Hot Press Interview|
ZAK TO THE FUTURE
Irish psychic Zak Martin is famed for his predictions and his involvement in a number of criminal investigations including the hunt for Shergar. Now a leading New Age figure, he believes the movement is being corrupt by big business. Liam Fay questions him on his unusual life and career.
There was a time when the New Age movement was seen as a harmless if faintly fuzzy group of hippies who talked a lot about harmony, positivism and the channelling of energies. Fashionably green, spiritually generous, New Age devotees splashed about in an oblivious hodge-podge of astrology, holistic medicine, ESP, psychic awareness, flotation tanks, homeopathy and a whole cosmos of other life-enhancing arts. They replaced Rubik's Cube with the crystal and, every other day, found a new potion, lotion or trinket that contained the promise of Nirvana. Sure, the hardline New Agers' piety and claptrap could be annoying (and they invented the phrase "lifestyle-science" which in itself is unforgivable) but it was easy to dismiss the hype as a storm in a ginseng cup and still see beyond the propaganda to some ideas of genuine worth.© 1993 Hot Press
But things are different now. New Age in the nineties is all about brand loyalty, market segmentation and product identification. The key areas are those which deliver at those sexy interfaces where "alternative science" and business suddenly find themselves in intimate contact, sliding along each other's smooth surfaces, seeking the openings for fruitful interpenetration.
Zak Martin is one of the foremost figures in the New Age movement in both Ireland and Britain. A renowned psychic, he has written and lectured extensively on the areas of psychotherapy and psychological medicine and his book "Develop Your ESP" is regarded as a classic of its kind. In 1977, Martin opened a clinic in London where he specialised in psychic and holistic methods of medical treatment. Four years later he founded the London Psychic Centre which soon became a sort of unofficial New Age headquarters and now attracts thousands of visitors annually.
Martin is depressed by what he sees as the hi-jacking of the New Age movement by big business. He regards with particular distaste the multi-million pound international trade in New Age devices, trappings and toys.
"Most of them are gimmicks, nothing more," he says.
"They're rip-offs of genuine ideas, reproduced with pointless variations and then sold at inflated prices. You don't need an egg-shaped tank with gold-plated taps or any of these expensive candles, perfumes, oils and towels. An ordinary bath and a packet of Epsom salts will do just as well. But manufacturers just slap a New Age tag on something and then sell it as a cure for stress or whatever. It's all nonsense and it gives people like me a bad name."
It's as a psychic and public soothsayer that Zak Martin is best known. Every December he publishes a calendar of predictions for the year ahead and he claims a high rate of accuracy. Despite boasting this pedigree, however, Zak Martin the New Ager is quick to underplay the importance of his predictions.
"To be honest, I'm not particularly interested in predictions," he says. "They're mostly a waste of time. For me, putting predictions into print is only a means of access between what I would regard as the deeply serious side to what I do and the general public. It's a way of grabbing their attention."
So the predictions in your calendar aren't entirely serious?
"They are serious," he replies "and they are genuine. But there's a lot of problems associated with making predictions, especially on such a large scale. Some predictions come to me spontaneously and graphically and I can be sure of those. The fall of the Berlin Wall, for example, was something that I saw very clearly. But there are other times where I get only a vague premonition and I have to put flesh on those bones and that can mess things up a little, particularly when it comes to predicting the precise timing of something. The other problem is that if I have a significant premonition about something that seems completely impossible or too outlandish then you'll never see it in print. There's an element of collusion there. The papers will always skim off predictions that seem either too unlikely or too much against the grain. And I tend myself not to publish predictions like that. So in effect, the only predictions you're likely to see in print are predictable ones.
"It's different on a more personal basis. The clearest premonitions I get are usually about people I know, clients or friends or whatever."
But if you really can see into the future, then why haven't you won the Lottery, at least once?
"I'm not interested, simple as that," he says. "Anyway a psychic ability doesn't give me a carte blanche with the Lottery, it just gives me a statistical advantage. The odds would still be heavily against me. However, having said that, one of my students did win a share in one of the largest lottery prizes ever - Stefan Klinciweiz, who has himself written a book about the Lottery, took my course on "How To Improve Your Luck With ESP" just a few months before his syndicate won the Lottery. But like I said, winning money is not important to me. I have enough money."
Did you bet on any of the Grand National winners that you predicted?
"No, I never do. It started out as a superstition, I suppose. When I was six or seven, I used to pick out horses for neighbours with a pin and the superstition then was that you didn't back on the horse yourself and that has stayed with me. But don't get me wrong, I have gambled.
