“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” – William Shakespeare, Hamlet
Humankind has grappled with the concept of belief for as long as we’ve had cognitive thought. We pose questions to ourselves, to each other, to all-seeing, all-being gods and deities, hurtling enquiries out into the universe and praying for impending clarity. What is truth? What is good? Am I worthy? What defines my worth, and what is my purpose? Who and what do I believe, and why? Our quest for enlightenment is made even murkier by the oft-unseen nature of who or what it is we worship.
Like many others, I’ve long held a mild fascination with the zodiac; the belief that distant cosmic objects – planets and stars – have a direct impact on the people we are and the lives we lead. I’ve casually read my star sign for years (sensitive, intuitive, moody: Cancer) but recently this attraction has taken a turn for the obsessive. I check my monthly horoscope religiously and spout phrases such as, “that’s pretty understandable though, coming from a Leo”, and “that text was weird but, also, remember Mercury is in retrograde”. I fear my head is well and truly in the stars, and research indicates I am not alone.
Adherence to organised modes of worship declines statistically year on year. But while we may be losing our religion, we are still clinging to our spirituality – a fascination with astrology, tarot and psychics remains on the rise. At last measure, the psychic services industry was found to be worth $2 billion annually in the USA alone, with figures increasing steadily by the year. Paranormal paraphernalia has also gained mainstream appeal, not least on the runways, where Maria Grazia Chiuri’s Resort 18 collection for Christian Dior found inspiration in the tarot, and the cosmic prints and Matrix-style eyewear at Prada SS 18 amounted to a considered nod towards the futuristic.
Open any smartphone and you’re likely to find an app for astral guidance – perhaps Co-Star or Susan Miller’s Astrology Zone – and spiritual mentors on Instagram have found masses of eager followers. So has the psychic services industry naturally expanded to fill the organised religion-sized hole in our faith make-up? Has technology simply made the practice more accessible? Or could there be something else drawing us towards the stars? And, importantly: whether driven by trends or otherwise, could putting our faith in the energy of the universe reward us with true enlightenment?
I decided to go to the source, not only in the name of research, but because I, too, was craving direction, clarity and some kind of framework following a frenetic year. Perhaps more pressingly, though, I wanted some insight into the type of person I would be at the end of it all: a staunch sceptic or a vocal believer.
The Psychic Medium
I begin with a phone appointment with Sydney-based psychic medium Christine Rose. Rose, who has come highly recommended by a friend, uses her psychic or intuitive abilities to see the past, present and future events in a person’s life by tuning into the spirit energy surrounding that person. Rose picks up my call immediately and launches into conversation, like an auctioneer at a property sale, beginning with some quick numerology. “You’re a triple nine so you’re very generous – probably a little too generous sometimes, darling; people would take advantage of you. I feel like you’d rather people be brutally honest than tell you a lie …”
She asks me about an older woman who has passed away on my mother’s side of the family. She feels a presence and confirms they’re watching out for my family and I. “Remember, they’re not supposed to interfere with what you come to this plane to learn, unless you give them permission, which means ask for help. So, get out there and do what you need to do for yourself.”
Much of Rose’s divination is grounded in reciprocity – she asserts that I “already know” certain character traits or life lessons, or “need to follow my own path”, and her role is more a facilitator of present action rather than a dictator of the future, but it is clear that much of her appeal is for those looking to forge connections with loved ones in other dimensions: she tells me many clients come for readings specifically to make contact with family or friends who have passed away.
When our hour-long conversation is finished I am exhausted, my life now spread out in great detail before me. Some parts are general enough to ignore, others specific enough to induce full body shivers. I walk home grappling with my newfound enlightenment and text my oldest friend, a vocal sceptic and often my voice of reason. “I spoke to a psychic!” I typed. “Lol, I bet she told you you’re going to have three kids,” she texted back instantly. I froze – Rose had said I would have three children.
The Tarot Card Reader
The next day I visit the studio of tarot card reader and psychic Sarah Barry. The room she works in looks exactly as you’d imagine – crocheted throws are lain across lounge chairs and strung up on walls; a vast selection of Pukka teas is displayed in a corner cabinet and the pervading scent of incense lingers. Barry is wearing a multi-coloured fluoro dress and has rubber serpents threaded through her earlobes. In terms of face value, I’m more than happy.
“People can get really addicted to it,” Barry explains of the tarot, the practice of using a deck to help understand the past, present or future by asking questions of the cards and interpreting their meaning. “Essentially tarot reading, or the way that I like to work, it’s just a catalyst for transformation – it’s a place where information can be shared. But there is this point where people need to kind of walk it themselves and trust their intuition and not be in a weird power with the reader. Because the last thing that I want to be is put on a pedestal for anyone … I want to be like a good check-in point, somewhere they can collect their thoughts, they can get inspired or can get clear about things.”
Barry is similarly candid throughout the reading, a practice she learnt intuitively rather than by book. She, like Rose, says she works with a vast range of different types of people. “Sometimes people think that there’s a very specific kind of market, but [it’s] just because they haven’t really had that conversation with other people around them so there are all these assumptions,” she says.
