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Call Me Cheiro...

Or, one man’s journey among the region’s celebrated occultists and psychics in search of a revelation

On a warm late-summer’s weekend, I took a stroll through Allentown with a friend. The sun was shining into every corner of one of the oldest, most historic areas of Buffalo. This was the day my immersion into the occult would begin.

When characters in horror movies start dabbling in the occult, it usually means the end of their lives. So why would anyone consciously decide to immerse themselves in such dark, mystical arts? I don’t know, why does the dude in Hellraiser play with the puzzle box? Why does Ash read from the Necronomicon in The Evil Dead? Perhaps it’s boredom, perhaps it’s foolish fearlessness, but it most certainly has something to do with the desire to access lost or hidden knowledge—to have one of those freaky “whoa” moments when you feel like you’ve peeked in on some secret insight into the world or yourself. The puzzle box gives the solver access to other, albeit hellish, dimensions. Reading from the Necronomicon (or Book of the Dead) awakens spirits (also hellish) who can possess the living. But, as I would learn during my pursuit of a freaky, transcendent “whoa” moment, not all is negative in the world of the occult; in fact, there are many positives.

Back on the streets of Allentown, I walked the blocks with my friend. In a hungry yet happy state, we discussed music and ate breakfast. The mysteries of the universe were far from our minds. As we approached the corner of Elmwood Avenue and Allen Street, an unnaturally (some might say supernaturally) cold wind passed between us. “Let’s duck into this used bookstore,” my friend suggested, pointing to Rust Belt Books. We entered, but the storekeeper was nowhere to be found. When I approached the front table, which is usually stacked with new arrivals, a hypnotic image caught my eye. I turned to my friend. “Look at this,” I said slowly, pointing to a book on the table, my mouth ever so slightly agape, my eyes widening like those of a poisonous dart frog. A ring of faded blue and yellow orbs circled the cover of a book titled Mysteries and Romances of the World’s Greatest Occultists by a man with only one name: Cheiro.

I had read books on the occult before but it wasn’t my subject of choice. I’m not sure what drew me to this book. Maybe it was fate.

As I studied the book, it began to tremble on the table before me. The lights in the already dim bookstore began to flicker. A startling bolt of thunder sounded. The doors of the bookstore blew open and a violent gust of wind tore through the store. The whole building began to rattle. The book, now hovering before me, moved into my outstretched hands as my eyes rolled into the back of my head. All the forces on earth were momentarily focused on the instant that the hardcover volume met my fingertips. As the book finally came to rest in the palms of my twitching hands, it began to glow. A beam of light erupted from it and bored a hole in the ceiling. “Buy me,” said a deep, dark, devilish voice from what must have been an invisible plane of existence.

This, I thought, was a sign. So I bought the book.

A few days later, sitting in my dim apartment, I clicked on a single lamp and began reading about Cheiro’s adventures.

Known as a psychic and palmist, he traveled the world telling the fortunes of famous celebrities, including President Grover Cleveland, Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, and even Pope Pius IX, who purportedly had clairvoyant powers of his own.

The book begins with the story of a mystic called Cagliostro. In the first two chapters, Cheiro documents the life of Cagliostro, who was born in Italy about 120 years before Cheiro was born in Ireland.

Cheiro (pronounced like the Egyptian city, Cairo) not only read the fortunes of famous celebrities but was also a writer who would visit the world’s greatest psychics and document their predictions and experiences.

Then it hit me: I would become Buffalo’s Cheiro. I’d set out on a journey to meet some of the city’s most mystical characters. I’d seek from them predictions of the future and I would mine their brains for esoteric knowledge.

For sale at Strange Brews, from top: mystical herbs found at Strange Brews, including Go Tu Kola, which has been used to treat leprosy, wounds, and gonorrhea; broomsticks, more likely aesthetic than for transportation; and a model of the human skeleton.

Whereas Cheiro traveled from Rome, to Paris, to London, I’d travel to the mysterious corners of Williamsville, Clarence, and North Buffalo. In Cheiro’s time, the early 1900s, psychics were usually housed in castles and dungeons. It must have lent an air of credibility to their thought-magic. Now readers and psychics have been pushed into shopping plazas and malls. It certainly seems slightly less romantic to be imbued with the secrets of the cosmos while looking out the window at a Subway sandwich shop, but thus is life in the 21st century.

My first destination was an establishment called Strange Brews, a mystical occult store full of magic supplies and herbs, where I would meet tarot card reader Onyx Serpentfire.

When I entered the store my eyes were drawn (supernaturally?) to a shelf full of various herbs, resins, and powders. As I peered at jars full of graveyard dust (used to cause illness to one’s enemies, for protection, or even for fertility) and greasewood (which is said to have a healing effect), I noticed out of the corner of my eye a dark figure behind a bookshelf.

Whispering under her breath to two other mysterious figures, she gestured strongly as her guests gasped. Was she revealing the inevitability of their gruesome, hideous, appalling deaths? Or maybe the end of a romantic relationship? Only they would know. Finally the figures rushed out of the building, their faces blurred as they glided passed me. It was my turn now.

