The following elements are all concerned with obtaining information from the client, and then putting it to good use. In essence, they involve obtaining information by the simple expedient of asking for it. This sounds very blatant, but the psychic can disguise this process extremely well if she has to. So well, in fact, that the client may feel she never provided the psychic with any information at all.
I will begin with the simplest and most transparent approach. In the case of the Direct Question, the psychic simply asks for the information she wants, like this:
"Tell me, what is it that's on your mind?"
or like this:
"Most of the people who come to see me have something that has been weighing heavily on their heart, perhaps an area of life where they are looking for some answers and some light at the end of the tunnel. What would this be in your case?"
This may seem far too facile to play any part in cold reading process, but this is not necessarily the case. It all depends on the nature of the reading and the client's attitude. Many of those who pay for psychic readings are pre-committed. They trust the psychic and the belief system, and neither seek nor require any "proof" of the psychic's gifts. As far as they are concerned, they want help, the psychic is there to give it, and the sooner they can get down to details the better.
If a psychic knows she is dealing with this kind of client, she may use opening lines which readily acknowledge this situation. A seductive reference to the notion of 'value for money' can also help. It might go something like this:
"How we get started, and how we use this session, is entirely up to you. After all, it's your time and your money isn't it? If you prefer, I could take my time while I try to 'tune-in' to the kind of areas you want me to talk about, and the specific problem you'd like me to help you with. I'm happy to do it this way - and my intuition doesn't often let me down - but on occasion it can take me a while. I mean, it could be so many things couldn't it? The other way is that you just tell me what's on your mind and then we can get off to a flying start. I'm here to listen, and I do want to help you."
Delivered to a suitably uncritical and pre-committed client, this kind of pitch will coax forth all the information the psychic could possibly use. In extreme cases, the psychic's toughest problem may be to stem the outpouring of personal information long enough to get the reading started.
Direct Questions are most often used at the start of the reading, to establish the particular focus the client is looking for. However, if the client is sufficiently uncritical and receptive to this kind of blatant inquisition, then the psychic is free to use Direct Questions throughout the reading:
"Tell me, are you currently in a long-term relationship, or not?"
"Are you satisfied in terms of your career, or is there a problem?"
"What is it about your health that concerns you?"
"Who is the person that has passed over that you want to try and contact today?"
So much for the artless Direct Question, and readings which rely upon it. Most of the time, clients are a little more discerning and psychics a little more subtle in the methods by which they extract information.
Incidental questions take the form of chatty conversational phrases tacked on to the end of longer sections of patter. They make the request for information sound almost incidental to the main flow of the reading.
There are two types of Incidental questions. The first type are simply designed to prompt for feedback. Here is a representative selection:
"...now why would that be?" "...is this making sense to you?" "...can you relate to this?" "...does this sound right?"
"...would you say this is along the right lines for you?" "...this is significant to you, isn't it?" "...you can connect with this can't you?"
The second type cover all the standard 'checklist' questions taught to trainee reporters and journalists: who, what, where, when, how, why. Suppose that the psychic has claimed to perceive some 'impression' or 'sign'. She might then add phrases such as these:
"...so who might this refer to please?" "...what might this link to in your life?" "...what period of your life, please, might this relate to?" "...so tell me, how might this be significant to you?" "...can you see why this might be the impression I'm getting?"
The psychic's inflection and tone of voice can make a big difference to the success of this illusion. A very casual, incidental mention of ".. .now who do you think this could be?" can slip by like a ship in the night, provided the delivery is smooth enough. A good cold reader can litter Incidental Questions all over her reading and leave the client convinced no questions were asked.
The Veiled Question is very common and very effective. It is simply a request for information worded to sound like a statement. The psychic acts as if she is giving information, when in fact she is extracting it.
Take a simple question like this: "Does your job involve plenty of travel?". Here is how a psychic might re-phrase this to sound like she is giving information, rather than asking for it:
"Now I'm picking up an impression here, not a clear one, but an impression all the same, that you could be involved with work that involves a lot of travelling. Now, I don't know if this is now or some time in the past, but that's what the cards suggest. Is this making sense to you?"
