The TL;DR version

Vital statistics:

  • Scientific Rigour: zero stars
  • Entertainment value: 
  • Friendliness of people: 
  • Danger to the Public: 
  • Danger to your wallet:  

 

Most heard words:

  • Frequency
  • Balance
  • Chakra
  • Vibration
  • Energy

– plus the phrase “It only costs …. “

Summary:

  • Mostly harmless.

 

Extended ‘Highlights’

What better way for a handful of skeptics to spend a Sunday than step into a potential hornet’s nest of pseudoscience? With the bargain entry fee of only £4.50 (£3 concession),  or £7.00 (£5 concession) if you can stomach an entire weekend, the Holistic Ways Festival offers a plethora of stalls and lectures to feast upon.

Disclaimer notice

 

During last year’s visit we encountered some particularly dangerous cancer-cure claims being made by a a proponent of Germanic New Medicine. This resulted in us making a complaint to Trading Standards. The festival organisers had clearly got the message as we were met with a crystal clear disclaimer as we went in. Similar disclaimers were abundant elsewhere, but in significantly smaller print.

The stalls

Four rooms were dedicated to stalls, with a mind-numbing variety of products and services on offer, including:

Psychics / Clairvoyants / Mediums, Reiki, Crystals, Aromatherapy, Dream Interpretation, Hypnotherapy, Spiritual Healing, Kinetic Chain Release, UFOs, Life coaching, Self-Love (no, not that kind of self-love), Eden Energy Medicine, Bio Energy Healing, Bi-Aura Therapy, Acupuncture, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and much much more

Fliers

Self-Love best practiced in private

Everyone seemed to be very pleasant and willing to chat, thankfully without being too heavy handed with sales pitches. Some observations of note:

  • What appears to be an aromatherapy diffuser pyramid scheme (Vitali-Chi … looking for ‘meditation leaders’, for just a £595 investment fee, followed by £40 a month), with a bizarrely out of scope ‘Cancer-Cure’ book on the table (which turns out to be a recipe book. Tasty!)
  • The obstetrician by day – homeopath/energy specialist by night (and weekend), who thankfully doesn’t bring her fringe beliefs into her day job in any meaningful way.
  • The Bi-Aura Energy Therapist who you can pay £20 to wave her hands around you while you’ve got your eyes shut.
  • The Essential Oils stall that claims to be able to treat things such as seizures, viruses, bacterial infections and arthritis
  • The UFO ‘specialist’ who seems unable to differentiate between a torch with a pattern on it and the presence of aliens
  • The Living Lightly therapist with an array of tuning forks which can be gently struck and held over various parts of your body for a bargain price
  • The Kinetic Chain Release practitioner who can manipulate your ankle and lower leg in order to “correct an apparent leg length difference”
  • A rune reading stall which was apparently not appropriate for our team member Franco because he doesn’t “look like someone who uses balm”. Thankfully there were plenty of essential oils there to help him recover from that sick burn
  • A bizarre appearance by both the RSPB and the Woodlands Trust, the latter of which at least make an attempt at science (unfortunately overplaying and misrepresentating a paper about the effect of phytoncides from trees on humans .. but at least they had a go).

The Workshops

There were also two small lecture rooms with annoyingly overlapping talk times (attend a talk in Room 1, miss two talks in Room 2). Despite the poor planning by the organisers, we managed to attend three of them during the course of the afternoon:

1: Listening to your Heart Song (Jenny Light)

The culmination of this session involved a room full of people with their eyes closed doing breathing and visualisation exercises. There was also some humming involved. Quite relaxing at first, but went on for longer than was comfortable. The prelude to our little group meditation was a mostly unintelligible word salad (chakras, nadis, previous lives, vibrations etc.)

To summarise though: apparently we’re ‘beings of light having a human experience’. Our aim in this short session was to focus on our heart chakra and find our ‘sound’ (apparently everyone has their own unique sound … we are like snowflakes).

