T Nation

Become a Psychic in One Day

How to Become a Psychic in One Day


(The following is an excerpt from a longer article that includes i
llustrations and more in-depth analysis that will appear in the next issue of

By Michael Shermer

On Wednesday, January 15, 2003, I filmed a television show with Bill Nye in
Seattle, Washington, for a new PBS science series entitled “Eye on Nye.” This
series is an adult-oriented version of Bill’s wildly successful 100-episode
children’s series “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” This 30-minute segment was on
psychics and talking to the dead. Although I have analyzed the process and
written about it extensively, I have had very little experience in actually
doing psychic readings. Bill and I thought it would be a good test of the
effectiveness of the technique and the receptivity of people to it to see how
well I could do it armed with just a little knowledge.

Although the day of the taping was set weeks in advance, I did absolutely
nothing to prepare until the day before. This made me especially nervous
because psychic readings are a form of acting, and good acting takes talent
and practice. And I made matters even harder on myself by convincing Bill and
the producers that if we were going to do this we should use a number of
different psychic modalities, including Tarot cards, palm reading, astrology,
and psychic mediumship, under the theory that these are all “props” used to
stage a psychodrama called cold reading (reading someone “cold” without any
prior knowledge). I am convinced more than ever that cheating (getting
information ahead of time on subjects) is not a necessary part of a
successful reading.

I read five different people, all women that the production staff had
selected and about whom I was told absolutely nothing. I had no contact with
any of the subjects until they sat down in front of me for the taping. The
setting was a sound stage at KCTS, the PBS affiliate station in Seattle.
Since sound stages can have a rather cold feel to them, and because the
set-up for a successful psychic reading is vital to generate receptivity in
subjects, I instructed the production staff to set up two comfortable chairs
with a small table between them, with a lace cloth covering the table and
candles on and around the table, all sitting on a beautiful Persian rug. Soft
colored lighting and incense provided a “spiritual” backdrop.

The Partial Facts of Cold Reading

My primary source for all of the readings was Ian Rowland’s insightful and
encyclopedic The Full Facts Book of Cold Reading, now in a 3rd edition
available at:


Rowland stresses the importance of the pre-reading set-up to prime the
subject into being sympathetic to the cold reading. He suggests- -and I took
him up on these suggestions --adopting a soft voice, a calm demeanor, and
sympathetic and non-confrontational body language: a pleasant smile, constant
eye contact, head tilted to one side while listening, and facing the subject
with legs together (not crossed) and arms unfolded.

I opened each reading by introducing myself as Michael from Hollywood,
calling myself a “Psychic Intuitor.” I explained that my “clients” come to
see me about various things that might be weighing heavy on their hearts (the
heart being the preferred organ of new age nonsense), and that as an intuitor
it was my job to use my special gift of intuition–a gift, I added, that
everyone has but that I have just developed through practice–to help them
find their way through the vagaries of life. I said that we would start
general and then get more focused, beginning with the present then glancing
back to the past, and finally taking a glimpse of the future.

I also noted that we psychics cannot predict the future perfectly, thereby
setting up the pre-emptive excuse for later misses–by explaining how we
look for general trends and “inclinations” (an astrological buzz word). I
built on the disclaimer by adding a touch of self-effacing humor meant also
to initiate a bond between us: “While it would be wonderful if I was a
hundred percent accurate, you know, no one is perfect. After all, if I could
psychically divine the numbers to next week’s winning lottery I would keep
them for myself!” Finally, I explained that there are many forms of psychic
readings, including Tarot Cards, Palm Reading, Astrology, and the like, and
that my specialty was…whatever modality I was about to do with that
particular subject.

I began with what Rowland calls the “Rainbow Ruse” and “Fine Flattery,” and
what other mentalists more generally call a Barnum reading (offering
something for everyone, as P.T. always did). The components of the following
reading come from various sources, the particular sequential arrangement is
my own. Essentially I opened all of my readings with this general statement:

You can be a very considerate person, very quick to provide for others, but
there are times, if you are honest, when you recognize a selfish streak in
yourself. I would say that on the whole you can be rather quiet,
self-effacing type, but when the circumstances are right, you can be quite
the life of the party if the mood strikes you.

