New Age teacher promises a way to psychic ability Movement is backlash to science, skeptic says

March 18, 1998|By Laura Sullivan | Laura Sullivan,SUN STAFF

Lori Lothian isn't holding a crystal ball when she opens the door to her small, wooden house outside Annapolis. She owns a crystal ball but doesn't know how to use it.

She looks young for 36, wearing cords and gold earrings. Nothing like the stereotyped fortuneteller in a turban that many expect when they come to her living room to have their destinies revealed.

Lothian is a New Age fortuneteller, a teacher who, unlike most of her palm-reading colleagues, believes psychic ability can be taught. For the past year, dozens of people from the Baltimore area have come to her to learn how to "funnel their energy" and "awaken the gypsy within."

That Lothian and hundreds of other "psychic teachers" have been popping up across the country two years before the millennium is no coincidence, say skeptics, who call it "millennium fever." Some people have a need to find meaning and answers in life that a century of science hasn't provided, they say.

"If you believe you are psychic, you will be," Lothian tells the seven people who show up for her class last weekend.

"These classes are part of a New Age movement," says Joe Nickell, a senior research fellow with the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal in Buffalo, N.Y., which publishes the Skeptical Inquirer. "We're at the end of a modern enlightened age when science has made such discoveries, and there's a backlash.

"Science is getting so complicated that the average person can't understand how a lot of things work," he says. "So we're falling back to superstition that belongs in the Middle Ages."

Technically, Lothian agrees, you can't learn to be a gypsy. You either are or aren't a descendant of the band that has roamed Europe since the 5th century.

But that's not important, she says, dismissing it as a technicality as she waits for her students to arrive for the three-hour class.

Hers is not the psychic world of the foreseeing gypsy or the storefront tarot card reader of Baltimore's corner shops. She talks about psychic power harnessed by the Hindu books on her shelf, the incense burning over the stereo and the large, fluffy couches visitors sink into. It's a multicultural, multiethnic psychic approach adapted for the times.

For $40, Lothian promises to teach students to figure out the intimate relationships of total strangers in an instant, to tell the future.

"I'm not kidding," she says.

All she asks of her students is that they bring an open mind -- and a dictionary.

"I never go anywhere without a pocket dictionary," she says. "It is the best way to get a quick reading without all your emotions getting involved.

"Ask yourself a question, and without looking, flip to a word to find the answer."

Skeptics call this seeing the meaning you want in a random occurrence.

The seven students hesitate at the door, as if the proper etiquette of entering a psychic's house demands that visitors pause as she takes a reading.

Lothian says she doesn't do that.

"I wouldn't want to invade someone's privacy," she says. "It's like switch. I can turn it off. Besides, I don't want all that information swimming around in my head."

It is one of her tenets, Lothian tells them, to keep life free from clutter, in the head or in the house.

Class begins with a test for the group, which includes an artist, a secretary, a student and an account executive.

Certain conditions, such as a bad childhood, psychic parents or the ability to daydream, open the mind to the supernatural more easily, she says.

"This is the only time a bad childhood is a good thing," she says.

Some in the group, including office administrator Caryl Van Lill, 42, score very high. Others score very low.

The test doesn't matter, Lothian says. She says she knows which members of the group of would-be psychics are "grounded in their bodies" and which are not.

She turns to Van Lill, who has followed instructions and drawn a picture of her favorite place, a waterfall.

"You must be cleansing right now in a detox program of some kind," Lothian says.

"Yes, I just quit smoking," Van Lill says.

The students sigh.

Some in the class have come out of curiosity, others seeking answers, including explanations for eerie coincidences.

But most come out of fear, Nickell says.

"We're all worried about our health, the future, our relationships," he says. "The harm is not so much in getting ripped off, but that if you begin to think more superstitiously about little things, pretty soon you're applying them to big things, making major life decisions on the flip of a tarot card."

Lothian, a former Canadian journalist who became a full-time psychic three years ago, uses words such as "alpha states" and "upper chakra area."

For most of her seminar, she runs her students through group exercises such as guessing what a hidden postcard looks like or trying to read the thoughts of the person sitting to the left.

Some people sense -- or guess -- with surprising accuracy. Some don't come close.

Lou Schenker, 46, of Annapolis, the only male in the group, pinpoints the recent heartbreak of the person next to him.

"Wonderful," Lothian exclaims, rising from her cushion.

"I guess I'm more psychic than I thought," Schenker says.

Pub Date: 3/18/98

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