When I was six years old, I had a knights-and-princesses-themed birthday party. I remember seeing my mom dressed up as a fortune teller to ensure that my best friend and I would have an authentic and magical medieval experience. As a kid, I wholeheartedly believed that there was some kind of magical future-predicting force out there. I was mesmerized by the crystal ball, a decorative mantelpiece repurposed for the party, and I asked her to tell me if I would survive the workload required of the second grade.
As a 21-year-old university student I now understand that my mother was not, in fact, a psychic with unique insight into my scholastic performance, but my sixth birthday party stirred a long-held interest in the supernatural.
Diviners and the practice of divination originated in ancient times across the globe, when supernatural practitioners often held roles in government to advise the highest-ranking authorities. From the augurs of ancient Rome to the oracles and seers of ancient Greece, psychics served as conduits through which the gods communicated with humankind. Les Propheties, a collection of prophecies divined by French seer Michel de Nostredame and published in 1555, was interpreted to have predicted major world events like the French Revolution, the Second World War’s deployment of the atomic bomb, and even the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The popular press and his supporters have hailed de Nostredame—celebrated under his more popular title, Nostradamus—as the original, authentic psychic. While his predictions were characteristically vague and, in some cases,intentionally mistranslated, his posthumus fame still reigns almost 500 years later, a testament to a fervent and scandalous interest in the supernatural.
However, even if they were once considered pivotal to the functioning of ancient societies, modern-day psychics with supposed extra-sensory perception (ESP)—better known as a sixth sense or supernormal awareness—are shrouded in doubt and claims of fraudulence from the skeptical contemporary public. Cases of psychic fraud have even made headlines in Canada and the United States: Last month, a Maryland county court convicted psychic Gina Marie Marks of felony theft with damages amounting to $340,000. Five former customers accused her of stealing from them to cure them of “curses” they purportedly carried. Last August, Soriba Camara, a Montreal con artist, convinced a man to give him $80,000 under the pretense of increasing his client’s odds at winning the lottery. Camara was posing as a psychic and advertised his ability to solve customers’ financial or romantic problems in a local newspaper.
Stories of fraud aren’t the only things that make us wary of having our fortune told: The scientific community routinely publishes studies that reinforce public skepticism by putting psychic claims to the test. Even déjà vu, a mystical feeling familiar to most people—and probably the most eerie occurrence that even skeptics experience—has recently been debunked. Déjà vu is a memory phenomenon that occurs when an individual is presented with a scenario that is similar to an original memory that they are unable to recall. On March 1, researches at Colorado State University created virtual reality scenarios using the The Sims 2 (2004) video game to explain the phenomenon of déjà-vu. In the game, the team at Colorado State University were able to prompt déjà-vu by showing people scenes that differed slightly but were spatially similar to ones they had seen before.
Despite a wealth of publications vehemently disproving psychic abilities, it is difficult to completely extinguish doubt. A burning curiosity encourages us to wonder: “What if it could still be real?”
The popular image of TV-special psychics charging exorbitant prices for an unmethodical, fake service has shaped public perceptions of psychics. Sam Mathews, U3 Chemical Engineering and psychic denier, expressed his disinterest in consulting a psychic.
“I would not visit a psychic because it’s [a pseudoscience],” Mathews said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “Way above the level of psychics, I like to think I have more of a free will [than they say]. They also give very general [advice] like you will have success three years from now, and you fill in the gaps [yourself.]”
The run-of-the-mill, homogenous, and generic advice offered in many supernatural readings is one reason why people choose not to consult psychics. Alanna Miller, U3 Pharmacology, agreed that visiting a psychic or a mystic goes against her inclination that actions shape the future.
“I don’t think I would go,” Miller said. “Mostly because as a science student, I’m founded much more in science than in [mysticism.…] I’d like to believe I have some control over what happens to me and that there’s some sort of spontaneity [and] that my actions dictate what happens to me, not a set of cards.”
Yet, curiosity is a popular motivation for many. Maël Mauchand, a first-year master’s student in Neuroscience, admitted that he would visit a psychic out of general interest.
“I would go, mostly out of curiosity,” Mauchand said. “I think as soon as you get told something about your future, it will influence your future.”
Montreal, a vibrant and diverse city that has space for just about anything and anyone, is a hub of ESP activity. The city hosts numerous psychics, offering a variety of services ranging from tarot readings, to fortune telling, to palm readings, and reaching out to spirits beyond the grave. The community includes practitioners who work part-time and full-time as psychics.
Dominique Arganese is a medium and psychic, meaning that she both mediates communication between spirits and humans, and identifies hidden information such as another person’s thoughts using ESP. She offers services in clairvoyance, spirituality, and esotericism—a rather vague body of knowledge that describes mystical and spiritual points of view as part of a movement toward a world-view that negates the disenchantment of natural phenomena through frameworks like science and embraces enchantment as an alternative. Previously featured on MTL Blog for her work as both a psychic and model, Arganese has a strong social media presence with close to 6,000 Instagram followers, uncharacteristic of most mediums.
