Leviathan 2: What is the Source of Your Power?

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The source of power in fortune-telling depends on your point of view. By now, you know what I think to be the real magic at play, but the reality is that your sitters will put more trust and confidence in your props than in you. Whether the prop in question is material or immaterial, the fact remains that your sitters will insist on not only looking for it, but trusting in it. You might be skeptical of my claim, but I know this to be true not only from observing it in my sitters, but also in myself. 

On the occasions that I sit for a performance to purge anxiety, indecision, or fear, I temporarily suspend disbelief and give myself over to the fantasy of the fortune-teller. One of the most memorable performances I can recall is one I received from a woman whom I consider one of my Tarot mentors by virtue of what I've learned through her writing. In this performance, the woman performed the "Opening of the Key," a complex method of counting and sorting Tarot cards devised by the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. 

Her performance was just magnificent, and I readily gave myself over to her narrative. Other than citing her intuition and providing a really delightful conversation to put me at ease, she also pointed out coincidental combinations and repetitions of the cards. In the figurative ritual chamber formed by our meeting, I was completely captivated and cherish the feeling of magic I found in her performance

So, what follows are the six props that I've learned sitters will expect to see in a performance. The most successful fortune-tellers will mix and match for best results!

1) The Sight

The first prop is the “sight” of a gifted medium who can communicate with spirits, angels, demons, ascended masters, animal guides, and anything else you can imagine that exists just beyond the veil. Your sitters can't SEE that you have the sight, but if you use the appropriate costuming and presentation they'll convince themselves that it's so. If you're going to use this prop to enhance your performance, then be prepared for the "I want to talk to my dead grandmother" sort of questions. 

Speaking for myself, I don’t ever want to be in the position of pretending to channel dead children for grieving parents, or dead parents for grieving children, so I never use this prop. This prop is also easily disproved by skeptics who invent dead relatives who never actually existed, or who ask for very specific kinds of information such as the location of a lost heirloom or the secret ingredient in a family recipe. You’ve been warned.

2) Divine Patronage

The second prop sitters will insist on seeing is the natural extension of the sight: divine patronage. This prop is similar to the sight, except that instead of only SEEING or HEARING imaginary friends, you're SERVED by imaginary friends, too. The only difference between the sight and divine patronage is that you who perform the deception aren't the friend of your imaginary friend, but the master of your imaginary friend. If you care to do so, you can also play the role of a faith healer since it's your divine patron working through you, but given the potential for civil and criminal liability I recommend that you refuse to play that role. 

3) The Magic Indian & The Magic Vagina

The third prop that sitters will expect to see is actually two that both rest on the same assumption that your birthright is what makes you special. I call these the Magic Indian and the Magic Vagina. Like it or not, but the reality is that a tremendous number of people believe that generally people of color but specifically Haitian and African Blacks, Roma, Native Americans, and Indians possess innate gifts by virtue of their racial heritage, and that’s the Magic Indian prop. This deeply ignorant assumption appears much less frequently for American Blacks, Latinos, Middle Easterners, and Asians for one of only two reasons: they're either assumed to be of low birth and not possessed of the gift, or they're of high birth and have shunned their inborn mysticism in favor of academic achievement. 

Is it easy to manipulate racists by leveraging their ignorance against them? You bet it is. But what I've learned from performing for all kinds of people is that all kinds of people—and more than a few of them people of color—genuinely believe that different races possess unique abilities. This is doubly so if you're a woman, since even the most ignorant people nurture the stereotype that women are more psychic than men, and that's what I call the Magic Vagina effect.

I'm a white man, so the Magic Indian and Magic Vagina props are strictly off-limits to me, but I suppose I can always rely on garden variety racism and sexism which afford me the privilege of people assuming that I'm more capable and better educated than I really am. Like it or not, this is the world in which we live. 

You can pretend that these props don’t exist If it makes you feel better, but I promise that your sitters will use them even if you don't. If you still feel bad about using either of these props in your performances, then just think of yourself as a tax collector levying a fee against stupidity.

4) Mutant X-Gene

The fourth prop that your sitters will look for is an outward sign or indicator to show that you were either born into your abilities, or you spontaneously developed them later in life. For example, you can say that you were born a psychic because you're the seventh daughter of a seventh daughter and were initiated to your psychic ability by your grandmother. It sounds hokey, but there are some sitters who genuinely want to believe this.

A variation on inborn abilities is horrific injuries and debilitating illnesses. Many people fetishize illness and will very quickly believe that people born with crippling injuries and debilitating health conditions, or who acquired the same later in life, have "crossed the veil and returned with the wisdom of the sages" or have been “touched by the gods.” These are the same people who get all porny about physically disabled people competing in the special Olympics because their injuries, disabilities, or illnesses make them super-duper extra-special. Just think about that for a minute and let the implications sink in.

