Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
I Got a Hotline to the Dead: Edward Carrion puts together the 'Psychic Consumer 101' online guide to avoiding psychic fraud.
The New Year is the busiest season for psychics, and Silicon Valley has a lot of them. Even true believers are always on the lookout for fraud, and Santa Clara's Edward Carrion wants to protect the psychic consumer.
By Vrinda Normand
THE HISS of the espresso machine and murmur of complicated coffee orders at Starbucks fades into the background as local psychic Edward Carrion tunes into "the other side." He closes his eyes and furrows his brow in concentration, tilting one ear up as if he's downloading a message from above.
"Guys ... ummm, Ronnie, I know you're there," he says to someone no one else in the bustling coffeehouse can see. "Wait a second," he continues, raising his hand. "You need to show yourself to me."
Ronnie, by the way, died when he was 29 years old, leaving behind a wife and two kids. His sister, who we'll call Samantha, is sitting an arm's length away from Edward at the table.
Samantha asked that her identity not be revealed so this reporter could share all the intimate details of her reading. I can tell you, however, that she's a 50-year-old sales representative from the South Bay who likes to dance and orders her coffee with unabashed certainty.
Right now, she's gingerly sipping a double decaf cappuccino with nonfat milk in a short, round mug. The golden highlights in her hair illuminate her warm brown eyes as she looks at Edward with a combination of anticipation and apprehension.
Before this meeting, Samantha told us that she believes in psychics but will be carefully testing the waters to see if Edward is the "real deal." She's never had a psychic reading before.
Edward appears to be calmly confident in his ability to impress. His 6-foot-5 frame makes the sparse wooden chair he's sitting in look even smaller. His 53 years have been kind to his youthful face, but not his hair. The bare skin on top of his head reflects the natural light from the floor-to-ceiling window next to him.
Outside, it's a slightly overcast December afternoon in downtown San Jose, just a block away from City Hall. People passing by on the sidewalk inches away from Edward have no idea he's supposedly conversing with the dead.
They may also be oblivious to the fact that paranormal encounters like this happen at coffeehouses often, especially during this time of year. Seasoned psychics from around the Bay Area say that December and January are their busiest months for three reasons:
1. Curiosity about the new year: "Am I finally going to shed those extra 10 pounds?" "Am I going to find true love?" These are common questions that psychics get showered with in January. "It's a great time of year to get a reading," says Susan Bostwick, director of the Berkeley Psychic Institute. "The aura is the storybook of the soul, and a psychic can read the 'post-it notes' in the aura," she explains referring to the colorful energy field that spiritualists believe surrounds every living thing. If you get your predictive "post-it notes" interpreted correctly, you could get a heads up for what's to come in 2008.
2. Holiday depression: Some people get depressed during the winter holiday season because they're lonely or disappointed with their family. "They're looking for something to hold on to, words of hope, wisdom and encouragement," says Fremont-based intuitive Monique Chapman. (She hates using the word "psychic" because she says it's been butchered by the media.) People with clairvoyant abilities like Chapman can be friendly resources for those with the holiday blues.
3. Holiday losses: Edward says far more terminally ill people tend to "check out" in January because they're holding on to life until the end of the holidays. (No, there has definitely not been a study on this.) He says more grieving survivors come to him during this time of year asking for a psychic "medium" reading, or a special session where he channels messages from their deceased loved ones. Their most common questions: "Are they OK?" and "Are they mad at me?" Edward says his passion as a psychic medium is to give others peace and closure by connecting with their friends and relatives on the other side.
Edward also wants to make sure that people don't get jerked around by psychics who pretend to see or maliciously try to suck money out of vulnerable, naive clients.
"I hate people that rip off other people," he says.
So he's doing something about it. He created a free educational resource on his website (readingsbyedward.com) called "Psychic Consumer 101." There you'll find easy-to-read tips on what a psychic is, how to tell if a self-professed psychic is the "real thing," and how to tell if a psychic is "using you."
"Silicon Valley has the highest concentration of psychics that I know," Edward says. "The energy of readings here is huge." Downtown San Jose, he adds, is a major "reception center" for the other side.
If that's true, then you're more likely to find a good psychic among the crowded phone book listings, websites and hippie fairs in the South Bay. Still, Chapman warns, the same trend also invites wannabes who see the profession as an easy moneymaker, especially when the economy is struggling.
