Last July I bought a copy of "NZ's NO.1 WEEKLY MAGAZINE", aka Woman's Day, mainly because I wanted to see the "EXCLUSIVE PHOTOS" of "WILL & KATE'S ISLAND PARADISE." (And, yes, my curiosity in this regard clearly outweighed my reluctance to fuel the exploitative trade in intrusive celebrity photographs.) As luck would have it they showed the best photograph on the cover so I could have saved myself $4.20, but it gave me a chance to flick through a publication I'd normally never peruse. (It's true.)
The section called Destiny in which "Deb Webber helps contact lost loved ones" left me with an uncomfortable impression. A reader had supplied a photograph of her husband and asked: "Were my prayers answered for my beautiful husband to be safe and happy?"
It seems that each week Webber communicates with a specific dead person to get the low-down on exactly what's happening on the so-called "other side". On this occasion she wrote: "There is a gentleman, slender, with grey hair ... I'm seeing a wedding ring - it's your husband." The accompanying photograph of the man sent in by the reader revealed him to be slender with grey hair.
It certainly didn't take a clairvoyant, psychic or medium to regurgitate this blindingly obvious fact.
Like the work of many such practitioners her response contained a lot of generic statements that could apply to most people: "He didn't want to die" and "You got on so well". It also contained calculated guesses. In seeing "a small lounge room and three bedrooms", Webber described the average Kiwi house. "I'm getting that he was cremated" is just a good guess - as is claiming he was unwell before he died.
I think that duping a vulnerable and bereaved person into thinking they've received messages from beyond the grave is mean, not to mention callous and opportunistic.
Some instances of other-worldly hocus-pocus can be viewed as just a bit of harmless fun; my NZ Herald horoscope on the day of writing this said: "Relations with others will be challenging unless you can be super co-operative. Avoid making impulsive financial decisions." It made me reflect only that I'm about as likely to be super co-operative as I am to make an impulsive decision (that is, not likely at all) and I continued about my day none the worse for the experience.
But purporting to impart messages to people from deceased family members and profiting by manipulating the emotions of extremely fragile people is surely a step too far. This callous act was also routinely performed in Sensing Murder - a popular television series in which "gifted psychic mediums... attempt to communicate with the spirit of the victim to uncover details of their life and death".
According to immortality.co.nz such programmes are "cynically exploiting the families of the victims for ratings and profits" and, in fact, no psychic has ever solved a murder.
Scotland Yard's statement on the subject - which advises "[t]here is no recorded instance in England of any psychic solving a criminal case" - backs this up.
Indeed, there's a school of thought that, far from advancing or helping a case, such charlatans can actually hinder an investigation in instances if police feel such leads need to be followed up - perhaps because they fear someone with genuine information has chosen to package the tip-off in this way.
There's probably a niche place somewhere in that fantastical world of performance and art for "fortune-tellers" who profess to "see" the future. Some clients may be at a crossroads or have questions - and, perhaps, a sympathetic (albeit slightly loopy and deluded) ear might be just what they need to discover clarity. But it's both unethical and unforgivable to exploit those who are clearly bereaved and in distress. In fact, I'm sensing it's utterly deplorable.
What do you think of mediums and clairvoyants? Do they possess an uncanny hotline to dead people - or are they mere unscrupulous tricksters?