Browsing to the highest power

A woman named Rose Rosetree warned of the dangers of cosmetic surgery. Never mind the possibility of a botched job or post-operative infection, the real peril is that in fixing the bump on your nose, you have unwittingly altered your destiny.

A curved nose, she explained, marks a creative soul; straighten it, and the soul, like the nose, simply becomes more average.

Rosetree is a physiognomist -- a face reader. She can also read auras and chakras and is a trained empath. Her new book, “Wrinkles Are God’s Makeup” is an effort to teach people how to read character and soul in the faces that surround them and also to see how facial changes often tell the stories of our lives -- and so should not be messed with.

About a dozen people sat in rapt attention -- despite white molded plastic chairs -- for almost two hours, listening to her describe her craft and watching her read the faces and auras of audience members. “You have a very deep smile,” she told one woman. “You are literally showing people what you look like inside, which means you are a very giving person.”


“You are really sexy,” she said, backing away from a lanky middle-aged man to indicate that the chakra emanating from his pelvis was, well, formidable. “But I’ve been celibate most of my life,” he said. “That’s why,” she said with a laugh. “You’ve been storing it up.”

Rosetree was speaking, of course, at the Bodhi Tree.

Live in this town long enough and sooner or later, one way or the other, you wind up at the Bodhi Tree Bookshop. For more than 30 years, the bookstore has sat placidly amid the noise and haste of Melrose Avenue just west of La Cienega.

Here is a warren of rooms filled with books and candles and bath oils and statuary and crystals and tarot cards, all smelling like the inside of a hippie girl’s backpack. That iconic perfume of the New Age, citrus and patchouli, maybe clove cigarettes or the funk of a little spilled pot, topped by the dry and inky smell of new book.


The store appeals mostly to a group once known as New Agers. According to a framed poster in the store, a New Ager is: “Anyone who seeks truth from any source.” But, as points out, it’s hard to call these sorts of folks “new” anymore (very hard if there is such a thing as and so they settle on the term “mind-body-spirit...” fans... people... seekers... whatever.

But all sorts of people come to the Bodhi Tree when they need answers, when the social tools they got from their parents or the school system or the church or MTV stop working. People come when their love lives have tanked so badly that top 40 radio begins to make sense, when the meds aren’t cutting it and life on the mountain top looks good if only there’s cable, when a psychic or a tarot-card reading seems just as reasonable as making major life decisions based on a two-minute phoner with Dr. Phil.

Not that there’s anything wrong with Dr. Phil. His books can be found, easily, at the Bodhi Tree, and this is the blank wonder of the place. Everyone’s books can be found here. In one section, you will find book titles like “Getting to Yes,” “Stop Obsessing!” “Toxic Parents” and “Am I Okay?” mere inches away from “The Basic Writings of Sigmund Freud.” Across the room, a subject card reads: “Death and Dying/Psychedelics.” At the Bodhi Tree, Deepak Chopra is one shelf above Albert Einstein, Anne Rice is a fang’s length from Dorothy Parker and William Faulkner, and a bookcase holding all manner of Bibles is edged with another containing bound trios of candles that promise “Happy Marriage,” “Fertility” and “Dreams Come True.” For only $6.99.

According to co-founder Phil Thompson, the books have changed as the clientele has broadened. Ever since Shirley MacLaine’s “Out on a Limb” occupied the bestseller list for several of her lifetimes, it’s become more acceptable to seek counsel from the I Ching or solace in past-life regressions. In the early days of the store, many of the books were by gurus recently arrived from India and Asia; now they are more often by the gurus’ students, written from a Western point of view. “We don’t get as much interest in the classics anymore,” Thompson says. “But who’s to judge purity? Some of these people are quite good.”

Serious scholars and spiritual divas, they’re all here, sorted by quasi-subject, not legitimacy, because that’s the whole point. Who knows, in the end, who’s truly enlightened and who’s selling snake oil? What are the restorative properties of snake oil anyway? It might cure cancer if administered in the proper amounts with a side order of sage smoke.

As scandals plague the Catholic Church and Freud gets picked to shreds of shreds, as the drug companies churn out yet another anti-anxiety drug with its requisite side effects of nausea and possible seizures, why not ask someone like Rosetree to look at your jowls and eyelids and tell you what it all means? Her readings may be pleasantly vague -- who would deny being “giving” or “sexy” -- but her basic belief that we worry too much about our faces and not enough about our souls is difficult to argue with.

The beauty of the Bodhi Tree is that it does not argue, nor does it judge. You see angels or chakras or auras? Lucky you. Have a cup of herbal tea, on the house.

Some people find this modern trend of spirituality over religion disturbing. “The problem with Americans,” someone I admire once said, “is not that they don’t believe in anything. It’s that they believe in everything.”


The “Who Knows? Try This” approach to finding a Higher Power certainly flies in the face of the One True Way model that has kept the Seven Majors on the top of the charts all these years.

But a lot of the systems tradition held dear -- racism, sexism, the Democratic Party -- have collapsed under their own weight lately and if America was famously founded by those who disagreed, Los Angeles is full of Those Who Disagreed Even More.

Which is why, one way or another, we all wind up at the Bodhi Tree, no matter what our current disposition may be. Having your chakras read or your cards done supplies the same basic thrill as more conventional therapy: For this amount of time someone who is not me is thinking all about me and trying to figure out what I should do next.

“It’s the only bookstore in town that I’ve never been in,” said a friend in a not quite snotty way. His life is going pretty darn well right now and so I smiled and nodded and didn’t say “that you haven’t been in yet.”


L.A. Centric appears on Tuesday. Mary McNamara can be reached at