A writer's personal journey through the intuitive underbelly of Eugene
by Dante ZuÀiga-West
Psychics, palmists, tarot card readers, alchemical healers, past-life consultants, after-life communication specialists and empaths. Eugene is to the intuitive arts what L.A. is to plastic surgery. The alternative and unorthodox practices of intuitive counseling thrive here more so than, say, Phoenix or San Diego. Who are these intuitives? How is it theyve come to nest here in Eugene? And how many different types of them live among us?
|Charles David. Photo by Trask Bedortha.|
|Kosmic Karen. Photo by Todd Cooper.|
|Connie Bender. Photo by Trask Bedortha.|
|Nicki Scully. Photo by Todd Cooper.|
|Eliel Fionn. Photo by Trask Bedortha.|
I wanted to get to the bottom of these questions, and I didnt mind if that meant calling out all the stereotypes or facing some very real consequences as a result of swimming in the supernatural slipstream. I am not a guru, a spiritualist or a soothsayer. Im a writer who soldier-crawls after the next good story. What you receive from this article may be the result of an act of faith on your part, a surrender of reason, or even a desire to be cheaply thrilled.
In pursuit of truth, I subjected myself for five consecutive days to an intensive series of visits with Eugenes intuitive practitioners. I dragged a brave, quasi-willing EW photographer along with me. To fully investigate the nature of coincidence/intuition, I decided to present myself differently at each of the counselings I attended. At one of the sessions, I arrived wearing a suit, while at another I donned full-on Grateful Dead hippie tie-dye regalia. My intention was to see if the intuitives could truly see past outward appearance when sizing up my chakras or spitballing my soulscape.
I am a skeptic by nurture. Given, however, that I guinea-pigged my own personal life for this story, Im not going to tell you absolutely everything that went on in these counselings. Similar to traumatic experiences, øinside thoughts," or sexually suggestive text messages, the details of intuitive counseling sessions are not meant for complete disclosure or public consumption. I will, nonetheless, do my best to describe some of the people/processes/practices I encountered.û
After-Death Counseling And The All-Purpose Intuitive
Kosmic Karen is not your average psychic. øIm not going to put on a bunch of robes and have a velvet cloth-covered table and incense and all that," says the self-identified intuitive. øIm not that type. I have more of a Jerry Springer sort of style."û
Indeed, Kosmic Karen, whose real first name happens to be Roxy, is not the alternative personality one might expect to her to be. øIm a mainstream person, I eat meat! I bodybuild. No patchouli oil." She leans closer. øWho woke up one day and said patchouli oil smells good?" Kosmic Karen wonders. øIt doesnt! Please, Eugene, stop using it, it stinks! Im serious; make sure that gets in the article."û
The wife of TV commercial personality Mr. Appliance, Kosmic Karen was drawn to the intuitive arts from as far back as she can remember. She recalls watching movies and reading stories and feeling a deep connection to the spirit world. øBut at first, I didnt know if I could really do it," she explains. øIts like art or auto mechanics; anyone can do it, but some people are better at it than others."
Karen is an all-purpose intuitive. She has done a little bit of everything and was featured prominently in 2004 by KDUCK 104.7 radio station as their in-house psychic. But attending to the needs of callers who rang in hell-bent on øgetting only the answers they wanted to get" wore down on Karen. So she turned to her preferred intuitive practice: After-death counseling.
