I spent two days at Toronto's spring psychic fair last weekend, sitting through lectures on crystals, watching a former investment banker channel angels, and learning that Visual Basic is perfectly capable of reaching into my soul.
The psychic fair is a bit of a money pit. Admission costs $15, and half-hour sessions with mediums, witches, angel card readers, and self-described "gypsies" run anywhere from 40 to 85 bucks. My student budget limited me to $4 readings from a computer program and a booth full of free UFO literature calling for a massive forced-sterilization campaign.
Technology is revolutionizing the psychic world. While not everyone's a fan of opening up digital channels to the spirit realm, it's definitely bringing down prices. Distance healing, over phone or Skype, has been available for both humans and pets for years. But computers are capable of replicating pretty much anything a psychic can do, with roughly the same level of accuracy. Or at least that's what Tom Dyer tells me.
Dyer has been on the psychic fair circuit for about 27 years, and says he does as much as 40 shows annually. He says it's "a grind," and "another day at the mill." He types my name and birthday into his laptop and takes my palm reading with a scanner. Within seconds, a laser printer spits out a five-page reading, complete with biorhythms, palm analysis, a "love scope," and a computerized Celtic Cross using both the Major and Minor Arcana.
"It's numerology of your name combined with astrology of your date of birth," he says. "That page will be over 80 percent accurate."
"How is that verified?" I ask.
"There's all sorts of testing we've been through. This promoter doesn't bother testing us anymore," he says. "I have the psychics look at it."
"Like a council of psychics?"
"Yeah. I shouldn't be saying this, but probably I'm more accurate than most of the psychics here."
He doesn't want to give away a lot of information about how the computer program works. Apparently, it's made in the Netherlands.
"I'm the only one in North America that has a copy of the program, and I don't want to let anyone else become competitors."
At the bottom of each page, with the exception of the obviously more sophisticated palm analysis, there's a link to "http://free.unicornsystemz.com."
A few steps away, I meet one of his competitors. KarmicDNA will give you a free sample reading of your "life purpose," using software they got some programmer to build using Visual Basic, a programming language that had it's heyday in the 90s.
Richard Leach is the "inventor" of KarmicDNA and the algorithms that make it happen. Well, actually, it was "given to him," his assistant tells me. I ask who gave it to him. She just looks up.
"Richard is the downloader," she says, "it was downloaded to him."
Leach says he used to do all the calculations himself, without any technological assistance, but figured he was wasting his time. Now he does life coaching and helps people interpret their results. He also claims he can cure cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and fibromyalgia, and has the pamphlets to prove it.
Psychic fairs are where spiritual entrepreneurs come to market their business ventures. The free lecture series running through all three days of the fair offers the ideal promotional opportunity. Self-declared prophet Elizabeth Rose already speaks the right language, having recently left pension fund management to devote herself to transmitting messages from Jesus to middle-aged women everywhere.
"As I was clawing my way up the corporate ladder I got a spiritual kick in the arse. I was shocked by spirit," she tells a standing-room-only audience. "My book describes my path...It's kind of a how to. Whatever I did you can do too...You all have special gifts."
A couple women in the audience nod in agreement.
"Jesus appeared to me on Palm Sunday, 2012," she says. "It came as a shock. He said, 'You have a book to write.' And that began the journey. So I became a hypnotist. I specialize in past life regression. The next book I'm writing is all about historical research using past life regression."
A few minutes later her eyes close and start flickering while her head and arms start jerking around.
"Yes, Elizabeth, we're with you right now," she, or something, says. "And we're going to make a demonstration. We're going to show people how you move. We are healing, we are healing, we are healing. And thus we heal: through Elizabeth. She's a channel to God, Jesus, and the angels and the archangels. And all who come today are getting healed on an energetic level. There's a holy host of angels working on all of you now."
"I just did channeling. Now you know what channeling looks like."
Elizabeth has many other powers, including astral traveling.
"I collided with a past-life husband from Naples, from 1800. It was intense," she says. "You haven't experienced it until you're on the astral plane."
