Your dead dog is trying to reach you. So is your late grandmother. Gnomes, fairies and elves have information to share with you.
You can communicate with all these beings if you have about $30 for a half-hour session -- and a whole bunch of willing suspension of disbelief.
The Victory of Light Psychic Festival, a semi-annual event at the Sharonville Convention Center, is a kind of flea market for the spirit. The curious and the troubled can consult Tarot card readers, "medical intuitives" (don't they say most diagnosis is guesswork anyway?), animal communicators, angel communicators, aura photographers, astrologers, dream interpreters, a dice diviner, spirit guides, past-life guides, crystal healers and foot reflexologists. The Nov. 17-18 session even included a woman who channels the spirit of Albert Einstein.
The parking lot at the Psychic Festival must have one of the highest proportions of vanity license plates of any event in the city: ESSENE, ISIS 22, TAO NOW, MYST, THUNDERG, ENRCHNG. Many in the crowd are adorned by necklaces containing beads or crystals.
Lots of cash is passing hands. Complete strangers are huddled over card tables, holding hands and closing their eyes as they focus on realities they earnestly believe in, no matter how farfetched or illogical they might seem.
Can you prove there are no gnomes? Can you prove Einstein doesn't want to communicate with us?
If you hoped for privacy as you discuss whatever ails your past or present life, you've come to the wrong place. Healers and psychics have set up tables within arm's length of one another, so the blind woman having her service dog's thoughts analyzed can probably hear the psychic telling me I've been "emotionally neutral" for far too long.
"Your strategy of hiding and pretending you have no feelings is about to blow," Patricia Garry says.
There is no opportunity to hide at the Psychic Festival. The crowd is constant throughout both days, milling, shuffling and inching past the exhibitors. Very private phenomena -- worries, hopes, tears -- are on very public display.
At the Crystal Solutions booth, a young woman lies supine on a cot. Crystals have been place on her forehead, chin, bosom and navel. One woman is waving a crystal pendulum in circles over the client's head, and a second woman is waving a crystal over her abdomen.
Crystals are believed to carry healing energy. Healing energy is believed to be real.
Melody Doughman, who owns the Healing Touch Center of Cincinnati, explains how it works. She places her hands on a patient in order to manipulate energy.
"It's using an energy that comes through your hands and goes into the body and, if there is any negative energy, it comes out through your other hand," she says. "I use a universal energy or, if you want, energy from the creator. There's also an energy that surrounds us -- the trees."
"Energy" is a key concept in the world of the psychic. It heals precisely because it is the essence of the universe, according to Victor Paruta, who runs the Psychic Festival.
"I believe there is an energy in which we all exist and are aware," he says. "That is in each and every one of us. That is God."
The concentration of so much energy in one place at one time is what makes the Psychic Festival both so powerful and so exhausting, according to those who serve it up to visitors.
"A lot of people get headaches from being here," Garry says. "There's a lot of energy floating around. I have to eat all day long when I do this, just burn up the calories. I both love these and dread them. Physically, it's very taxing. Monday I will have to do something very light."
When Paruta gives me a Tarot reading, he starts by having me shuffle the deck -- "The cards will pick up your energy," he says -- while he closes his eyes and clears his "energy field." It probably takes a psychic to understand the interior gyrations that this involves.
On the exterior, it manifests as a series of nervous tics. Paruta repeatedly stretches his neck, rapidly raises and lowers his eyebrows and then half-jumps out of his chair.
"I didn't mean to startle you," he says. "Sometimes that happens when I'm clearing my energy field."
"Certified" is another key concept at the festival. A surprising number of wonder workers claim to have paperwork to back them up.
Among the festival exhibitors are Elizabeth Barnett, "certified spiritual healer"; the Rev. Thomas R. Bohl, "certified medium"; Pauline, "certified hypnotherapist"; and Patricia Kennedy, "certified numerologist."
An exhibit called "Face Reading by Lin" has a sign that boasts, "Face reading is 3,000 years old and scientifically validated to 92 percent accuracy."
If ancient provenance matters, Lin has nothing on James Nammack, who bills himself as "Prophet, Wizard, Sorcerer, Ancient Mesopotamian Dice Oracle." Dice divining, he says, is 5,000 years old.
"Sit down and let me change your life," he says in greeting.
Nammack is resplendent in a purple shirt embroidered with sparkly bangles. I ask what the garment is called, expecting an exotic name from ancient Mesopotamia.
"I don't know what it's called," he says. "I got it from a catalog. It's a costume. People expect diviners to look different."
A retired management analyst from Lexington, Ky., Nammack says he developed his own system of using dice to tell the future 15 years ago (visit www.cosmicdiceoracle.com).
He is more than eager to talk about it with a reporter.
"If you want to include my Web site in the story, I'll kiss your feet," he says. "I mean that."
Feeling generous in the midst of so much psychic energy, I decide to let my feet go unkissed but I accept his offer of a free reading -- that is, a toned-down version. He explains that a full reading consists of 18 "information units," but mine will not.