"A couple of years ago I won quite a lot of money playing roulette in British casinos. I worked out a kind of psychic statistical basis and I calculated that I had about a 2% advantage on the casino odds. It doesn't sound much but it meant that I could walk into the casino with X amount of money and double it in two or three hours. I won a considerable amount of money. But I haven't done it since. I merely did it then as an exercise, to show myself that I could do it."
Zak Martin reckons he was born to ESP the way some people are born to music or athletics or a love of horses. Being a psychic is his vocation, his mission in life and so comfortable is he in the role that he is unable to see why others might find such a calling strange or extraordinary.
"I don't do anything that everybody else doesn't do at some level or other," he insists. "It's really just an extension of what most people would regard as instinct or intuition. Everybody has different ways of picking up on their environment. I don't like this term "sixth sense" but if you want to talk about it in those terms then I don't know if you can even account for or define the 'basic' senses - everyone's perception of these senses is unique. And I've just been able to hone those means of my personal perception that go beyod the physical and tangible world. I see it as a natural talent, it's as simple as that."
There were no earth-shattering epiphanies or momentous flashing lights in Zak Martin's childhood. He was, he says, simply aware throughout his youth of a nagging undertow of premonitions and half-glimpsed visions of what was going to happen to some of the people around him. And the fact that he was brought up in an environment where such things were seen as unremarkable meant that Zak never thought of his ability as unusual until well into his teens.
"My family are from Granard and my grandparents were from the North of Ireland and they seemed to have a sort of rural acceptance of ESP and all that sort of thing, though they'd never have spoken of it as such," he recalls. "The psychic was one of those things that you never talked about because it was sacriligious and a bit dodgy. My grandmother, for example, was very psychic, very intuitive. Her particular forte was to know when something was happening at a distance to a member of the family. This became more pronounced the older she got, the more sick and less mobile she became. It culminated when she was dying - suddenly, she'd wake up on her death bed and announce that such-and-such a thing was happening to one of her children or grandchildren. That was a little frightening admittedly but otherwise all that sort of thing was taken as normal.
"Then at school, for example, I'd get the answers to questions before they were asked. I'd just call it out. I was terrible at maths but I'd find myself being able to call out the answers. I took that sort of thing for granted."
As a young teenager he began to get interested in psychic and holistic medicine, a fascination which has, over the years, grown into a passion and one which prompted him eventually to travel to London where he could study the subject.
"If you say that you're not happy with orthodox medicine you're immediately branded as someone who wants everyone to eat only wheatgerm and lentils," he says, "but the more I've seen of orthodox medicine the more I've come to distrust it. The problem is that most of it doesn't work and it costs a great deal of money not to work. And there is a huge edifice of bullshit which sustains and strengthens the illusion that it does work. The effectiveness of doctors is vastly over-estimated. There's very little they can do, even in many emergency situations.
"I have treated thousands of people with cancer. They tend to come to a psychic as a last resort so their illness is usually very far advanced. And what I often have to do is counteract the damage done by orthodox medical treatment; that in itself becomes half the battle. There's a machine that takes over a sick person in the orthodox medical system. That person becomes a 'cancer patient' or an 'AIDS victim' and they go through this system which even if they weren't ill would probably kill them anyway. They are put through this regime of treatment, psychological and physical, which is designed to disconnect them from themselves as much as it is intended to cure them."
"Zak Martin P.I" may sound like a perfect name for an American detective series but, improbable as it may seem, Martin has over the years earned himself just such a title - the P.I. standing for Psychic Investigator.
A number of times during the past decade he has been asked to assist in major criminal investigations both by the police and by private clients. Scotland Yard, for example, has requested his help in the location of dozens of missing persons. He worked closely with the Irish police on a murder case some years back and he was even involved in the efforts to find the kidnapped racehorse, Shergar.
There's something both disturbing and intriguing about the idea of a psychic solving crimes. Disturbing because if forensic and scientific evidence are open to abuse and corruption then where does it leave crystal balls and Tarot cards? And intriguing because of the high level of success claimed by people like Zak Martin. The fact that for most of the Eighties, Martin operated out of a private suite at the Sherlock Holmes Hotel in London's Baker Street only adds further to the mystique.
"It's a tricky business," he says. "Obviously the police have to observe various restrictions. For example, anything I do has to be able to be produced in court or else it's no good to them. I can come up with an address that I believe the police should check out, in a murder case let's say. They've got to then go to the courts and ask for a search warrant on the basis of 'information received'. If somebody says who gave you the information, they have to admit that it was a clairvoyant and that can muddy the waters. So usually a psychic's involvement on a case is very surreptitious; and for the same reason a psychic is usually dropped from the case before it goes to trial. Some psychics get annoyed by that but it doesn't bother me."
