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What's in the cards
Just how well do the seers see?

By Diane Daniel

Spirit communicators. Palmists. Readers of crystal balls, tarot cards, and tea leaves.

There are more routes to the other world than flights to New York City.

Psychics will tell you where you've been, where you are, and where you're going (with some having a better sense of direction than others).

Early this year, I put them to the test, then allowed about six months to see if they were accurate. The results are in the accompanying chart.

But I was not just in it for the predictions, I wanted the experience. I set out with an open mind and a sense of humor and discovered gifted, intuitive people out there, and that the best readers gave me the nudge I needed to make important changes. And there's a bonus: for 30 minutes you get to hear how (mostly) wonderful you are.

Regina Russell's Tea Room

Regina Russell's Tea Room is in an old Quincy house and looks like your local coffee shop, except on the menus you'll find palm readings, crystal balls, astrology, and tarot cards instead of two eggs and a muffin. I was surprised that on a weekday afternoon the place was almost full with men and women (mostly the latter) of all ages.

I ordered a tarot card reading with a side of crystal ball (a 30-minute "private combo" costs $36, plus tip) and was matched with Carol, seemingly because, as the hostess said, "she's a Sagittarius, too!"

I paid a little extra for a private reading so I could record it (they supply machines) and avoid being overheard. Eavesdropping in tea rooms is entertainment unto itself.

Carol, dressed in a plain blouse and jeans and equipped with tarot cards and a golf-ball size crystal ball, led me to a tiny, bare room.

In answer to my questions, she told me she's worked at the tea room for more than 10 years and is about my age (41). All she knew about me was my first name and Zodiac sign. She laid out a "general spread" of the tarot cards, which I'd chosen out of a face-down deck.

Whenever she asked me to pick more cards from the deck, I would stop her and ask why. She patiently explained that each round concerned a different part of my life.

About my work, she said, "Things aren't what they first appeared to be."

I'm thinking, are they ever?

"You're ready for some change."

Isn't everyone who visits a psychic?

Moving onto the personal, Carol got more specific. With an air of authority, she talked about two ex-boyfriends; she described them almost to a T - with no help from me.

She said one would be spending time in New York, Connecticut, and New Jersey; that caught my attention, because his girlfriend before had lived in Jersey and had recently moved to Connecticut.

I called the ex later - and sure enough, he was seeing her again.

Carole Lynne and Nancy Garber

I'd been looking forward to seeing Carole Lynne because I wanted to have a chat with some of my dearly departed and I truly believed there was a chance of that happening. Carole is a medium, or spirit communicator. Her mentor and associate is Nancy Garber, who's become something of a local celebrity, touted for her success in attracting spirits.

The two share clients. (Carole charges $60 for an hour reading; Garber's readings run longer and tend to be more expensive.)

Carole and I sat in chairs opposite one another in the plainly furnished basement of her Newton home. There were none of the cliche paraphernalia: No turban. No exotic costume. No candles. Carole knew I was I was hoping for a visit from my father, who had died two years before.

Like many psychics I talked with, Carole said she hadn't chosen her profession so much as it chose her. She has taught singing, voice, and public speaking for years, but said she couldn't resist the spiritual calling. The spirit doesn't speak through her, but appears before her.

Time has no parameters in the spirit world, Carole said. Folks who knew me in a different lifetime would perhaps visit, which meant, of course, that I wouldn't recognize them in this lifetime (yes, skeptics, that does give her a giant out). She said she first saw an older man, sort of a mentor type, but the details didn't match anyone I knew, and we quickly moved on.

Carole then said she saw my father, described him down to specifics, including his physical ailments and his personality. But while she got the details right, she said nothing that was uniquely Dad. I would have been a complete convert had she cited some particular that could never have been guessed, such as "Go Hokies" (he was a Virginia Tech fan). Carole and Nancy told me that most of their clients come to settle unfinished business or to work through their grief. Indeed, whether the spirits intervene or not, they do have a reputation for soothing people's pain.

Carole Lynne and Nancy Garber can be reached at 617-824-4220.

The Original Tremont Tearoom

I've got to admit that I felt intimidated when I entered The Original Tremont Tearoom, the area's oldest. Perhaps it was the room's glow-in-the dark cosmic decor. Boston's best-known psychic spot, the tea room felt a little clubby, with clusters of 20-somethings hanging out. But a sweet-faced young woman named Raven came to my rescue, handing me a menu and seating me at a table.

It's difficult not to feel vulnerable when you think someone might have the potential to read your mind and look into your future. But Raven was reassuring and down to earth, almost like a camp counselor. I chose a sampler of palm reading, runes, and a general psychic reading (45-minute combo, $50, plus tip). During the palm reading, my first, Raven said I had a writer's line. I had not told her my profession.

She described me as direct, independent, and controlling. That's me. She also said I was shy with men and don't open up easily. That's not me.

Raven had her own little table. But nearby was a fairly loud psychic reader whose client smoked - a distraction.

Unlike others, Raven didn't keep saying "do you understand?" during the psychic reading. Psychics do that to make sure they're on the right track, but some, it seemed, used the question as a way to elicit more information than they should need if they're genuine.

