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A Psychometry Reading

The Good Word

Karen Stollznow

April 12, 2010

Metaphysical Fairs are places where immortality and the end of the world are compatible…

The Denver Metaphysical Fair is just like any other Spiritual, New Age, or Holistic Fair, Fete, or Festival. It is a sea of spiritual stereotypes and contradictions. For all the yoga-sculptured bodies there are plump people pushing cellulite reduction and weight-loss remedies; and for every fruitarian there are patrons munching on hot dogs and guzzling cola.

This is where you can experience enlightenment, destiny, and eternal life, as long as it’s before 2012.

This was a weekend of New Age seminars and workshops, including healing classes using everything from “horse energy” and “angelic sounds” to essential oils and crystal skulls. This was where one could also “experience the centering meditation of walking the labyrinth,” “sit still and find peace in your being” in the Meditation Room, “Do Your Own Reading” with the decks of tarot cards and runes supplied, or join the “Community Drumming Circle.”

The plenary speaker was Dannion Brinkley, author of Saved by the Light and At Peace in the Light. Following a near death experience, he devotes his time to terminally ill patients, telling them “There is no such thing as death.” His “paranormal” experience reads like an acid trip:

After being struck in the side of the head by a bolt of lightning in 1975, at the age of 25, Dannion found himself traveling down a tunnel and into a brilliant Light. There he witnessed a panoramic review of his entire life on Earth. Afterwards, he was taken to a luminous Crystal City. There, within a Hall of Knowledge, Thirteen Beings of Light infused Dannion’s consciousness with visions of the world to come, and charged him with the spiritual mission of establishing Healing Centers on the Earth. Then, against his will, 28 minutes later, Dannion was returned to his lifeless body. Since that fateful evening in 1975, Dannion has been on an incomparable spiritual odyssey.

But this is where the keynote speakers talk of Armageddon. Brinkley presented “Beyond 2012.” However, reading his abstract, it was difficult to ascertain whether he believed the end of the world was nigh, or nay:

As we are shifting from the fourth dimension into the fifth, and on to the ninth, a belief in our interconnectedness with all things now becomes essential. Quantum dynamics urges us to shift away from a polarity-based paradigm into a state of conscious openness. As the active movement of this shift makes itself known between 2008 and 2012, this unified field of consciousness will gradually become a part of our everyday reality. What we create will carry us into the future.

Like the Mind Body Spirit Festival that skeptics dub the Mind Body Wallet Festival, the modest entrance fee only entitles you to spend an immodest amount of money on paranormal and pseudoscientific practitioners and purveyors.

But the vendors don’t just sell boring crystals and incense anymore... now they push carved stone totem animals, bio-energetic medicine, etherically charged water, bionic bands, aura portraits, smudge sticks, pet crystals, 8-52 chakra activation, and “powerful negative crystal salt lamp ionizers that rid the air of dust, pollen, bacteria and neutralize EMF waves”. The line between belief and business is blurred with the commercial cult recruitment of the Church of Scientology, Happy Science, Shumei International Institute, First Spiritual Science Church, Eckankar, the Twilight Brigade, and the Trump Network.

The practitioners were all above board; they have all been “screened for professionalism, sincerity, honesty, and ethical practices.” But they’re not just boring psychics and tarot readers anymore … now they offer Cellular Healing, Holographic Healing, Animal Ally Retrieval, Ancient Wisdom Activations, Ortho-Bionomy, Ghost Removal, Spiritual Response Therapy, Angel Transmissions, Psych-K Block Removal and Clearing, Hawaiian Lomi Lomi, Ta-Ta-Ke Venturi System, Yuen Method Full Spectrum Healing, Creating Your Heart’s Desire Sessions, DNA Activation, and Reading the Akashic Records, that is, reading “the record of your soul’s activity.”

Sometimes it’s hard to understand what it is these esoteric practitioners actually do, such as Sister Who, who might be better named Sister What?

For more than 17 years, Sister Who has been serving others’ personal and spiritual growth as a new incarnation of the archetypal sacred clown—that tribal role which makes extensive use of symbols, metaphors, contrasting actions and appearances, dialogue and direct interaction to question, inspire, nurture, and gently provoke positive development within individuals and communities.

Ironically, for a skeptic, I’ve seen more psychics than the average believer. But I hadn’t ever had a reading with a psychometrist. Psychometry is the purported ability to perform a psychic reading of an object, such as a piece of jewelry or an article of clothing, and the owner of that object by merely touching the person’s possessions. This is often a claim of so-called psychic detectives, to “read” the personal effects of a victim in their belief that they can help solve crimes. To date, they have been more hindrance than help to the authorities and families involved.

With a pair of pearl earrings and friend Matthew Baxter in tow, I made an appointment to see a psychometrist by the mysterious name of Gushikawa.

