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.
"It's like a little television--you get pictures on the screen of your mind," explains Fran Cazin, a clairvoyant from Pacific Beach who like to work with crystals. ("I have people pick up a crystal and hold it until it absorbs their vibrations.")
A crystal spider's web glistens in the window behind Cazin as she talks. Her own recognition of her psychic abilities did not, she admits, come early. Ten years ago, when she was already in her 30s, she picked up a stranger's car keys and a mental picture of the car flashed into her mind.
Today, she says, her regular clients include a policeman, several real estate brokers and a Marine drill sergeant. But Cazin prefers not to disclose their names.
Society More Open
"Even though society is much more open today--there's more of a feeling that everyone has the right to his or her own beliefs--many of my clients don't want the people they work with to know that they consult a psychic reader," she said.
Jordan, who has never given a reading, and who says she grew up with no particular interest in the metaphysical, says she experienced a dramatic psychic experience in 1965. She was 32, her daughters 5 and 7.
"My husband was a captain in the Marines, in Vietnam," she recalled. "One evening, after the girls had gone to bed, I was alone in the living room of my apartment when I suddenly felt my husband's presence."
She couldn't see him, she remembers. She couldn't hear any sounds.
"But inside my mind I heard him say, 'I hate to leave you. I love you. Kiss the girls goodby.' And in my mind I answered him. I said, 'Are you dead?' And he said, 'Yes.' "
Was in a Daze
The next morning Jordan remembers being in a daze, wondering if perhaps she was going crazy.
"It was a Sunday. I took the girls for a pancake breakfast, and to church. When we got home our colonel's wife was standing on the doorstep, and I knew," she says. "Right after I let her in there was another knock on the door. I said, 'That's the chaplain, isn't it?' and she dropped her eyes."
"The message had come through at 2 that morning that my husband had been killed, instantly, by a mortar," she says. "When I heard his voice it was 10 p.m., at the actual time he died."
Many people who have come into her bookstore have told her of similar experiences, she says.
Doesn't Know Answer
"I don't know the answer to how these things can happen. But after I got over the initial shock, and the grieving, it was immensely comforting to me to know that our minds have the power to reach out like that."
She opened the Phoenix Phyre nine years ago in Oceanside with a partner, Bahbe Majeski, buying out Majeski after moving to Leucadia in 1982.
At 4 p.m. the place is still crowded. A young man with a mustache stands by the counter, rubbing a sample of sandalwood oil into his hands, adding its scent to the myrrh. Gabriel Bain is explaining to a skeptical older man in a maroon jogging suit (whose wife brought him in) that auras surround the whole body--"Like a bubble of light"--that they grow bright, or dull, depending on how you happen to be feeling, and that he can teach anybody to read them, if they are really interested.
Why, the man in the maroon jogging suit wants to know, would anybody want to read them?
"Well, you can tell if somebody is attracted to you," Bain explains. "Or if they're angry. Or upset. It's very useful for business people.
At the counter, a woman wants to buys a crystal ball for use when she meditates.
"We've always sold crystal balls," Jordan says. "But all crystals are in fashion now." Some people, like actress Jane Fonda, wear a crystal on a chain around their neck, she adds. "And many professional people--doctors, bankers, realtors--are walking around with one in their pocket. People just feel good with a crystal."
Jordan buys most of her crystals from mines in Arkansas, usually during her trips to visit her father, who lives in a remote house in the Ozarks.
Likes Stones Uncut
"Apart from washing the earth off them I like them to be completely natural. Uncut. Untampered with," she says. "I always enjoy unpacking a shipment of crystals, because every one of them is beautiful in its own way. Like snowflakes, there are never two alike."
Asked if there is any aspect of running a metaphysical bookstore that she doesn't enjoy, Jordan says she'd have to admit it's the responsibility. It isn't only on fair days that the Phoenix Phyre is a home to psychic readers and their clients. During the week, many people get lengthier readings by appointment.
"I always audition the psychics who read here by having them read for me," she says. "I would never, knowingly, have someone who wasn't ethical. All of the readers here make sure their clients realize that a psychic reading should be treated like a road map--the psychic tells you what the possibilities are, and the direction your energies are taking. But when you walk out of the door you have the power to change it."
"But all of us encounter clients who are psychic junkies," Valdez adds. "People who come back day after day, who want every decision made for them. Recently, I had a client who kept asking me if she should leave her husband."
"No psychic reader should take a responsibility like that away from a client," stresses Jordan, adding that she tries to watch for such clients and to suggest--"Tactfully!"--that they may need counseling of another kind.
Do the skeptics bother her?
"Not in the least!" says Jordan. "In fact, sometimes they're fun because they leave here a little, well, less skeptical . . . ."
"Like that man," Jordan whispers, indicating the man in the maroon jogging suit. It's almost 5 p.m., closing time, and he's leaving, shepherding his wife out of the door, muttering to her. He still sounds grudging about "wasting an afternoon" but, under his arm is a paper sack containing three metaphysical books he has purchased.
Jordan's eyes meet those of her daughter and she smiles.
"If you got to a psychic fair take an open mind with you," she says. "Go to have fun, to browse, to learn, to chat with interesting people. Because one thing I can guarantee is that if you go to a psychic fair you'll meet interesting people."