"Anything in the psychic realm can be misused," Chapman says.
Right now, Edward seems to be a bit confused with the messages he's getting from Ronnie, Samantha's invisible brother.
The psychic medium has been trying to decipher incomplete sounds and symbols being communicated by her spirit relatives. It's an art he's been practicing since he was a young boy, but today his channeling is hit or miss.
Edward correctly intuited that Samantha's brother had "passed on" and that his name started with an "R." But he's also getting what he calls a "J/G"," two letters that sound the same to him in the spirit realm and have something to do with the message from "R." He's trying to figure out if maybe one of Samantha's other dead relatives is talking to him, one who had a name that started with J or G.
She can't think of anyone.
"Ummmmm, OK, cool," Edward says and moves on to the next message. He says he feels a sudden impact to his chest area and sees broken wine bottles around, like alcohol was involved in Ronnie's death. But he doesn't hear the loud, metallic crunch of a car accident, and Samantha confirms that her brother did not die in a car accident.
"OK, he's telling me flat out, in no uncertain terms, that 'my behavior had to do with my passing,'" Edward says with a burst of clarity. Samantha nods her head carefully but keeps her face expressionless. Until this point, she hasn't appeared shocked or moved by anything Edward has said.
"Hold on, did Ronnie commit suicide?" Edward asks. "No," Samantha replies.
Then the medium picks up the "J/G" again. "Wait, something's not right here," he says as his eyebrows come together in puzzlement. "When they give me a J/G, maybe it's for the person the message is supposed to be delivered to," Edward continues. "He wants to relay that his passing did not hurt and that he's watching over the family. Do you understand that?"
Something shifts in Samantha's poise. Her face cracks with emotion and her eyes well up with tears. "Oh!" she says, looking down at the table. She covers her mouth with her hands.
"It's Jamie," Samantha reveals. "Ronnie is delivering a message to his son Jamie."
Encouraged by her reaction, Edward pushes on and paints a more detailed picture of the situation, followed by Samantha's positive nodding. Jamie (now 18 years old) is still struggling with his father's death. They had a vicious argument before he died, and the boy hasn't gotten over it. "They were very close," Edward says. "Over time it can only hurt less."
'You Either Have Access or You Don't'
Edward had a rough childhood. He suffered from ongoing panic attacks that "totally freaked him out" and endured the abuse of two alcoholic parents. He says he didn't talk audibly until he was 9 years old and then had to deal with being gay as a teenager in the 1960s.
He spent six years as a cop in Los Angeles, worked as a computer networking consultant in Boston and then settled in Santa Clara as a full-time psychic after the dotcom bubble burst in 2001. Before that, Edward had entertained his intuitive talents on the side.
All of his life experiences, Edward says, make him a stronger person and a better psychic. "We are on Earth to learn lessons about ourselves," he says.
One of his life lessons is to resist addictive behavior and break the pattern set by his parents. The wisdom he gains with age also helps him interpret the symbols that he senses when he's channeling.
Edward says everyone has the natural potential to be psychic (every psychic I spoke with for this article told me the same thing), but not everyone is a true "medium" or someone who can talk to souls who have "crossed over the veil."
"You either have access or you don't," Edward says, "and you have to learn how to be patient with it."
He believes he was "chosen" before birth to be a medium, and his life purpose is to relay important messages from the dead that help people lead better lives. He also serves the purpose of proving the existence of life and after death —often with bizarre details he never could have guessed.
Ten of his clients wrote to me directly, sharing stories about their experiences with Edward. Two in particular were eyebrow-raisers.
Chris Zobel in Pennsylvania met Edward at a psychic fair in Reno, Nev., four years ago and admits he was "fairly skeptical." Still, he was drawn to Edward and told him that his nephew had died a few months prior. The medium then accurately identified the nephew's unusual name (Bryn) and revealed the circumstances of his death at a military base in Delaware. He even knew exactly where the young man's wounds were located, Zobel says.
Six months later, Edward spotted Zobel at the same psychic fair and delivered a message from the "Air Force kid." Bryn wanted to tell his mother that he was OK and requested that she stop "wishing him back." Her grieving was interrupting his "transition." As it happens, his mother claimed to have received the same message from her son in a dream and felt comforted. "Edward is a truly remarkable and gifted medium who gave me the ability to look beyond my initial skepticism," Zobel wrote. "[My wife and I] both consider him a friend and valuable adviser."
