Broke Occult Masters and Other Poseurs

So many occult societies amount to nothing more than goth day at Disneyland.

It’s all well and good to claim that you have esoteric knowledge (or even that you have improved your life through a particular occult philosophy), but the proof is in what you have done all on your own, absent inheritance or a trust fund or a high-earning spouse. This is also a problem I have with YouTube witches going on about their practice and offering classes / e-books on various topics. I think to myself, that’s great but you are clearly a suburban housewife with sources of income that do not come from your occult work. So don’t tell me you’re a success because of your witchcraft. You’re a success because hubby works 60-80 hours a week at the firm. If you think you have a clever way of improving your lot, that’s good, but you have to practice it openly and not hide behind e-marketing facades. 

I think having a day job is an important aspect of being an occultist. It’s not a requirement. You can rely on money magic and gambling and all that and I believe make things work. But that’s not an easy life. In A Dark SongJoe Solomon, the antagonist of the story, is a real jerk. But to me that just resonates with the public occultists I’ve met who try to support themselves with their art. It makes you hard and bitter because it is so damn difficult. Sure, it can be done, but if you want to lead a posh suburban lifestyle, don’t think your money magic is going to be there like a steady income. It’s going to be up and down with no safety net forever.

The problem with many occult groups—from bullshitty prosperity new thought all the way to gravely serious initiatory stuff—is that you still have to put your pants on one leg at a time and go make a living. I believe Law of Attraction can help. I believe in most forms of occultism and magic, from the superficial to the scholarly. Magical things can definitely give you an advantage. But the material world makes its demands and we have to answer unless we want to live in a tunnel with the other Temple of the Vampire members who bought into that philosophy and mailed in their subscription payment.

I pick on the ToV a lot because I see them as the quintessentially hypocritical style-over-substance occult organization. It’s all well and good (and great marketing to a certain frustrated type of seeker) to say, “We believe in dayside mastery (i.e. getting your life and finances together) as well as nightside (occult) mastery.” But if you meet ToV members, and I know several former ones, you quickly see that they have developed a level of fake doubletalk about how great their lives are because of their mastery of dayside-nightside techniques. The reality is that they’re getting their egos fed from membership in the group and that is all. It is fundamentally important, for anyone looking to improve their lives through esoteric philosophies and groups, to look at the members carefully. They are the products of what their groups can create—if they have even benefited at all and not just misrepresented their privilege. All the fancy talk in the world will not change this fact. If the group was started by two guys in a trailer and they are now receiving a passive income from membership fees, think about that.


Fool the Psychic

People like games.  Games are a lot of fun.  Though, some games are unhealthy.  Some games are pointless.  And some are rigged from the beginning to make fools out of everyone.  Sometimes, the only way to win a rigged game is never to sit down at the table in the first place.  Other times, you sit down and know you’re going to lose, but you win on another level by just having fun.  The real fool is the person who can’t tell what kind of game it is, what’s at stake, and still thinks s/he can win.

So let’s talk about games, psychics, and foolish people.  In every middle-to-low income community, in converted sheds and trailers on the outskirts of town, or in the dilapidated offices of old buildings, there’s always a sign that reads, PSYCHIC CONSULTATIONS.  People love to make fun of those who go to such advisers.  And in many cases, professional psychics have to work outside the city limits because there are still “fraudulent medium” laws on the books from the late 19th and early 20th centuries when seances and spiritism were in vogue.  Could they all be con men and hustlers?

If you find a situation where you can watch people near a psychic’s business, you’ll see the well-off travelers glance at those advertisements as they pass by.  But they won’t go in, too embarrassed to satisfy their curiosity by even knocking on the door, too convinced that it’s all a bunch of fakery.  At least, that’s the stereotype: ignorant gullible people go to psychic readers and desperate smart people go to therapists.  Because there’s a difference between those two things, right?

