Aquarian Bookshop brings first psychic festival to Downtown Mall

Paige, who's been doing readings for 30 years and working at Aquarian Bookshop since its opening last year, lays out her Tarot cards. Photo: Elli Williams - Paige, who’s been doing readings for 30 years and working at Aquarian Bookshop since its opening last year, lays out her Tarot cards. Photo: Elli Williams –

Paige is calm and serene as she spreads the cards out between us in a rough diamond shape. She nods, and murmurs “oh, that’s beautiful” when she flips over a card on the left that reveals a sun. She smiles, points to the card in the center of the table, and looks at me.

“That’s the chariot card, in the middle,” she says. “It’s the triumph of light, and it means you’re in transition.”

I’m sitting at a small round table covered in purple velvet, next to the window in the Aquarian Bookshop on the Downtown Mall. Paige, who’s been doing readings for more than 30 years, is patiently walking me through my first encounter with a Tarot deck. She’s answering my questions, and not even remotely pushy—which, as a skeptic, I appreciate.

The shop’s walls are lined with decks of Tarot cards, baskets of healing stones, and jewelry featuring protective evil eyes. The thick books on the shelves cover everything from astrology to witchcraft, and psychics like Paige are available for daily readings. On Saturday, November 23, in conjunction with the Society for Awakening Souls at UVA, the shop will open its doors for the first psychic festival in Charlottesville.

The Downtown branch of Aquarian Bookshop—sister of the Carytown location in Richmond—opened its doors in October 2012. Paige, whose return to Charlottesville after a decade away aligned with the opening of the shop, said the local response has been astounding.

“I’ve never seen such a diverse and plentiful community of metaphysical people as in Charlottesville,” she said. “It’s truly been a blessing to work here and do these readings.”

I’ll be the first to admit that when I originally heard the phrase “psychic festival,” I envisioned the Downtown Mall engulfed in mystical decorations, women in flowy-sleeved dresses prancing around with spirit fingers, and crystal balls in every corner. Turns out it’s going to be a little less Renaissance than I imagined, but in the name of full disclosure, participating psychics and guests are encouraged to dress as their favorite totems. (Paige plans to show up as a raven.)

Beginning at 11am on Saturday, psychics, palm readers, Tarot readers, clairvoyants, astrologists, energy healers, and massage therapists will be available for 15-minute individual consultations. Each session will cost $15, and according to Aquarian owner and detective psychic John Olliver, 100 percent of the proceeds will go to the Mary Duty Cherokee Nation Education Fund to provide scholarships for Native American students.

“It’s an easy way for someone who has no experience with psychic readings to come in and have some fun. And even if they’re skeptical or not into it, the money is going to a very good cause,” Oliver said. “And I’m hoping that for people who are really looking for something, that the festival can be a first step for them in finding that as well.”

Oliver, who travels the country delivering seminars on meditation and “the other side,” has given more than 13,000 personal readings to individuals over the years. And as a psychic detective he’s had two TV shows and worked on high-profile cold cases like JonBenet Ramsey’s murder and Natalee Holloway’s disappearance.

Oliver isn’t offended by skeptics like me, and said most people he encounters are at least open to the idea of psychic work. But just as every client who walks through the door for a reading has a different story, psychics are not all one and the same.

For instance there’s Maria Montoni, who identifies as a professional lightworker and has participated in the Richmond Psychic Festival for years. She draws on witchcraft, telekinesis, and years of training with Richmond’s Spiritual Mind Center to predict for and protect her clients. Montoni said she feels a heightened sense of responsibility as her abilities continue to evolve, and she worries that the psychic world is becoming too cluttered with con-artists.

Then there’s Paige, who feels a distinct connection to her ancestry through her decks of cards and has been quietly doing Tarot readings for her friends and family since high school. She’s not interested in predicting details of the the future, and says clients can take as much or as little away from a reading as they want, depending on what they’re willing to share with her. Not unlike picking the right dentist or therapist, it’s all about finding the one you’re comfortable with, who uses a method you can understand.

I lean forward and point to another black and white card, asking what the numbers and illustration of swords could mean.

“Fairness and truth are important to you, and you can see through illusions,” Paige says. “You can feel when things are not as they appear.”

She also accurately tells me that I’m assertive, often frustrated by those I perceive as weak, and influenced heavily by my father. O.K., so that’s pretty spot on. Once half an hour has passed and the cards have returned to their drawstring bag, it occurs to me that the whole encounter is more akin to a casual chat with an old friend than a psychic reading. There’s no pomp, no circumstance. No dramatic pause while she holds her forehead in her hands, asking the spirits for an answer or gazing bug-eyed at the ceiling. She doesn’t expect the cards to outline every detail about my future, but as I watch and share small details about my own life, we’re able to make connections between the cards.

“It’s really just confirming what we already know,” Paige says.

I’m still not entirely sure I buy into it. But I can at least wrap my head around a stack of cards deriving different meaning for each person, and it’s fun to watch and make connections to my own life as the cards fall.