Gushikawa

Big Dreaming River - Readings to enhance your life

Gushikawa was born in Okinawa. She has traveled the world seeking her own Divine expression and purpose. Her readings assist you to find the same within yourself, and to guide you through-to life’s ultimate goal of harmony, health and prosperity. She provides her intuitive talents through years of dedicated practice as a reader of: Tarot, Aura reading and Past Life Readings

Gushikawa is well known throughout the country for her loving, sincere and accurate readings. She touches your heart as well as your life to assist you in attaining your goals.

Gushikawa was a gentle, grandmotherly-type who looked like she would bake you cookies, make you a cup of tea, and then read the tea leaves.

She immediately reached for her well-worn stack of tarot cards. I stopped her. “Actually, we’d prefer a psychometry reading.”

“Are you sure?” she asked enigmatically.

“Yes,” I assured her as she reluctantly put away her obviously preferred tools.

Matthew handed her the earrings and told her that they were found in a jewelry box but no one in his family knew of the history of the piece. What could she tell us about the past, present, and future of the owner of these earrings?

Gushikawa held the earrings and she placed her hands underneath the table. She closed her eyes and focused on the “energy” of the earrings. After consuming several minutes of our twenty-minute reading with this silent ritual, she opened her eyes and uttered a stream-of-consciousness list of words that read like a James Joyce novel:

Golden horse’s head, canopy bed, white lace, big building, metal, Eiffel Tower, France, basil, gardening, angel wings, Heather, ringing chapel bells, very connected to Notre Dame, church, spiritual, holy.
Psychics

None of these words or phrases resonated with us at all, but she had the standard psychic disclaimer, “Take this information away with you, it will mean more to you later on.” This is the cold reading failsafe; it presents the guesses as facts and allows the client time to draw salient connections and “validate” the reading. By the time the client has either connected the dots (that didn’t even exist) or realized there weren’t any dots, the reader is long gone. Should no links be drawn from the list of imagery, this technique can also place blame on the client rather than reflect poorly on the psychic, implying that the client has forgotten the details foreseen by the psychic or that the psychic had exposed secret information of which even the client is unaware. As Ian Rowland notes in his Point of Inquiry interview, when the client is not skeptical, cold reading is a win-win game, and psychics are right, even when they are wrong.

Just when I thought this was one of the worst readings I’ve ever had, Gushikawa announced, “That was one of the best psychometry readings I’ve ever done!” Here were her major misses:

None of the words, phrases, or images she received “psychically” was accurate, relevant, or meaningful in any way.

But the clock was still ticking. Gushikawa asked, “You’re brother and sister, right?” She assumed this despite the fact that Matthew and I don’t look alike; despite the fact that he has an American English accent, while I have a distinctly Australian accent, and despite the fact that as we waited to have our appointment with her, he had his arm wrapped around me in clear visibility. So much for cold reading...

We went along with her assumption, and the elderly lady proceeded to flirt with Matthew for the last few minutes of our session: “My ex-boyfriend looked exactly like you. He was very handsome and tall.” It must be all that tantric sex and horny goat weed. Then she gave hugs to us both and a particularly lingering one to Matthew.

Gushikawa’s reading contained only misses. Presented with an “unknown” artifact, she had been given free rein to invent a story. She made some wild guesses (e.g., “Notre Dame”), some generalized guesses (e.g., “spiritual”), and some predictable assumptions (e.g., that the earrings were somehow related to Matthew because he handed them to her). However, she produced a very limited set of words, names, and images that she claimed to “see.” If she had cast her net widely by making more attempts, she would have increased her chances of achieving some hits. But with no hits at all, she performed much worse than chance. However, as Rowland says, there are no misses for the true believer.

Gushikawa didn’t demonstrate any psychic abilities, and if she was using cold reading techniques, she’s a very bad cold reader.

References

  1. Denver Merchandise Mart, Metaphysical Celebration, Program for Our Conscious Living Fair. March 12, 13, 14, 2010.

Karen Stollznow

Karen Stollznow's photo

Karen Stollznow is an author and skeptical investigator with a doctorate in linguistics and a background in history and anthropology. She is an associate researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, and a director of the San Francisco Bay Area Skeptics. A prolific skeptical writer for many sites and publications, she is the “Good Word” Web columnist for the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, the “Bad Language” columnist for Skeptic magazine, a frequent contributor to Skeptical Inquirer, and managing editor of CSI’s Scientific Review of Mental Health Practice. Dr. Stollznow is a host of the Monster Talk podcast and writer for the Skepbitch and Skepchick blogs, as well as for the James Randi Educational Foundation’s Swift. She can be reached via email at kstollznow[at]centerforinquiry.net.