Illustration: Rosie Carmichael


I'd always been a cynic about palm reading. Until now

For 20 minutes, Marisa Bate felt seen. Now she sees what all the fuss is about 

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By Marisa Bate on

Seeing into the future, mysticism and the supernatural are having a moment. I’m sure you’ve noticed. Witches have made a comeback; angel card reading is becoming a regular appointment in people’s lives, like a manicure or a doctor's check-up. Jordan is on the telly looking for ghosts. My pop-psychology hot take is that it coincides with our slightly apocalyptic view of the world; our constant state of insecurity and the unpredictably of what’s ahead as our world collapses, morphs and moves at a rate of knots.

I was at a hen do recently and there was a palm reader. Whether or not this is the millennial stripper is still TBC, but everyone joined in, even though it was really only the bride who was a “believer”. Others rolled their eyes over glasses of prosecco and swapped stories. “She said I was creative,” one said. “I’m the least creative person ever!”

When it came round to my turn, I headed to the back of the garden where the reader was sat, away from the din of 15 drunk women. She had a thin crown of flowers in her long brown hair and looked as if she might spend a lot of time at festivals in remote parts of the UK, braiding hair when not seeing into people’s souls. She was slim, pale and probably only a bit older than me. There was a quietness and calmness to her.

I was cynical but tipsy, and therefore eager to hear what she had to say. She took my hands in hers and didn’t say very much for a while. Occasionally, her eyes would meet mine. They looked searching. How well did she have this routine down, I thought. Or does she really think she can see something?

She told me lots of things. Some were not true; others were. “You’d make a good teacher.” “You’re a good listener.” “You take risks, but like your comfort zone.” “You can be sensitive.” All of these things were broad enough that I could find a story in my 32 years that both supports and contradicts them. “What can you tell me about my family?” I asked. “They are tougher than you.” She was right about that one. I went back to the party. “She said I’m going to run my own business,” said my friend who has always wanted to run her own business. How did she know?

Yet it wasn’t the potential for mysticism that really intrigued me – what she could or couldn’t know. Because, I realised, whether it was true or not wasn’t really the point. We’d paid £20 not for answers, but for attention.

For 20 minutes, she gave me her undivided attention and all we talked about was me. I see you, she said, as she turned my hands over in hers

I always remember Oprah Winfrey being asked what she had learned from interviewing so many people, and so many different people, from presidents to criminals. (Let’s be honest, if anyone has the answers, it’s Oprah.) And her response has stayed with me. She said that, ultimately, all anyone wants is “to be seen”. They want, she said, people to know them, to understand what they are about and trying to do; they want to be recognised and heard. Not in a famous/celebrity way, but in a more fundamental, almost existential way – “Look, this is me, I exist. I am this sort of person” – because (more pop psychology) we’re all terrified that if we fell over in a forest, would no one would actually notice or care. To satisfy natural, human angst, we need others to validate our existence.  

And, really, that’s what the palm reading was about. The world is so loud and shouty and fast, and if you don’t shout loudly enough or act fast enough you can feel lost, and that who you are and what you're trying to achieve will go by unnoticed, unremarked upon. Maybe this is why we all have little corners of the internet dedicated to ourselves, putting big red arrows over our heads, shouting, “Look at me – this is who I’m trying to tell the world I am. Is anyone listening?”

And so, for 20 minutes, in the back of my friend’s north London garden, a woman with a crown of flowers and a splattering of freckles told me she could see me better than I could see myself; that she really knew me and who I was. For 20 minutes, she gave me her undivided attention and all we talked about was me. “I see you,” she said, as she turned my hands over in hers.

And even the cynic in me got a thrill, a small hum of electricity in my bones. In one way or another, I had been seen. It didn’t matter what she said – she was looking. No wonder this is so popular, I thought.


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Illustration: Rosie Carmichael
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