As children we dream of the future, and what may become of us. As adolescents we long for the future to hurry up and make us into big people, with big incomes and freedoms to match. As adults we sometimes long for the future to arrive and save us from the boredom and the responsibilities of the present.

Then one day you discover that there are people who claim to be able to glimpse the future, and that they can tell you what the future holds in store for you. “Can this be true?” you ask.

Filled with anticipation and dread, you ascend the creaky wooden stairs of the old apartment block in search of the person blessed with the long range vision; the clairvoyant. She seems eccentric, even a little odd, but you forgive her these small idiosyncrasies, as she is about to tell you what only she can see; the future.

You leave with a degree of uncertainty. She has told you certain things which only you know about yourself but she has also predicted some things which are highly unlikely. During later discussions with friends another name of a person is offered to you.

“She’s a palmist,” Marianne whispers in conspiratorial tones. Your heart quickens as though you’ve just been given the name of a drug dealer or the address of an illegal gambling den. The torn piece of paper contains the name Karen and a telephone number.

Karen’s front garden is a complete mess, continuing the esoteric tradition of eccentricity and individuality laid down by the first clairvoyant. Her living room is no better and she hasn’t brushed her hair in days. She smiles and offers you tea from a broken cup, before taking both your hands and scrutinising them under the glare of a small table lamp.

Karen confirms your past, accurately describes the present and predicts generous and interesting things for your future between a wheezy cough which suggests a combination of asthma and addiction to cigarettes. You leave oblivious to the front garden which has been ravaged by nature and carelessness. Later you puzzle as to how a complete stranger might seem to know your character from the shape of your hands and the lines contained therein.

When you mention your experience to a friend she states that you simply have to consult her personal prognosticator, the great Count Seymour Tells-All. “That can’t be his real name?” you ask. “Who cares. He’s the real deal. He predicted my marriage and my divorce,” she states. “Yes but two days after your marriage we all predicted your divorce,” you reply tactlessly.

The great Count Seymour Tells-All is clad in black from head to toe. He is tall, thin with angular features and a distinctly melancholic look to him. You feel as though you have distracted him from the secrets of the universe, as he leads you down a gloomy, cluttered hallway and into a sunroom crowded with books. He details your life with a detachment borne or years of observing humanity while participating in its activities in only a limited way, and you sit enthralled.

Seers were once an important part of the community, as they predicted feasts and famines. They were integral to the community in ensuring stability and avoiding calamity. Predictions feature in both the old and the new testaments including when Jesus predicts that Peter will betray him three times before the morning, prior to the crucifixion.

During the middle ages knowledge about predicting the future seemed lost, passed down verbally and even then liberally laced with superstition and unnecessary ritual. In Victorian times a prediction revival occurred, yet it was still more presentation than content.

At the turn of the century in Europe the rational face of prediction belonged to a man who called himself Cheiro (Count Louis Hamon). Cheiro was a notable palmist, and in his book Confessions: Memoirs of a modern seer (Sagar Publications New Delhi 1969) he recounts palmistry readings he gave to Oscar Wilde, the Czar and Czarina of Russia, Rasputin, Pope Leo XIII and others. He predicted Oscar Wilde’s downfall eight years before his legal case. As the case approached Wilde consulted Cheiro who confirmed that he was unlikely to succeed.

In the 1880’s two groups, notably the Theosophical Society founded by Helena P. Blavatsky and The Golden Dawn began to approach the ‘hidden worlds’ in a more practical manner. Members of The Golden Dawn produced three tarot card decks, one of which, the Rider Waite deck, is the most popular deck in use today among practising tarot readers.

Since the 1970’s clairvoyants have lost their mystique, and where once you sought them out in hushed tones, now you find them in the local paper or the telephone directory. They run psychic schools, have websites, secretaries and are considered consultants for the purposes of clients who need a tax receipt.

These days clairvoyants specialise in predictions for particular things, such as the viability of business investments, career guidance and in one case, a retired clairvoyant I know specialised in locating money that men hid from their wives prior to divorce. If it was offshore in the Cayman islands, the Dominican Republic or the Isle of Man, he found it and detailed the amount.

And what does the future hold for those who predict it? Who knows. We’d all know if I could get an early appointment. I’m on the cancellation list but it’s not looking hopeful. Perhaps I can toss a coin to find out if I can get an early appointment with the reader of my choice.