The psychic can turn almost any question into what sounds like a tentative statement. In this way, she can gather information about all manner of subjects - family, career, interests, problems, health, relationships and so on.
In the last example, the psychic ended with an Incidental Question, "...is this making sense to you?". Some choose to disguise this element even further by adopting a slightly more confident style, which avoids ever actually asking a specific question. For instance, the final part of the above example could be modified like this:
"... I don't know if this is now or some time in the past, but that's what the cards suggest, and I feel that this is something you can relate to at this time."
This slight change of wording makes no practical difference, since it is still designed to prompt useful feedback from the client. However, it is more deceptive since the psychic can legitimately claim, in the strict grammatical sense, that she never asked a question. This can be very disarming.
There are countless themes and variations on the Veiled Question. In the course of an astrological reading, for example, suppose the astrologer wants to ask "Are you facing a large financial purchase, like a car or a house?". Turning this into a Veiled Question, she might say:
"Now, there's an indication here to do with money, and of possible financial concern. What this seems to be, if my interpretation is correct, is some sort of decision, related to money or finances, that could have consequences for quite some time to come. This is making sense to you, isn't it?"
It is just as easy to pick names and other factual details out of thin air. For example, the clairvoyant might go through a few seconds of inner concentration before saying:
"The name 'Jane' is coming to me, and although I'm not sure of the link, possibly something professional rather than personal, this is a name which I believe has significance for you".
This sounds like a statement, but it is really just a way of asking, "Do you know anyone with a name that sounds like 'Jane' ?".
Given a sufficiently smooth and plausible delivery, the Veiled Question creates a very strong illusion that the psychic has already divined some crucial information, via her amazing psychic gifts, and is now working with the client to sketch in what are merely the fine details.
Psychics with a particularly voluble style may embellish their Veiled questions to an exceptional degree, if time allows. They may weave a web of words so comprehensively as to snare the client in the illusion that they are telling, not asking:
"I sense that relationships are an area that we might usefully explore. I'm getting an impression from the cards that there is a focus on you and at least one other person, rather than on just you alone. This is making sense to you, I feel. There are indications of issues here to which time should be devoted, having to do with either a known relationship which we could look at, or one which is yet to be. It's quite a definite sensation, of the giving and the taking, the ups and the downs, that relationships may involve, and I sense a connection to you, and to thoughts you have been having for a while. There may be a battle between the head and the heart, and only you can tell if your heart has identified, or is ready to identify, everything that I'm beginning to sense here. How might this link with you?"
And there you have it. It sounds like a statement, a giving of information. In fact, the psychic has stated nothing and committed herself to nothing. She is simply asking "Are relationships on your mind?".
As a final note on the Veiled Question, note that minor adjustments to intonation and timing can greatly help to disguise the fact that a question is being asked. Take an example like this:
"There's an impression here of a link with sport and athletics."
As you can readily demonstrate for yourself, this can be said as either a statement or a question. If you use a relatively flat and even tone, it is a statement. If you use a rising tone towards the end, it becomes a question.
The Diverted Question is a very subtle and effective technique. The psychic takes a piece of information, one which has already arisen in the course of the reading, and finds ways to feed it back to the client in a modified form.
To see how this works, let us consider our default example of a one-on-one tarot reading. Suppose that during an early part of the reading, an exchange takes place which involves a Direct Question:
"Now, just to help me interpret this correctly, do you work in teaching or a similar field?"
"Okay, that's fine, in fact what is it you actually do for a living?"
"I run my own design service."
The question was asked and answered, so the psychic now has a piece of solid information. She continues with the reading, making no reference at all to this crumb of factual data. As she does so, at the back of her mind she makes some educated guesses based on this information, and considers how to weave these guesses into the reading.
Since the client is involved in design, she is probably creative and artistic. Since she has taken on the challenge of running her own business, she must be fairly self-confident, and probably in very good heath (people with serious health concerns do not choose to start up their own company). She probably faces plenty of stress, and long hours of work. It is also safe to assume that, like most people running small businesses, she has some clients who cause cash flow problems by not paying her on time.
