There is a page on the Internet where you can buy a product called “Aura Glasses,” but I cannot tell you how I first came across it. Even if I were arrested (for aura-related crimes) and told by law enforcement to retrace my steps across the Web, I could not do it. I have no idea. It just happened.
Aura glasses, straightforwardly enough, are said to allow the wearer to see “auras,” the luminous color fields many psychics and spiritualists believe surround all people and things, illuminating their moods, health, preoccupations, and future. The proprietor of Aura Glasses is a woman named Wendy Lambert, who writes that she created the glasses after experimenting with a pair of aura goggles she’d purchased. Lambert doesn’t say where, but a popular brand of aura goggles called PranaView is a likely, representative suspect.
While PranaView Model 2 aura goggles can be yours for $200—or “could be,” were they not, per a small red clip art badge near the bottom of the product page, “SOLD OUT”—Lambert’s Aura Glasses will only (“only”) run you $24.95 plus shipping. Yes, they are made of paper. Yes, they look like the glasses you used to get for IMAX and 3-D movies before we upgraded to the black recyclable plastic ones. Lambert knows you’re wondering about this, so she’s added this reassuring, slightly aggressive note: “Although the shape of the 'Aura Glasses' is quite similar to ‘3D-glasses,’ the filters used in the Aura Glasses are completely different!” OK! I am sorry I brought it up.
As with most experiments that put psychic phenomena to the scientific test, support for the existence of auras has been found sorely lacking.
I want these glasses. I don’t believe in them, but I am curious about what I’d see when I put them on. When I first looked at this website, I thought, “I would probably buy these aura glasses for myself if they cost $15 less.” I thought, “I am responsible. I would never pay over $20 just to satisfy my curiosity. My curiosity price limit is $10.”
But then I went to have my aura photographed and read at a shop in Chinatown, and I paid $21.67. Happily.
AS WITH MOST EXPERIMENTS that put psychic phenomena to the scientific test, support for the existence of auras has been found sorely lacking. (There are medical conditions, like epilepsy or migraines, that can cause “aura”-like symptoms in the sufferer, but these are unconnected to any psychic or metaphysical meaning.) There are a number of studies on the topic, most of which ask self-proclaimed aura readers to perform their abilities by identifying where in a room a person is standing or which person was standing where, based on the auras they claim to see. You can watch one such example, carried out on TV by that loveable magician-skeptic James Randi, here.
A 1997 study called “An Experiment With the Alleged Human Aura” asked 10 psychics to undergo an experiment in which they stood in a doorway, looked into a room with four translucent numbered panels, and told researchers which one the subject was behind. (All possible precautions against non-psychic means of detection were taken; the lighting was set to eliminate shadows, and music was played to prevent identifiable rustling.) Each psychic did this 40 times. Their results were compared to a control group of 10 non-psychics.
Unfortunately for the professionals (or, I guess, fortunately, as they’re the ones earning a profit), the control group did a little better overall than those claiming to see auras. Their group got 196 hits overall, while the experimental group got 185. This is not a statistically significant difference, but still it had to burn. All in all, nobody did much better or worse than the 10 of 40 hits afforded them by chance.
A very generous interpretation of these results is that seeing and identifying delineated auras is tricky. But what if they could be captured on film, clear on paper, for everyone to see?
In the 1970s, a technique called “Kirlian photography” attracted public attention for its alleged ability to capture an object’s “aura” by applying high-frequency electrical discharge to the object being photographed. A psychic’s view is that the resulting image shows a person’s aura. A scientist’s view is that these photographs simply show corona discharge, a substance produced by the ionization of fluids (in this case, sweat) by the applied electrical current. A psychic will say that variations in aura photography are owed to variations in the aura itself; a scientist will say it just depends on how much you were sweating, how humid it was that day, and how hard you pressed on the metal plates, among various other disappointingly plausible factors.
This is Katie's aura. (Photo: Katie Heaney)
MY AURA IS PHOTOGRAPHED on 7 p.m. on a Friday night after a week I would not consider great. The place I go is a tiny shop called Magic Jewelry. Crystals fill glass display cases around the room, and three young Chinese women sit over them, talking and eating pizza. A fourth woman, nearest to me, sets up the camera and tells me to sit on a wooden stool in front of a black curtain. She gestures for me to place each of my hands on metal handprints attached to surfaces on either side of me, which I do without question, which makes me worry about my qualifications as a spy—not that anyone’s asked.
Within a few minutes I’m holding a sealed Polaroid aura photograph. For reasons unknown, I have to take my picture to a second location, also called “Magic Jewelry,” a few blocks away, for the reading itself. Again, I did not ask why.
The second Magic Jewelry is much like the first, wall to wall in crystals. The woman behind the counter offers me lukewarm sour tea while she shows me a three-ring binder full of aura photographs. “Your aura changes, so this photograph only applies to a 21-day period,” she explains, flipping through the pictures. “Bright, reds, these are good,” she says. “Dark is bad.” I must have grimaced because she laughs and, by way of agreement, says “Scaryyyy!”
She then peels back the protective sheet of my aura photograph to reveal what is pretty inarguably a fairly dark aura. Sure, there’s a red blotch to my left, but that’s my past: “This,” she says, “means you had a busy last one to two weeks. But happy.” True. Pointing to my right side, a dark violet blue, she says, “This means you’re dealing with a lot of negativity. This unusual gap here”—my aura has a hole—“is a sign that you need to protect yourself.” I shuffle my feet. “You are very sensitive,” she says, which hurts my feelings.
Early on, she said something about relationships, and I missed it because there was all that stuff about negativity and aura holes. I guess, in an attempt to find a bright spot, I ask her, embarrassed, “Sorry, what did you say about my relationships?” She then looks at me and, I am pretty sure, decides to take pity on me. “People like you!” she says, which doesn’t even seem like something an aura should know about. “But you think too much,” she adds.
On the back of my aura photograph the psychic writes a list of talismans and crystals I could buy to protect myself and my aura: an eight-trigram pendant, a yellow citrine, a black obsidian. She doesn’t try to sell them to me, though, and, because I am practical and responsible, I don’t ask to look. As I’m headed out, she mentions that, actually, calcium might help me too. So I buy a chocolate milk box from my corner bodega, which works out great for me, because I liked them a lot already, and now I know they help my aura. It cost me just $1.75.