In a rented hall in Van Nuys on Thursday night, the advertisement says, legendary wizard Merlin speaks through the body of a small blonde woman named Diana Hoering. Two dozen people huddle around this woman. They have paid $12 to be here, to hear Merlin.
Merlin speaks in a squeaky voice of moon cycles, past lives and premenstrual syndrome.
"This one little trickster, so to speak, he's got your karmic number," Merlin says, through Diana. "And he's going to keep dialing."
This is channeling--metaphysical fact and fiction, part philosophy, part psychiatry and part stand-up comedy. Merlin sees the future. Merlin sees the past. Merlin speaks.
Q: A woman from Los Angeles says she has heard the sound of a spaceship just beyond her bedroom window. Merlin, what was it?
A: "There are many portals, hmm, at this time . . . being, as it were, checked out, so to speak . . . in preparation for what we term 'future landings' to come forth. We will say to you it was like a test, so to speak. To see what would occur. "
Q: A man from Hollywood, talking hesitantly, complains that he has never had a girlfriend.
A: Merlin says it has been several incarnations since this man has been in love. He must not fear love, Merlin says. He must allow love to free him. "You allow her to untie you, so to speak. You allow her to help you. Do you like it?"
"Yes," he says.
"We thought so."
Q: A Los Angeles woman tells Merlin of her on-and-off relationship with a man.
A: "You have strong connections here," Merlin says. "This entity was, in a past life, your father."
The woman smiles and nods.
"I can see where that might have been."
Q: A woman from Oxnard tells Merlin: "I feel like I'm waiting for some orders, the next instructions to come down."
A: "You are."
"I'm wondering how long it's going to take to get this information," the woman says.
"You just have to wait."
Outside, it has turned unusually cold for November in Los Angeles, and the streets are wet with rain. Along Ventura Boulevard, the bar crowd is a little off because of the weather. On a side street off Van Nuys Boulevard, the channeling crowd is a little off too.
Diana (she prefers to go by her first name) sits on a folding chair. She smiles and rocks from side to side as Merlin channels the words through her. It has been some six years since she became a mortal mouthpiece for the wizard of King Arthur's court.
Age 39, with small features and girlish looks, Hoering is California born and raised, save for a short time she spent studying at the Arizona Metaphysical Society. When she opens herself to the universal energy and allows Merlin to speak through her, "I get this ear-to-ear grin and feel charged with his essence," she said.
On this Thursday night, Merlin again speaks through Hoering about the unusual weather.
"It is the beginning of a party," Merlin says. "It is only the beginning. The magnetic vibration of the earth is changing. Be in the flow."
Merlin speaks of relationships.
"You can be inventors, in a sense, of a new consciousness where man gets along with woman, and woman gets along with man. Indeed, such a truth does exist somewhere, if only in your mind."
When Merlin says this, a man and a pregnant woman in the circle stare into each other's eyes and smile. Others smile, too. They are holding hands, the people in this circle.
Away from Merlin, away from this group, Sam Kiwasz admits he was at first skeptical about channeling.
"The bottom line is not to question the truth of it," said the 36-year-old Burbank schoolteacher. "If you are experiencing brilliance, just accept it."
Within the circle, Sam is known as the greatest of accepters. He sits at the farthest point from Diana and keeps his eyes tightly closed through most of the 1 1/2-hour channeling.
Merlin, through Diana, leads the group in a prayer for "that which we call world peace." Merlin tells these people to hold their hands close together, to feel the power and warmth of the circle. One man appears awe-stricken, another bows his head and another scratches his nose.
Merlin, through Diana, asks the group to concentrate this power into the center of the circle and to speak the names of those who need the assistance of this power. The people speak quietly.
"All the children in the Los Angeles school district."
Merlin speaks of the relationship between free will and divine-right timing. Merlin speaks of the flow of the universe, the plan of the universe.
"You understand we speak in metaphors . When you chose to be in the flow, it will bring to you every happiness that you can possibly conjure up in your mind."
Barbara Arner, of Oxnard says channeling opened the creativity that had been locked inside her. At 55, she has invented a motorized tie rack.
"What comes through Diana," Arner said, "just kind of hits at our solar plexus, at our souls."
Many in the circle are followers like Arner. They travel twice a month to hear Merlin's words through Diana. Several of the people say they knew Diana in previous lives. There is a vibration that attracted them to her in this life, they insist.
"All the people around me are into metaphysics," said Neenah Paige, 34, of Los Angeles. "If I were to take all this into the outside world, I would keep some of it to myself. People aren't ready for this. They fear it."
And, in the back room, Ree Emerson sells metaphysical items: energy-giving crystals, colorful necklaces and earrings, ceramic dragons and wizards. There are "dowsing rods," which are designed to locate the boundaries of a person's aura.
"There is spiritual value in all of this," said Emerson, who wears a purple sweat shirt with the words, "Can I pay for my MasterCard with my Visa?"
"Look at this!" yells Tony Pastore, who is experiencing his first metaphysical gathering. He holds a crystal pendant up to his face. "This is amazing!"
Pastore is a 27-year-old actor who moved to Hollywood from Scranton, Pa., four years ago.
"I've seen channeling on television," he said. "For me, it's my way to get in touch with the afterlife. It's something I can choose to believe in and it will work. It's my religion."
At the end of the channeling, Merlin departs by blessing the group and wishing them a good night. The people are encouraged to hug each other, and they do. They remain afterward, talking in small groups. The discussions range from reincarnation to the price of European vacations.
Arner, the inventor, gestures broadly toward this group.
"These people aren't freaks. They are down-to-earth people."