I was ready to scoff at Belfast’s psychics fair... then I witnessed things that left me unsettled
'I wouldn’t say it was a load of crystal balls'
It wouldn’t have taken a psychic to know I was a sceptic.
I mightn’t know my auras from my elbow but the soothsayers and the seers and the prophesiers and the prophets wouldn’t have needed all their mystical powers to recognise me as a doubting Thomas whose psyche at the psychic fair was cynically out of sync with the spirit of the thing.
They could probably have seen my questions coming as I joined the hundreds of people — 95% of them women — paying their three pounds a time to transport themselves into the ethereal world of Belfast’s first major new-age psychic holistic fair at the King’s Hall.
Unlike most of the visitors, I was a disbeliever who wasn’t wondering if there was anybody out there, but rather why there were so many people in there.
And I was pondering if the practitioners had a licence to practise what they were preaching.
A sort of Special Powers Act, you might call it.
Two and a half hours inside the packed Balmoral conference centre with its 48 stalls offering everything from fortune telling, palm reading, reflexology, head massage, metamorphic techniques and homeopathy, to magnetic jewellery and spiritual awakening didn’t convince or convert me.
I wouldn’t say it was a load of crystal balls, but the only thing I came away knowing for sure was that the organisers have a successful future ahead of them with their fair, as the fare on offer was clearly heaven-sent to scores of women who were big into their mediums — even though it didn’t take a sixth sense to tell that they were crossing their palms with fistfuls of silver.
In the queues for readings at an average of £30 a pop, tattooed teenagers and grey-haired grandmothers, who obviously weren’t newcomers to consulting the oracle, swapped stories of their past encounters with their futures.
Long before I moved through the fair, I had a premonition that the atmosphere would be laid-back, but there were a number of disturbing episodes.
At one point attractive ex-model Elizabeth Logue fled in tears from a medium and her sister Brenda Phillips tried to comfort her outside.
At first Elizabeth was much too upset to discuss what she’d been told.
Later, however, she returned to the fair looking more composed and relaxed and said: “I was really shocked at first. But I’ve now taken comfort from what the medium had to say. It also amazed me that she knew what my daughter was called and what colour eyes she has.”
An elderly man also wept after coming face to face with a medium. He didn’t want to be named, but said: “She put me in touch with someone dear to me.
“And she knew more than she should have.”
With piercing eyes and long black hair, Claire Ziritt looked like the archetypal medium, but was surprisingly down to earth.
“I never wanted to do this, you know. When I was a child I would have picked up on things and seen things.
“It freaked me out.
“But now I operate my own psychic practice called Native Spirit and a lot of my work is mediumship — putting people in touch with loved ones who have passed over. Anyone can say such-and-such-a-one is talking to them, but it’s important to give evidence that the person with you knows exactly who you have got.”
I asked Claire to come up with a name of significance for me.
“Declan” she said immediately and emphatically. I scoffed that she was wrong but within an hour I got a telephone call to tell me a financial adviser I would be meeting for the first time this week was called Declan.
Leigh O’Neill also took time out from her readings to tell me about her work as a psychic medium, tarot reader and healer.
She revealed that a large number of people in Belfast were now turning to her to help them find clarity about why family members had committed suicide.
She’s also asked regularly to predict the winning numbers in the lottery and to pick victorious horses in the Grand National.
I asked her if Ulster were going to beat Edinburgh in the rugby match in Dublin later in the day, but she didn’t offer an opinion.
But I sort of knew the answer anyway