øSometimes I hear things, sometimes I get a feeling," she says. øIf it is important enough, whoever it is will make sure I get the message." She is talking about communicating with the dead. When summoning spirits, Kosmic Karen looks at photos or holds an object of the deceased. øWhen it begins, it always feels like it [the spirit of the deceased] is coming from the right side of my body. Never the left." She can do this with household pets also. øI did an after-death communication on a dog once," she recalls. øThat dog is pretty darn cool."û
Karen says these s¹ances are healing for the people she counsels, though she is somewhat selective in who she will take money from. She no longer does a lot of traditional counseling. While intuitively counseling me, Kosmic Karen misjudged my astrological sign but told me some eerily applicable things about my current romantic relationship. She also claims that I have an intense sense of devotion, and my future as a writer will be unconventionally successful. Given my undertaking of stories such as this: If I am to have any success as a writer, she might just be right.û
Karen says her talents do not often work when she attempts to use them on her self. øThe doctor who treats himself has a fool for a patient," she says, bastardizing that old saying about lawyers and clients.û û
Hands of Fate
Meeting palmist Charles David was cinematic. The 67-year-old ex-Marine/painter lives in a two-story apartment that can be glimpsed as you drive north on Lincoln Street, not far past the EW office. A large sign advertising palmistry can be seen on the front porch, and hanging on the door is a light-up sign. David turns this on when he feels øin the mood," he says. The interior of his place is swamped in trinkets ‹ its hard to walk without stepping on something. Most of the stuff is memorabilia from flea markets and garage sales.û
Charles David wasted no time. His housemate/hostess Jimmi seated me and the EW photographer, and David made his entrance with the statement, øLemme see your hands." Usually when white people demand this of me, they have badges and guns ‹ it took me a moment to acclimate.
Apparently I displayed my palms in a fashion known as *the hand of Jupiter, with my fingers outstretched. øMost people hold their fingers together when they show me their palms. People who do that [hand of Jupiter] are just bold, man."
Meeting David was also deceptive. He looks and speaks like he belongs deep down south ‹ in Mississippi or Alabama. øIm a local redneck," he says øMy grandfather was born in Florence."û
øYou have a really straight, deep simian line," he observed. øThat means the depth of your devotion and feeling is incredibly intense." Examining my palm, he continued speaking. øThis over here is your love line. Some people have a totally straight one, but yours is a bunch of deep little breaks." I wince. øI dont need to go into what that means, do I?" David asked. The EW photographer laughed at me, not with me.û
øThe strangest thing on your hand is the complete lack of a lifeline," he continued.û øYour vitality I mean, it isnt very strong." Images of untimely death flashed in my mind: Ernest Hemmingway, Arthur Rimbaud, Heath fucking Ledger. The palmist remarks on my scarred knuckles and I confess to him Ive done my share of boxing and barroom bouncing. David informs me that, as a boy, the first black boxing star, Jack Johnson, was told by a palmist that he would be the heavyweight champ of the world.û
Palmistry began for David as a way to make money. He practiced in Eugene during the heyday of the counter culture years. øI was a hippie. Wed go down to the UO sorority houses and sit outside selling our leatherwork," David says, adding that the girls streamed out of their houses squealing, øIve never seen a real hippie before!"û
But soon the girls got bored. David used palmistry to keep his customers interested. He acquired a small book on the subject and studied it a bit. øWhen I was young, I thought it [palmistry] was just a buncha b.s.," he says. øBut over the years I realized palmistry had nothing to do with the book." David explains that real palmistry is far more than one can find in pages. He is in the process of writing his own book on Hellenism and its relation to palmistry.
Now, decades later, he no longer reads palms just for the money. øThis isnt a business," he says. øIt fulfills me." Although he charges a fee for his services, David only goes downstairs and turns the sign on when he feels so inclined. He doesnt have strict working hours. If you are lucky enough to be in the neighborhood when the neon is blazing, you can drop by, although many people stop by whether the sign is on or not. People bang on Davids door at all hours, demanding readings. Sometimes it is other palmists, looking to test him. Other times it is night of the living dead-style tweekers, or a half-naked dude on roller skates stumbling by to ask him what the winning lottery numbers will be.û
David had a lot to say about my palms. I grudgingly concede that most of it was relevant. I staggered away with deep respect for him, his vibrantly colored woodcarvings of Christ and the devil lining the dark hallway that I passed through on the way out.û
I couldnt stop looking at my hands.
