I met Sheila Murphy, age 59-going-on-60, on March 6 on the street corner of Callao y Corrientes in a café. Where we ended up was not where we had planned—it was boarded up. I had had to walk around a union demonstration to get there. You do notice this about Buenos Aires: active politics and political graffiti proliferate everywhere.
Just the day before my dorm mate at the hostel and I had discovered a demonstration with placards asking us not to forget those who had died and suffered in the 1982 Falklands War with the British. Veterans had formed an encampment on the Plaza de Mayo, where The Mothers of the Disappeared marched weekly from 1977 to 1983.
I was about to give up navigating the demonstration when I looked across the street. A beautiful woman with blond hair and dressed all in turquoise was beckoning to me. So I crossed the street again.
We ordered some agua sin gas y café, and talked for three hours. By the end, Sheila had booked me to give a weeklong course on transformational palmistry at her house. She was interested in my research as well.
Sheila reckons she has read palms for 12-14 years—at least 3,000 of them. She channels when she reads. She is also a Reiki second-degree person like Marion Gold, the first palmist who responded to my initial queries, who it looks like I will not get to meet. (She is following her job over in Chile making a book about Tarot for the blind.)
Sheila had studied occupational therapy in the university. She, like Claudia, likes to look at the connection between body and mind. After her time spent in the university, Sheila went on to study divine and spiritual energy.
Sheila is also famous because she reads feet, which is different from reading hands. She explained that each foot has past and present energy. They also have both active and passive energy. When you start walking, you move into the exterior world, which is why feet can reveal so much. The feet also reveal elements like earth, water, and air, akin to the Chinese acupuncture system.
Shelia learned how to read feet and how to do regressions at the same time from a Swiss woman living in Miami. In the feet, Sheila explains, you are able to read energy blocks. You can determine a lack of fire, water, air, or other elements, and give recommendations on how to alter the energy yourself through gentle touch. The person’s consciousnesses then expand to become more receptive and relaxed, so that the person can have a better regression about what needs to change.
Work on feet has changed people, Sheila finds, within six sessions. She can touch the blocked zone, and the person enters into a trance. Each time she touches, she goes deeper.
For three and a half years Sheila did this, and many people came. She also worked with crystal bowls and healing sounds, with great success. Then she went to a teacher who told her that she had to simplify in order to evolve. Doing Reiki and everything else she did was keeping her treading water in the same place, she felt, so she prayed for someone to guide her.
The answer to her prayers was someone who had been with Krishnamurti, Angel Hilbuj. He was from Bariloche, in Patagonia, and lived way up in the hills. Sheila went to see him once a week. They would chat about what she felt; what was going on in her life that week. Then she went into a deep state of concentration. He told her that doing the crystal bowls and the regressions was bad for her because people were giving her their energy.
She then moved on to focus on counseling with palms. She had a show on TV where couples would come in front of her and the cameras. People she did not know came and she knew only that they had problems. The readings, which were helpful to people, lasted one and a half hours. But the TV show sensationalized the sessions by showing only five minutes of each, so she stopped.
Sheila continued her spiritual study with Emilio LaPorga, a traveling Filipino. But as was clearly becoming a pattern in my interviews, Reiki had been the first transformational practice she had received. When I asked why Sheila had been interested in Reiki, she explained, “When I was five in the country in Santa Fe where I grew up, a woman working in the house was the sanadora [curer, or healer] of the town. She would work Monday-Friday for us and then go home to her house where she would cure people of problems with their eyes, stomach aches and so on.”
Sheila said that this woman, who lived with them for 35 years, taught her all about healing. The woman interested Sheila in the process of becoming a healer herself. “Ah, wait a minute,” I interrupted Sheila’s narrative. “This sounds like the story of Marion Gold, who first learned palmistry by having her palm read by a woman servant who lived in the back of her house. Was she indigenous? Marion’s servant was.”
“No,” Sheila answered without a moment’s hesitation, which might have indicated she was at least giving my theory a test. “I know Marion though. I did women’s full moon ceremonies with her when I brought the celebrations here after I got back from Miami.”
I looked around at the tables. I saw rows of women taking some kind of survey for a company in the large café, or perhaps applying for jobs. I absentmindedly said that I wanted to get one of those checks they were being paid with at the end. “Doing business in cafés seems normal in Buenos Aires,” I thought. “But even a business such as ours?”
I turned back to Sheila. “Oh, so where did that woman get the knowledge?” I asked. Sheila responded, “Poor people know a lot. She was Italian, the descent from her father; her grandfather had been an immigrant.”
“Not an Indian, and not a gypsy?” I asked. Sheila shook her head, not even reluctantly. There went my theory that the gypsies, who had to leave Spain during the Inquisition for the New World, went as far as they could get—to Argentina—explaining why largest concentration of palmists is here. My theory showed that once they got as far away from Spain as they could, they intermixed knowledge with the local healers who embraced them, and everything was good.
“No,” Sheila went on. “She was an Italian woman and she did not read hands—only cured headaches and babies’ whining.”
“But she inspired you to become a healer?” I doggedly persisted.
“Yes. But after so many experiences of feeling drained from taking away other people’s energy, I didn’t want to do that anymore. Readings, ok, that is light, but not healings,” she explained.
“How did you get to palmistry?” I asked.
Sheila delved into the story: “I went to study biorhythms and then tried working with the dolphins. Didn’t like that either, so I worked with the bowls, and learned how to read coffee grounds from this Spanish woman of about 40 years old who is still around, Guadalupe Brizuela.”
“Spanish?” I interjected.
“Yes…” So we figured out together that with the higher concentration of Europeans and the massive immigration, a strong folk tradition appears in Argentina. But this does not necessarily come from the Indians or the travelling gypsies from the Inquisition with whom, in my romantic mind, they had intermixed. It probably just comes from the folk traditions that the Spanish, Italians, and other European immigrants brought with them.
Someone else from Cordoba told me that the post World War II immigrants of Romano descent were a nine-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires, dealing in scrap metal and offering palm readings on every street corner. Furthermore, an artist selling watercolors in the Plaza de Mayo had told me yesterday that these palm readers were from his hometown, the capital of Andalusia, where there were fifty on every street.
I Guess I have more traveling to do in order to answer my own question. Why do so many Argentineans take palm reading so seriously, and why are there so many more palmists in the international palmistry network in Buenos Aires than in any other South American city or country?
Any shortcuts or clues, readers? Send your ideas. Make this research more collective and more fun.