09/10/2013 06:13 pm ET Updated Nov 10, 2013

Tradition or Taboo: Doesn't Everyone Have a Psychic?

It found me in Peru. I indulged in a coca tea leaf reading, a chakra cleansing and a long discussion with a shaman who had a wooden "magic" sign flapping wildly outside of his shop. It was irresistible. He had at least 30 neon orange dream catchers knotted together and plastered over his windows, captivating tourists by the busload and only letting in those with auras he liked. Bono, Alanis Morissett and Sting were a few of his favorites that he said visited his glass shop in Cusco and tree house retreat in the Amazon.

"Purple," he said. "Purple is why I let you in." And yes, I'm still wearing the red string he tied on my wrist.

When I retold the story of my recent shaman experience, I received the same round of questions that I always do.

"Do you really believe in it? I'm surprised you weren't scared to hear what he'd say," one of my friends said.

"For the most part, yes. And why would I be scared? I visit a psychic once a year for my birthday," I said. "It's practically the same thing."

Her jaw dropped.

"Every year?"

I nodded.

"Since when?"

"Seven years ago."

"The same one?"

"The same one. She's that good," I said.

Her eyes flickered. Even the most skeptical couldn't resist that line.

"What's the most shocking thing she's told you?" she asked, waiting to be convinced.

I scanned the crowd around us. There were more than a few stories. I could tell her about the names: the names of men I would date, cities I would visit and deceased relatives with messages they wanted to give from the beyond. I could tell her about the time she said I'd leave graduate school and switch careers. Or I could tell her about the cryptic advice to keep a glass on my window and the attempted break-in at our apartment months later. But the truth was that my visit became annual when she divulged a family secret.

Our introduction came from a friend who invited me to go to an exclusive reading with a retired psychic. "When?" was all I said before the weeks peeled by and I found myself sitting above a gift shop on a sleepy side street in the middle of a New England town. People wandered in and out of the store, but I knew who she was as soon as she entered the room with her thick blonde hair, kohl-lined eyes and a periwinkle sweater that matched her eye shadow. She smiled brightly, gesturing at me to follow her up a narrow staircase behind a curtain.

When we reached the top, a small room with slanted ceilings and a makeshift card table emerged. It was like an off-off Broadway stage set. There were shelves with faded books and wax sealed vessels with floating herbs inside, and there was tattered furniture covered by cotton sheets and knitted throws and the occasional stuffed animal. She walked over to the table as if these things didn't exist and sat down, propping her elbows up and reaching over a village of animal-shaped amulets to grab a match from a crystal ashtray.

I shimmied to the edge of my seat and watched her shuffle the deck, listening to the waves crash against the docks outside. There was a stillness to the afternoon. The air quickly grew thick and damp inside of the crowded space. I peered out of a window, no larger than a Kleenex box, and stared out onto sun-bleached planks of the boardwalk. I could ask her anything. What did I want to know?

A piece of incense sizzled between her fingertips. She pinched it harder, inhaling the white tail of smoke forming clouds over our heads. Tea lights flickered through the shadowy room. She whispered, quietly at first, but then louder, beckoning whatever was in the room to come forward. That's when things turned weird. I was in a woman's attic in the middle of a residential town with a schoolhouse and playground in viewing distance and I was getting a peek into a world some would consider forbidden. My imagination wandered. Potted plants and knotted vines climbed the walls. A crystal wind chime glimmered through the smoke and painted billowy rainbows on the table. he cut the deck and placed the cards in front me.

"Relax," she whispered, flicking her green eyes up into mine.

She smiled and for a brief moment, I considered calling it off.

"Is this your first reading?"

"Yes. "


"Please don't tell me anything that's bad," I said.

"I never do."

She patted the thick stack of cards. The edges were brown and worn, some with singed tips and others with ink staining the corners. I looked closer. Words in cursive blue ink laced along the sides. "Death of a relative," "man with facial hair" and "good news" caught my eye. The deck looked like it was 100 years old.

"Go ahead. Split them into three piles with your right hand."

I hesitated, staring at the deck. What did I have to lose?

The reading took close to 30 minutes. I split the deck and she asked a round of questions, writing down the names of people I would meet, predictions for the next three to six months and the meanings of the cards on the table. Nothing seemed especially shocking. Disappointed, I thanked her and prepared to leave. She waved at me just as I was about to turn around, looking at the corner and nodding as if someone were there.

"One last thing."

She pointed at me and glanced behind her again.

"What is it?" I asked, grimacing at her concerned face.

"Your grandmother wants you to have a family heirloom. It's in your mother's bureau drawer. You're supposed to get it when you get married, but she wants you to have it now. She's telling me it's a statue from the island where she was born. Does this sound right?"

"She was born on an island, but I don't know anything about a statue," I said, looking at the corner. Nothing but a stack of newspapers and antique dolls.

"Ask your mother about it when you see her. It's important."

When I told my mother where I had spent the afternoon and asked her about the statue, she told me it wasn't time for it yet and wouldn't confirm anything the psychic had said. As coincidence would have it, my aunt, the free spirit of the family, was coming over for dinner after returning home from a vacation in an artists' village in New Mexico. If there was anyone that would give me an answer, it was her.

"Aunt Maria, do you know about a statue I'm supposed to have when I get married?" I asked, in the middle of dinner. My mother chewed on a mouthful of salad and my father chuckled at the end of the table. I asked him about it earlier but made the mistake of doing it in front of my mother. Naturally, he stayed silent.

"How do you know about that?" my aunt asked.

My mother stood up from the table and walked into the kitchen.

"I really wish you'd drop it, Erika," she said, turning the faucet on.

My aunt craned her neck, widening her eyes at the explosion of clamoring pots and pans coming from inside the kitchen.

"It's a very holy statue from the village we grew up in. Who told you about it?"

"A psychic."

"A psychic?"

"Yes, I went today to see one," I said, reaching to take a sip of water. I was trying to make it seem as casual as a trip to the dentist.

"Well, I think your mother wanted it to be a surprise."

When the faucet stopped, I asked the question I had been dying to ask my mother.

"Is it in a bureau upstairs?"

My aunt's jaw dropped. She looked at my mother, who was drying a dish in the doorway.

"Hasn't it been sealed inside of a box since Erika was a baby?" she asked.

My mother eventually gave in and told the story behind the statue. It was blessed on the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores and symbolic of our family's immigration to America. My grandmother requested it be given to my sister and me when we were older.

It was impossible not to believe after that. I wanted to know more. I wanted to write about her predictions and share the stories and link the clues from my readings together. After all, they always matched up. While I can't say I've never used a reading to guide me in a certain direction, I will say that it's provided comfort and insight to situations and matters of the heart when I needed it the most. As for convincing others of the validity in a prediction or the wisdom of a guide, I find they keep coming back for another story.