By Christy Karras
Friday April 29, 2005
Salt Lake Tribune
Women psychics claim they possess a ‘sixth sense,’ but detractors say it’s all head games.
Reading a friend’s palm for fun years ago, Suzanne Wagner said, “You’re pregnant.”
“No, I’m not,” the friend responded.
“Really, you are,” Wagner said
Soon after, the friend learned she was, indeed, expecting.
That was one of a few memorable experiences Wagner says told her she knew things other people didn’t, in ways other people couldn’t. But raised in a world that doesn’t readily accept notions of a “Sixth sense,” Wagner continued her career as a dancer, then massage therapist.
“I was the reluctant psychic,” said Wagner, now a full-time psychic in Salt Lake City who never wanted to be the stereotypical frizzy-haired freak.
She read Tarot cards and palms as party tricks but didn’t seriously consider doing psychic work for a living until her massage-therapy clients started asking for “just the psychic stuff” she usually passed along while working with them.
Most people in America believe in things they can’t see. They have no problem with the notion of a higher power, life after death or spirits that look out for us. When these beliefs are outside organized religion, they’re more likely to get an eye roll than reverence. But plenty of Utah believes there is more going on than our five senses tell us.
And some are professional psychics, working to learn about worlds beyond our own. They aren’t old women with warts on their noses who hide behind velvet curtains and use crystal balls. Instead, they are “everyday mystic,” living normal lives with kids, ordinary hair and suburban houses.
Boosted by television shows like John Edward’s “Crossing Over,” Court TV’s “Psychic detectives” and the NBC drama “Medium,” psychics are on radio and television and performing at parties.
They have detractors. One vocal critic is James Randi, a former magician who founded a Florida-based organization devoted to countering psychics’ claims. He famously promised $1 million to the first psychic who could scientifically demonstrate his or her powers, a wager he is confident he will win.
“We’re not about to write the check anytime soon,” Randi said. “They simply cannot prove their claims.”
Margaret Ruth, who does a regular spot on radio station X-96 and teaches Tarot and Palmistry through the University of Utah’s Lifelong Learning program, comes form a traditional religious background but spent time in the academic world and learned to question conventional wisdom. She is confident enough of her abilities to ignore the skeptics. “You get eight years of postgraduate work, and everything’s up for grabs. There are many ways to know things,” said Ruth, who lives in Salt Lake City and has two teenage sons.
Psychics themselves say fraud exists. “It’s a little tricky, because there are charlatans in any group,” said Wagner.
Even Randi doesn’t think most psychics set out to defraud people. He says both subject and psychic can be drawn in by “cold readings,” in which psychic throws out general statements and watches for signs that he or she is on the right track. “They’re not necessarily a bunch of frauds. The vast majority of them are perfectly self-deluded.”
Most psychics believe we all have “spirit guides” watching out for us and helping us, if asked. They also believe that anyone can be psychic, with enough time and effort.
“I think we interact with [the metaphysical] more than we realize,” said Pam Michaels, who was reluctant to tell people she was a psychic, partly because her Christian upbringing discouraged it. She cultivated her abilities after visiting psychics herself. Like Wagner, she began as an amateur. “For years, I would just do it to anybody, if I walked up to someone and felt I had information about them. I’d ask if they wanted information, and nobody ever said no.”
At a group reading at the Golden Braid Bookstore in Salt Lake City, Michaels, dressed in denim and seated in the middle of a group of about 40, briefly studies written questions. She sits quietly, concentrating, and then speaks to each questioner, telling them the images the guides give her.
Most want to connect with loved ones who have passed away or want help handling challenges: A woman’s husband refuses to seek medical treatment, and another wants to know how her beloved deceased dog is doing. One-man thanks Michaels for helping him find his remote control, lost for weeks and found in minutes using Michaels’ directions.
Clients typically meet with psychics at home or in an office for a reading. The psychic translates between the physical and metaphysical worlds; the guides communicate feelings, images, and occasionally words. Sessions usually cost $100 an hour.
During a typical reading, Michaels reads Tarot cards and may also ask a client about his or her date, time and place of birth. But her specialty is acting as a medium; she says she can immediately sense a person’s guides, who are sometimes clamoring for attention. Her clients say her abilities are uncanny.
“Pam has a real gift to, I would say, connect,” said Paige Paulsen, who asked Michaels to channel her brother after he died a few months ago. “She would use certain words or phrases that were clearly not her own, that were family terms. More than just the words, I felt his energy there.”
Randi says that perceptions of some psychics’ accuracy is due mostly to people wanting to believe.
Psychics and their clients don’t care what other people think. “Using psychics or channeling is not for everyone. It would only be for people that would find it helpful,” said Paulsen, who said the closeness she felt to her brother was more important than whether the psychic was for real. Based on her own experiences, she will continue to believe.