Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Shocking Acceptance of Woo on KQED

I was driving on 580 as Mina Kim hosted KQED’s Forum last Thursday. It was so shocking i had to pull off and park in order to give it my whole and incredulous attention. As Ms. Kim explained to NPR listeners, “We are looking at the surge in popularity of Astrology, Tarot, other practices, focusing on the magical, the inexplicable …”

Excuse us, Ms. Kim, but there ain’t anything magical or inexplicable to focus on. If indeed you know of anything “magical” or “inexplicable” there are scientists and doctors eager to check it out with you.

Later i listened to the entire hour-long podcast at and heard Mina Kim’s introduction:

In this hour we are going to look at the surge in popularity of astrology, tarot, herbalism and other practices focusing on the supernatural. Why young people seem particularly drawn to them. What’s driving the resurgence now? Companies have taken notice, perhaps you see more rose quartz in your home (indistinct) catalog. But we want hear from you as well. Do you use astrology, herbs, crystals, or tarot in your daily life and how or why?

This seems innocent enough, almost. We might expect the hour to include a sociologist, a psychologist, and maybe even a journalist. Well, we did get the journalist, Julie Beck who wrote a piece on this topic for The Atlantic. The other two were businesswomen who take money from gullible people; a professional astrologist, Chani Nicholas, and a professional numerologist and tarot card reader, Alejandra León.

After introductions, Mina Kim asked Ms. León how she got started in her profession. This is how Ms. León illuminated the radio world with her first experience at having someone ‘read’ her tarot cards when she was a teen.

I sat down and everything she began to tell me about myself – she really started talking to me about who I am and the fact that, I felt, she zeroed in on me feeling different than my peers and not being able to connect with them on this, I guess like psychic awareness that I was beginning to have, and that already blew my mind because she was hitting the nail on the head. I’d never had an experience like this before.

As you are likely aware, doing a ‘cold reading’ on a naive person is a skill that magicians and self-proclaimed psychics work at and generally develop some degree of proficiency. Doing a cold reading on a teenager who has little skill in critical thinking and skepticism is, i’m guessing, pretty easy.

Then it was time for astrology. In part, Chani Nicholas had this to say:

Astrology is the study of the correlation between what happens in the sky and what happens in our personal life and in the greater social life in society. Very hermetic in nature. Every planet has a quality. … Your astrology chart is incredibly specific and nuanced and very detailed and very much about you and you specifically.

The word, “hermetic”, had me baffled. Hermetically sealed?? I found there is another definition of hermetic: “relating to an ancient occult tradition encompassing alchemy, astrology, and theosophy.” Oh great, National Public Radio wants to introduce their listeners to occult traditions?

Understandably, the journalist had something sensible to say:

A lot of these practices … provide a sort of narrative framework that can be helpful to people where there’s this existing sort of logic of symbols and ideas. And you can use that to tell the story of your life to yourself and that can be very interesting and helpful to people.

But did anyone suggest other things you can use that might be helpful in this regard? Like visiting the school counselor or mindfulness or therapy or reading up on psychology or sociology. Hell, just go read a good novel. No, in this hour we learn the benefits of passing through a portal into fantasy and suspending belief in the authentic world.

OK. We’ve received a description of “astrology.” Now Ms. León is asked to describe the use of tarot cards.

Tarot is the use of archetypes to connect to the subconscious mind to connect to different phases of life, different experiences of life. It does work with the four elements, similar to astrology, fire, earth, air, water, and these different elements connect to the different experiences we as humans have. So the practice of it, there is the mysterious element that when someone touches the cards and then pulls cards, they speak directly to that person. That is part of the mystery of it and why I like it. But it does, I’ve seen over the years, speak directly to that person and through these archetypes and through these elements can accurately describe what the person is going through and so gives a person, as Julie says, like a narrative to connect with in their life.

Ah, the magic touch!

Fortunately, Ms. Kim chimed in with this: “Andy writes: You can’t (indistinct) explain what astrology or tarot is without telling your listeners that these things are not real . There is no scientific basis for any of this.”

And this, in part, is how Chani Nicholas responded to Andy:

If you don’t like astrology, if you don’t buy it, if you’re obsessed with the ‘real/not real’ way of framing things – then great. I hope you find what you’re looking for and find solace and comfort and peace. … (Astrology) is woven into so many different aspects of life. I just think it is unfortunate for us to shut ourselves off from anything that has such a long-standing, prolific, and very very deep and nuanced, and very academic history.

There’s no point in burdening you with more of this ‘woo’. If you are sufficiently curious (and masochistic) the podcast is waiting. And you might just join the many other folk who are “obsessed with the ‘real/not real’ way of framing things” to also let KQED know what YOU think.

Phone: 415-553-3300

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