All of these reasonable guesses can be fed into a later part of the reading which is about health, like this:
"Turning to health matters, the cards indicate that you have generally had very little cause for concern. You have a good temperament, and may also find creative or artistic outlets for stress and tension, which you find very therapeutic. This is making sense to you isn't it? There are indications here of recurring anxiety, and the presence of the Ten of Coins suggests that this may be related to finance.
This is quite interesting, since this card - the Falling Tower -always guides us to reverse the normal way of looking at things. Hence, while for the majority of people the problem with money is that they just don't have enough, your particular anxiety may be slightly different. It's as if the cards are saying there is money coming towards you, but it often remains tantalisingly out of your grasp for some reason."
Hence a simple fact about the client's career provides the basis for an extended sequence about health. The bonus here is that the psychic can honestly claim never to have asked a single question about health since the reading began!
The Diverted Question requires the psychic to extrapolate from a piece of information, and try to reach some plausible conclusions. These conclusions can pertain to the same subject area (in this example 'career') or to a completely different one (in this example 'health'). The latter approach is more deceptive.
The 'sporty' client
To take another example, suppose that during an early part of the reading the psychic asks a Direct Question about leisure interests. Imagine the client says she likes sports and games. The psychic extrapolates from this information, and makes some educated guesses based on it.
Since the client is the 'sporty' type, she probably takes health issues quite seriously. She is probably disinclined to smoke, drink too much, or eat junk food. Her social life is unlikely to involve many people who have these vices, or the places they go to. She is probably attracted to, or involved with, partners who also keep themselves in reasonably good shape - or, if they do not, she may well have made some attempts to encourage them to do so! Keeping fit also takes a lot of time and commitment. Hence it is fair to assume the client has good mental discipline, but may miss out on a lot of popular culture and trivia. While the couch potatoes are watching TV, she is down at the gym or enjoying a 5 mile jog. Hence she may well be less familiar with the latest hit TV shows, movies and songs than most people. She probably plans rather active and adventurous vacations for herself. And so on.
When the extrapolation and educated guesswork works well, it can deliver astonishing results. Since it is educated guesswork, it can go wrong and lead to the psychic offering some statements that are incorrect. However, to strike a refrain which will be getting more familiar as you progress through this book, being wrong is not a problem if the psychic knows how to cope. More on this later, in 'The Win-Win Game'.
The Jargon Blitz offers yet another way of prompting the client for information, and I confess it is one of my pet favourites. It consists of an explicit reference to the supposed workings of the psychic system in use, liberally peppered with appropriate jargon, which culminates in a prompt for feedback.
In a tarot reading, the Jargon Blitz would involve references to the meanings of specific cards, and other tarot terminology. It might sound something like this:
"Interestingly enough, I see we've got the Five of Swords, an important card within the lesser arcana, traditionally associated with challenge and struggle in affairs of the heart. What's intriguing is that in the same conjunction of the spread, we've already had 'The Hermit', originally one of the lower triad cards and now generally regarded as indicating not only solitude, but also the accomplishment of personal goals. It's as if the cards are suggesting your personal goals are, at this time, due to take priority over romance. I don't know if this makes sense to you."
To the best of my knowledge, 'lesser arcana' and 'the spread' (meaning the layout of the cards) are genuine pieces of tarot lore, whereas 'conjunction' and 'triad' are tarot gibberish. However, they sound good and authoritative, and that is really what matters.
In cold reading terms, the actual significance each card is deemed to have is irrelevant. A serious book on interpreting tarot cards may tell you that 'The Tower' signifies change in existing relationships. However, the cold reader can attribute whatever significance she wants to any card, whether or not it accords with conventional tarot lore. All that matters is that it sounds convincing, and that it leads up to that all-important prompt for feedback.
In similar vein, if offering an astrological analysis the cold reader only needs a small amount of the appropriate vocabulary - 'trine', 'ascendant', 'fifth house' and so on - in order to make the reading sound plausible.
Some cold readers may choose to actually learn about the systems they are using, in order to at least deploy the jargon accurately. While this knowledge can never hurt the cold reading process, I am far from sure that it ever helps either. In my experience, sound knowledge of the divinatory system being used makes little difference to the effectiveness of the reading.
