Astrology, funerals and the high price of emotional vulnerability

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By Sabrina Almeida

The recent arrest of a self-proclaimed psychic who extorted $100k from a man on the pretext of exorcising an evil spirit from his sick relative shows how the emotionally-vulnerable are easy prey.

Murali Muthyalu, a visitor from India, advertised his psychic and astrology services under the name of ‘Master Raghav’. He is alleged to have handed out his business cards at a mall in the west-end area of Rexdale in February and March. No doubt with a specific clientele in mind. Given the superstitious nature of the South Asian community he presumably targeted, this may not be his only victim. What remains to be seen is how many more will be willing to acknowledge their folly after this case has come to light. Even more important is whether it will prompt others to be more cautious in the future, even adopt a more logical and scientific approach to life perhaps.

With astrology touching nearly every aspect of majority of South Asian lives, this is highly unlikely. Over the years, police across Canada have issued numerous warnings about fraudulent practitioners which have been largely ignored by the astrologically-dependent community.

From birth to death, astrology is big business in India and other parts of the world with large denominations of people of Indian origin and other South Asians. Google ‘astrologers in Toronto’ and 10 pages of names pop up demonstrating the big demand. The list of services each one provides offers an insight into what prospective clients are looking for. Matching horoscopes for marriage, palmistry and predictions aside—casting love spells (“connecting lovers in a few hours”) to bring back an ex, exorcising evil spirits and protection from voodoo are prominently advertised. There is an antidote for every problem, including financial troubles and finding a job. Health is perhaps the most lucrative segment. From rings and portions to “balance your chakra” (aura) to remedies for ailments, or to prevent them, ensure clients for life.

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In many instances, the business is well-organized to include payment options for prospects outside the local area. An astrologer in New York, for example, offers health consultation for $50 (USD), astrology at $100 and compatibility readings with “brief explanation” for $50 ($100 for “extended explanation”). Recordings are available and clients outside the US can pay via PayPal.

This practice does not necessarily end with death as near and dear ones will then seek to keep in touch with the deceased via the psychic medium.

Funerals are as big a racket as any form of superstitious practice. The expose on funeral homes by the Toronto Star and CBC Marketplace only confirmed what many already knew. Gouging! Once again emotions (and guilt) play a huge role in the amount of money an individual is willing to spend. As a result, many grieving families are “tricked” into overpaying for an unnecessarily big send off.

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I was shocked to hear a cleric advise a member of his congregation to go with a funeral home that would treat the grieving family well. Naturally this “good treatment” came with a higher price tag. It also showed how funerals are more about those who are left behind than the deceased who is supposedly being honoured.

Aggressive sales tactics by funeral home staff who often use emotionally charged words suggesting that this what they would do “for my family” seal the deal. The truth is the guiltier you feel about not having done enough for your parent, spouse, sibling or child—the greater the fanfare and higher the price you are likely to agree to.

The best way out is for each one of us to make these decisions ahead of time when common sense is not stifled by guilt and emotions. Also make sure you clarify every aspect of service as even pre-paying for your funeral arrangements may not protect your family members from extortion, as the Star’s story showed.

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What’s the solution? To stop becoming a slave to superstitions and emotions. No doubt we are all superstitious and have a lucky shirt or charm. But the lengths to which we are willing to go depends on the degree of our enslavement and the emotional need of the hour.

The more desperate the situation, the greater your vulnerability. After all the illness of a loved one can turn even the staunchest atheist into an irrational believer. The above case is a strong example.

However, no one not even astrologers, can decry the power of positive thinking. The next time you feel something bad is going to happen or has caused a problem, acting positively to prevent or overcome the situation might be the most cost-effective solution. Chances are positive results will follow. And if it not… at least you would not have wasted huge sums paying for the wrong outcome!

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