When I sat down with Serpentfire (if that is her real name), she seemed very happy to see me.

She laid out her hand-made deck of tarot cards in a traditional 10-card Celtic cross spread. But as she began to tell me the meanings of each card, I grew a little disappointed. Most of the cards had to do with my current romantic relationship, which is steady. It didn’t seem like there was much to plumb there. I was much more interested in the future: Where would I be in five, 10, or 20 years? Would I be a famous journalist vying with Glenn Greenwald for the Pulitzer Prize, or would I be a huddled wretch gnawing at the carcass of a rodent and muttering to myself in a gutter somewhere? I wanted her to make a prediction that would either come true or not. Something I could measure. I wanted her to tell me something about myself that I already knew, but that only I could know.

I thanked her kindly for her services, paid and left the store disenchanted.

The visit with Serpentfire forced me to ask a question: What was I really seeking? All I craved was that aforementioned “whoa” moment, a moment that I could tell friends about. “You’ll never guess what a psychic told me last week,” I imagined myself exclaiming to a group of enthralled friends and acquaintances at a fancy dinner party. “She told me I would step into an open manhole and BAM, next thing I know it, I’m withering helplessly in an underground sewer pipe!” Everyone would applaud and I’d go home drunk and happy.

Like Cheiro, I decided to move on to the next mystic.

The name Cheiro comes from the word chiromancy, another word for palmistry, which is the art of reading a person based on the study of their palms. The Irish palmist was known for his accuracy in predicting when one would die based on a combination of palm reading and astrology. Throughout his career, Cheiro read the palms of famous characters but also of his colleagues, including Madame Blavatsky, a powerful Russian psychic whom he met in 1889.

In his first interaction with Blavatsky, she asked him to read her palms. This surprised Cheiro. As a powerful psychic in her own right, wouldn’t Blavatsky know more about her own final destination than Cheiro? Of course, she told him, but she wanted him to help her prove some of her own theories. Now, as I was about to meet my second psychic, I would have a chance to compare and contrast their readings, just as Blavatsky was able to compare her self-reading to that of Cheiro.

For the record, Cheiro predicted that Blavatsky would die between her 58th and her 62nd birthday. When Cheiro told her this news she looked him straight in the eyes and said “Thank you, Cheiro, you have told me exactly what I want to know.” She died at the age of 60.

Word on the street had it that a palm reader frequented a new bar on Grant Street called the Gypsy Parlor, doling out fortunes for five bucks a pop. This sounded like the perfect spot for my next reading. I arrived the next day, alone, in search of the reader. As I walked through the entrance of the bar, I took in the retro vibe inside. The walls were covered in 1920s-style fabric wallpaper, vintage chandeliers hung from the ceiling, and I was surrounded by paintings of women holding crystal balls. If felt like I had gone back in time.

Then I thought: What if I had stepped through some type of time portal back to the early 1930s? My grandmother lived on the West Side at that time. What if I ran into her and altered her fate and my own destiny? All I’d have to do is literally bump into her and I’d wake up the next morning as a woman living on a farm in Argentina, never knowing the difference.

In a panic I walked up to the bar and ordered a Gypsy Juice. Just then I noticed the woman next to me Instagramming her own cocktail and was propeled back into good old 2013.

Relieved, I turned to notice a woman wearing a turban with a medallion. Using my own powers of deduction, I decided that she must be the resident psychic. I approached her and she informed me that she was not a palmist but a tarot card reader. This was fine: Now I’d have the chance to really compare one tarot reading to another.

She warned me that in a barroom environment, vibes could easily be crossed. She emphasized that the reading was for entertainment value only. Considering I was writing this article for the same reason, this seemed fine to me.

She had me shuffle the deck and she flipped the cards. She went immediately into my current relationship. She could have easily told me about my health or career, but nope, relationship again. Maybe this was a sign: Both readers had hit on my love life. What she told me was good (and personal, so shove off) but it was also vague. A person with exceptional observational skills could probably tell me the same things about myself based on a first impression.

On the other hand, what people think of you upon first impression can be very valuable information.

There are two ways to look at psychic readers: Either they can truly manifest predictions and visions through extrasensory perceptions that we are still unable to measure using the scientific method, or they have studied to become experts at judging first impressions. As a stranger, a reader has no reason to lie to you or pull punches. If you’re fat, they’ll tell you that you need to lose weight. If you’re dressed like a douchebag, they’ll tell you you’re destined to fail in your career if you don’t change your clothes. Your best friend might not tell you the same.

This honest observation is presented as a magic trick, which can make the information seem less valid. On the other hand, if I sat on my lawn like Lucy van Pelt with a sign that read “I’ll be brutally honest with you for $65,” I probably wouldn’t have very many takers. The hitch with a reader is you can dismiss it if you don’t like it, because the information is retrieved from the great beyond. The great beyond can’t be measured or pinpointed, and in our society things are only valid if they can be measured.

At this point I was feeling some similarities between the readings but I hadn’t experienced that “whoa” moment yet. Looking for something a little bit more concrete, I decided to attend a psychic fair at the Eastern Hills Mall. This way I’d have my choice of psychics. I was particularly interested in finding a good astrologer.