Whether the jargon is used in an informed way or not, the Jargon Blitz remains a highly useful element in readings. It allows the psychic to vary the way she prompts for information. It re-enforces the belief system in use (as mentioned earlier, in The Set Up). It imposes the authority of the reader, and helps to promote the sense of ritual which, as previously discussed, inhibits awkward responses and promotes the desired co-operation.
6. The Vanishing Negative
This is a negative question of ambiguous tone and phrasing. Whether the client agrees or disagrees, it can be counted as a hit. Here is an example:
"... moving on to career matters, you don't work with children, do you?"
"No, I thought not. That's not really your role... " Or alternatively:
"... moving on to career matters, you don't work with children, do you?"
"I do actually, part-time."
"Yes, I thought so. There's a strong affinity with children indicated... "
The cute phrasing means that if necessary, the negative part of the question simply vanishes, never to be remembered. In my experience, this element is very effective and works with almost all clients.
Re-affirm, re-assure, expand
The Vanishing Negative can be made even more deceptive by adding three neat embellishments.
The first is for the psychic to enhance the client's own response, and emphasise the 'fact' that they are in complete agreement. The second is to offer some reassuring comment which disparages the alternative option rejected by the client. The third is to expand upon the point, as if the initial question was just incidental preamble.
By way of illustration, look at this:
"At this point, I want to move on and address money and career matters. You don't work for yourself do you?"
First, establish agreement...
"No, I didn't think so. I got quite a clear impression that you weren't in that category..."
Next, the reassurance and gentle disparagement...
"...I don't think you're cut out to be one of these flashy, egocentric entrepreneurs, with all that stress and the hassle. Most of them never get anywhere anyway!"
Finally, the expansion...
"Anyway, the reason I sensed you work for someone else is that I see a change in the relationship with your employer... "
And the psychic then continues, for all the world as if she knew that the client had a regular job. The fact that she actually asked a question to discover this is quietly forgotten. Now, let us see the alternative version:
"At this point, I want to move on and address money and career matters. You don't work for yourself do you?"
"Yes, I do, actually. Have done for a while."
First, the agreement (featuring the instant Vanishing Negative)...
"Yes, I thought so. It's actually quite a clear aspect of your chart... "
Next, the reassurance and gentle disparagement...
"...I don't think you're cut out to be just another nine-to-five wage slave. That could never be truly fulfilling for someone like you. You have too much drive and too many good ideas of your own "
Finally, the expansion...
"Anyway, the reason I picked up on the fact that you run your own business is that I foresee some very good prospects arising from your natural ability to develop new opportunities... "
And the simple Vanishing Negative scores another hit for the gifted psychic!
This element consists of extracting information by observing the client for clues. As I mentioned in a previous section ('Popular Misconceptions'), I believe this technique to be far more limited in scope than some sources suggest. Nonetheless, it certainly has a part to play.
As is usually the case with cold reading elements, the way the information is used is often more important than how it is derived. For example, if the client has long, even nails on her right hand and very short nails on her left, the psychic can deduce that she probably plays the guitar. (If the nails are the other way around, she probably plays the guitar and is left-handed as well!)
The bad way to capitalise on this observation is to say:
"The astrological chart indicates that you play the guitar."
The better way is to say something along these lines:
"As a Gemini with the influence of Venus in your third house, you may well be inclined to some form of artistic self-expression. You have almost certainly felt the need to explore forms of communication and expression that go beyond the merely verbal. You have access to sources of inspiration and creativity which are more highly developed in you than in many people.
Your chart would most clearly suggest an involvement with music or harmony, for which you clearly have great potential. This is an aspect of yourself that you have learned to treasure, and it has been a great source of comfort to you on many occasions."
Cold readers who are fond of the Sherlock Strategy tend to collect their own favoured stock of tell-tale clues. Quite how valuable these clues are is a matter of subjective assessment. What seems too obvious' (hence not worth mentioning) to one cold reader may seem quite delightfully subtle to another. Likewise, what one psychic considers to be a 'sure sign' may seem a 'risky guess' to another.
