busy having it off with Marie Antoinette in the afterlife to watch you and your husband arguing about the kitchen renovations." (That's another thing - 90% of the callers are female).
The psychic magazine columnists are even worse. I saw this letter from a reader in one of the columns recently:
Q: I've been single for a long time. I'd love to get married and have a family. Will it happen?
A: The angels say you'll definitely find a loving partner and get married. [Well, the angels were hardly going to say: "Get used to McCain meals-for-one, because that's all you've got to look forward to".] Your angels have been telling you to get out and join a sporting team or take classes so you can combine health and pleasure. [That's a good idea for anyone looking to meet someone new, it doesn't take a psychic to figure that out] Your future husband is looking for a natural woman who is comfortable with herself, laughs easily and doesn't wear a lot of make-up [as opposed to all the men out there seeking a nuerotic, uptight, humourless woman who can't leave the house without spending two hours putting her face on].
...it went on for another few sentences, which I will spare you. You get my point - that response could apply to anyone (there's nothing specific, for example "Look for the man walking a large white dog", that a real psychic might be expected to come up with). And yet, I bet the woman who sent in the letter read the reply, jumped for joy and rushed out to enrol in an Adult learners' course. So what's the harm in that?
The harm is, that psychics make money out of this nonsense. And the people who pay them money are, for the most part, vulnerable, desperate people. They're lonely, bereaved, worried - and willing to pay for any answers. When all they get in return is a psychic responding to cues and spouting vague generalisations, then that's not a good thing. Sure, there are psychics who believe in what they're doing - but there are other groups I could name who don't think that what they do is wrong either.
I should just add, I'm not exactly referring to the small-time psychics, the woman who charges $40 for a reading in a local coffee shop, in this. They aren't exactly getting rich from it all and anyway, may in fact do their customers some good, simply by giving them someone new to talk to. My ire is directed at the big names - we all know who they are: the TV psychics who talk to the dead; the syndicated astrologers whose horoscopes could mean anything to anyone and others taken apart by Penn and Teller.
Still, I'm not exactly letting the small psychic fry off the hook. They are still feeding off the publics' delusions in this stuff. That's why I'm going to start my own radio call-in show. For every question that I'm asked, I'll just pause, and then reply, "Computer says no..." It will be as useful as anything else they've ever heard from a psychic.