So, what compels people to seek answers from a deck of cards? “I guess it’s just a place for people to really connect with someone in a really unique way. I know people that do … come for readings [and are] also really great at taking care of their inner growth needs. So they will be seeing a psychologist or psychiatrist at the same time, but it’s a different kind of reflection … What I get to do is just kind of be a bit more loose and creative and kind of shine a light on what I’m feeling for them up ahead.”
The Reiki Healer
It’s at the recommendation of a colleague that I visit Face Plus Medispa at Bondi beach for a Reiki session with practitioner Tania Dobbie. Though not strictly a platform of paranormal engagement, Reiki is based on an understanding of universal connection – the idea that there is an inherent energy to the universe and, if we allow ourselves to tap into it, we are able to find healing within it. Dobbie explains when I receive this form of hands-on healing, she will receive the energy as well.
“Your body is like a house and everything you’ve felt in your life or you’ve experienced, there’s been a breath associated with it. So if it’s fear, if it’s joy, you’re always taking these breaths … and we have this kind of karmic energy that travels until someone breaks the cycle,” she says. “When I put my hands on you, I might feel pain in my body and my hands, but it just tells me there’s something going on there with you … it gives the body permission to let it go.”
Dobbie explains that every person is endowed with a gift – healing (like Dobbie), prophetic (able to predict the future) or visual (can see auras, etc). “I’ll know when I touch you, your body will tell me whatever it is that’s ready to go,” she says, and I await the energy reception in silence. At one point my legs feel as though they are on fire, but I remember Dobbie saying that physical side effects are just the body’s way of letting go of negative or toxic energy. She tells me after the therapy that she could feel I was very sensitive and I had a healing gift. “Don’t overthink it,” she says. “You’re very determined and you’ll know it when you feel it.”
“You’re looking for answers, and you’re looking to get some structure around what on earth is happening, and what is the purpose for this …”
When I meet astrologer Molly Talbot she already knows much more about me than I about her. On booking, she had requested the date, location and minute of my birth. By the time I arrive at her apartment in Sydney’s northern beaches she has mapped out my natal chart – that is, where the planets were in their journey around the sun, from the perspective of our location on Earth, at the exact minute I was born.
Talbot explains that she forms a picture of her clients from where the planets land on their chart – this dictates their signs, the primary ones being their sun sign (the most dominant, and what you’d refer to as your star sign), their rising sign (I learn mine is Scorpio) and their moon sign (Capricorn). “Even just based on that you can tell an awful lot about an individual.
“Your creativity is certainly being heightened in a significant kind of way, and also your intuition,” she tells me, pointing to lines on my own chart. When I mention to Talbot that I’ve always felt a bit psychic she emphatically agrees. “Oh, you are, you’re very tuned in. That Scorpio and ascendant Pluto … something of a psychologist here,” she laughs. “Very curious about people and life, and always feeling like you’re reinventing yourself, you like to be challenged to grow …
“There’s a very strong cycle in astrology for the ‘seven-year itch’ … so you can say that almost anything you’ve been doing for six years, by the eighth year you’ve made the changes. In relationships and career and things like this.”
Talbot first began studying astrology in 1978 and has noticed growing interest in the practice in recent years. She likens it to the generational shifts of the late 60s – when humans walked on the moon, Martin Luther King and JFK were assassinated and post-World War II idealism was coming to an end – and the late 80s, when the Berlin wall fell and computerised living became more prevalent in our lives. Times when the world as people had known it had been spun on its axis, coinciding with a noticeable shift in consciousness. “When that happens, I think people just go ‘what’s going on?’ It’s kind of like they want a framework, or some understanding.
Reflecting on the environmental and political crises of the past few years, I think this sounds convincing. “I feel like that’s where we get a lot of difficulties in the world, now we’ve got so many generations living on the planet, you know,” she continues. “How do we manage to cater to those who grew up in the wars versus those who are now living in a whole different world?
“You’re looking for answers, and you’re looking to get some structure around what on earth is happening, and what is the purpose for this … I think that’s one of the great gifts of astrology, to be honest, I think it excels above anything else I know. Because it gives timing, it tells you what it is you’re meant to be developing or exploring or experiencing at this particular time, and ways to deal with it.”
Weeks later, I am still checking my horoscope. Not because I need to, but because I find value, fun even, in reflecting on what has been and what could be.
There will always be people who laugh at the prospect of psychic insights. But who selects the invisible media we’re allowed to believe in, and those we’re not? At the heart of it all is a faith that the universe is alive and that we are all in some way in communion with it.
What I found most appealing about this exercise was not necessarily uncovering the intimate details of my future life, but of being able to ask the questions in the first place. Because, and there’s no less narcissistic way of putting this, it’s nice to have someone want to talk about you. Humans have a fundamental need to be understood – it’s one of the main reasons we seek out higher powers – and to come into contact with a person who will listen to your concerns and attempt to offer guidance is intoxicating.
A little introspection can go a long way, and if an astrology reading or tarot card analysis is the catalyst for some bigger-picture thinking, it’s something I’ll happily keep indulging in.
I guess that’s pretty understandable though – I am a Cancer after all.