This article originally appeared in The Skeptic, Volume 20, Issue 3, from 2007
You can buy nearly anything on eBay. From tractors to tricycles, from lip-gloss to liposuction cream – if it’s legally available, then you can purchase it on the world’s favourite auction site.
Not only is eBay one of the best places to make the odd penny from your unwanted Christmas gifts or the antiques you’ve recently rediscovered in your attic, it is also a useful means of a steady tax-free income for thousands of people all over the UK. Artists whose work might never get further than the local gallery can now exhibit and sell nationally and authors whose self-published books were only ever available on a handful of bookshop shelves can now get worldwide distribution on eBay.
Amongst those who make a profit from auctioning their wares are the psychic community, who offer a whole range of spiritual delights, ranging from one question readings, to in-depth past life dossiers, all done never having even met their ‘clients’ or touched or seen anything belonging to them or their dearly departed loved ones.
Of course telephone readings have been a source of income for lone spiritualists, along with those larger companies who specialise in making a profit from the pain of the bereaved, for quite some time now. At the back of most women’s magazines the reader will always find, between the ads for plastic surgery and abortion, columns of psychic phone-lines offering their advice and assistance.
However, the beauty of eBay is that it is far cheaper and easier to control. An advertisement in the back of a top woman’s magazine, for example, will cost in the hundreds, yet an online auction listing is less than fifty pence. Also, the seller can plan the exact time and date that their ‘item’ finishes on eBay, therefore knowing just when they will be asked for the reading (payment permitting).
Another aspect of eBay is the ‘Buy It Now’ feature, where sellers can place multiple items for purchase at a set price. On the basis of this, a small time publisher could market twenty copies of his book in one single advert at a relatively cheap listing fee, or an astute psychic sell as many readings or tarot spreads as they wish at a fixed price of their choosing.
Over the past few months I have personally purchased several readings from a range of different spiritualists on eBay, in order to compile a small amount of data on exactly what is on offer and, more importantly, precisely what it is that people are buying. Having collected a certain quantity of information, I then discovered, with great interest, that not only are psychic readings readily available on eBay, but so too are electronic ebooks with exact instructions on how to make a profit from tarot cards and other such spiritual money-makers.
The Electronic Tarot
An extremely interesting eBay purchase of mine was a digital download bought from an American seller listed as “MAKE $ DOING PSYCHIC TAROT CARD READINGS”. The download (entitled Psychic Reading Money Machine) comes with a complete tarot reading programme and instructions as to how to design, list and sell the reading on eBay. Costing only 73p (a lot cheaper than £100 for a ‘Mediumship Course’, also offered on eBay), the blurb forthrightly informs its reader that:
After running the auction, you need to be prompt in dealing with each customer individually … do your reading via the computer generated tarot and then write it in your own words. Don’t copy the reading word for word as it needs to read like an authentic reading and not some generated one.
It continues by posing the question “How much money can you actually make?” and answers it with the following information:
A lot of people who sell this type of service on eBay usually charge $15.00 per reading and sell 15 – 20 readings per week, which generates around $300 a week.
The actual computer tarot consists of entering the virtual sitters name and date of birth. It will then give a ten-card spread, which features pictures of the cards and fairly detailed and informed descriptions, under the headings ‘Your Power Cards’, ‘Your Desire Cards’, ‘Your Core Cards’, ‘Your Growth Cards’ and ‘Your Lucky Cards’.
The electronic programme goes on to inform its reader that, when listing such items on eBay, it is:
… best to offer a selection. Services such as Numerology, Natal reports, Biorhythms and Compatibility readings, all of which are unique, would be excellent sellers.
After which it offers such complementary programmes at a reasonable cost. The final words of advice from the Psychic Reading Money Machine are:
Mispelled (sic) words are ok while doing a reading. A real reading is not of perfection but a reading of personal guidance. If it is to (sic) textbook, it will not seem authentic.
Of course, the computer-generated cards are very similar to buying a set of tarot cards and an instruction book and producing a spread, then looking the meanings up in the book, typing them into a credible format and emailing this to the buyer. Nevertheless, by using the computer it is incredibly quick and easy and, by asking for a name and date of birth, it seems more authentic. However, whatever name (male or female) is typed into the computer-generated tarot, if the date of birth is the same, it will always produce identical cards and explanations.
The World’s Psychic Marketplace
There are a variety of readings available on offer on eBay (around five hundred at any given time) and, in sifting through them and making my selection for purchase, I tried to be as diverse as possible in what I chose. The price scale of readings ranges from very inexpensive (around two pounds) to the more extravagant (£150 for a comprehensive yearly psychic forecast).
My first buy was from a spiritualist who had only just started to sell his goods on the Internet and was, due to that, very cheap. I paid 99p for a very detailed reading, from his ‘Ancient form of Irish Celtic Reading’ assisted by his ‘spiritual guide’.
The content of the reading dealt with the usual – money, health, relationships and emotions. The use of cold reading was extremely evident and everything addressed could have been applied to anyone (‘you need to stop people putting you down – be more sure and assert yourself in a nice way’). The names presented in the reading were very obvious ones, such as John, Anne, Paul, Joanne and Clair.
