Cruising With Sylvia Browne

The Guardian takes a cruise with Sylvia Browne:

The audience listens politely. For all the times Sylvia gets things psychically wrong (which she does a lot: I sometimes think if she tells you your kid is dead, you should probably presume the child’s alive and vice versa), she still has an enormous following. Hundreds of people have paid thousands of dollars each to be cruising with her this week. This is in part because if you want to pay $750 to have a 30-minute telephone reading with her, there’s a waiting list of four years. Her critics believe her career can’t possibly survive the Shawn Hornbeck debacle, but so far there’s no sign of it diminishing on this cruise.

I don’t have a cover story worked out to explain why I’m here. I haven’t the heart to say that I have a missing child. Perhaps if anyone asks I can say I have a missing mother. I don’t know anything about my fellow travellers. They mainly look like retired Americans in slacks, a typical tourist party. You wouldn’t look twice at them. But then Sylvia draws names out of a hat. If we hear our name called, we are allowed to ask her a single question. Only one.

“Julie Harrison… Joan Smith… Pamela Smith…” says Sylvia. And, one by one, they walk to the microphone in front of the stage.

“Why did my husband decide to take his own life?” asks the first woman.

“What?” Sylvia says. The woman is crying so hard, Sylvia can’t understand her.

“Why did my husband decide to take his own life?” the woman repeats.

“He was bipolar,” Sylvia says.

The next woman walks to the microphone.

“I have a strained relationship with my daughter,” she begins. “And I want to know …”

“Your daughter is strange,” interrupts Sylvia.

Sylvia doesn’t pause. Other psychics will often reach around for some inner voice, but Sylvia answers the question instantly, in a low, smoky growl, sometimes before the person has even finished asking it.

“Your daughter is stubborn,” she says. “She’s selfish, narcissistic. Leave her alone.” The woman reluctantly nods. Tears roll down her cheeks.

“Don’t get too involved with her,” Sylvia says. “She’ll hurt you. Leave her alone. I don’t like her.”

“Thank you, Sylvia,” the woman says.

I want to yell out, “Don’t listen to her! Sylvia doesn’t know anything about your situation! She’s just saying the first thing that comes into her head!” But I don’t.

“Am I ever going to have a better relationship with my father?” another woman asks.

“No,” Sylvia replies. “He’s narcissistic. He has sociopathic tendencies. Forget it. There’s a darkness there.”

“Thank you, Sylvia,” she says.

Sylvia seems to be psychically diagnosing a lot of people with narcissistic personality disorder today.

“Will you tell me exactly the time and place my father died?” the next woman asks.

“Ten years ago in Iowa,” Sylvia says.

“Iowa?” says the woman, surprised.

“I’m the psychic,” Sylvia snaps. “I’m telling you. Iowa.”

“Thank you, Sylvia,” the woman says, cowed.