Raven was way off about a past boyfriend, but seemed on target about the new guy. She said, apologetically, she thought it would last for no longer than six months. She was right.

Open Doors

I had heard many good things about Open Doors in Braintree from friends and psychics alike. The New Age gift and bookstore is packed with crystals, gifts, artwork, even a flowing fountain. It also offers classes in such things as reflexology and past life regression, and has a School of Energy Healing. Readings are done in partitioned-off corners of the store.

Over the phone, I had made an appointment for a psychometry reading ($30 for 30 minutes) in which predictions are based on personal objects and photographs. Tracey was recommended, but when I showed up she said psychometry was not one of her specialties. She gave it a try anyway.

Tracey - whose hair, flowing clothes, and long, painted nails gave her a Stevie Nicks look - made sure I was sitting up straight with legs uncrossed, so as to not block the flow of energy. At this point I was thinking, oh brother. I handed her a black-onyx ring. Her first comment was that it had "a lot of female energy" and asked if my grandmother had given me it. When I said my father had, she assumed it was a family heirloom (it wasn't) and continued talking about my grandmother.

I should have listened to Tracey's warning and asked for another reader. That's standard procedure when don't feel you're connecting.

In a short reading using tarot cards, Tracey, assuming my father was alive, said he needed to watch his diet and that he'd visit the Cape often. She prefaced many sentences with "they're telling me," and I was imagining invisible fairies hovering around her head. Some customers swear by Tracey, owner Richard Lanza said later. With me perhaps she was tuned in to the wrong lifetime.

MaryLee Trettenero

MaryLee Trettenero describes herself as clairaudient, which means she hears phrases and sees images when she gives psychic readings. She was an executive in hotel management, then switched gears. For the past four years she's worked in an area tea room and gives more in-depth readings at her Charlestown home.

Her apartment was cozy, clean, and quiet. There were a few crystals lying here and there and a cat or two. She taped the session (readings cost $75-$90), which began with my putting both hands on a large, black crystal ball and her placing her hands atop mine for a minute. I tried to emit energy, however one does that.

As much as I liked her soothing manner and professional demeanor, I couldn't relate to much of what she said. She would close her eyes, take a deep breath, and repeat what she saw and heard. That amounted to a lot of bromides, such as take time "to smell the roses," "you're living too high on the hog," "take a walk on the wild side."

I did agree with her assessment that I don't take enough risks, that I live in the 80-percent range and don't go the extra 20 percent. But that applies to most of the human race, I told her. She said she hadn't told anyone that in the same way before.

Much of the time she used tarot cards as the basis for her reading, then would add her own images. The one time I was floored was when MaryLee described my dogs after I asked about their health. She said that one dog, Lucy, "wishes you could walk her around the neighborhood" and asked if she limped. Lucy's partially paralyzed.

Unicorn Books & Spiritual Resource Center

My astrological reading with Jan Brink, co-owner and resident astrologist at Unicorn Books & Spiritual Resource Center in Arlington seemed like a trip to the doctor and the therapist. Jan used my computer-generated chart like a lab report - she was diagnostician and adviser. I wasn't surprised to learn that Jan holds a doctorate in psychology from the University of Michigan and charges a sliding scale ($75-$150) for her sessions.

Never having had "my chart done" before, the results were about as understandable as an endocrinology report. (I also ordered astrological computer summaries and forecasts; they were not nearly as interesting as an in-person session.)

As we sat in a bare room face to face with a tape recorder running, Jan explained that the basic premise of astrology is that as planets align, we pass through different phases, which is why one's sun sign (Aries, Libra, etc.) is only a small piece of the puzzle. Charts are plotted using one's birthdate, time, and location. "There's no end to what you can learn by working with your chart," she said. "But if you think your chart is who you are, you're stuck." Like a therapist, she was saying, here's the groundwork, now the rest is up to you.

There was a lot of talk about houses and planets, ascendants and transits, and those pesky retrogrades. The exciting news is that Pluto will be going over my sun for several years, in a cycle that occurs only every 250 years. She said it has and will continue to "set off total transformation in your self-awareness."

"In terms of you really finding your power," she said, "you're just starting." She seemed genuinely excited for me. If someone tells you great things are in your future, you latch on to every word.

Unicorn Books & Spiritual Resource Center, 1210 Mass. Ave., Arlington. 781-646-3680 or (Get directions).

Gloria Ward

Intuitive counselor Gloria Ward spoke with me over the phone ($40 for 30 minutes). She also sees people at her home in Salem. When we set up the appointment, she asked me to have questions ready. She even tapes her end of the conversation and sends customers the cassette. Though she said nothing that sent chills down my spine, she was right on about many things.

I felt more relaxed because I didn't need to worry about my body language but I missed the personal connection. But overall, her reading left me feeling optimistic. She seemed to zero in on career issues I'd been thinking about and gave me confidence to consider making changes.

Diane Daniel is a member of the Globe staff.

© Copyright 1999 Globe Newspaper Company.