Surely, most people would be justifiably uneasy about the idea of self-appointed psychics lurking about in the background of criminal investigations and would hope that the authorities would view the input of such people with considerable scepticism?
"I always find that journalists say 'most people' when they're referring to themselves," replies Martin. "My experience is that a lot of people would have every confidence in psychics in matters like this. As for the police being sceptical, that's an idea which the public has which just isn't borne out in reality. The police are like everybody else. Some of them have a lot of confidence in psychics, others don't. But I think you'd be surprised to learn just how many cases are resolved or partially resolved by psychics, both here and in Britain."
Zak Martin claims his highest success rate in the area of locating missing persons but it's something that he hasn't done for several years now, primarily because the searches can prove so time consuming.
"It can take weeks, even months," he says. "And after doing it so often I also came to the conclusion that most 'missing' people are missing voluntarily. I've found several people and they've just told me to go away. So in a case like that I just tell the family who are looking for them that they're alive and happy or whatever.
"The technique I use to find people is pendulum dowsing. First I have to find out if the person is alive or dead. I get some items of clothing or personal artefact and I try to get some impression of a locality name or whatever but sometimes it takes a long time while I get smaller and smaller maps and try to home in on a particular area. Then, when I narrow it down to a small area I go to meet the person or else it's handed over to a private detective. I'd say if I'm given enough time, my success rate at finding missing persons could be anything up to 80%."
Zak Martin's first involvement with a major police hunt was back in 1976 when he helped in the search for a young Dublin girl who had vanished after an argument with her boyfriend in a pub in Brittas Bay, Co. Wicklow.
"I say her photograph in the paper and I knew straightaway she was dead," he recalls. "When I arrived at Brittas I saw this dowser walking up and down the beach with his dowsing twigs and he was saying 'yeah, she's definitely in France' (laughs). So I thought if this is what the police have to contend with then they're going to get nowhere. I told the police what I knew and they took it on board. Then the girl's sister approached me and asked me to help further. Over the next while I got various other impressions. I felt that the body was buried in some kind of plastic, in shallow water. I felt that she had been murdered by two men in a car and after some time I began to get impressions about these two men and where they were hiding. Eventually, I narrowed it down to an area in Galway where the police arrested the two men, who later confessed. The body was also found, wrapped in a sleeping bag in a shallow part of Brittas Bay itself."
A psychic's work is never done! About two years ago, Zak Martin decided to pull back a little from what he felt was becoming a relentless treadmill of public appearances, interviews and wheeler-dealing. His intention was to put a ceiling of about thirty clients on his London clinic and to concentrate most of his energies on writing and on what he says he does best - "bumming around Bewleys on Grafton Street all day".
During that period, however, he received literally huundreds of requests for psychic assistance from people all over the world.
"A group of American movie makers wanted me to locate the Titanic," he recalls, "another group of film moguls had had the print of one of their pictures 'kidnapped' and wanted me to find it, Greenpeace wanted help in tracking down culprit whaling ships, I got several requests to help wake people from comas, dozens of requests to treat sick animals and, of course, the usual five hundred letters from people who had lost engagement rings and watches. There was even one woman who'd lost her cat and felt that I was the only person who could track it down. Obviously I couldn't respond to every request, but I did what I could. Ultimately, of course, all this meant that my sabbatical wasn't as leisurely as I'd hoped."
Martin believes that the crass commercialisation of some New Age elements aside, the movement has successfully infiltrated general public consciousness.
"When I was growing up it was difficult to find books on ESP or astrology or the paranormal. Now you walk into any high street book shop and there's nothing but these books," he says. "I know that to many people New Age is still touchy-feely hippy nonsense but people are also seeing that it also has a sharper edge. It's easy to knock 'cause it doesn't have a defined structure but I think it's foolish to dismiss it.
"The one thing I've learned is that there really are no certainties. You do make your own reality. To me, nothing is any more likely than anything else - astrology, reincarnation, out-of-body experiences, they may not be logical but that doesn't mean they don't work."
And finally, what does Zak Martin see the future holding for himself?
"I never get premonitions about myself or if I do I suppress them," he says. "I was on a plane recently, going to Italy. There was an article about me in the newspaper they were handing out and I began to notice that all these people were looking at me. Then the stewardess announced 'oh great, we've got a top psychic on the plane. We're obviously not going to crash, we're safe'. I just grinned but the truth is I'm the last person ever to get an impression about what's going to happen to me. I felt like canvassing everybody else on board to see if they'd had any premonitions. So the moral is: never sit beside a psychic on a plane."