Why Am I So Into The Paranormal When I Know It's Utter Nonsense?

Photographed by Elizabeth Weinberg.
I have two messages from a psychic on my phone. It's been a couple of weeks now, and I haven't responded to her call back to me to schedule an appointment. Going to a psychic is the last, unchecked box on my spooky bucket list, the one thing left before I throw in the towel on my quest to be a True Believer. When I called Mrs. Ames on a Thursday night, I thought I was brave enough to be able to go see her, but I'm too nervous now to even give her a call back. I mean, do you think she used her gift to read my mind? Do you think she knows I'm a fake?

A fake, as in, a non-believer. But I'm an enthusiastic one: Let me show you my Ouija tattoo or my collection of tarot cards. I read my horoscope with diligence, and I keep leather-bound books on high magic. But I also don't think anything happens when you die, which really puts a damper on the whole ghost and spirits thing. That's just, like, so typical of someone born on the Gemini-Cancer cusp.

It isn’t like I haven’t tried — I started the Paranormal Society at my college in Illinois, even embarrassing myself long enough to get funding from the student government. I did my research, digging through online forums until I could find some experts to talk to, and ended up on the phone with one of the guys from A&E’s (now cancelled) Paranormal Cops. A few days later, I got a ride from a woman in my town to go to a library meetup with DuPage County’s most dedicated ghost hunters. I was quiet, but I took notes, trying to picture myself calling people who thought their houses were haunted and telling them that I could take care of them, that I would be able to make things right. The next weekend, all of us got burgers.

I even had a go at being a witch, collecting candles and stones and books so I could do things right. As far as religions go, Wicca is pretty damn chill. The Wiccan rede — a sort of statement that defines the religion's beliefs — simply reads, “An it harm none, do what ye will,” or (in modern terms), “Do what you want as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone.” Wicca felt like a nice alternative solution for someone like me who grew up as a miserable, guilt-ridden Catholic: You do what you want, you put good into the world, and you share ideas instead of everyone subscribing to the same dogma. But as I sat naked (it helps, okay?) in an empty apartment with incense filling up my nose, all I could think was, This is bullshit.

And yet, I keep going back to it, keep feeling this insatiable longing for the paranormal to be real. There’s something incredibly comforting about the occult, about witches and ghosts and crystals, that can clear your head. A belief in the paranormal gives the world intention, negating the randomness with fate and purpose — like, instead of it just being circumstance, maybe the reason bad things keep happening to you is because of a lingering spirit or some bad luck you've picked up in your travels. It puts the control back in your hands, allowing you to take steps to banish that negativity. In the world I know logically, you can't divine the answers to your problems, and sometimes there aren't any answers at all. That's so much harder to handle.

I even had a go at being a witch, collecting candles and stones and books so I could do things right.

If I do go to see this suburban psychic — and this is a big "if" — it'll be my second experience meeting one. The first psychic I met — one of the attendees at those ghost-hunter library meetups — was spacey, but so, so nice. She wore draped fabrics, as psychics do, and she took my hand in hers. "You have the Gift," she told me, and my body seized up. It wasn't the first time someone had said something totally unsettling like that to me — which feels like some sort of humblebrag ("Oh, people tell me I'm psychic all the time!"), but…

Maybe she's right. Maybe I do have the Gift, and maybe I'm running from something innate. I still have the spoon I bent with my (alleged) psychic energy at a high school sleepover. It's tucked in a box of things I can't quite part with, alongside baby pictures of my high school boyfriend and stacks of old letters. And I do tend to know things— like, I know when people are lying, and I get a knot in my stomach before situations go rotten. When the weather’s going to be bad, my ankle aches, and I can always tell when someone is going to bail on me.

But as soon as I cling onto an offbeat idea, it's just a couple of days before the enthusiasm fades, and I'm left with that same, nagging thought: It's not real, it's a bunch of malarkey, and I'm a sucker for even wanting things to be mystical. Maybe the reason I don't want to go to see Mrs. Ames is that she's the last thing on my bucket list, and if I visit a psychic and it's a bunch of hogwash, then that's it, right? There’s no such thing as magic.

But what if I go to see her, and she says some truth that sets me off my current path, that changes my reality and shakes me at my core? Something that suggests that maybe, just maybe, there’s something to all of this?

I guess, then, at least I’ll be prepared.

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