During Devann Cristi's first reading, Edward told her that he was with her son's grandma. "No! That's couldn't be," she said. She hadn't heard from the older woman in about a year, but insisted she would know if she had died. The message Edward kept repeating from Grandma: "She has his back."
Three days later Ms. Cristi learned that Grandma had passed away 10 months before, around the same time her son had a life-threatening accident. The boy barely escaped a fatal wound, and Cristi is convinced it was because Grandma "had his back."
"I feel Grandma Ellen is laughing over my shoulder right now as I write this," she wrote.
After her reading at the San Jose Starbucks, Samantha told me that she "got goosebumps" when Edward gave Ronnie's message to Jamie. She was impressed that he didn't drop the J/G sound, even though neither of them understood it right away.
It turns out her nephew Jamie used to be called "JJ" when he was younger, particularly by his father Ronnie —something she discovered when she shared the tape of the reading with her family.
But Samantha says she wasn't as impressed with Edward's more earth-bound intuition (or "educated guesswork" as she puts it). He tried to make sense of the raw sounds and images he said he was receiving, but didn't always get things right.
For example, he communicated with the spirit of Samantha's late grandmother, a Latin American woman with a fiery personality. During the reading he called her "diva" because that's how she referred to herself, and envisioned her waving an upright rolling pin with authority.
He also saw an image of a beautiful blue rose and assumed that Ronnie (the dead brother) used to give his mother roses. Well, Samantha checked with her mom and that part wasn't true.
However, the blue rose was significant —Samantha's grandma used to collect rare rose bushes when she was alive and coveted an exotic blue rose in particular.
"He got my grandma's personality right on the mark," Samantha says. On a 1 –10 scale, she gives Edward a "9" for his work as a medium and a "6" as an intuitive.
"When he opens himself up to the let the energy flow through him without filtering it through his mind," she explains, "that's where his greatest asset is."
Samantha believes her own intuition is pretty strong and "plays a huge role" in how she chooses the people in her life.
I gathered lots of practical tips to be aware of if you plan on being a psychic consumer this year, but the most obvious and understated one was this: trust your gut feeling.
So I decided to find out about becoming a little psychic myself.
The Academy for Psychic Studies is tucked into a tiny office space off Lincoln Avenue in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood. On some Saturdays, the school advertises its presence with balloons and a sidewalk sign offering a free psychic consultation.
The Academy's website includes a list of its classes, from beginning meditation to advanced aura reading. On Tuesdays, it welcomes members of the public to an open, complimentary "energy healing clinic."
Unfortunately, the Academy does not welcome members of the media, and refused to speak with me for this article.
"We're not interested because that's not what we're about," a woman from the Academy told me before she hung up the phone (and before I could ask why). The school also requires that visitors sign an agreement promising they're not investigators or journalists.
I encountered the same testy attitude when I called the director of the Berkeley Psychic Institute —the most well-known, established psychic school in Northern California since 1972.
"Who's your antagonist?" Susan Bostwick asked me before we began our interview. I told her I just wanted to know more about her school, and how anyone can learn to be psychic.
"I'm not inclined to go there," she repeated stiffly, still hesitant.
"Well, it's going to look weird to our readers if you won't at least talk about your school," I said.
"Don't threaten me," she replied. "I won't be threatened!"
"Um, I'm not threatening you," I said, heat rising to my forehead. "I'm just frustrated because I've been honest with you about this story."
Bostwick paused and seemed to lower her guard.
Finally, awkwardly, we began to talk about the basics of being psychic and how Bostwick believes we can find our "innermost heart's desire" by tapping into our inherent intuition.
Pretty soon, she was speaking passionately about "spreading the word that we're all psychic." She even gave me a few tips on aura reading and how to tell if a phony psychic is asking too many questions.
"All I need to know, Vrinda, is your name," she told me. "As soon as you speak, I know your spirit. Pretty much right away I can assess you."
That was why she consented to our interview after the bad start. "When you became angry, it looked like this black, purple energy. It was really ugly," she said (over the phone, speaking to me from Sonoma County).