Arganese works as a psychic part-time, and focuses the remainder of her days on her esoteric—meaning symbolic or mystical in this instance—online ring business. Arganese’s specialty is reading tarot cards.
Although she didn’t acknowledge her abilities until later in her life when she foresaw the death of the father of one of her friends, Arganese says that clairvoyance is a gift that runs in her family.
“It’s a family thing from my Italian side,” Arganese said in an interview with The McGill Tribune. “My grandfather was a healer and his brother is still a psychic in Rome. At first I didn’t really know about that, so [my sister and I] were doing the cards when we were young, and everything we were saying was [coming true].”
Arganese’s client base is mostly female aged from 17 and 65. While she works primarily through referrals from her established customers, Arganese also attracts clients through her online boutique. She delivers thorough readings in person, which differ from the stereotypical call-in programs that people tune into on long highway drives.
“I was asked to do my own TV programme,” Arganese said. “[But] when I saw the show, I was like, ‘that’s just not how it works.’ You can’t talk to 10 people on the phone within 20 minutes. It’s impossible. And you can’t say stuff that’s really going to help [people].”
In the psychic business, the divide between financially-motivated psychics and those driven by a sense of vocation makes it difficult for customers to experience a standard quality of service across the board. Finding a good psychic, according to Arganese, is akin to pulling a needle out of a haystack.
“Psychics are misunderstood because I think that at least half of the psychics just want to make money, and the other half actually want to help people,” Arganese said. “I don’t think that I’m like other psychics. I don’t read the future, I don’t sell dreams, [and] I don’t say that things will happen if I don’t feel them. It’s more philosophy, using my cards, [it’s] a spiritual awakening in people, this is what I do. With the tarot cards I can add visions of the future, but you can change your future at any time you want.”
While tarot cards are common practice across the board, a number of psychics specialize in alternative healing techniques for their clients. Offering her services in both Montreal and LaSalle, Nora Love and Light is a specialist in Reiki—a Japanese healing technique that reduces stress and promotes relaxation. Although she has worked as a psychic, certified Reiki master, and energy healing therapist for the past nine years, it had never been a part of Nora’s plan.
“This is not what I did all my life,” Nora said. “It’s been nine years, doing [this]. But was that ever my dream? No. Never in my life I would have thought that I would be reading tarot or [working as a] psychic.”
Nora worked in market research prior to opening up her psychic business. She received what she described as a calling to practice Reiki and to help people.
“I had a big job but then life changed […] and then in 2009 I lost everything. Everything,” Nora said. “I started becoming very religious [and] was guided to do Reiki. It was like a calling.”
Nora’s goal as a psychic is to guide her clients toward their true potential through tarot readings, personalized coaching, and workshops, in an attempt to help them manifest their ideal life.
“My clients are mostly people [who] are in the state of awakening,” Nora said. “Mostly the clients [who] come just want messages on what to do next, where to go next. I don’t tell people they’re going to get married. I teach people that they create their life through the law of attraction. As I’m doing the guidance, I see where they’re blocked […] and I can help people manifest what they want."
Nora sees her role as one of providing guidance rather than predicting fortunes. She prescribes her clients exercises and activities to foster their spiritual growth even after their appointments.
“My catchphrase is, ‘let me help you help yourself,’” Nora said. “I can help people guide [themselves,] but it’s up to them to take [my guidance] or not. The message is more advice. I trust that the clients that need to see me will come and see me. They listen to their intuition and they come here. I don’t want regular clients, because they come back for the same answers."
Ultimately, there is no reconciling the wealth of disparate opinions and knowledge regarding ESP. In the age of mass media and misinformation, psychic believers can find articles that claim to prove the paranormal. While many psychics hold a negative reputation for their work as scammers and con artists, lumping all practitioners into a single category is unfair and ignorant.
Though I may not be a believer in mysticism or paranormality, I am not a complete skeptic either. I can appreciate that there are outliers who really are trying to help and guide their clients, similar to life- and wellness-coaches. Psychic work joins homeopathy under the larger umbrella of the pseudosciences. And while pseudosciences may not be considered true sciences or grounded in reason, people still feel that they work and that they can derive peace of mind from the comfort they provide.
So maybe visiting a psychic won’t tell you whether you’ll have a spring or a winter wedding, or if you’re going to nail that job interview, or even if you’re going to pass the second grade—but you might leave the services of someone like Arganese or Nora with a greater sense of self-confidence and an idea of what step to take next in the face of hardship.
And whether or not you’re planning on visiting a psychic in Montreal, the consensus among students and psychics alike, is that the individual ultimately manifests what’s in their own cards.