5) Haunted Relics

The fifth prop is the belief that the material tool you use to perform your deception is itself possessed of some kind of intelligence or awareness. This is called the haunted prop, and consequently your sitters expect you to treat your deck of Tarot cards as if it were an enchanted Bible overflowing with sacred knowledge. Perhaps your tool is haunted by an imaginary friend who was a Native American shaman on the American prairies? Or maybe your tool is possessed by the spirit of a wise herbalist who was burned as a witch in England? I'm dead serious when I say that I've seen these exact props used by fortune-tellers who were making a full-time income performing their practiced deceptions. Incidentally, this is a convenient way to insert both the Magic Indian and the Magic Vagina into your performance—the number of (frequently white) people who swallow this bait hook, line, and sinker never fails to astonish me.

If you don't want to pretend that an imaginary friend lives in your deck of cards, then you can always take the more nebulous but still satisfying approach of saying that your deck has acquired your personal energy over the years and as a result has gained a limited degree of psychic awareness which allows it to access secret knowledge. This variety of the haunted prop is particularly useful when dealing with sitters who consult you for the same question over and over, because sooner or later you’ll make a prediction that doesn't jive with what you said in a previous performance. When your sitter points out this inconsistency, they're not calling your performance broken, but are actually giving you an opportunity to put it back together. 

In this case, the Haunted prop is useful because it allows you to say, "I warned you against asking this question too many times, and now the deck is irritated and refuses to cooperate." There are other ways to say it, but they're all the equivalent of shaking a Magic 8 Ball and the answer coming up, "Ask again later." I enjoy using this prop and make liberal use of it in my performances.

6) The Grand Coincidence

The sixth prop that your sitters will search for is the “grand coincidence.” This prop requires verbal cues to remind the sitter of its operation, and this is why it benefits you as a fortune-teller to learn how to build complex labyrinths. By following an elaborate system of divination, you can during the performance of a deception point to all the interesting coincidences that emerge: Look at how these two cards are connected!, Do you see the sympathy between these two cards?, Observe the pattern that emerges from these numbers!, and so on. This prop is my personal favorite and I use it in all of my performances. You can use this prop even without learning a set method of cartomancy, but learning a set method makes this prop much easier to use.


The reason I discuss these props is to show you all the ways that both sitters and fortune-tellers blind themselves to the fact that thus far in recorded history not a single fortune-teller, psychic, seer, holy-man or -woman has yet to win the lottery through occult methods. This ought to be a very simple test: it's held every week, is officially sanctioned by the state-approved corporation which administers it, and is participated in by the purchase of an inexpensive ticket. How many lotteries are administered around the world on a weekly basis? Thousands? And how many lottery draws are conducted monthly? Hundreds of thousands? The sheer frequency and quantity of chances afforded to fortune-tellers to prove their worth by merely divining a short series of numbers ought to produce a successful divination even by accident, and yet... nothing. 

But the funniest thing to me is that in all the years that I've read Tarot, I've actually never been asked a single time by any client why I myself haven't won the lottery. There've been maybe a dozen sitters who've asked me to divine lotto numbers, but nobody ever thought to ask me why I myself haven't won the lottery. On the rare occasion that the question of fortune-tellers playing the lottery has come up, it's been in the company of other fortune-tellers who were discussing the matter in some distant corner of the Internet. Mostly because it amuses me to see how far I can push fortune-tellers who should know better, the answer I always give is that an intensely focused mind has the power to shift reality, and considering how many minds are intensely focused on so many different lottery numbers, this creates a massively intense vortex of mental energy which confounds divination. Of course, going by this logic it’s impossible to divine almost anything, but we needn’t bring that up, hmm?

Or consider the famous skeptic Mr. James Randi and all the years he spent trying as hard as he possibly could to give away $1,000,000 to anybody who could demonstrate psychic abilities in a controlled setting according to rules agreed upon by both the challenger and the examiner. Most famously there was an occasion many years ago when James Randi challenged the medium Sylvia Browne on the TV show Larry King Live to claim his money. To everybody's surprise, she agreed, but to nobody’s surprise backed out and her reason why is because she just didn't know how get in touch with Mr. Randi. In the words of Mr. Randi himself, "Hello! She talks to dead people!" Perhaps it was for the best, because in the end nobody ever did claim his money. Last I heard, Mr. Randi ended the challenge and put the money to better use as a grant-making foundation.

Does this mean that fortune-telling is completely without merit? Well, that depends on your perspective. If you're like me, then you embrace fortune-telling as a useful deception that can provide a much-needed service to both yourself and your sitters. So what if it it's all in your head? That doesn't mean that you can't gain anything from it. Fortune-telling performed in the style of a ritual during which disbelief is temporarily suspended can help one to purge anxiety and fear as well as regain lost perspective. What makes this possible? The props. Learn and use these props, because they're the tools which enhance your deception and permit both you and your sitters to believe in the impossible.