"But I knew that was not coming from you as a person, but from your office. I can look past that and read you, and that's OK with me," Bostwick continued.
Then she gave me a boost of encouragement about my psychic potential.
"You're probably already ahead of the game because you're a journalist," she said. "It would take about three weeks to two months to get you to where you have some certainty about reading an aura."
Bostwick says one of her clients turned his chaotic workplace around with his newly developed psychic abilities. What was once a tense, snappy startup company became a harmonious environment where people actually laughed.
The truth is, people "read" other people's emotions all the time —whether they call it psychic or not. It also happens when humans communicate with animals: no one is talking, but somehow, you just know when your pet cat is jealous of your new girlfriend.
Someone with trained intuition just uses their "natural equipment" more deftly —and can possibly point out your blind spots.
"A psychic isn't supposed to tell somebody what to do," Edward says. "They help pull away the [external] layers in order for the person to come back to their center. From the center, we realize what is best for us and make decisions about where to go."
Psychic Consumer 101
AFTER interviewing psychics, exploring the possibilities of psychic education, observing a psychic reading, consulting with bigwigs in the industry and getting feedback from clients, I've put together a comprehensive guide for the psychic consumer. So if you're curious enough to seek one out, here are a few things to keep in mind when you're searching for your psychic:
— Consider taking an introductory class at the Berkeley Psychic Institute (four locations in Berkeley, Santa Rosa, Sacramento and Los Altos). You might feel more confident about your "gut feeling" before you choose a professional. "One of the problems we have is teaching people how simple it is," Bostwick explains. "The only difference between you and I is that I've been practicing for 34 years." Hey, you might even get good enough to become your own psychic.
— Don't be afraid to interview or screen psychics, and be very wary if they respond defensively or try to hide something from you. I told Edward (author of "Psychic Consumer 101") about my strange experience with the Academy for Psychic Studies in San Jose. He raised his eyebrows and said, "Why are they so afraid of investigation?" A trustworthy psychic, he added, is willing to be transparent and should even let you record the reading. During your reading, ask specific questions, but don't give away too many details (other than your name and the names of people you ask about; this helps the psychic "tune into" their vibration). See if the psychic can give you concrete answers that directly apply to your life without prying for more information. Bostwick suggests a few good ones to model:
"I'm having difficulty with a certain person. What makes me so mad about this person?"
"I have a cat that has health problems. What's going on with her?"
"Why do I always choose abusive men?"
"Why can't I lose weight?"
— Go to a psychic fair and take your pick. Dean Price runs the Holistic Living Expo in several California cities year-round where intuitives of all sorts are the main attraction. The San Jose Expo happens about three times a year and has recently been his most popular event. "People in San Jose are really hungry for this kind of thing," Price says. Finding a psychic at the fair is more likely to be safer than just opening up the phone book. Price says he screens his vendors by having them do a sample reading with someone who is "very discerning." His main concerns: Are they helpful? And can they do what they say they can do? Readings at the Expo are also priced at a flat rate —more dependable than pay-by-the-minute phone consultations where the psychic's incentive is to keep you on the line for as long as possible.
— Ask other people what they think. Redwood City –based aura photographer Guy Coggins has been to hundreds of psychic fairs and met thousands of intuitives over the past thirty years. "I'm in the epicenter of the psychic world," he says and estimates that there are about 1,000 professionals in the Bay Area. He likes to get solid feedback from the consumers. When he's at a fair, he'll walk around and talk to people who have just received readings. "Did they tell you anything they couldn't have guessed just by looking at you?" he asks. Then he can find out which psychics are "having a really good day." On a side note, Coggins has seen Edward in action and says he's a very talented medium.
— Finally, don't be afraid. If a psychic tries to instill fear in you by claiming that you've been cursed or that your house is haunted and only they can clear it for a fee, run! "The people that are best at scams are very talented and know who they can steal from; they can sense fear and frustration," Edward explains. If they see that you're scared or they can make you scared, it'll be easier for them to take advantage of you financially. In November, Santa Clara County authorities announced they were looking for a so-called psyhic who bilked nearly $500,000 out of a client, promising to cleanse the woman of "evil."
Metro intern Dina Baslan contributed to this article.
Send a letter to the editor about this story.