It's 11 am on a brisk Monday and I'm looking for Magic Jewelry, a store in Chinatown that sells healing crystals, semiprecious stones and, for $20, promises to photograph and read your aura.
I quadruple-check the address before heading into what can only be described as a mini-mini-mall. The first door I see looks like it leads to the kind of store that sells magic jewelry and so I enter, screwing up my courage and declaring, "I'd like an aura photo, please!"
The woman at the counter has a bored expression on her face, as if this happens all the time, and wordlessly points to the shop next door.
After I push a few times on a door that clearly says "pull," I enter another, even smaller store. I know I'm in the right place now as there's a customer already there asking for an aura photo.
"This is my third one in nine weeks," she says. "I just love to see the progression of colors to track my progress."
This is something people do more than once? I awkwardly make myself busy while she takes a seat in front of an ancient-looking camera in the corner. A minute later, it's my turn.
I tell the man taking the photo it's my first time and he smiles widely, instructing me to sit still until he counts to 10, and to keep my hands palms-down on the metal sensors that connect to the "camera." (Camera is in quotes here because truth be told, I'm not sure it actually is a camera so much as it's a large black box on stilts with a lens and an excruciatingly slow shutter speed.)
He tells me the sensors will pick up my vibrational frequency and send the information to the camera, where it will then show up as a series of colors on the Polaroid, a visual reflection of my physical and emotional states.
According to a 1971 text called Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain, I'm right to think it's not exactly a camera. Rather, aura photography (also known as Kirlian photography after the Russian inventor of the process) is a non-camera technique in which a "high-voltage, high-frequency electrical discharge is applied across a grounded object," and the "air glow” or “aura” yielded is recorded onto the film.
After three sittings — the film is bad and isn't picking up my aura as the photos develop, a sign I can only interpret to mean I have no aura and am doomed — an intense yellow halo begins to bloom on the Polaroid and my reading begins.
My aura is in the hands of the store's other employee, a direct-but-friendly woman, who starts off explaining how the reading will work. The right side of the photo represents the energy coming into my life and my future. The left side is where energy exits my body in the form of actions, and shows what's currently happening in my life. The center of the image above my head is what I'm thinking about right now.
"Your colors are beautiful; they're bright, thick and full." I beam, as if I have any control over how bright, thick and full my aura is.
My reading gets better when she says the green on my left is indicative of money and opportunity that will come my way in the next few weeks. "It's bright, so it's going to be good," she says. "Good opportunities are going to come."
(I have no idea what kind of training this woman has or why I'm believing everything she says, since I assume there isn't an Aura Reading 101 class offered at any accredited schools nearby. Regardless, I'm eating it up.)
The colors above my head are more or less balanced, which means my left brain (conscious mind) and right brain (subconscious mind) are also balanced. I am the same person inside and out, she tells me: "If you like it, you like it. If you don't like it, you show it. You're straightforward and honest."
Then things take a turn. She says the white light on the right means there are unstable energies, that I'm experiencing a lot of "issues" in my mind and they're making me unbalanced. I hadn't really thought of my life as unstable, but as soon as she points this out, I can think of at least four things I'm juggling internally that could be manifesting as the white light.
She then hits me with the news that while I know what I want in life, I'm not doing anything about it. "You’re still adjusting to ways to achieve your goal. You’re still observing, watching how you can improve the situation." The abundance of yellow light means power, fame, success and leadership, but it's all in my head.
"On the bright side, it’s not bad, just a little bit confused," she says. So at least I have that going for me.
I get the feeling she can sense this news has hit me hard — I've always thought of myself as a woman of action and conviction — and she softens the blow by reminding me that I can make anything happen if I put my mind (right AND left sides) to it, that the green we talked about earlier is a "pretty good color" that means "some kind of change is going to happen."
She ends the reading by telling me I'm exhausted. The energies on the left indicate I'm tired, that I need to focus on having more confidence in myself and sleeping more. I'm surprised, since I actually remember thinking I felt pretty rested upon waking that morning, but maybe she means my spirit is exhausted? Who knows.
I leave Magic Jewelry feeling ... more or less the same as when I walked in. Maybe it's a reflection of my status as a millennial, but I'm more concerned with finding a place on the street to prop the picture up so I can put it on Instagram than I am about taking the aura interpretation to heart.
Has my life been changed forever by the last 10 minutes? No. But it's given me something to think about. Maybe I'm not doing as much as I could. Maybe I do need to sleep more. The interpretations were just vague enough ("think good thoughts" and "some kind of change is going to happen") that I don't have to dig too deep to give them meaning or, conversely, take anything too seriously.
When I get to the office, I show off the photo like a proud parent. "Apparently I have great fortune coming my way — see how strong my colors are?" I brag to no one in particular. A co-worker asks if I'll go back and I tell her I probably will. I'm not an aura convert, but it was a fun way to spend a morning and if nothing else, a few more of these colorful images will make for a great collage in my apartment.
Photo courtesy of the author