The reality is very different than the stereotype.  Nobody wants to be publicly shamed for believing wholeheartedly in psychic phenomena, but actually every sort of person goes to psychics—young, old, rich, poor, smart, gullible, educated, and illiterate.  They go when nobody is looking, when they can slip in through the alley, down the poorly lit hallway, to the door with the beveled glass that reads MONEY – LOTTO – ROMANCE – KNOW THE FUTURE – CHANGE YOUR LUCK.  It used to be a private investigator’s office, but he went out of business 12 years ago.  And now the rent is cheap.  But there’s a difference between a psychic reader and a private investigator, right?

Maybe the psychic offers a “candle service” or a “prayer session” or straight-up magic on the side.  Maybe that person also teaches Reiki, meditation, yoga, massage, acupuncture, or works with crystals.  But everybody knows all that is just unprovable pseudo-science and the placebo effect.  There’s a big difference between an “alternative healer” and a regular old doctor, right?

These questions represent interesting games people play with themselves in order to be able to feel alright with the idea that there are things in this world they can’t explain, things they can’t control or even define.  It’s hard for them to accept that a good psychic consultant can give you counseling, investigate your problems, and heal you on levels that materialistic science doesn’t even recognize.  

Professional readers can and regularly do all those things for their clients.  And that’s scary sometimes—scary enough that some people like to play a “ meta-game” called “Fool the Psychic.”  This is when they pay good money in order to feel less afraid by coming into a consultation as a hidden skeptic.  They ask questions like, “What was my mother’s maiden name?  What did I have for breakfast yesterday?  Where did my grandfather live for two years when he was taking a break from university?”  And they often feed the psychic incorrect information to see if it gets detected.  

Some psychics are uselessly gifted to know this kind of trivia and, sadly, those are the only ones who can impress this kind of client.  But I’d be cautious of someone who has spent all their time honing the ability to tell you that you had a Denver omelet with black coffee and a side of toast three days ago. 

Fool the Psychic is a game for losers.  It’s rigged from the beginning and based on fear.  Though it may seem fun for a mean-spirited client as a way for him or her to feel clever or overcome their anxieties by trying to put one over on the psychic, it doesn’t do anything but waste money and time.  If the psychic passes the “test,” the client learns nothing of value.  If the psychic fails, the client has paid for a short feeling of superiority.  Then the psychic goes on with his or her life and the client goes on wondering.

Don’t play this game.  If you don’t believe, don’t go.  If you want to believe, keep an open mind, be courteous, and see how it feels.  If you’re afraid of believing because the psychic may represent all the things you cannot understand or control in life, face your fear with sincerity.  Maybe buy a tarot deck and a few books on the subject.  But if you sit down at the psychic’s table in bad faith, you can be sure that the only person getting conned is you.

True vs. False: Fraudulent Psychics and What We Can Learn From Hulu’s Shut Eye

The first time I heard the expression, “shut eye,” was from Orson Welles in an interview with Dick Cavett. Like most of Cavett’s legendary interviews, it’s great and Welles is a brilliant storyteller. I’ve pinpointed the relevant moment in a YouTube clip here: and I suggest you give it a look if you’ve never seen it.

I start off with this because I not only believe the writers of the recent Hulu series were inspired by it, but also because it showcases, in brief, the main psychological problem most of us have with going to psychics and magicians in this day and age. We want to believe but, at the same time, our common sense tells us that none of it is real.

So we wind up with a kind of cognitive dissonance, our creative / imaginative selves saying it sure feels real and our critical / socially conditioned selves saying if I can’t see it, hold it in my hand, or measure it, it’s fake. Scientific materialism extends this sense of “fraudulence” to include things like dreams, the imagination, ideas, feelings, and the meaning of art—all of it considered unreal by consensus culture or, at least, far less real than the turkey sandwich I just ate for lunch.

And if you doubt any of this, imagine someone has a daughter. Who would that person probably want the girl to someday marry—a mechanical engineer or the lead singer in a band? Why? What if it came down to a musician or a psychic medium? Why now? If you say “earning potential,” I suggest you look deeper. If you say “respectability,” you’re getting closer. If you say, “well, an engineer will have a more stable life than the lead singer in some band,” you’re almost there. If you say, “an engineer does something that matters,” you’re red hot. It’s only a small step from “what matters” to “what’s true.” Engineer = produces measurable things or services / matters / true. Musician = produces less measurable things / matters far less / less true. Psychic = does not produce measurable things or services / doesn’t matter / false.

