Articles and Media
Reading the Readers
by David B. Gleason
Divination is tricky and a diviner may be trickier. Tricks and tricksters abound in our world. The trickiest thing of all though may be how we figure out who is the trickster and who isn't. But there are some tricks of our own that we can use to help us against the tricksters. As usual, awareness and knowledge are our greatest tricks.
Who are the tricksters? For a long time these were the folks that came to town and you found abound at the local carnival, traveling circus, or county fair. Sometimes they would wear elaborate costumes. Sometimes they would have strange foreign sounding names, attached with the prefix "Madame" or "The All Knowing." Sometimes they would squint at you with one eye and then peer at you with the other all seeing eye. They would grin and then begin their show. It's an act. They know it and we know it. It is fun and we are happy for the diversion.
Today, the fair often comes to town through our televisions, our telephones, or our computer screens. And the tricksters residing there most often wear contemporary fashion. And most often they don't use mysterious prefixes or titles. And their show is performed on the talk show or the hot line instead of the smoky tent. The only thing really distinguishing about them is that they proclaim to be able to see into the future, speak with the dead, or know more about you and your family than you think anyone could know. They tell you whatever it is they think you need to hear.
How is that they figure out what it is they think you need to hear? Many self-proclaimed psychics, fortune tellers, or the like use techniques called hot and cold reading. Sometimes readers use these techniques knowingly; sometimes readers use these techniques intuitively and are not aware of it themselves. You should be wary of the readers who go beyond the act in order to convince you to give them more than the entry fee to their tent.
A hot, also called warm, reading is the use of previously gained knowledge during a reading or session in order to convince the client that somehow they gained the knowledge through some extraordinary means. Hot reading is used knowingly by professional manipulators. The gathering of information about a client, subject, or "mark" can take on many forms.
For example, people working for the reader may call or talk with the client or subject prior to an appointment in the guise of pollsters, missionaries, salespersons, or other such persons. Simple innocuous questions on practically any subject can gleam useful information for any reader. How old are you? How many people live in your household? What hobbies do you have? Do you vote? What church do you belong to? What shops do you frequent? Would you buy product X over product Y?
As another example, audience type settings are perfect for hot readers. Members of the audience unwittingly gather information for the reader simply by having pleasant conversation amongst themselves prior to the reading or session. Microphones may be placed around the room. Members of the audience may work for the reader. People talk. Conversations are overheard. Simply the gathering of names can increase the subjects believability in the reader. Is there a Jamal in the audience? Is Patricia here today, or rather Trish? An audience is also prefect for a hot reader to use a shotgun approach and just start throwing out ideas and see if anyone bites on it. Does November mean anything? Is spring special to anyone? These simple examples may seem a little obvious, but the practiced hot readers come up with means and methods far more subtle. And they are practiced at it.
Whether directly relevant to the reading, any information gathered can be inserted into a reading in order to increase the subjects believability and trust in the reader. Think about how your very name, your ethnicity, the way you dress, or the way you speak - your dialect which may give them a clue as to where you are from - may provide someone with a great deal of information. The readers consider everything as relevant especially if you aren't paying attention.
Cold reading involves judicious questioning and statement making, observation, validation, reinforcement, and fast talking. Cold readers practice this, refine it, and make careers out of it. The trick involved with cold reading is to validate and reinforce the discernments that the subject affirms as accurate. A really good cold reader will not even need verbal confirmation but will key off of non-verbal clues given by their subject. For example, eyes widening or narrowing, a frown or a grin, breath becoming slower or faster, tears, or a myriad of other things commonly considered indiscernible.
Consider for yourself how much you learn about a person when you go over to their house, when you look at the way they dress, the way they talk, or what you see in their shopping bags while waiting behind them in line. Do you people watch at a ballgame, a restaurant, or the mall? We are constantly gathering information about others and may not even really be consciously aware of it. Essentially, this is cold reading. Making observations about people. Confirming with them if your assumptions are right or wrong and seizing quickly on the ones that were right. Even more, it requires justifying or correcting the wrong assumptions. Cold readers focus on the right answers, and not the wrong answers.
We all perform our own kind of cold reading every time we interact with someone whether we know it or not. If a friend is less talkative than what we perceive as usual, we may think something has upset them. If a man is buying baby food and diapers, we may think his wife has sent him to the store because they have run out of supplies for their newborn. If a woman is sitting alone in the park reading a romance novel, we may think she is lovelorn. Some of our guesses and assumptions will be correct; some of our guesses and assumptions won't. Typically, it is the correct ones that we will remember because most of us have a desire for affirmation and validation.
Which leads us to a positive aspect of receiving readings, whether hot or cold, or intentional manipulation or not. This is psychological. Many people simply need their feelings, emotions, and actions affirmed or validated. Of course, we are not talking about validating greedy or selfish behavior but an action that is in the long run better for every person involved. If after thinking about it, you come to the conclusion that it is good advice. Well then, it is good advice no matter the source.
For example, a grieving widow, a worried parent, a girl breaking up with her boyfriend of many years, or divorced parents concerned about their children may have gone through periods of intense stress. They are attempting to pull themselves out of it. The widow needs to be told that her husband is in a better place in order to live out the rest of her own life. The worried parent needs to be assured that their new job will provide for their family. The girl needs to be told there is nothing wrong with her and her Prince is right around the corner. The divorced parents need to realize that their children are better off not living in a harmful environment. Folks need validation that the direction of their voyage is on course, or the assistance to steer to a better one.
In order to receive this affirmation and validation, a lot of, if not most people try conventional methods, such as the psychiatrist, the psychologist, the professional counselor, or the religious leader. This is valuable. This is necessary. But sometimes - for whatever un-diagnosable or seemingly inexplicable reason - the person does not receive what they really wanted from these professionals. They can't name it. They can't explain it. So sometimes they seek it elsewhere in the form of a diviner.
Our intent here is not to call out any particular practitioner or method of divination, or to prove them as true or false. The intent is a desire for individuals seeking guidance and assistance from diviners to use prudence. Increase your awareness and be sure you are getting what you expect out of it. Take it for what it is - entertainment, a performance, a good trick, a good reading, or good advice. Or even take it as an honest and very real divination.
Regardless, just be aware.