We were told to keep our spines nice and straight during the breathing exercise to allow the ‘energy’ to flow properly. During the Q&A at the end we asked if people who have curvature of the spine would be unable to find their sound … thankfully we were told that it wasn’t your actual spine – but your spiritual spine. Nice to know that the universe has an equal opportunities policy.

Jenny concluded the session by talking about the various upcoming training and awareness events she’s running (example: 8 week Yogic Meditation course for £135)

  • Actual evidence provided for the claims above: None

2: When is a Dream Not a Dream (Heather Sutherland)

Heather has been a dream analyser for over ten years now. She went straight to the appeal to antiquity by saying she didn’t apply Freudian or Jungian methods or dream analysis, but an ancient method that has been practiced for thousands of years. The whole purpose of this session though was to inform us that the dreams we have aren’t always dreams. Other possibilities include:

  • A visitation (from an angel perhaps)
  • Heavenly lights (not to be mistaken with car headlights apparently)
  • Something that will happen in the future. Here we were were asked if we’d ever dreamt something that had come true. There was no mention of the times we’ve dreamt things that haven’t come true
  • A trance (undefined)
  • Spirit transportation (including an unbelievable story which much of the audience happily nodded along to)
  • Audible voices (presumably not burglars/intruders though)

Heather then went on to talk about sleep paralysis, explaining that these may be ‘evil forces’ visiting you. There were a number of audience members who suffer from sleep paralysis who seemed somewhat disturbed by this. One of them asked Heather how to deal with such things. The answer was a rather disappointing appeal to use the name ‘Jesus’ (or the deity of your preference).

After a somewhat vague Q&A Heather ended the session by offering her dream analysis services. Interestingly it’s a ‘pay what you feel’ service, where Heather provides the dream analysis and you pay what you feel is appropriate afterwards.

  • Actual evidence provided for the claims above: None

3: Palmistry Workshop – Insight & Inspirations (Madame Maggie)

Maggie started the session by describing how she became a palm reader; a somewhat unfortunate story about being an unemployed mother of four with no qualifications of note. She seems like a genuinely likable person with an energetic & positive approach to her craft. She told a number of anecdotes about readings she’d done in the past, and how accurate they were etc.

After the anecdotes she then went on to the workshop part. Everyone put their hands out and she went through things such as the different lines and their significance, the shape of the hands, what each hand tells you; if you’re right handed then your right hand tells you about your personality and your history, and your left hand tells you about your future (sort of).

Maggie then worked her way around some members of the audience (including Glasgow Skeptics representatives Franco and Matteo) to tell them a little bit about themselves. Unfortunately there wasn’t much in the way of real insight, and the type of statements being made could not really be differentiated from Barnum statements.

Most notably, she asked our representative Matteo if he’d had some kind of traumatic incident in childhood.

  • He answered no

She then asked if he had nearly drowned when he was a child (as if that wouldn’t have counted as a traumatic incident)

  • He answered no

Despite the seeming bluntness of the responses, Matteo was not being deliberately obtuse. He had a smile on his face at the time and they exchanged other pleasantries. Maggie dealt well with these evident ‘misses’ and went on to say that many people have incidents when they are young of varying degrees of severity and these can affect us in unexpected ways.

This was easily the most enjoyable hour of the day, but that was more down to Maggie’s infectious personality and enthusiasm rather than any powers she may or may not have.

  • Actual evidence provided for the claims above: None

 

In Summary

It was somewhat disappointing to see so many credulous people attending such an event. The attendees were >90% female, of varying ages, which is interesting in itself. We were happy to see much less blatant health claims being made than last year, and none of the practitioners we spoke to advocated avoiding conventional medicine, which was of some reassurance. It could of course have been possible that some deeper digging may have shown a more dangerous undercurrent, but we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt in the absence of solid evidence.

The entry fee was reasonably low, and it was easy enough to navigate around the festival without spending money – but all products and services on offer seemed very expensive. That being said, it seemed as if those who had the disposable income were more than happy to part with it with the flimsiest of evidence.

We would of course welcome any of the practitioners to offer us reliable evidence of the efficacy of their products and services, and we’d be happy to put them to a controlled test.