Fortune-tellers are used to being pilloried as the keepers of occult mysteries, but “professional mystics” say they perform a valuable service and don’t deserve their negative press.
Alex Edwards, who has been reading tarot cards professionally for one year, said his customers were often surprised upon meeting him to discover he didn’t fit the expected stereotype.
Common misconceptions about “what fortune tellers are like” tended to be rooted in sexism and racism, he said: the “lying Gypsy woman” or the “scary old crone”.
People wrongly assumed that professional mystics were witches, Edwards said but “anyone can have a gift”, regardless of religion, geographical origin or parentage.
Edwards said, “We’re in an industry hidden in mysteries and shadows” and that made it difficult to debunk myths and stereotypes.
Stephen Millane, a practising palm-reader since 1979, agreed: “Some people judge so quickly, and it’s quite cruel.”
Although his method of divination is called “palmistry”, he actually reads the whole hand – fingers, skin texture and the back of the hand, not just the palm.
Millane said palmistry was most effective when used to help people understand themselves, not to predict future events.
Forecasting the future wasn’t usually helpful for people, because “understanding yourself is the beginning of finding happiness”.
Camille Rogers, who has owned a metaphysics-themed store for 14 years, usually avoids telling people that she runs a shop which sells healing crystals and New Age books, merely calling it “a shop that sells books and CDs”.
When she did go into specifics, Rogers said, people would often laugh at her publicly but, in private, would reveal that they were not so sceptical.
According to her, “a lot of people believe in this sort of thing, but they don’t want their mates to know because they’re afraid of being judged”.
Rogers said clairvoyants and tarot readers could help people take responsibility for their own actions in a way that psychologists were incapable of doing: “A psychologist can’t just tell people they’re full of it.”
Veronica, a tarot reader for almost seven years, said many people bought into the dramatised image of witches with tarot cards as seen in movies and on TV.
“Ignorant people think it’s satanic.”
Veronica is a Christian, and received support from her pastor when deciding to become a professional tarot reader.
When she had asked him for guidance, he told her that her ability was gift intended to help people, so she needn’t feel guilty about it.
Tarot cards, said Veronica, were a tool like any other. “You can use a knife to butter toast or to stab someone,” Veronica explained: she chose to use tarot to help.
Perry has worked at the Theosophical Society Bookshop, in the CBD, for 21 years, selling books and other products to do with metaphysics.
The Theosophical Society offers lectures and workshops on various mystical practices, from astrology to yoga.
“People are always going to look for meaning,” Perry said, and when that meaning came from outside the dominant culture it would usually incite judgment.
Perry said closed or secretive societies were often misunderstood because, when they didn’t speak for themselves, outsiders were free to make up whatever they thought fit.
But things didn’t have to be that way. When he was a teenager getting into yoga, Perry recalled, his friends would ask, “What are you doing? You’re going to get brainwashed and run away to India.”
“Who were they to tell me that the best way to live was spending all my time at the pub, drinking and watching footy?”
Since then, he observed, things had changed. Yoga today was a trendy fitness practice, and “if you walk into somewhere like Dymocks [Booksellers] now, their ‘Mind, Body, Spirit’ section is quite big”.
Perry said he was optimistic perceptions would continue to change, and practices once considered mystical would become even more acceptable.