LEUCADIA — It's a Sunday afternoon, and sunlight is streaming through the big windows of the Phoenix Phyre metaphysical bookstore. Jackie Valdez, in her 20s, leans across a table, places a well-thumbed deck of Tarot cards into the hands of a client, and murmurs words spoken for centuries:
"Cut the cards three times with your left hand."
Although in many parts of the world psychic readings are a part of everyday life ("In China no one would ever put up a building without first consulting a psychic," said Vista travel writer Kitty Morse) in this country the subject of divination tools--Tarot cards, palmistry, astrology, etc.--often produces a skeptical response.
Even mentioning the word "psychic" to a skeptic is likely to draw responses such as "flaky," or "I don't believe in any of that stuff."
If the recent proliferation of psychic fairs is any indication, however, the number of people who are interested in experiencing a psychic reading is growing rapidly.
What is a psychic fair?
It's a gathering of psychics, usually about a dozen, who use different methods of giving readings. It's a chance for the curious to sample mini-readings without parting with a lot of money. A palmistry reading, for example, might cost $15 at a fair, and $35 at a private session.
"There's always a kind of party atmosphere. We don't get really serious," Joanne Jordan, who owns the Phoenix Phyre, said. "A psychic reading should be fun. Something that adds a little extra enhancement to your life."
Some psychic fairs--held in such diverse spots as the Veterans Hall in Balboa Park, the Americana Holistic Church and the Mission Valley Inn--are once-in-a-while gatherings. But many are regular events.
"We've held a fair here in Leucadia, on the last Saturday and Sunday of the month, for over five years now," Jordan says as she stands behind a counter filled with hundreds of glittering crystals.
All six of the bookstore's rooms are crowded. In the largest, racks of dangling rainbow candies catch the light from the window behind the table of Gabriel Bain, the aura-reader. Snatches of conversation drift from people milling about, browsing among the books or waiting to get readings.
"The Viking rune reader isn't here any more. He's moved to Canada . . . ."
"I'm next for the astrologer . . . ."
"It's a 40-minute wait for the aura-reader, mother . . . ."
Scent of Myrrh
A faint scent of myrrh wafts through the rooms. In a secluded corner a toddler in a yellow sunsuit has fallen asleep on the deep pile carpet. The large book directly above his head is titled "Your Child's Dreams."
"I love this store," Jordan says, "although I'd probably make more money running a hot-dog stand."
Clad in a conservative, dark blue pantsuit, Jordan, who has two grown daughters, has a kind, motherly, down-to-earth look about her. The down-to-earth part seems underlined by the fact that she spent 15 years working as a civilian administrative officer with the Marine Corps.
Most of the psychics working at tables scattered around the bookstore hold other jobs during the week.
Valdez is a sign painter at Bronson Design in Vista. Ken Johnson, the astrologer, is writing a libretto assigned to him by the Dayton, Ohio, Opera Company. Gabriel Bain, who reads auras, has his own company where he manufactures The Aura Game, an invention of his played with colored dice.
"I like readers who work. They're well-grounded, and living in the real world," Jordan says.
Intuitive psychic ability, she believes, is not some great mystery; but a natural ability human beings have that usually diminishes somewhere in childhood simply from lack of practice.
"When you hear someone say, 'I had a gut feeling,' they are speaking about intuitive psychic ability," she points out. "The psychics working here today are people who have learned how to fine-tune the ability."
"And, frequently, a psychic reading helps people to recognize what they already know, but they may have been to hurt, or too emotionally involved, to recognize it," she adds.
By 3 p.m., the bookstore is so crowded that people are spilling out of the doorway, onto the dusty pavement beside the Coast Highway. A well-dressed woman with a European accent glances at her watch and frowns slightly. Jordan signals to her dark-haired daughter Debbie (an environmental engineer who often helps her mother out at weekends) and mutters, "The crystal counselors are taking too long."
But the two counselors, who work as a team, are not the only ones.
"Everyone does. Mini-readings are difficult for a psychic. They get involved with a client . . . it's almost impossible to break off at 15 minutes."
Do psychics realize early in life that they are psychics?
The answers are yes for some and no for others.
Knew at 13
Jackie Valdez was only 13 when someone gave her a set of Tarot cards, and she realized, she says, that she was seeing pictures in her mind related to whoever she happened to be giving a reading for.