Sometimes you are too honest about your feelings and you reveal too much of
yourself. You are good at thinking things through and you like to see proof
before you change your mind about anything. When you find yourself in a new
situation you are very cautious until you find out what’s going on, and then
you begin to act with confidence.

What I get here is that you are someone who can generally be trusted. Not a
saint, not perfect, but let’s just say that when it really matters this is
someone who does understand the importance of being trustworthy. You know how
to be a good friend.

You are able to discipline yourself so that you seem in control to others,
but actually you sometimes feel somewhat insecure. You wish you could be a
little more popular and at ease in your interpersonal relationships than you
are now.

You are wise in the ways of the world, a wisdom gained through hard
experience rather than book learning.

According to Rowland–and he was spot on with this one–the statement “You
are wise in the ways of the world, a wisdom gained through hard experience
rather than book learning” was flattery gold. Every one of my subjects nodded
furiously in agreement and said that this statement really summed them up to
a tee.

After the general statement and personality assessment, I went for specific
comments lifted straight from Rowland’s list of high probability guesses.
These include items found in the subject’s home:

A box of old photographs, some in albums, most not in albums Old medicine or
medical supplies out of date Toys, books, mementoes from childhood Jewelry
from a deceased family member Pack of cards, maybe a card missing Electronic
gizmo or gadget that no longer works Notepad or message board with missing
matching pen Out of date note on fridge or near the phone Books about a hobby
no longer pursued Out of date calendar Drawer that is stuck or doesn’t slide
properly Keys that you can’t remember what they go to Watch or clock that no
longer works

And peculiarities about the person:

Scar on knee Number 2 in the home address Childhood accident involving water
Clothing never worn Photos of loved ones in purse Wore hair long as a child,
then shorter haircut One earring with a missing match

I added one of my own to great effect: “I see a white car.” All of my
subjects were able to find a meaningful connection to a white car. As I was
reading this list on the flight to Seattle the morning of the reading, I was
amazed to discover how many flight attendants and people around me validated

Finally, Rowland reminds his ersatz psychics that if the set-up is done
properly people are only too willing to offer information, especially if you
ask the right questions. Here are a few winners:

“Tell me, are you currently in a long-term relationship, or not?” “Are you
satisfied in terms of your career, or is there a problem?” “What is it about
your health that concerns you?” “Who is the person who has passed over that
you want to try to contact today?”

While going through the Barnum reading I remembered to pepper the commentary
with what Rowland calls “incidental questions,” such as:

“…now why would that be?”
“…is this making sense to you?”
“…does this sound right?”
“…would you say this is along the right lines for you?”
“…this is significant to you, isn’t it?”
“…you can connect with this can’t you?”
“…so who might this refer to please?”
“…what might this link to in your life?”
“…what period of your life, please, might this relate to?”
“…so tell me, how might this be significant to you?”
“…can you see why this might be the impression I’m getting?”

With this background, all gleaned from a single day of intense reading and
note taking, I was set.

The Tarot Card reading My first subject was Micael, age 21, for whom I was to
do a Tarot card reading. To prepare myself I bought a “Haindl Tarot Deck,”
created by Hermann Haindl and produced by U.S. Games Systems in Stamford,
Connecticut ($16.00), and read through the little pamphlet that comes with
it. It is a beautiful deck of cards, with elegant illustrations on them, each
one replete with an astrological symbol, a Rune sign, a Hebrew letter, I
Ching symbols, and lots of mythic characters from history.

At a total of 78 cards there was no way I was going to memorize all the
“real” meanings and symbols, so the night before I sat down with my family
and read through the instruction manual and we did a reading together, going
through what each of the 10 cards we used is suppose to mean. My 11-year old
daughter Devin then quizzed me on them until I had them down cold. I used
what is called the “Hagall Spread” (no explanation given as to who or what a
Hagall is), where you initially lay out four cards in a diamond shape, then
put three cards on top and three more on the bottom.