With these caveats in mind, you may like to consider the nine examples below and see what conclusions you, as a psychic using the Sherlock Strategy, would come to. Please do not spend too long dwelling on these examples! I offer them only for fun. There are no 'definitive' answers, and personally I would consider all of them either useless or unreliable. Nonetheless, you will find some possible answers at the back of the book in Appendix note 6.
'Sherlock Strategy' Guessing Game
1. A dark patch, like a faint bruise and roughly oval in shape, on the mid-to-left side of the client's throat about half-way down.
2. Female client. On the outer side of the left hand, in the area between the base of the thumb and the wrist, there appear to be several lines or streaks of faint red skin discolouration.
3. Female client. Several faint traces of a white, chalky powder around her lower leg and ankles, but not on her shoes.
4. Calluses on the right thumb, index and middle-finger.
5. Female client with a mole or visible birthmark of some kind on the face or neck.
6. Female client. It is noticed that she has with her a supply of mints and mint-flavoured chewing gum, which she seems to be using in an habitual manner.
7. Faint indications of blue powder, possibly chalk, around fingertips or cuffs.
8. Faint black or dark grey traces, like a smudge or greasy smear, seen on areas of the fingers or thumb, or near the side-pocket region of coat or jacket.
9. Very mild abrasions or reddish, irritated skin around the inside of the elbows, (end of the Sherlock Strategy Guessing Game)
The Sherlock Strategy can be applied to what is said as well as to what is seen. For example, suppose the psychic and the client enjoy a brief chat before the reading begins. The client, while taking off her coat and sitting down, may happen to say:
"Sorry I'm late, the traffic was dreadful coming back from Woodvale".
'Woodvale' might mean nothing at all to the psychic. Alternatively, it might be an area of town associated with a major hospital, a golf club or a school with a good academic reputation. Perhaps it is known for its terrific gymnasium and health spa, or the Farmer's Market held twice a week, or a woodland area where people take their dogs for a walk. In each case, the psychic may be able to form some tentative guesses about the client's career, interests, family or current concerns.
Earlier in this book I mentioned one of my most valued correspondents, known as Shallow Larynx (he first cropped up back in the section on Cultural Trends). He offers this contribution to the Sherlock Strategy:
"I think I got this from a book which, among other things, dealt with techniques for women to use when evaluating potential suitors. It seems there was once a 'gold-digger' who had a good technique for assessing her dates. Once the couple were seated at the restaurant \ cafe \ whatever, the man would often drape his blazer jacket over the chair. Not fold it up flat and closed, or hang it up properly, but shrug it off onto the chair back so the lining was visible. The woman would examine the lining of the jacket, to see whether it was fresh and pristine or frayed and stained. The condition of the lining was apparently a good predictor of the condition of his bank account - or his willingness to share the benefits of this bank account."
Notwithstanding my earlier comments about deductive observation, there are certainly times when it pays great dividends. I was once invited by Paramount Television to appear on the Leeza Gibbons TV talk show, which is taped in Los Angeles. The producers wanted me to demonstrate cold reading, so before the show I posed as a clairvoyant.
I sat in a small room off to one side of the main studio. One at a time, four different women from the studio audience (chosen at random by the production team) came in and sat down opposite me. I pretended to sense 'psychic impressions' which I scribbled down on a pad. Apart from initial pleasantries such as 'Hi, how are you', neither I nor any of the women exchanged a single word.
Let me tell you about one of these four women in particular. I guessed she was in her mid-fifties. From looking at her dress, her hair and deportment, I felt that her self-presentation was just that little bit better than most women know how to achieve. This suggested a background in fashion, beauty, modelling or some similar line of work.
I also noticed that she was wearing quite a lot of silver and gold jewellery. It was all in excellent taste, and perfectly co-ordinated, but nonetheless just a little ostentatious. This led me to think she might be the sort that enjoys attention, and knows how to 'dress to impress'. This led me to consider that she might have been involved in an area of show business.
Still trying to reach a firm conclusion, I noticed that her seated posture (relaxed yet very upright, with the chin held level and not allowed to dip) suggested someone who knew about good breathing control. I surmised that she knew about meditation, singing, or playing a wind instrument such as the flute. Putting all this together, I concluded that at one time she might have been a singer, or a musician. Since it tends to be the singers who get the limelight, I decided to pursue that option.
