Culture: The cat, The reading and The chart.

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The first time I went for a palm reading – some weeks ago – a cat entered the room just when the psychic was starting my reading and instead of paying attention to her words I focused on the cat. I just wanted to see if something unusual happened.

Marilyn, my palm reader, has worked for 15 years as a psychic in a second floor office on Yonge Street. The place is filled with astrology symbols, tarot figures and cards. We faced each other over a little table, covered with a red tablecloth and warmly lit with an old lamp. Beside her, a human body poster revealed the chakra points.

The cat looked pretty old and, quite frankly, uninterested in me or my future. It’s probably used to strangers – ten consultations is a normal day for Marilyn. I waited for the cat to freeze or hiss, with its eyes wide open, as if looking at some spirit in the room that I couldn’t see, but it just calmly left the room. I decided to pay attention to Marilyn again (it was a $25 reading after all.) Marilyn took my hand gently and after looking at it for a couple of minutes, she described me. She also gave some general information about my future, how long it would be and how successful I’ll become. “What do you want to know now?” she asked me then.

Fortune tellers, astrologers, psychic consultants and psychic readers are considered “Personal Services Occupations” by Human Resources Canada, together with chat-line agents and dating service consultants. According to the NOC classification, psychic consultants and related advisors “provide personal advice to clients based on various schools of thought”, while astrologers “chart and interpret stellar and planetary positions on a horoscope to predict future events and trends for a client or the general public”.

There are many other services offered by these professionals not stated in the definition, but it gives you a picture of what they can do for you. It’s not even a fuzzy, distorted picture with spooky images. They merely advise and predict.

A chart to navigate life

Last October, Shrikant Indulkar flew from Vancouver to attend a Feng Shui workshop in Mississauga. He is originally from India; a chemical engineer who immigrated to Canada in 1996.

While living in India, Shrikant read some books about it but he really got hooked in 2002, while living in Calgary. He decided to study Feng Shui by himself, with the internet as one of his sources. Once he moved to Vancouver, his curiosity pushed him to look for a more formal learning environment and, surfing the net, he found the Master Academy of Chinese Metaphysics, an international organization that promotes and teaches traditional Feng Shui around the globe (according to their websites, the seminars are available in North America, Europe and Asia).

We met in a hotel lobby in Mississauga right after he finished his classes and only a couple of hours before his flight back to the west coast. He was waiting for a classmate was going to the airport too. “This is the first time that I took the course and I think I have a lot of homework to do,” he says. “You got only the principles, the tools.” It’s all about information

Feng Shui is considered a science by its practitioners. It utilizes the laws of heaven (astronomy) and earth (geography) to improve your life. Starting with your birthday and birth hour, you can create a chart of your life. If you follow it you can be prepared for downturns or to maximize your success in periods of good luck. You can also manage the flow of Qi (also called chi – it’s usually translated as “energy flow”) that interacts with the environment affecting your life – you are also part of the equation. Classic Feng Shui allows you to identify the changes in Qi patterns, and to understand what Qi augurs well for you during certain times of the year, and what Qi and which directions to avoid, as well. (Other schools of Feng Shui use elements – like colors – to help with the flow of Qi)

“We don’t tell you how to paint your walls or how to place your furniture.” Hung Tran, another attendant to the workshops, says. “[That’s] whatever you like. We try to understand the environment.” Tran works in the IT field and is a lifetime Feng Shui practitioner. Nonetheless he came to the workshops because he needs to keep improving. “It’s really hard to understand the fundamentals; that’s why people get it all wrong,” he explains.

Both agree that Feng Shui is more than anything else, a tool. “It can help you to understand and solve problems. In China people use it for medicine or scientific investigation,” Tran says.

In 1998 Tran, an architect by then, decided to change careers. “My life was going nowhere so I switched to IT. I found that I had to learn a lot about computers because is so competitive. I started asking why I wasn’t getting any luck; so I looked for a Feng Shui reader in Toronto to see what I did wrong with my Feng Shui.” His life seems to be moving smoothly now.

For Indulkar, on the other hand, it’s still a work in progress. “I haven’t used it yet for my career. But if I go back and see what happened in the last ten years, it matches what my chart says. If I would have known it before, I could have been more cautious; I could have avoided those shocks,” he says. Now, after attending the workshops, he feels a little bit more confident. “A lot of people have fear because of the economic situation, the job market,” he says. “They don’t know what’s going to happen. But I know and also what actions I can take. Basically [with Feng Shui] you can understand the outside.”

Tran and Indulkar, through their studies and dedication to Feng Shui, seek the same thing everybody wants: more information about yourself and your life. Questions like; How can I improve; What’s going to happen with the economy; Am I making the right decision buying that house; Should I change careers?

Astrology, tarot andI I Ching have always been very popular. Canada seems pretty open to this kind of knowledge. According to 2006 research by sociologist Reginald W. Bibby, from University of Lethbridge, almost 30 percent of Canadians believe in astrology, and almost 60 percent are fairly sure ESP (extrasensory perception) exists.

Communing with Spirits

A psychic is somebody who can perceive things hidden from the normal senses. Usually they claim to have special abilities, like extra-sensory perception, but sometimes they are just extremely sensitive people who can read and understand others and their problems. As with Feng Shui, they can study for years, everything from psychology to sociology; sometimes even beyond that.

A good psychic – or in a different way a good Feng Shui master (it’s up to you to decide what makes them good) –can help you in your career, in yourrelationships, and with your big decisions. They can help you figure out what’s holding you back from success. In a good reading, a psychic can identify your problems without a word from you. When they can do this, you are more likely to pay attention to their advice. They might help you to recognise a problem that, unconsciously, you wanted to avoid.

They can help you face your fears.

Marilyn spent more than one hour talking to me – not only about my future. She told me that she studied for four years at UCLA, in California because there’s no proper training in Canada. Some of her clients are 80 years old, and men and women ask her for advice equally. Whatever is in your future, she will tell you, even if it’s painful. She does more readings close to New Year’s Eve, which makes sense.

“Your palm is like a fingerprint,” she said to me. According to her reading I will leave Canada because I don’t like to stay in just one place and I’ll be my own boss “but not yet”.

I’m thinking about get the book to start reading about Feng Shui – like Indulkar did – and maybe get a chart of my life. It never hurts to be prepared.

Who to See

Let`s face it: a quality check is almost impossible in this field. If you are looking for someone it might be a good idea to ask first for the cheapest reading possible and to try to find out if you have been “cold read”.

A cold reading is when a person uses tricks or questions to obtain information and then gives it back as a “reading”. For example, they can say “I see you making an investment” which is a pret­ty safe guess. If you say “yes”, it appears that they just gave you a good reading. If you say “no”, they would say something like “you haven’t bought a house or a car?” There are very few points in your life when you don’t make or think about making any sort of investment, and the trick is just making you feel that they saw or predicted it.

Other readers can tell you things – very specific ones – out of the blue, without a word from you. Things like “You are having very bad head­aches or have you been in a car accident?” They can talk about what’s on your mind even before you open your mouth. They can talk about your family or your partner without any clues. When someone is able to do things like that, even the most skeptical among us will listen, even if we stop short of actually believing

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