By the time of the reading I forgot what the layout meant, so I made up a
story about how the center four cards represent the present, the top three
cards represent the future, and the bottom three cards are the characters
that are going to help you get to that future. It turns out that it doesn’t m
atter what story you make up, as long as it sounds convincing. I was glad,
however, that I had memorized the meanings of the symbols and characters on
the cards I used because Micael had previously done Tarot card reading

Since Micael was my first reading I was a little stiff and nervous, so I did
not stray far from the standard Barnum reading, worked my way through the Big
Five personality traits fairly successfully, and did not hazard any of the
high probability guesses. Since she was a student I figured she was
indecisive about her life, so I offered lots of trite generalities that would
have applied to almost anyone: she is uncertain about her future but exited
about the possibilities, she is confident in her talents yet still harbors
some insecurities, travel is in her immediate future, she strikes a healthy
balance between head and heart, intellect and intuition, and so forth Tarot
cards are a great gimmick because they provide the cold reader with a prop to
lean on, something to reference and point to, something for the subject to
ask about.

I purposely put the “Death” card in the spread because that one seems to make
people anxious. This gave me an opportunity to pontificate about the meaning
of life and death, that the card actually represents not physical death but
metaphorical death, transitions in life are a time of opportunity–the
“death” of a career and the “rebirth” of another career–and other such
dribble. The line was cast, the bait set, and the fish bit.

After each reading the producers conducted a short taped interview with the
subject, asking them how they thought the reading went. Micael said she
thought the reading went well, that I accurately summarized her life and
personality, but that there were no surprises, nothing that struck her as
startling. She had experienced psychic readings before and that mine was
fairly typical. I felt that the reading was mediocre at best. I was just
getting started.

The Palm Reading My second reading was on Brittany, age 19. Palm reading is
the best of the psychic props because, as in the Tarot cards, there is
something specific to reference, but it has the added advantage of making
physical contact with the subject. I could not remember what all the lines on
a palm are suppose to represent, so while I was memorizing the Tarot cards
Devin did a google image search for me and downloaded this palm chart.

I mainly focused on the Life, Head, Heart, and Health lines, and for added
effect added some blather about the Marriage, Money, and Fate lines. Useful
nonsense includes:

–If the Head and Life lines are connected it means that there was an early
dependence on family. --If Head and Life lines are not connected it means the
client has declared independence early. --The degree of separation between
the Head and Heart lines indicates the degree of dependence or independence
between the head and the heart for making decisions. --The strength of the
Head line indicates the thinking style–intuitive or rational. --Breaks in
the Head line may mean there was a head injury, or that the subject gets
headaches, or something happened to the head at some time in the subject’s

On one web page I downloaded some material about the angles of the thumbs to
the hand that was quite useful. You have the subject rest both hands palm
down on the table, and then observe whether they are relaxed or tight and
whether the fingers are close together or spread apart. This purportedly
indicates how uptight or relaxed someone is, how extroverted or introverted
they are, how confident or insecure they feel, etc. According to one palm
reader a small thumb angle “reveals that you are a person who does not rush
into doing things. You are cautious and wisely observe the situation before
taking action. You are not pushy about getting your way.” A medium thumb
angle “reveals that you do things both for yourself and for others willingly.
You are not overly mental about what you are going to do, so you don’t waste
a lot of time doing unnecessary planning for each job.” And a big thumb angle
“reveals that you are eager to jump in and get things done right away. You do
things quickly, confidently, and pleasurably because you like to take charge
and get the job done.” Conveniently, you can successfully use any of these
descriptions with anyone.

It turns out that you can tell the handedness of a person because the
dominant hand is a little larger and more muscular. That gave me an opening
to tell Brittany, who was left-handed, that she was right-brain dominant,
which means that she puts more emphasis on intuition than on intellect, that
she is herself very intuitive (Rowland says that a great ruse is to flatter
the subjects with praise about their own psychic powers), and that her wisdom
comes more from real world experience than traditional book learning. She
nodded furiously in agreement.