Essentially, it’s Plato vs. Aristotle. Plato says that truth exists and, if we open our eyes to it, we will then be able to distinguish what’s real from what’s false—what’s outside the cave vs. what’s just a shadow projected onto the wall. Aristotle responds that since we’ve been given sight (and other physical senses), we should start the waking-up process with what we can see (perceive) and go from there.

So back to Orson Welles talking about cold reading and pretending to be a fortune teller. He tells Dick Cavett that when a medium or a card reader starts to get very experienced, he just knows things about the people coming in because he has seen it all before. He seems able to read minds, but he’s actually just making very accurate educated guesses, given that the same sorts of people come to him over and over.

A fake psychic becomes a “shut eye” when he thinks his educated guesses mean he has “true” psychic powers. Welles is using Plato’s argument: there’s the truth (you’re not actually psychic; you’re just making accurate educated guesses based on experience with people) and the false world of untrue shadows projected on the wall of the cave (you’re a psychic because you have powers). This might be the basis of our current fetish for scientific materialism (scientism): science says that there is the truth (what we can physically measure) and untruth (what we can’t measure).

But then Aristotle walks on stage and asks, isn’t it important to examine what we’re actually seeing and feeling? In other words, if Orson Welles is merely pretending to be a psychic but tells us something in a tarot reading that changes our lives, shouldn’t that mean something? Shouldn’t we examine that “on its face”? If we agree with Aristotle, then maybe whether the psychic medium is a “shut eye” or not is less important than how we feel as a result of the reading. Maybe our truth, what’s important and meaningful to us, starts in what we individually, subjectively perceive and how we feel.

One of my personal heroes, Ramsey Dukes, talks about the Plato-Aristotle divide at length in several of his YouTube videos. I share this very brief clip, entitled “You think you are not clairvoyant?” because it’s short and makes his point; though, I recommend all of his books and videos. He’s truly a master magician and a very wise man.

Here he asks the question, could it be real if I imagined it? He seems to think it could if, by “real,” we mean “having meaning.” In this, Dukes is a proponent of Aristotle, not Plato. And so, incidentally, am I.

So what about Hulu’s Shut Eye? One of the reasons I like this series is that it starts out in Platonic waters: fraudulent mediums are liars and conmen taking the money of gullible people for the Gypsy mafia. At best, they’re like stage magicians. At worst, they’re emotional manipulators and thieves.

There is absolutely no doubt that people like this exist in the world. And the show, like the Welles interview, is entertaining. But as spiritual and magical people, we may be offended by the assumption that, as the psychiatrist in the show puts it, this is all “bullshit”—which is ironic, considering that she believes in quantum states, god, saints, prophets, and the possibility that an individual could have knowledge and conversation with the world from within the context of “zero-point energy.” In my opinion, we will only be offended if we’re still controlled by the Platonic true-untrue dichotomy. This is what we can learn from Shut Eye—how to keep Plato from overtaking Aristotle in our minds and vice-versa.

We can say, along with most scientists, Orson Welles, Darren Brown, Obersturmbannführer Dawkins, and Plato that we can know about the physical world through measuring it and experimenting based on those measurements. As a result of this, when it comes to material things, we can determine what is objectively true and what is objectively false.

But we can also say, along with Ramsey Dukes, Madame Zelda, the psychic medium down the street who gives tarot readings for $100 a pop, and Aristotle that what you feel and what it means to you is what is subjectively true. And there is a lot of value in that. Sometimes there is way more value in the subjective experience than in scientific objective data. Think about your favorite song or painting or movie. It’s not your favorite because you know the variance of the decibels, the chemical composition of the paint, or the way the scenes were blocked in the script.

You should watch Shut Eye if you have Hulu, especially if you’re a magically minded person, and think deeply about the message of the show.  Ask yourself what you believe, what you care about, and what matters to you.  It’s an important thing to do, especially if you feel yourself to be a spiritual person.