Astrology is different than tarot card reading and psychic clairvoyance. Students of astrology don’t meditate with their hands to their heads in deep concentration in an attempt to communicate with another realm. Astrology is more of a study of time and patterns.

In his travels, Cheiro made a friend in an astrologer named Alfred Minchin. The two met by chance in London at an auction, as they both reached for the same book on astrology. Both well educated masters of astrology, the men would sit and discuss space, time, and universal patterns, until Minchin’s sudden death, which Cheiro submits was predicted by Minchin himself. “My anxiety now, my friend, is the fact that my own end draws so near,” Minchin told Cheiro during what would turn out to be their last meeting.

A few weeks later Cheiro woke up with the feeling of Minchin’s presence hovering over him. Startled, he got dressed and left to visit his friend. When he arrived at his friend’s apartment it was unusually quiet. As he investigated the apartment, he noticed a form lying huddled in the corner. Of course it was Minchin. As Cheiro drew closer, he noticed that the man was lying atop some sheets of paper, the top one being a carefully drawn horoscope. As he gently nudged the man to confirm what he already knew, he noticed that Minchin was still grasping a pencil, the tip of which was fixed on the planets of the eighth house, the “House of Death.”

Hopefully my own astrological reading would end better.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the psychic fair was a sign that read “Carol Ruth: Metaphysician, seer, mystic, clairaudient, auras, wayshower, past lives, ASTROLOGY.” Perfect, I thought.

I sat down with Ruth and she went right into my reading. I told her my sign, Cancer, and she consulted a large book of charts of each day of the year spanning probably 100 years. As a Cancer, she told me that I tend to be a homebody, which I am. She told me that I like houses, which I suppose is true but I’d never given it much thought. She told me that I could easily be a landlord or a contractor. My grandfather was both. She told me that if I ever decided to go into real estate, I’d be suited for such a career. My mother is a real estate attorney. Ruth told me that I have a mind for law. My father is a lawyer. She said I would be wise to get an MBA. My brother has one.

There was something to this. But were these relevant connections or was I grasping at straws? Were the things she was saying broader than they seemed? It was hard to tell.

She finished off by telling me that in a past life I may have been a healer in the city of Atlantis. As the city was falling, I was there helping and healing people. I had no idea what to do with that information but I felt like it was the best reading yet, though it was almost entirely unrelated to the tarot readings.

I wouldn’t say I had achieved my “whoa” moment, however. Maybe with time it would happen.

Psychic Karyn Reece posing at her Mystic Shop located at 4446 Main Street in Snyder

In lieu of that moment, I consulted one of the area’s most renowned psychics, Karyn Reece, to tell me about some of her own freaky interactions with clients. Reece has appeared on the Discovery Channel and TLC, and just finished shooting for a paranormal TV series that will appear on A&E. She’s even been consulted by law enforcement for her psychic abilities. I met Reece at her mystic shop in Williamsville a few days after my psychic fair experience. She brought me to the back room of her shop, past containers full of various stones and crystals, past palmistry charts and zodiac calendars.

We sat down and I asked her to tell me about her most memorable moments as a psychic. She told me of a reading she did with a middle-aged woman not so long ago. She told the woman that her husband was “transitioning.” Transitioning is psychic talk for dying. The woman disagreed. Her husband was not sick and had never even had a serious illness. They were only in their late 40s. Months later another woman came in for an appointment, which had been pushed back several times due to scheduling issues. The woman sat down and told Reece that her brother-in-law had died the day before. I’ll let you guess who her sister was.

Reece let me in on a few psychic tricks. A psychic will often tell you that you have psychic abilities, she said.

Oddly though, the next thing she said, almost in the same breath, was that she believed I had healing abilities. Okay. She could have said I had clairvoyant abilities or that I see auras or that I see dead people like herself. But no, she said I had healing abilities. I had heard that before. Moments later, she mentioned the city of Atlantis.

Whoa, I thought. Ruth had said I was a healer in Atlantis. What are the chances? Of course I was looking closely for similarities but this jumped out at me. In a past life I may have been a hero. Some might even say a saint. An angel. Yeah, right. I left the store, my ego temporarily inflated.

During Cheiro’s visit with Madame Blavatsky, the one during which he predicted her death, she told him that in a past life he was a mystic known as Cagliostro. This overjoyed Cheiro but he was also skeptical because he was young and still relatively unknown. Cagliostro had been a very well known, very powerful psychic. He was also a healer.

To Cheiro, there was no way that he and Cagliostro were the same souls reincarnated more than a century apart. And, despite his great powers, Cagliostro had died in a prison cell, muttering to himself.

Toward the end of his life Cheiro lost his brilliant predictive powers. He was no longer consulted as a psychic. His friends deserted him. He met scandals and he even ended up in prison for a period of time in America. One day he was found muttering to himself in a gutter in Hollywood. He was picked up and transported to a hospital, but died en route. He was 70 years old; he’d been born 120 years after Cagliostro.

And then it occurred to me: I was born exactly 120 years after Cheiro.


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