I Was One of America's Top Psychics—And Like All of Them, a Complete Fraud
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
The following is an excerpt from Psychic Blues: Confessions of a Conflicted Medium(Feral House, 2012) by Mark Edward.
Every time I get a little too high on my psychic horse or start taking myself too seriously, I stop myself from spinning off into the dark world of delusion and psychic self-deception by watching the 1947 film-noir classic Nightmare Alley. It helps me cope.
Tyrone Power is the Great Stanton, a carnival psychic. He gives the sheriff that famous standard reading that manages to turn the tables to his advantage and directs the law away from their initial plan to bust him. He convinces the sheriff that his "Scots blood is working right this minute," and that he somehow knows the lawman's deepest, darkest secrets. This ruse works beautifully. This same cinematic scene is reenacted all across America on a daily basis, from shady storefronts in Miami to Hollywood socialite parties. This ten-minute lesson in petty fraud is a rare glimpse of just how easy it is for a savvy, persuasive person to claim they have second sight.
Twenty-five years of working the psychic streets has taught me many truths, for better or worse. Sure, I have a pile of testimonial letters. Yes, I can see the future, given the right perspective and information, and of course I can read the paw of your pet poodle. I may indeed have a great gift, but it's the gift of gab mixed with a healthy dose of imagination and nerve that has allowed me to be a psychic professionally and to now write about it.
My overwhelming interest in the magical realm began when I was a small child, watching in awe as my grandfather made candies and coins disappear and reappear at will. His magician's hands entranced me. Add to that my propensity to always listen to my inner voice, though in the current New Age it's been re-tagged as something other than basic common sense and a willingness to pay attention to intuition. Intuition is defined as knowing something without knowing how or why. It's acute insight. So, is this what we mean when we say psychic?
I'm quite confident that I would know by now if I had a spirit guide or my Aunt Ethel's watchful ghost alongside me. I have looked and searched, then looked again. I've traveled all over the planet and humbled myself in front of everything from Celtic priestesses to UFO abductees and their recruiters. This process has been repeated over and over, only to circle back endlessly into the cul-de-sac of my own personal nightmare alley. There's nothing there in the dark, though I have frequently found myself wanting to believe there are supernatural elements to converse with and take refuge in. Their existence would have made life so much easier to understand and exploit. Still, I have a head start at getting your goat. And I will. It's Darwin's survival of the fittest, and a sideshow tent is never far from a psychiatrist's couch; there's just more sawdust on the floor.
The Great Stanton in Nightmare Alley starts out his ill-fated voyage as a carnival mentalist who climbs from the ragtag traveling carnival to the giddy heights of super-psychic stardom in a glitzy New York City club. In thebeginning of the film, he witnesses the terrifying spectacle of a sideshow geek tearing the heads off chickens in the geek pit and asks the circus owner, "How could a guy go so low?" By the end of the film, Stanton has fallen from the summit of society's psychic mountain and become that pitiful, alcoholic geek himself. The last lines in the film are between a circus owner and his stagehand, who again asks, "Gee, boss, how could a guy go so low?" To which the owner replies, "He reached too high."