When we last saw our intrepid and not at all even remotely intoxicated college students, it had been decided that the experiment would consist of phony psychic readings done with the assistance of Tarot cards.
Now, according to tradition, the Tarot cards are rich in symbolism and that they date back to the time of ancient Egypt, with vague references to Egyptian gods and esoteric knowledge and all the usual trappings of that kind of thing.
And like a lot of traditions, it’s pretty much all pure, unadulterated bull shit.
I’m sorry if you’re a fan of Tarot and that offended you, but it just, well, it just is, all right? Pretty much everything about this “ancient, mystic, ancient Egyptian” linked method of divination was completely made up out of whole cloth in the late 1700s by someone who couldn’t even read ancient Egyptian for the very good reason that no one could at the time because Egyptian hieroglyphics wouldn’t even be deciphered for another three or four decades when he wrote the book that is widely considered to be the start of all of this..
So all that ‘ancient and mystical’ stuff? It’s all pretty much bunk. Sorry.
Oh, Tarot goes back a long way, but it was a card game. Period. End of story. It was a game that went back several hundred years and had absolutely no mystical origins at all. Taking Tarot and making it into some kind of ancient and mystical method of divination would sort of like taking oh, Battle Ship and making up an utterly ridiculous and totally bogus backstory to turn it into some kind allegory for life.
But not knowing stuff hasn’t ever stopped anyone from taking advantage of it. The lack of any real historical references doesn’t deter them in the slightest. They just make it up knowing that no one is going to bother checking.
Now there are certain expected procedures and interpretations of the cards based on how they’re laid out, reading symbolism into the cards and all that. It’s useful for the beginner, sets a suitably semi-spooky mood, casts the whole thing in a kind of appropriately mystical atmosphere. A lot of the decks of cards some with books or at least some kind of pamphlet that gives a brief outline of how the whole thing works.
So we practiced for a while and tried to figure out who’d do the readings and who’d do the observing. And since we all agreed that the person doing the readings had to A) be reasonably sober, and B) somehow manage to keep from giggling, laughing and/or snickering during the whole thing, and C) be able to look and act trustworthy enough so our intended victims didn’t run screaming…
To make a long story short (ah, like that ever happens with anything I write), they ended up picking me.
Oh, goodie, said I with heavy sarcasm.
So we had our observers (if we could keep them sober). We had our method (Tarot). We had our con artist (me). We had our intended victims (anyone we could talk into sitting still long enough). Location wasn’t a problem. The props consisted of a deck of rather badly drawn cards and nothing else, so we could do it anywhere, any time.
So I practiced doing ‘readings’ on other members of our little group and quickly discovered one rather annoying fact.
It didn’t really work very well.
If I stuck to the ‘script’, that is, the guidelines provided in the book we’d got with the cards, nothing made any sense at all. It came out either utterly ridiculous or self contradictory, or glaringly just plain wrong. It was starting to look like this just wasn’t going to work.
Finally I said screw this, threw the book away and just winged it. And thanks to a mis-spent youth spending way too much time watching really, really bad late night horror movies on television, I managed to pull off something that they agreed was suitably spooky, seemed to make sense, and was only mildly silly. And I almost never giggled during the readings. Ooo, bonus points…
So we launched our ridiculous little experiment, and the first few ‘readings’ went about as well as you might expect. Badly. They were awkward, forced, contradictory, odd…
But we noticed something very, very odd from the very beginning: People wanted to believe. A lot of them, anyway. They wanted to believe so much that they tended to ignore inconsistencies, forgot that what I was telling them contradicted what I’d said earlier.
The other, even more peculiar thing about it was this: I got good at it. I mean seriously scary good.
I could sit down with someone and within the space of a half hour or so pretty much outline their entire past life, every significant even they’d ever experienced, tell them what their hopes and dreams were, what their deepest fears were. I could tell them what their love life was like, tell them about traumatic childhood experiences…
It got very, very strange. It got to the point where even some of the people who were in on it were beginning to wonder just what the hell was happening here.
When things got to that point, I stopped doing it. It had been going on long enough and things were, as I said, getting more than a little weird.
So, you ask, what the hell happened? How did I do it? Was I really some kind of psychic? Was there really some kind of power in those Tarot cards?
Don’t be silly. Of course not. All will be revealed in The Experiment Part Three!
2 thoughts on “The Experiment Part Two: Doing it”
I used to read palms in bars. I knew NOTHING about palms, I just knew vaguely how I should sound and what people were likely to want to hear. Nearly all of them thought I was real. My friends asked me to stop doing it to newly met acquaintances because it was getting awkward revealing the cheat.
How easy it was surprised me. Even at the beginning when I was awkward and unsure, people still believed it, and it got worse as I grew better at it. Before we shut it down some of the people involved were starting to think I was really doing something.
I can understand how some ‘psychics’ might actually believe in themselves. Unless I stopped to analyze what I was doing sometimes, I wasn’t really aware of what I was doing most of the time. It became an almost unconsciously exploited skill set I’d subconsciously taught myself. If I hadn’t been aware of what the whole process was from the beginning I might have fooled myself.