House of Cards
Connie Benders cat meets us at the sidewalk and escorts us in to her home. A woman in the later years of life, Bender has been in Eugene forever. She seems like a character out of a Tom Franklin novella. The daughter of a water witcher, Benders intuitive powers were first recognized by her grandfather, who owned a parcel of land in the Corvallis foothills. This man would take each of his adolescent grandchildren out on the property holding underground water reserves, to see if they had øthe juice."
Bender had the juice. She says, øthe stick felt like a dog on the end of a leash, pulling me." Whatever it is Bender possesses, the trait runs in the family. Her grandmother read tealeaves.
Bender is a tarot card reader and a familiar face at the Eugene Saturday Market, where shes done readings for more than 22 years. Christian groups and devoutly religious people sometimes gather in front of her tent. Some protesters have even become physically aggressive with her, forcing Bender to call security. øYou are so lost; if only youd turn to Jesus," one woman implored her.û
Bender once stopped reading cards for several years, both because she sought to hold down a steady, fulltime job and because the information the cards showed her was too overwhelming. øIm not doing this for theatrics or kicks," she says. øThis isnt a game. Im not doing this because I get high from this. I tried to make that full-time [job] work, I really did, but this was calling me."û
Bender knows the history of her calling. Tarot, she explains, was created for people who werent very literate, hence the striking imagery adorning each card and card set. When I ask why many people consider Tarot to be so effective, she replies: øThe cards dont lie. You cant erase such profound imagery from your mind."û
When it comes to card sets, Bender is fully loaded. She owns more than 80 decks. Her home is inundated with them. øI can work the cards the way a practiced musician can play an instrument," she says about why anyone would pay for a service they could learn themselves. û û
The Tarot card reading Bender gifts me with creepily coincides with my palm reading. Repeated themes of devotion, passion, death and change.û
Walk Like an Egyptian
øIm not channeling information for them, Im showing them how to get it themselves," Nicki Scully says of her work with clients. She strolls with me through her expansive property that doubles as a healing center.û
Scully practices what she calls øalchemical healing," an intuitive art that øbrings together techniques from shamanism and energetic healing with the principles of alchemy." She says her teacher is the Egyptian god Thoth, and she tries to stay true to ancient Egyptian ways. øWhere I part from conventional Egyptology, is that my way of learning has been direct experience rather than scholarly research," she explains, øI do my research afterwards." û
ûNicki became awakened to the intuitive arts decades ago through her explorations of LSD and The Grateful Dead, as she explains in her book Alchemical Healing, a Guide to Spiritual, Physical and Transformational Medicine. Originally from Los Angeles, Scully moved to San Francisco in 1966 and became heavily involved in the counterculture movement, later moving to Eugene in 1981.û
Scullys work has taken her all over the world. She specializes in holding ceremonies at the actual sites of Egyptian pyramids and temples. During these ceremonies, the sacred structures are rented out privately, and Scully guides her clients through practices that allow them to be in contact with the spirit world.û
EW didnt have the budget to send me to Egypt with Nicki Scully, but the visit to her home/healing center was very much like traipsing the border into another country. Most memorable, was the giant altar shes erected in one of the buildings on her property known as the ødoghouse." The doghouse got its name because it contains a huge wall painting of the Egyptian dog-headed god known as Anubis. Scullys altar, nestled in the back of the place, is adorned with absolutely beautiful statuettes and idols, each of which she says directly represents her family and connections to the spirit realm. û û
Eliel Fionn claims her clients come to her when theyve experienced phenomenon that cannot or will not be explained by Western medicine. øThis isnt about belief," Fionn says, tapping on her coffee table. øIf you couldnt see this table but you kept bumping into it, eventually youd feel like, *Gee, I dont really think anything is there, but something is really bothering me."
