It was all a bit trippy. I’d never been to a ‘psychic art festival’ before, but when my girlfriend Naomi invited me along to an event in Glastonbury, I thought it would be churlish of me to refuse.
We roll up at Glastonbury Town Hall. Back in the day this venue was host to bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band and Elton John when he was still Reg Dwight. Now it has degenerated from hosting the innovative and ground-breaking to housing the predictable, and some might say manufactured, ‘alternative’. Next to the man collecting the entrance fee is a sign which declares ‘Open the doorway to manifesting abundance. Each artwork is created by channelling universal energy’. There is a strong aroma of bodies. Perhaps the use of deodorant would interfere with the channelling.
I browse the artists’ work on display, each one weirder than the last. They run the whole gamut of alternative iconic images. Glastonbury Tor features quite heavily in these paintings, as do wolves and hummingbirds, hares and bears. Badgers, antlered Green Men and standing stones are in abundance. Jade sells crystal jewellery which is guaranteed to ‘amplify learning from lifetimes’. Quite whose lifetimes she does not specify. Nor does she explain exactly what that meaningless phrase, well, means. I begin to smell snake-oil laced with a generous dose of codswallop. I briefly consider purchasing a pair of earrings made with ‘totally vegan polymer clay’. Just in case I got peckish, or bored, and was considering eating my own head.
I could have my soul portrait painted. Soul portraits take one hour, and with a ‘soul reading’ cost only £30.00. A medium hugs the woman to whom she has just given a reading and I realise there are some truly touching moments here. In a box I spot the top half of a painting sticking up from behind some others. It looks like Keith Richards in his Pirates of the Caribbean phase. At least this is something I can relate to on a non-astral level. I lift it out and discover it is actually meant to be an aborigine. On reflection perhaps this isn’t the right place for Keith to put in an appearance. On another stall is a selection of ‘channelled Chakra swirls’. A Chakra Swirl, rather than being a type of holistic breakfast pastry, is a 15cm square canvas with a single swirl of colour. A bargain at £15.00 each or two for £20.00.
I begin to develop a distinct feeling of ‘down the rabbit hole’ when I meet Hannah, a lady in her mid-60s with the compulsory hennaed red hair, who makes shrines decorated with beads, glass, gold spray-painted daleks, pictures of Superman, madonnas. ‘Chaos shrines represent with archetypes what’s going on in our inner selves’ she explains, in a high-pitched voice reminiscent of a stressed-out mouse on helium. The shrines are a riot of colour and sparkle, beautiful, chaotic, yes, and decorated with a hedonistic mix of images: The McDonalds golden arches. Marmite and Spiderman. Tiny toy record players and remembrance poppies. Cut-outs of comic book characters from the 1950s.’They are portals into otherworldly realms, or at least that’s how I see them.’ Cupcakes. Marbles (that’s where they went, I think). ‘There’s a lot going on there’ she whispers ‘on all levels – psychic, spiritual…everything.’ Her voice trails off as I inspect a 2” rabbit in Victorian dress which stares out at me from one of the shrines, one of its paws patting a pink alarm clock as tall as itself. Part of me, the part of me that would really love for a few moments to be inside Hannah’s head, wants to buy one of these portals, if only to see which otherworldly realm I would be transported to next time I drive past a McDonalds sign. Sadly, at £25.00 each, shrines are rather out of my price range. I don’t notice anyone buy one all day.
A beautiful young woman with maroon-coloured hair, arms sleeved with tattoos, wearing a tiger-print dress and sporting a pair of cat ears hovers hopefully next to her display of painted shamanic drums. On the next stall is a book of mandalas ‘inspired by Bridport’ for you to colour. It’s good to know that West Dorset is a hotbed of spiritual inspiration from the far east.
Mostly the Festival is full of mediocre paintings by people probably more spiritual than talented. A lady sits patiently having her portrait drawn in pastels by Steve, a spirit artist who sports a broken nose. Those spirits definitely pack a punch. He has cleverly painted a wash background in the same shade of pale blue as the T-shirt his customer is wearing, thereby, I imagine, creating a feeling of empathy. The customer looks slightly disappointed when she sees the result, but these are portraits guided by divine spirits; they see the inner you, which doesn’t necessarily look like the ‘you’ you would see in the mirror. She chats to the artist about the spirit guide who visits her regularly. ‘she comes to me fairly often; she wears lots of jewellery in her hair.’ I imagine it must be a little like receiving a visitation from the Queen Mother, but maybe I’m just being cynical.