"Since I'm doing this for free, we'll use nine information units," he says.
An information unit is what results from rolling four dice -- two red, two white -- and noting the number pairs. Mine include the pairs 3-3 and 2-6, among others. To obtain nine information units, Nammack throws the dice nine times.
He then consults a book that has little sayings next to each pair of numbers; this is the "oracle" part. My information units lead to such observations as "You correctly evaluate something," "You must modify your behavior in some way" and "You hit the bull's eye."
The nine oracular sayings are in answer to a single question I asked Nammack: "Will George Bush attack Iran?" He interprets each of the nine information units and concludes by saying, "It doesn't say Iran will be bombed. There will be moves that way, but other people will dissuade him."
I look for signs of fatigue or energy loss in Nammack's demeanor as the reading ends. He has, after all, thrown the dice nine times. But he seems unaffected by the kind of psychic weariness that the others described.
As it turns out, anyone can divine the future, according to Nammack.
"It's innate within everyone," he says. "You don't need cards or dice. All you need to do is think about a question that's important to you out loud to the universe itself. Usually within 30 minutes you will get an answer. There's nothing more natural than divining. It's the way human life operates. It's the way the universe operates."
But alas the universe isn't always kind, even to psychics. I ask Nammack about his family's opinion of his work, and the answer is not a happy one. Divorced, he has two adult sons in Baltimore.
"We don't have much to do with each other," he says.
He believes now
The Nov. 17-18 session of the Victory of Light Psychic Fair featured 200 exhibitors and about 4,000 customers, according to Paruta, who started the show 15 years ago. Age 57, he is a Virgo. The Cleveland native moved to Cincinnati in 1979 after graduating from Miami University, where he studied English and marketing.
"I never thought I'd be a psychic," he says. "But it was actually a psychic who predicted it."
Makes sense -- as does his father's eventual grudging appreciation of Paruta's work.
"My dad told me before he died that he didn't believe in what I did," Paruta says. "He wasn't adamantly against it, but he didn't believe in psychics. He also told me he didn't believe in life after death.
"On the one-year anniversary of his death, he came to me. I felt such love coming from my dad. I never really got to know my dad real well. He was always kind of aloof and private. But when he came to me after he died, he made me feel he was in a very good place -- and he certainly does believe now in life after death."
Paruta's Clifton home is awash in spiritual symbology. A Buddha atop a balcony railing faces indoors. The dining room table holds an Orthodox icon. Several crystal balls are in evidence.
"A lot of New Age thought is a mixture of Christianity, the Eastern religions, parapsychology," he says. "It came in a lot during the 1960s and Alan Watts and The Beatles getting into Eastern mysticism and questioning the nature of reality.
"It's quite obvious that New Age beliefs have become a part of mainstream thought. For instance, most people now know what 'chakra' means or 'karma' or 'reiki.' "
The Psychic Festival isn't meant to convince anyone of anything, Paruta says.
"We don't have an agenda at all," he says. "The only agenda is to bring opportunities to people that they might hear something that will improve their lives. The festival is completely non-dogmatic and non-discriminating. It's all about mind expansion. It's all about the spirit of helping, easing human suffering and overcoming ignorance."
That's not to say just anyone can set up shop and charge visitors for readings. Paruta screens exhibitors who want to participate.
"If I don't know them or if they don't have the experience to do readings at a weekend-long festival, I have them read me," he says. "I only want psychics who are experienced and able to deal with the different situations that come up. It takes experience to deal with people who are coming to you with some pretty heavy-duty issues. You have to know how to deliver, how to communicate messages in a caring, sensitive way, even if sometimes they need a talking-to because they're screwing up their lives through addictions or not treating people well."
When he reads me, Paruta says nothing about my addiction to cigarettes. Instead of chalking this up to compassion, I deduce the obvious meaning: Smoking isn't hurting me a whit.
What is hurting me, however, is a childhood injury in which I reached out for something I needed and got my hands burned or smashed or somehow hurt. He asks if I remember the incident. I do not, but then I'm not the psychic; he is.
"I've seen some pretty amazing things happen at the Psychic Festival -- people getting healings, people losing the weight they've been carrying around for years, the hurts from childhood or past relationships," Paruta says.
There's nothing clairvoyant about the management of the Sharonville Convention Center, which has no ashtray at its entrance and in turn is littered by hundreds of cigarette butts. When I go outside to do my part and add a few more butts, two women in wheelchairs equipped with oxygen tanks are working their way past a dozen or so smokers.
None of the smokers, however, sees cause and effect playing out before them. It's a good thing that they've come for psychic input.
Mark Meador of Batavia and his daughter Lindsey, by contrast, know what the future holds if they don't act. They're walking Harley, their 7-month-old purebred American pit bull terrier, waiting for him to expel some "energy" on the lawn before going inside. They have brought the dog for a reading.
