Dial `P' for psychic

Is your ego overwhelming your psychic self? Did you know you had a psychic self? And if you wanted to get in touch with it, is…

Is your ego overwhelming your psychic self? Did you know you had a psychic self? And if you wanted to get in touch with it, is the phone the best means of communication?

For the past two months, Irish Psychics Live (IPL), a premium-rate phone service, has been advertising on independent radio stations for new psychics and tarot card readers. According to Tom Higgins, managing director of Promo Direct which runs the line, it is by far their most popular service.

"We also run weather lines, a healing line and a dream analysis line, but the psychics live line - well, our problem is that we just can't get enough staff to keep up with demand."

Higgins says that of for every 20 job applicants, just "one or two" will be successful. "We look for someone with good communication skills, who is friendly, compassionate and, ideally, has had some counselling experience."

He says he can tell within a minute of talking to someone on the phone whether or not they will be suitable for the work. If he feels they could be, he gets them to give a tarot reading over the phone to one of his existing readers, who will in turn give their opinion as to whether the applicant would be right for the job.

Psychic ability is not absolutely necessary, he adds. "I remember one instance in particular where we employed someone who was just a very skilled communicator. Anyone can learn to read tarot cards."

Bearing in mind that a call to IPL will cost up to £1.50 per minute and callers may be on the line for up to 15 minutes - spending £22.50 - the explosive demand for the service since it began in February cannot be easily dismissed as a harmless bit of fun. A lot of people are spending a lot of money on phone-in psychic counselling.

There are at least eight psychic service providers in the Republic. In addition to IPL, callers could try Mystic Meg Tarot, Tarotel, Ali's Tarot, Mark Lewis Tarot, Sonya's Tarot Line, John Little Classic Tarot or The Mystic Network. Some are recorded voices that choose the cards for you, some ask you to choose your cards by using the touch-tone buttons on the phone; another asks you to choose your cards by answering "stop" after given tones, while a few are answered by live readers who pass their hands over the cards, choosing the ones beneath their hand when you tell them to stop.

The price the caller pays per minute depends on the call-code, with 1550 numbers costing 58p per minute and 1580 numbers £1.50 per minute.

Cheaper, though only available in Dublin, would be a call to Una Power. She hosts In Touch With Una Power on the commercial radio channel, 98FM. In Touch . . . goes out every Friday and Sunday night and its callers seek Power's sooth-saying abilities to guide them on everything from how their son is going to fare in an upcoming court case to whether or not they should stay in an unhappy relationship.

Power uses ordinary playing cards which she shuffles and cuts. Then, using her "psychic ability", devines how the cards are guiding her to advise the caller. "98FM was the first station I have been on that didn't ridicule the subject," says Power. "I will listen to the caller very intently and use my abilities to help them."

She says she merely concentrates on what the problem is and has a "sixth sense" for what is the right course of action. However, she herself admits that she can get it wrong.

"Oh, for heaven's sake, of course I've made mistakes; but it's not my experience that people place too much stock in what I tell them. It's not gospel truth. Often people are just looking for another perspective. Often," she adds, "they are just looking for someone to talk to. They are looking for hope."

The whole psychic and tarot card reading phenomenon is not, insists Margaret Neylon, a massive con, or even mere entertainment. She runs courses in getting in touch with one's psychic self and says that "everyone is psychic".

"Our worst problem is our ego, which wants to control everything and makes us terrified of letting go. I teach people to let go by relaxing, and listen to their psychic self, or their intuition. It will choose the answers that are right for you."

She says that humans tend to intellectualise everything, try to think things through when really they should be feeling their way through, listening to their intuition rather than their logic. "Our intuition never lets us down. We let our intuition down."

Tarot cards, says Patrick Wright, a card-reader and manager of the Complementary Healing Centre in Terenure, Dublin, are a focusing tool. "The cards just allow you to draw in on your psychic self. So it's not the actual symbols that count but what the symbols make you feel."

Wright believes a quality reading can be had over the 'phone, arguing that the reader's and the caller's energy still engage. However, he questions whether companies that prioritise business over the service can deliver as good a quality of reading as those who are first and foremost tarot readers.

The lines are, of course, in the business of making money. Of the £1.50 per minute the caller spends on a 1580 call, 95p goes to the service provider, 26p goes to Telecom Eireann and 26p is VAT.

Higgins himself says that IPL was started because Promo Direct saw how lucrative the lines were in Britain. A number of the pre-recorded lines here are based there. He denies, however, that his tarot readers are under any pressure to keep callers on the line.

However Jane (not her real name), who worked for IPL between March and June of this year, says she was encouraged to keep callers on the line for more than five to eight minutes.

"Twelve to 13 minutes was okay, about 15 minutes was good. We were paid 30p per minute we were on the phone so I suppose it was in my interest to keep them on longer, but I didn't feel it was fair on the caller when I could do a good reading in seven or eight minutes."

Readers work from home and IPL installs a second phone-line into their home to take the 1580 calls. Jane was on call from 9.30 a.m. until midnight seven days a week. "I was on the floor with tiredness. Forget about having a life."

Higgins confirms that the hours his readers work are arduous, but says this is because he cannot recruit enough readers. He also points out that his readers can earn up to £600 a week.

Jane agrees the money was good, but feels the quality of the readings, in her case, were not as good as the callers had a right to expect, because she was too tired to "access her intutition".

Pre-recorded lines vary in how long they keep the caller on the line, from about seven minutes to over half an hour. Neylon describes these as "crazy" in that there is no communication between the caller and the reader. Also a different hand of cards, and thus a different reading, will be dealt to the same caller, even upon an immediate redial.

Premium rate lines are regulated by the regulator, Regtel. From October 1st it will stipulate that live services be recorded. If anyone feels they have been kept on the line too long they may then complain to Regtel. However, this will not prevent callers making repeat calls or building up a "dependency" on the guidance the lines apparently offer.

Tarot card readings, advises Higgins, should be seen as a form of "comforting entertainment".