According to the various palm reading “experts,” you are suppose to comment
on the color and texture of the skin, hair on the back of the palm, and
general shape of the hands. Any major discrepancy between the two hands is
supposed to be a sign of areas where subjects have departed from their
inherited potential. The psychic should also take note of the shape of the
fingers. The outer phalanges of the fingers (the finger tips) represent
spiritual or idealistic aspects of the person, the middle phalanges everyday
and practical aspects, and the lower phalanges the emotional aspects of
personality. I found it most effective to rub my fingers over the mounds of
flesh on each finger segment while commenting on Brittany’s personality.

For this reading I threw in a few high probability guesses, starting with the
white car. It turns out that Brittany’s 99-year old grandmother had a white
car, which gave me an opening to comment about the special nature of her
relationship with her grandmother, which was spot on. Then I tried the out of
date calendar, which did not draw an affirmative response from my mark, so I
recovered by backing off toward a more general comment: “Well…what I’m
getting here is something about a transition from one period in your life to
another,” which elicited a positive affirmation from Brittany that she was
thinking of switching majors.

Brittany’s assessment of my reading was slightly more positive than Micael’s,
as was my own self-evaluation, but no one was yet floored by anything said. I
was still gathering steam for the big push to come.

The Astrological Reading JoAnn, age 20, was my toughest read of the day. She
gave monosyllabic answers to my incidental questions for extracting
information, and did not seem to have much going on in her life that required
much in the way of psychic advice. The astrological chart below I downloaded
from the Internet. It was constructed some time ago for a guy named John,
born May 9, 1961. JoAnn was born September 3, 1982. I haven’t got a clue what
the chart means. Of course, since it doesn’t actually mean anything, I began
by explaining that “the stars incline but do not compel,” and then I just
made up a bunch of stuff about how the conjunction of having a rising moon
in the third house and a setting sun in the fifth house is an indication
that she has a bright future ahead of her, and that her personality is a
healthy balance between head and heart, mind and spirit, intellect and
intuition. Her nods indicated agreement.

I threw out a bunch of high probability guesses and got about half of them
right (including the line about wearing her hair longer at a younger age),
then closed the reading by asking her if she had any questions for me. She
said that she had applied for a scholarship in order to participate in a
foreign student exchange program in England, and wanted to know if she was
going to get it. I responded that the important issue at hand was not whether
she was going to get the scholarship or not, but how she would deal with
whether she got it or not, and that I preceived that her healthy and balanced
personality would allow her to handle whatever the outcome. This seemed to
go over well. In the post-reading interview she was much more positive than
I anticipated, considering how stilted the reading was, so I suppose we can
count this one as a success as well, although I was not particularly proud of

Psychic Reading Olivia, age 58, was my fourth subject, for which I was to do
a straight cold read with no props. I began with the Barnum reading, but did
not get far into it before it became apparent that she was more than a little
willing to talk about her problems. She did not want to hear all that generic
crap. She wanted to get straight to the specific issues on her mind that day.
Since she was overweight and did not look particularly healthy, but I didn’t
want to say anything about her weight, I said I was picking up something
about her being concerned about her health and diet, guessing, since this was
still early January, that she probably made a New Year’s resolution about
losing weight and starting a new exercise program. Bingo!

Olivia then opened up about her recent back surgery and other bodily
ailments. I tried a number of high probability guesses that worked quite
well, especially the box of photographs, broken gadgets around the house, and
the short hair/long hair line, all hits, especially the hair, which she
explained she changes constantly. I said I was getting something about a scar
or scrape on her knees, and that left her slack jawed. She said that she had
not scraped her knees since childhood, but had just the week before fallen
down and tore them up pretty badly. Swish!