Fionn doesnt advertise, yet she has clients all over the world, some of whom are prominent doctors and lawyers. She has spent a great deal of time working with small children. Diagnosed with synesthesia ‹ a neurological condition in which ones sensory perceptions are scrambled and sometimes intertwined ‹ at a young age, Fionn, the daughter of a scientist, is mild mannered and almost suburbanite in demeanor. Her home is clean with grandmotherish-type qualities.û
Fionns specialty is past-life interpretation. øIts like watching a video of someones lifetimes when I look at them," she explains. She has performed past life consultations on humans as well as animals. øI did some work on a dog whod been in a Civil War battle as a horse in his previous life, and was having trouble walking [in this lifetime]. Within a day or so he could walk again."
I ask her how she feels about tabula rasa, the epistemological theory proposed by Swiss philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau that people are born into this world without any preconceived knowledge and become who they are by way of experience and perception. She laughs and says it is hard to think people would believe in such a thing.
I readjust my coattails and ask if she will do a past life interpretation on me. Unlike the other intuitives I visited, Fionn declined to perform her practice upon request. She preferred to gift me with a reading without the presence of my photographer and insisted I meet with her at a later date at her downtown office. I accepted the offer.
According to Fionn: I have picked lifetimes that are prominent in history. I am adventurous. øI wish I could give you a video of your lives," she says. She tells me that I have always been a man of action. I have never been a farmer or sedentary personality. Lots of travel. I have primarily been a warrior, acting out øthe archetype of the hero" over and over again during my lifetimes. I have not had very long lives, because I have been unafraid of death.û
In specific, the EW photographer (in whose presence Fionn preferred not to disclose my past lives) has been my partner/sidekick throughout many lifetimes, usually as the voice of reason. While I have been the adventurous one, he (the photographer) has been the one trying to save me from myself. Fionn wants me to inform the photographer that this lifetime is his lifetime to shine, not just be in the background.
I have been an explorer, a samurai, a European contraband smuggler and a participant in the 1849 California gold rush. Ive also been an ancient entrepreneur, profiting off of the spice trade. A ladies man, who slept with most of the prominent noblewomen of 17th century France and a trusted courier of governments carrying messages that shaped the ancient Greek world. I seem to have been some all encompassing perversion of James Bond, Marcus Lutrell and Indiana Jones according to the past life resume detailed by Fionn. In combat I have been known to possess a sixth sense, making me a leader among other soldiers, acting with courage under fire. The families Ive been born into have always thought I was crazy. But if anyone ever messed with my family, heads would roll.
Fionn was not stingy when laying the past life recall on me.û She concludes the session by performing energy work on me, and says that I might feel a little øinteresting" for a few days. And though she was worried her work might disrupt my digital recording device during our visit, everything came through crystal clear.û
In the aftermath of these psychic excursions, my subconscious mind struggled to grab hold of whatever form of reality I call mine. Think about doing this for five days straight; think about the effects it would have on your mind. Even the EW photographer showed signs of mental fatigue. All belief and superstition aside, it is just a really intense series of encounters to have and revisit in such a short period of time. I had strange dreams.û
For weeks afterwards I woke up at exactly 3 am every morning and didnt know why. One time, in the place between sleep and consciousness, I mistakenly thought I saw a large dark multi-limbed creature crawling towards my bedside. My coworkers kept asking me if I was okay. Household pets of my so-called friends sniffed at me and lingered longer than they should have. I flipped through old photo albums of my previous years. I stayed away from mirrors. I kept to myself and used whiskey. Loved ones were concerned. But Id found what I went looking for.
The intutives are alive and well in Eugene. Most of them are homegrown Eugeneans, as Eugene as Skinners Butte, the Country Fair or the WOW Hall. Though aging, these mystic journeyfolk seem enlivened by their practices and for the most part very matter-of-fact in regard to their talents.û
I could, potentially, devote a great deal of effort to discrediting or affirming the things that were said and shown to me during my journey through the psychic ecosystem of Eugene, but that isnt my style. What I got out of my investigation was a serious comprehension of subjective realities that one can choose to accept or ignore. There is no ballast, regardless of how badly we may wish there could be. No sacred cows. No psychic commandments. Only intuitions.û û û û û û û