April 05, 2018

The Psychic Power of a Magic Indian

Tarot card reader Vanessa Sanddal.
Picture by Thom Bridge, via Independent Record
Once in a while, people choose to not believe me when I tell the truth. Maybe they think I'm just biased in my opinions -- which I suppose is true in that I'm biased in favor of reality -- or maybe they think I'm just making things up? But as I've said before, everything I wrote in The Satanic Tarot is based on lived experience and long observation of fortune-tellers. So you can imagine how amused I was I found this article by Erin Loranger at The Independent Record where she's basically offering a puff piece of free advertising on a fortune-teller who just opened shop in town. Despite the fluffy content of the article, it's unintentionally revealing for the ways that it shows all the props this fortune-teller is using and her approach to lesser magic. Let's break it down piece by piece, shall we?

First, "What is the source of a fortune-teller's power?" In this essay, I discuss the different kinds of props that fortune-tellers use to enhance their sitters' experience and provide a more entertaining performance, and two props specifically: the Magic Indian and Imaginary Friends. Says the fortune-teller Ms. Sanddal, her intuition "comes partly from being Native American and and also having a healing heart, to further interpret the cards for each client," and that "animals are spirit guides who provide protection, guidance and healing."

Maybe she really is possessed of psychic abilities owing to her pedigree, and maybe she really is served by animals who offer wisdom subjectively interpreted in order to be applicable to humans? And then, maybe she's just perpetuating a racist stereotype that has traction among ignorant people who want to believe that Native Americans are born into an enchanted bloodline and that people like to believe in the fantasy of being served by talking animals.

Second, she's not a sainted prophet. Says the fortune-teller, "she’ll keep her office in Helena as long as she makes enough money to break even on the rent, but her ultimate goal is to make enough to donate 10 percent of her income to the Lewis and Clark Humane Society." It's cool that she wants to use her money to do something good for the animals she cares about, but the facts are the facts: she's an entertainer who's in business to make money. 

It also amuses me that she so clearly feels guilty about charging money for her services that she has to make a show about "just breaking even" so she can afford to do some good. And if I'm gonna be honest with you, it really amuses me that she can't find 10% to support her cause right now because I know for a fact from the days that I was a member of the LDS Church, as well as the days when I was in direct, person to person sales, that the only obstacle to setting aside 10% of your income is rarely a matter of hardship, but choice. I'm not a betting man, but if I were I'd wager any amount of money that she can afford to pay 10% of her income right now if she were willing to give up certain personal luxuries.

Now, don't get me wrong -- I totally support indulgent luxuries and treating oneself right -- but I also support not humiliating myself by telling infantile lies or pretending that I'm only trying to "break even" and that my generosity in support of something I care about is dependent on other people's money. If she cares enough, she'll do it now without trying to guilt people into doing business with her because 10% of it is for a good cause.

ThirdI don't think she's being honest with herself. Says the fortune-teller, "This is a good healing place," and "I just want people to feel better about the loss of their pet." As usual, I'm willing to see three sides to an issue so I can absolutely understand losing a much beloved pet can be really painful... and depending on the quality of the person in question, sometimes more painful than losing a family member.

But as usual, if I'm going to be honest with you, I'm curious to know: What qualifies this woman to be a grief counselor? What experience does she have that gives her the right to play-pretend she's a therapist? I think that if she were as concerned for the well-being of her sitters as she says, she'd respect her limitations and encourage her grieving sitters to seek professional help. I put it to you that she's not in fact interested in "healing" her sitters (whatever that's supposed to mean), but is actually interested in playing the role of the healer because it makes her feel powerful. Now, if she wants to play doctor and risk a civil suit because she enjoys swimming in her sitters' grief, that's her business, but you can count me out.

Fourthshe's using the principles of sentiment and wonder. Even if Ms. Sanddal has probably never read one word of Anton LaVey, she's executing a masterful performance of lesser magic in terms of how she presents herself and what she offers to her sitters. Says the fortune-teller,  her style is "a mix of Cat in the Hat, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and the Wizard of Oz," and she likes to wear "striped tights with red shoes" and even a wig. Holy costuming, Batman! Ms. Sanddal has figured out how to channel emotional sentiment by being caring and attentive, and how to channel wonder by making people take notice of her strangeness. It's my personal opinion that she'd have more luck pairing sentiment with sex than wonder, but who am I to tell her how to do her job if she's already got sitters lining up to sit at her Tarot table?

If you're a sitter looking for a fortune-teller, then you should be aware that these elements (and more) are part of the performance that you're paying to receive. Does that cheapen your experience? It shouldn't, because just like a film connoisseur it should instead help you appreciate the fortune-teller's performance at multiple levels -- and perhaps instruct you how to use your fortune-teller's performance for constructive purposes that will last longer than the performance itself.

If you're a fortune-teller who performs for sitters, then you should already know that these elements are a part of your performance and understand how to maximally use them to create a more immersive ritual chamber and a more entertaining experience for your sitters. Don't deceive yourself into thinking that you're anything other than what you really are, because when you do so you're blinding yourself to the opportunities to become a more effective lesser magician and a more entertaining performer for an audience who will thank you time and again for the effort you invest into the temporary and consensual self-deceit of a Tarot card reading.

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