What sort of singer? She seemed to lack the build, or the airs and graces, that one might associate with opera and the classics. I also felt she was not quite 'strait-laced' enough for the classical platform - she struck me as being very dynamic, with plenty of energy and a good sense of fun. So, something lighter and more informal. Jazz? If so, her age suggested that her heyday would have coincided with the big band era, and the rise of popular jazz and 'swing'. I therefore concluded that she had probably been some sort of popular light jazz' cabaret or band singer.
I got a chance to talk to this particular woman later on, quite separately from the cold reading demonstration. I mentioned my 'impression' about her former singing career (suitably embellished in my usual cold reading style). It was very gratifying to discover that some 26 years previously she had been a professional cabaret artist and jazz singer!
As you may imagine, she was absolutely astonished that I was able to describe what she had been doing some 26 years ago. In fact, she found this highly persuasive evidence of my 'psychic powers'. Even once the truth had been revealed (as it always is in my TV demonstrations), she suspected that I was genuinely clairvoyant.
This is another excellent element for obtaining information. The Russian Doll consists of a statement which can have several possible layers of meaning. The psychic offers the initial statement and then, if necessary, explores the other layers of meaning until she gets a hit. I also call these 'Onion Skin' statements. Here is an example:
"Now I want to just say something to you about your daughter.
You do have a daughter don't you?"
"Well, it could be the person I'm trying to get to here is actually a daughter-in-law, is this making sense?"
"No, not really."
"Perhaps a god-daughter?"
"Well, there's my friend's little girl, I'm god-parent to her..."
"Oh well, that's obviously the impression I was getting, I knew it was someone who was a daughter, or like a daughter, to you... "
In this hypothetical example, the psychic needed three bites at the cherry before she got the agreement she was looking for. On other occasions, she might get an agreement at the first or second try. This element looks clumsy in print, but I have heard it used in real life without any objection at all from the client. Even if all variations on the theme get rejected there is always a way out (see 'The Win-Win Game' later).
'Music' and 'Collecting'
Another Russian Doll which I have had some success with concerns music:
"There's quite a clear indication here of music in your life."
If the client happens to play an instrument, the psychic wins and the client is impressed at the awesomely accurate psychic intuition. But if not, the psychic modifies this initial statement until agreement is obtained. There are all manner of variants which can be offered: you play a musical instrument / you once started learning to / you would like to / you sing / or used to / or would like to / you go to concerts and clubs / or you do not but you would like to do so more often / or at least you appreciate good live music / you have a music collection that means a lot to you / or you would like to have / or you listen to the radio a lot.
One more very successful Russian Doll concerns collecting. Any suitable phrasing will do, such as:
"I sense that perhaps you're a collector, or why is it I'm seeing a collection of some kind here?"
In my experience if the client is female, and any age except in the middle of her wildest teenage years, then the 'collecting' Russian Doll stands a very good chance indeed of yielding a hit. Not only are many women collectors, of everything from china dolls to potato chips 'resembling' famous people, but also the term 'collecting' can be interpreted so many ways. If the client does not have a collecting hobby as such, perhaps she will accept she is a 'collector' of friends, or experiences, or wisdom gleaned from life's ups and downs. In the curious realm of psychic readings, even risible twists of interpretation such as this can be the stuff of much-praised 'accuracy'.
I remember I once heard an excellent Russian Doll used by a medium. Supposedly receiving messages from a dear departed loved one, the medium confidently announced that he (the person 'in spirit') had memories of "the mill". In England, where I live, there was a point during the earlier part of the 20th century when the majority of the working population spent their days (or nights!) in a mill of some kind - cotton mill, steel mill, lead mill, flour mill, or whatever. Hence for clients of a certain age and background, this was a superb Russian Doll element which stood every chance of being a hit, providing all the possibilities were systematically explored.
Making up Russian Dolls is not too hard. The psychic simply has to think of words which lend themselves to different meanings, contexts and interpretations, and to then glide smoothly from one option to another until some significance is accidentally encountered.
This concludes the third group of elements, which concerned extracting information from the client as surreptitiously as possible. Now we can move on to the final group of elements, which concern the client's future.
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