On Friday, while working in Beirut's southern suburbs, I met a fortune teller who invited me back to his home for a reading.
As an American journalist in the Middle East, I naturally wanted to know if I would die from a terrorist attack or get killed by an Israeli air raid in the foreseeable future. But apparently, fate holds worse things in store for me. "All your problems will come from money and women," Sheik Fayez Al Aboud told me, after determining the numerical value of my mother's name and my own and then running them through some kind of magical moon formula. "And don't eat beef," he added.
hayek_feature_full.jpgPerhaps because of its religious pluralism, or its popular television talk shows, or the feeling of impending doom that hangs over the country, Lebanon does a brisk business in the supernatural. Every New Year's, Lebanon's celebrity psychics like Michael Hayek make predictions about the country's political future, and then jump on jet planes to visit wealthy clients in the Gulf and Europe. But Lebanon is also filled with an entire class system of psychics, from salon soothsayers frequented by ladies who lunch to street corner mystics who serve as a one-stop medical and mental health care providers in humble neighborhoods.
There's probably no way of verifying how many Lebanese visit psychics regularly, but the number is surely large. (Sheik Fayez said he thought it was about 85 percent of the population). Magic and belief in the supernatural are woven into daily life in Lebanon in all kinds of ways: from housewives who stick pins in brooms to keep unpleasant houseguests from returning to the bumper-stickers intended to ward off bad luck on the highways.
The basic concern of those inclined to see the supernatural at work is the evil eye, cast upon a victim either knowingly by someone with magical skills (those with blue eyes are especially good at putting out hexes), or unintentionally by an envious friend or rival. Many of Sheik Fayez's clients come to him for help removing such curses. He said he can tell right away whether someone is under a magic spell or just mentally unstable. "They hesitate at the door, as if some kind of force is preventing them from entering," he said. The Sheik's other services include help making business decisions, curing unknown diseases, advice on matters of the heart and the bedroom, and for help finding buried treasure. Usually, numerical divinations and choice bits of Koranic scripture are enough to realign the universe. Though he is Muslim, the Sheik said that regular religious practice -- be it Muslim or Christian -- is the best thing that anyone can do to ward off evil.
However, a little prayer and scripture may not be enough to prevent major mojo from wreaking havoc in Lebanon and the world in coming years. Before I left, the Sheik predicted that pollution and rising flood waters would begin to take their toll. Perhaps he and Al Gore are looking into the same crystal ball.