weaverLast night, I visited a talk in Ballincollig given by “animal psychic” Jackie Weaver. Weaver had been invited along by the Cork Animal Care Society, a charitable organisation that looks after stray and feral animals in the Cork area.

I’ve never been to a psychic show before, but through my interest in scepticism, I have heard a lot about them over the past few years. I had heard about all the tricks and techniques used by psychics, so I was slightly curious about how it worked in practice.

Weaver is an “animal psychic”: she claims to communicate directly with animals and understand their language. I wondered if they communicate to her in English, but she told us during the show that they have figured out some sort of universal language, using the metaphor of the ear doing the translating for us, or something. She didn’t tell us how she had learned this language.

Weaver herself was understated, bubbly and soft spoken. She came across as an empathic person who immediately made a connection with audience members, many of whom were strong animal lovers. The audience of around 100 people was composed mainly of women, with just a handful of men present.

The talk started with her going through her life story. She told us she always felt she had psychic abilities, and that she had embarked on her career as an animal psychic after a particularly traumatic onset of cancer some years ago. She got into animal readings, the word spread, and it went from there. Peppered through her talk were references to celebrities whom she now counted among her friends. She made the claim that, given the high profile of these people and what they had to lose if they were wrong, they couldn’t possibly accept her if they thought she was talking nonsense. This is at variance with what I know of celebrity culture.

She dropped a few anecdotes about how she had gotten into the minds of problem animals – how a dog told her that being dropped from a short height as a puppy had caused it to behave strangely, and how another dog was refusing to take heart medication because it thought it was used to make it urinate. There were inevitable swipes and sceptics and scientific vets, who clearly didn’t appreciate these mental abilities.

Weaver requested us to close our eyes, and imagine we were going on a walk through a field and into a house. She suggested we meet someone or something significant in that house, and then later asked audience members who or what they had experienced.  There were a few misses. A man responded that he had experienced nothing, followed immediately by another woman who said exactly the same. She moved on quickly.

She was then given a photograph of a dog, and she started putting forward Barnum statements like how it loves its ears ruffled. While the owner nodded vigorously about many of the readings, Weaver did not pick up that the dog had a major hip problem, nor that it was nearly euthanised as a pup. In the course of the conversation, we learned that its owner was into healing, and a suggestion was given a number of times that the dog would benefit from homeopathics. For a dog that is clearly in pain, this might not be the best advice to give the owner.

We then went on to animals that had “passed to the spirit realm”. Weaver explained that death is a bit like travelling to Australia (presumably without the funnel web spiders and the endless episodes of Neighbours). She did another reading for an audience member based on minimal information. Again the statements were bland and generic, and would apply to most pets. The bereaved owner was much more willing to give details of her dog which made it easy for Weaver to add further soft statements about the animal.

And then it was over. All in all, terrifically underwhelming. No amazing insights, incredible denouements or shockingly accurate observations. It was all very fluffy. One thing I did pick up from her was a sense of defensiveness, that there are many who don’t believe her, including many of the local Cork media outlets. People are already quite sceptical of psychics, but when you are an animal psychic, the doubt increases by another degree. How she mentally manages to deflect this criticism is impressive, and is a case study in itself, I think.

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