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The Mystique that is Fortune Telling

My grandmother was very fond of visiting fortune tellers. Speaking in the hushed tones of the times when talking of such things, my Granny would delightedly tell of her most recent trip to the local clairvoyant. Often these women (I don’t ever remember there being talk of a male seer), would go by rather fanciful names like Madame de Villiers or Gypsy Rose Claire, which only seemed to add to their mystique.

Although there might have been the odd joke about being so superstitious, she was nevertheless, sufficiently intrigued by what they had to say to always want her daughters to hear about it. Indeed she often asked one of them to accompany her on one of these clandestine visits. I say clandestine for of course, in those days although fortune tellers were no longer burned at the stake, what they did was still illegal in New Zealand, and they could be and often were prosecuted for taking money for their services, absurd as it may seem today.

It wasn’t until the 1980’s that the laws against fortunetelling for pecuniary advantage were finally taken off the statute books. 1950’s New Zealand may have been considered God’s own country but that country, now just a memory, with its 6 O’ Clock swill, its rugby, racing and beer culture was hardly a tolerant and enlightened land towards the esoteric. Thanks to those courageous women however, who braved the religious bigotry and ignorance, they continued their work of offering hope and an alternative view on life, and kept the traditions alive.

It was said amongst the wider family that Granny’s own mother, grandmother and great grandmother had all had - to use the delightful Celtic expression, “The Sight” themselves. Those with “The Sight” were able to see things others couldn’t; often dark and disturbing glimpses into the future. People such as my much loved Granny and my aunts were not alone in their fascination with the mystical of course. Those with these abilities however, were not to be mocked and a certain air of mystery surrounded them and what they did.

My Grandmother instilled a deep respect for the esoteric in her own children and it was my aunts, who in turn were later to arouse my own interest in Tarot and the genteel but now almost forgotten art of tealeaf reading. Another was to teach me the rudiments of palmistry. But it wasn’t only the females that were said to have the sight. A favourite uncle was also reputed to have had “The Sight”. I guess you could say interest in such things ran in the family but these members of my extended family were hardly the only ones interested in such things. Many in the community were fascinated and frequented their local fortune teller.

Later, on my first trip to Hong Kong and Mainland China in the early 1980’s, I was to became only too well aware of the fascination such things hold too for Chinese people in general. The subsequent years I then spent living in Tokyo were no less a revelation as to just how deeply the desire to explore the esoteric is engrained in all Oriental cultures.


Modern day Fortune Teller in Japan

So of course, while people in Asia are far from being alone in their fascination with the idea of being able to work out one’s so called ‘luck’ or destiny in life, over the millennia their unique cultures have evolved, they in particular have devised many and varied systems for being able to foresee and analyse man’s destiny.

This fixation across the whole of the Orient, one could almost call it an obsession, for foretelling the vagaries of one’s life, goes way beyond the somewhat hit and miss approach so often practised in the West. That is not to say some of the traditional Western avenues to the analysis of Destiny aren’t just as valid as the ways the Chinese in particular have formulated theirs. Although in my experience, by-in-large, they do tend to be somewhat more one-dimensional and less predicated on the more scientifically based methods of the Chinese systems. You will notice I say scientific; I use that word purposely, for at least two of the traditional Chinese methods I am familiar with, like western palmistry, are based on the principles of statistical probability and require no so called psychic ability to practise. But now I am getting ahead of myself. My teachers would have frowned on that.

So, let’s set out as we should, from the beginning...