I assume that "it" was astral sex, but can't really be sure.
Leaving investment banking was a big financial hit, she tells me. Now she runs a healing centre in Saint John, New Brunswick, a new venture she refers to as her "start-up" and "an investment in Christ."
"My healing centre is his church," she says. "The money will come, but it's not about being wealthy anymore. It's about higher consciousness, but there's a price. It costs money to live in this world at this time. It's not about being affluent. Unless that serves."
Rose was probably the highlight of the lecture series. I also made it through a talk about raising "crystal children," an introduction to moonology, various topics relating to crystals, energy and vibrations, and a detailed account of the afterlife. The afterlife expert came all the way from Ireland. She communicates with the other side through her two spirit guides. One is a Maori woman and the other is a sixteenth-century French doctor named François. She says he helps her heal people. This might seem dangerous given that bloodletting and exorcism were still the go-to treatments back in François's day, but she says he's been keeping up with the latest medical developments in physical reality.
Some people really are here out of conviction, hoping to make the world a better place. The FIGU people are probably the best example. They don't try to sell anything and give out free pamphlets with titles like "Appeal to All Conscientious People" and "What All Human Beings of Earth Should Know!"
Being a conscientious person and a human being of Earth, I decided to spend some time with Michael, who's really into UFOs and thinks that a race of aliens called the Pleiadians have visited a Swiss man named Billy about 250 times.
"For me it's real," he says. "I don't care what anyone else believes."
FIGU is the acronym for "Free Interest Community for Fringe and Spiritual Sciences and UFO Studies" in German. German is a sacred language for FIGU because it was actually developed by the extra-terrestrial Lyrians, and contains a subliminal code that "releases impulses from the storage-banks which reach the reader and begin to work evolutionary in him or her."
The Pleiadians basically look like us, a FIGU lady with a braided side ponytail tells me, except that they have slightly longer earlobes. They've been warning Billy about the dangers of rising population levels for decades. But no one wants to listen, predominantly due to the influence of "overpopulation-mongers," a group that seems to include churches and famine relief charities. A pamphlet provides a list of 106 causes of the current crisis, including "failure to identify truth," "hatred of any type," "bloodthirstyness," "homicidal mania," "exaggerated ebullience," "general mismanagement," "government confusion" and "any type of confusion."
The pamphlet contains a proposal for getting our numbers down to the 529 million required for harmony with the Earth. If Billy gets his way, only married people will be allowed to have children, and only if they can provide "proof of irreproachable conduct" and assurances that they have "no affiliation with extremist or subversive groups," a category that presumably does not include FIGU. Offenders would be subject to fines of ten years salary and forced sterilization. The pamphlet does note that the proposal is only one among many, but insists that the alternative is a reality "brutal, inhuman, and hostile to one's fellowman and life."
The most convincing medium I met was "Gypsy Kathleen." The other "gypsy" fortuneteller at the fair just uses the title as a marketing strategy, but Kathleen seems to have at least some claim to it. She's Irish, and says she "was born in the straw – like our Lord."
"I was born on the side of the road and I will die on the side of the road," she says. So, even if she's probably not Roma (the origin of the Irish "Travellers" is disputed), she's basically the kind of "gypsy" that Brad Pitt played in Snatch.
Kathleen comes from a long line of mediums. She claims her grandfather was one of the most illustrious psychics in Ireland. And she's pretty old school. I ask her what she thinks about the over-the-phone readings some psychics are turning to.
"Well that's no good! That's only for money, not for tellin' sombody's fortune," she said. It simply wouldn't be as accurate.
Kathleen doesn't use any technology, except for her 300-year-old crystal ball. She doesn't even have Tarot Cards, which she views as a gimmick.
"You don't have to use all these trinkets if you're good. And I am good – I'm well known in Ireland."
In these troubled times for the fellowmen of Earth, when programmers and corporate lingo are changing the way we commune with the beyond, it's good to see that at least someone is still doing things the old-fashioned way.
Follow Arthur White on Twitter.