Although I was able to glean from the conversation that she had recently lost
her mother, and a few minutes of generic comments from me about her mother
staying close to her in her memory left her in tears, Olivia really came to
find out about her son. What was he going to do? A minute of Q & A revealed
that he is a senior in high school, so I assumed that as his mother she was
worried about him going off to college. Nothing but net! What in particular
was she worried about? He was thinking of going to USC, so I jumped in before
she could explain, and surmised that it was because the University of
Southern California is located in downtown Los Angeles, not exactly the
safest neighborhood in the area.

In the post-reading interview Olivia praised my psychic intuition to the hilt
and Bill and his producers were beside themselves with glee at what great
dramatic television this was going to make. Imagine how John Edwards’
producers must feel after a taping of Crossing Over. (On a positive note we
did learn that day that James Van Praagh’s television series was just
cancelled due to poor ratings.)

Talking to the Dead Melanie, age 50, was my last subject–and my best
reading. She had told Bill’s producer that she had something very specific
she wanted to talk about, but did not offer a clue as to what it was. It
didn’t take me long to find out. When I introduced myself and shook her hand,
I noticed that her hands were exceptionally muscular and her palms sweaty.
This was a hig h-strung, nervous person who was obviously emotional and
agitated. I assumed that someone near to her had died (the proper phrase is
“passed into spirit”), and that she wanted to make contact. “I’m sensing
several people that have passed over, either parents or a parent-like figure
to you.” It was her father who died, and she clearly had unfinished business
with him.

From the ensuing conversation I discovered that her father had died when she
was 27, so I deduced that it must have been a sudden death (correct) and that
she did not have the opportunity to make her peace with him (also correct).
Finally, I accurately deduced that she was sad because she would have liked
to share her many life experiences over the past two decades with her
father–“such as having a child.” Wrong–Melanie is childless. Without
missing a beat I offered this riposte: “Oh, what I mean is giving birth to a
new idea or new business.” A three-pointer from downtown! This was an
entrepreneurial woman whose father was a successful businessman with whom she
would have loved to share the success.

It wasn’t long before Melanie was nearly sobbing. This was an emotionally
fragile woman of whom I could have easily taken advantage by jumped in with
some inane line such as “your father is here with us now and he wants you to
know that he loves you.” But I knew I would have to look in the mirror the
next morning and just couldn’t do it, even for a worthwhile expose’ of a very
evil practice. Instead I said “your father would want you to keep him in your
heart and your memories, but that it is time now to move on.” I wanted to
give her something specific, as well as lighten up the reading because it was
getting pretty glum, so I said “and it’s okay to throw away all those boxes
of his stuff that you have been keeping but want to get rid of.” She burst
out laughing and confessed that she had a garage full of her father’s
belongings that she had long wanted to dispose of but was feeling guilty
about doing so. This exchange was, I hoped, a moral message that violated no
trust on my part and still had the desired effect for our show.

In the post-reading interview Melanie said that she had been going to
psychics for over ten years trying to resolve this business with her father,
and that mine was the single best reading she had ever had.

Wow! That made my psychic day.

I can only imagine what I could do with more experience. Give me six hours of
day of practice for a couple of months and I have no doubt that I could host
a successful syndicated television series and increase by orders of
magnitude my bank balance. There–if not for the grace of evolved moral
sentiments and guilt-laden scruples–go I. I cannot do this for one simple
reason–it is wrong. I have lost both of my parents–my father suddenly of a
heart attack in 1986, my mother slowly from brain cancer in 2000–and I
cannot imagine anything more insulting to the dead, and more insidious to
the living, than constructing a fantasy that they are hovering nearby in the
psychic aether. This is worse than wrong. It is wanton depravity.

Copyright 2003 Michael Shermer, Skeptics Society, Skeptic magazine, e-Skeptic

Longest post, ever.

Dude. Don’t ever post something this long again straight to the board. If you want to, make a post that says you’re going to talk about subject XXX, and then reply to it youself with the content.

Mods, can we keep this truly massive stuff from going straight to the board?


Michael Shermer is a retard anyway. If you beleive his crap then you’re just as retarded.
What’s he so scared of? And you?

Yah, it was too long, but the truth anyway. Can’t believe people fall for that stuff!-LW