"Just to see what he thinks and if there's any thoughts we can pick up," Mark Meador says. "He's a very loving, family-oriented dog. He has seizures when he sleeps. We don't know if this will help with that or not."
This seems not at all unusual to Ann Baumbach, an animal communicator on duty. She says she's here "listening to the animals and the questions people have about their animals, hopefully providing support in having a harmonious, multi-species household."
It's widely known that animals talk to us, Baumbach says.
"Anyone who's had an animal knows an animal communicates their pleasures, their love, their emotion," she says. "The stretch is I provide the vocal chords that the animal doesn't have. They communicate by many ways, but the ability to listen or hear varies."
It also can depend on what's on the beast's mind at the time of the reading.
"You may want to know why a particular horse is having a particular difficulty in its dressage, but the horse might want to talk about flies or wanting to be out in the pasture more often," she says.
It's important to recognize what it is we're dealing with here.
"They're divine beings who are having a dog experience or a horse experience or a Siamese cat experience," Baumbach says. "I can't make great spiritual beings do what I tell them to do. I can negotiate. I can talk with them."
It helps if humans put aside their pre-conceptions about everything from the nature of intelligence to what does and doesn't taste good.
"You have to lose your own view, my human view, in order to smell what the animal is smelling and thinking cat poop is wonderful to eat," Baumbach says. "You have to get over that so you can smell, 'Aw, caviar.' "
Food, as it turns out, was on Harley's mind. But there was more, as Lindsey Meador, 13, explains.
"We found out that he feels sad for the wrong things he does," she says. "He loves us very much and, even though he feels bad, he'll never learn not to eat things he shouldn't be, and he wants to know if he can eat more people food."
The silent lama
In one corner of the convention center, a woman dressed all in white is wearing wings and a halo as she flits about, offering angelic insight to those who approach her.
Not everything at the festival is hard to understand. One exhibitor sells "Oregon Stone Wisdom." This consists of a collection of flat rocks with sayings written on them, for example, "Don't waste your life." That's good advice no matter what else you might believe.
A surprising number of psychics say they believe in God.
"I believe in God, of course," Paruta says. "I'd say everybody at the Psychic Festival does, but not the old man in the sky who's judging and punishing. It's more of a closer concept to what quantum physics is discovering now. … God speaks to us through our dreams, through symbols and images.
"Part of the Psychic Festival is to teach people to learn that language so they can more accurately decipher and determine the messages that God or their higher self is trying to convey to them through their dreams, their intuitions and their experiences."
Doughman sees no conflict between her healing work and her religious faith.
"I have a strict Christian background," she says. "I'm a healing minister. I work with angels and spirit guides. I'm still a Christian. I don't go to church every Sunday, but I believe in God and I believe in angels. Anything negative, I don't want to have anything to do with it. While I'm not perfectly a saint, I still have my beliefs."
I find more proof that the convention center management lacks the psychic skills of the exhibitors filling its halls. A sign says, "Plainclothes security on duty." But that didn't stop an evangelical church known for its contemporary pop services from sneaking in and setting up shop as a "healing center." Paruta caught them, however, and gave them an earful.
"I told them, 'You're the only ones in here pretending to be something you aren't,' " he says. "We'll let the churches in, but not if they have discriminatory policies against gay people or other minorities. They are absolutely not welcome."
Paruta says he's amazed that the Psychic Festival has lasted for so long and that it continues to grow in popularity. (The next one, by the way, is tentatively scheduled for April 19-20, 2008.) But as he ponders the reason, it seems to make sense.
"A lot of people are looking for answers to baffling questions about things going on in their lives," he says. "These could be health issues, sometimes they're spiritual issues, a lot of times it's relationship issues. We all need something to give meaning to our life. I've had people say, 'One hour with you is like a year with my psychiatrist.' We can get right to the point."
Even if you don't pay for a reading or buy any potent crystals, aromatherapy candles or CDs of music engineered to align your chakras, a $10 ticket yields benefits, Paruta says.
"What the festival offers is a lot greater than the admission fee," he says. "Where else can you go and pick from 50 free classes? You can get an education there."
Take me, for example. I figured I could debunk a psychic's claim. Nammack had a sign saying dice divination is "the oracle of choice among native Tibetans even today."
Just a few booths down is exactly what I need to test this claim: a native Tibetan, Jamyang Lama, a Buddhist monk. I go to his booth aiming to play off one exhibitor against the other and start a pissing match between psychics. Jamyang readily gives interviews to reporters, including writers for CityBeat, so I'm confident of my plan.
But when I approach and ask if I might interview him for this article, it's as though he knows I'm trying to start a fight, trying to prod him into throwing the first punch. As soon as the request is out of my mouth -- "May I ask you some questions for my article?" -- he starts laughing.
"No, no," Jamyang says. "Would you like some tea?"
This then is my new standard for judging a psychic: Go with the one who doesn't want publicity.