The reading ended with ‘Many blessing, all my love’ followed by the offer of answering any more questions that I might have via postal reading, telephone or email, along with promoting candles ‘that are made and blessed by the spirits’. Another eBay reading I chose was ‘One Question Only – Thoth Reading’. Here I was able to ask the spirit world any question in exchange for the winning price of the auction, along with supplying my full name and date of birth. The question I posed was ‘Is anyone in the spirit world trying to contact me?’ An hour later I received an email regretfully telling me that the medium was unable to answer this question (although for more money she would be very happy to do so) and that I could either ask the spirits another question or get a refund.
It is interesting to view what else the psychics are selling on eBay whilst simultaneously offering the readings. A tarot reading purchased on a ‘Buy it Now’ auction was from an ‘in house psychic’ of a company who specialised in detox pads. Here a five-card spread was used in answer to a question, and written in six precise paragraphs. A week later I purchased another tarot reading from the same seller and received (although a different spread of cards) exactly the same formatted and paragraphed structure of equal length. Both readings, neatly presented and well written, strikingly resembled the composition of the computer-generated tarot readings.
eBay uses a ‘feedback’ system in order for users to assess whether or not they want to purchase an item from a seller. For example, if a member has had a bad experience with a purchase, they can leave negative feedback and this information can be accessed by other users. In browsing through the list of psychics selling tarot spreads, healing and past life readings, it is insightful to peruse what others who have bought from them have had to say.
A certain lady psychic who refers to herself as a ‘Famous TV Medium’ on eBay, was selling readings at £15.00 a time (‘Buy It Now’), until she received negative feedback from her clients. Within the space of a month, comments were appearing on her feedback page such as ‘Sorry but the reading was unclear and not useful at all for me’, ‘Not brilliant, expected more …’ and ‘DO NOT BID!! Total rubbish plagiarised from AOL’s horoscope – didn’t even change words.’
After these unconstructive observations, the medium in question was forced to lower her price to £5.00, before gaining enough positive feedback to enable her to put the cost back up again in time for Christmas.
Image is Everything
Description, layout and image are extremely important when marketing a product on eBay and, when there are four hundred and ninety-nine other sellers all trading the same sort of product, it is crucial that yours stands apart from the rest.
eBay psychics tend to utilise a range of images to promote themselves and their goods. Some will use their own photographs, others pictures of beautiful blond women and others still illustrations of tarot cards. Descriptions are varied, as are the titles, but generally always include the words such as ‘authentic’, ‘genuine’, ‘honest’, ‘spirit guide’ and ‘destiny’.
With such tough competition, sellers rely heavily on feedback and sometimes use their positive comments in their item description. However, as with the marketing of specific products, there are certain colours and images associated with spiritualism and these are sometimes also employed by the psychic sellers. The popular spiritualist colour blue features on quite a few of the auction adverts, along with images of crystal balls, Native American Indians, wolves, angels and rainbows. Some sellers go further in their personal descriptions, as the following illustrates.
I am a practising Witch, mother and grandmother, attuned to Nature and the power of the elements and a professional Psychic and am well skilled with several forms of divination techniques.
Another description of a psychic reading included the statement:
Just to be clear on what to expect … don’t expect, just be wiling to except help from your silent witness with the view that this is purely and simply a prediction and foresight as what your guides have seen as the most probable outcomes.
The use of the word ‘counselling’ is also an effective means of selling. Tarots, rune castings and spiritual readings focussing specifically on love are also seen to be good sellers, with mediums asking for pictures of both their buyer and the loved one in question, along with some background information on the situation.
Information on the particular psychic is also sometimes available on the auction description but, interestingly those who call themselves a ‘TV medium’ rarely state the programmes they have featured in. However, one particular eBay clairvoyant is all too happy to inform his readers that he is a ‘famous Polish TV celebrity and fortune teller’ whose TV career started with the Polish edition of Big Brother. His eBay biog continues by telling his readers that he:
… predicted the outcome of the last presidential election in Poland and was hired by politicians to help them predict what would happen to them in that time …
The astounding life story doesn’t stop there as his spiel continues, telling his readers that he has:
…read tarot cards to many TV, theatre and show business celebrities around the world (as an example Steven Segal, the Polish premiere and others).
However, amazingly there is absolutely no mention of this ‘famous fortune teller’ when his name is typed into a search engine such as Google, apart from his eBay listings and a snippet of a book review that he has written, where he proudly calls himself ‘The Only Polish Famous Ventriloquist and Mindbender’(sic).
Readings via email are not incredibly recent and some prolific mediums have been using this form of communication with clients for quite some time. Craig Hamilton-Parker, for example, began offering a similar service from his website some years ago, although he now only gives one-to-one consultations, but still recommends a link to a very similar site (endorsed by him) where online psychics proffer readings via email or telephone.
In today’s society, where nearly everything can be accessed through a PC and where we find ourselves increasingly isolated from the outside world because of this, what better way than to connect with the spirits than via the Internet? Instead of having to turn out to visit the spiritualist church on a rainy Sunday evening, or attend a psychic meeting at the local community centre on a blustery winter’s afternoon, eBay provides a whole range of mediums offering a varying selection of spiritual amusements for the susceptible masses.
However much humankind relies on computers and technology and, due to this, inadvertently find themselves distanced from true personal contact, one thing is clear – the need to be loved and receive love in return, along with the desire to believe in the life hereafter burns as strongly as ever and, depending on just how much money you have to squander, anyone can be spiritually reassured, comforted and counselled by the simple click of a mouse.