In a far corner of the Town Hall, Dave offers interactive encaustic art sessions. Encaustic art uses coloured wax which is applied to paper, then melted with a tiny hand iron to form patterns. Dave collars a potential customer ‘You choose the colour, I will iron it, then you can take it to a Medium (there’s one over there) and they will give you a reading from it.’ With each stall-holder charging around £20.00 for each reading/portrait/channelling, I momentarily think about rushing home, grabbing my ironing board and some of the kids’ old wax crayons and setting up shop myself.
Darryl, a man with a feather apparently growing out of his forehead and wearing a striped waistcoat, obligatory ponytail and a strong layer of BO specialises in cosmic light language artwork. He proudly displays his qualifications in a folder next to his paintings, which consist of many coloured dots on pieces of hardboard. These qualifications include a Diploma in remote viewing (theory and practice) from the London College of Management Science, Institute of Applied and Theoretical parapsychology. He has letters after his name and everything: Dip. Ppsy. Psych, Dip. RV Dip. ST But it’s OK, it has the word ‘science’ in there, so it must be totally Kosher. He offers light language readings and universal soul activation.
When I get home I activate my soul into Googling the London College of Management Science. From its chaotic and poorly-constructed website I learn that I too could become a psychic practitioner. For only £325.00 I could gain a qualification in Remote Viewing, Psychic Healing or Electronic Voice Phenomenon. So if all else fails, I could presumably be well-qualified to get a job as a Dalek. What the heck, with the ‘enrol for 3, pay for only 2’ offer, I could get a certificate in Sex Therapy and the Science of Alternative Universes (Dip. SC.) as well.
Steve, the artist with the bent nose, has several of his one-dimensional portraits on display. All have bent noses. They are all, basically, the same person, it’s only the hairstyle or the hat that changes from one portrait to another. For his customers, the one-hour session provides a chance to talk. ‘I’m unemployed, I’ve had a lot of epilepsy recently. I’ve been in an emotionally stressing relationship.’ says one man having his spirit guide painted. He is delighted with his portrait, and shyly asks Steve if he wouldn’t mind posing for a photograph with him. £20.00 for a reading and a spirit portrait. For half an hour’s counselling, it’s actually quite good value. The only issue I have is that it’s unqualified, albeit probably well-intentioned therapy inadequately dressed up as ‘art’.
Mark, another ‘spirit artist’ explains that each painting is channelled ‘using the universal energies.’ The universal energies are so busily being demonstrated here today they must be completely exhausted.
Naomi wins first prize in the raffle. Her prize consists of a one-hour session where five artists ‘read’ her and do a drawing. For the next hour a lady whose skills include womb clearing sits next to my friend and plays a shruti box, an Indian instrument that looks a bit like a melodeon, and which sounds astonishingly beautiful. She sings a haunting melody as the artists begin painting. Then I hear a ringing in my ears, and just when I think my tinnitus is playing up again I notice she has put down the shruti box in favour of a Tibetan singing bowl, which she is making ring loudly, like we used to as kids with wet fingers on the rim of a wine glass. The session rolls on. The artists are busily focussed on Naomi. One now has four paintbrushes in his mouth and one behind each ear. Another, wearing a garland of flowers in a circlet on her head paints Naomi as a goddess cradling the world in her hands. I realise Naomi has tears rolling down her cheeks. She is deeply moved, and so am I. Later I ask Naomi what the lady was singing. ‘Naomiiii, you are freeee’ she answers.
As I wait for my friend I notice a picture, blu-tacked to the wall, of a spirit guide dressed as a Tibetan monk. The monk has a broken nose. I realise it is the spitting image of Steve the artist. At the end of her session, Naomi gets a round of applause. She is glowing, and smiling. And wiping away her tears. It has been a therapy for her. Among the charlatans and the hangers-on, this is a moment where a human soul has been touched by art, music and above all, kindness.
It would be very easy to be dismissive of the psychic artists, but instead I think they are simply ‘artists’. Some are good, some are not so good, some are possessed of a real talent and others are obviously along for the ride. What struck me though, was the sense of fellowship, or community. Call it oneness with the universe, if you will.
‘It’s all about networking, this game’ Darryl the cosmic light language artist mutters to a friend as I pass. Apparently his feet are rooted more firmly on planet earth that at first it would appear.