Roll Up for the Greatest Trick on Earth!

Into The Future
Creative Commons License photo credit: Outdated Productions

From Lee in the U.S.

Hi Rosemary – On 2 occasions my husband and I have gone to sessions with a blind billet reader – Is there a trick to what he is doing?  My husband insists there is and he has not told us anything of value other than to be able to repeat everything we have written down but he had some of the audience in tears from what he told them.

I must confess that I had to look up what ‘billet reading’ is. I don’t know if it is unique to North America or whether we use a different term in Australia, but I had never heard of it until now.

So, I hoped, guessed, figured (wrongly assumed ??) that I’m not the only one to be in the dark on billet reading. Hence this post.

Billet reading is an illusion and Lee’s husband is right. It is a sideshow trick performed as magic.

According to Wikipedia it works like this:

The effect is often worked as follows. Members of the audience write messages on small slips of paper, or billets. The messages can be questions for the deceased, or simply statements that the performer could not know. The billets are then put into individual sealed envelopes, which are collected and given to the performer. The performer then takes one envelope at a time and accurately describes the message inside. After announcing the contents of each envelope, the performer opens it, as if to confirm the reading.

The trick used in billet reading is the one-ahead method. It relies on the performer knowing what is inside one of the envelopes beforehand, and using that knowledge to stay one step ahead of the audience. The performer may do this by having a plant in the audience submit a pre-arranged message as one of the billets, or by secretly opening one envelope. When the performer pretends to read the contents of the first sealed envelope, they are actually reciting the plant’s message or the message from the secretly opened envelope. When opening the first envelope to “check” their answer, they actually read the first billet, which they then pretend to “read” inside the second envelope. This process is repeated down to the final envelope, which is either an empty decoy, or the plant’s envelope, or the secretly opened envelope. It is necessary, of course, that no one but the performer see the billets until the trick is completed and all the billets are out. If the secret-opening variant is used, the performer must use sleight of hand to conceal that the last envelope is already open, or to “extract” the last billet from an empty decoy envelope.

This trick, and exactly how it is carried out, can be seen in the movie A Month by the Lake. Here the performer has his plant write something about mountains. When he receives all the envelopes, he puts the plant’s envelope on the bottom of the stack. He then asks who wrote about mountains, and the plant responds. He opens the top envelope, and “confirms” his reading, but actually reads the next person’s card.

Over to You

According to Google, 260 people search the mind reading term billet reading each month, and this month I’m one of them. So, there is obviously a small demand to know more about this illusional trick.

Have you ever been fooled by a mentalist trick? I haven’t – well, not that I know of – but then again, maybe I just didn’t notice? What about you?

Leave your memories below.

Meet the Author

7 comments… add one
  • Paula Jun 30, 2014, 12:30 pm

    I attended a group reading today, 06/29/14, conducted by Reverend Ronald Fredrics. It was the first time that I had attended any kind of psychic reading, as I am skeptical. I didn’t even know what billet reading was. So, I didn’t know what to expect.

    Reverent Ron instructed the audience to write down the name of the deceased person or people that they wanted to talk to at the top of a piece of paper. In the middle of the paper we were supposed to write only one question. Then at the bottom of the page we were instructed to print, and also sign our name. We HAD to write the questions on the pieces of paper that his “helper” handed out to us. We also had to write everything in black or blue ink, so that he could “channel” what we wrote better.

    He told us not to write the name of a person that we wanted to be dead, but someone who really was dead. We were also told not to write trick questions . He also said that in the past he could give answers to people in their native language if they wrote in a foreign language, but now he is too “old” to do it. So, we were instructed to write the questions in English only. We were also instructed to turn off all of our cellphones, because if they rang then they would knock him out of his trance and we would have to sing to put him into a trance again.

    The guy who was his helper then gathered all of the folded pieces of paper at once and put them into a woven, round basket. Reverend Ron then told all of us to sing Kumbaya to help him to go into a trance. I’ve never sung that song before, so I wasn’t too good at it.  As we sang, he leaned his head forward, so that it almost touched the stand in front of him. He began to put what appeared to be surgical tape on his eyes and taped them shut. He did this very quickly, as if he was hiding what he was doing. Then he lifted his head back up and wrapped a silk, black and white tie (I noticed that it matched his clothing) around his head to cover his eyes, and tied it.

    When he was ready, then he began to pull pieces of paper out of a basket that was fastened to the side of the stand. I noticed that this basket was different in shape than the basket that was used to gather our papers, as this basket hung on the side of the stand. He pulled them out, one-by-one, and placed them on his head. When he would pull out a folded piece of paper, he would say either the name of the person who wrote the question, or the name of the deceased person that the audience member wanted to communicate with. Then as our name was called in the audience, we would say “yes”. At times he would name family members and then say messages that the family members wanted audience members to know. I watched as various audience members began to cry as he named the deceased family members and told them things that only they seemed to understand. They would nod, and say “yes”. He was very accurate.

    He did not spend a lot of time on each piece of paper. He just gave each person a general message that the family member wanted them to know, and then moved on to the next piece of paper that he pulled out of the basket. He named every single person in the audience by name. No person was skipped.
    When no more papers were left in the basket, he then asked us to sing Kumbaya again to help him to come out of the trance. He then swayed a bit as he took off his tie and the pieces of tape. He grabbed his heart like this had taken a lot of energy out of him. Then he proceeded to tear up each piece of paper that was now sitting on the stand in front of him. I wondered why he was tearing up our questions, and why we didn’t get our questions back.

    Either this man has 99% accuracy in psychically channeling each name on the pieces of paper, or there was some other method that was used.

    Here are some of my observations:

    The message that he gave to me in answer to my question was very vague. It was not detailed or specific. Also, I was the ONLY person in the room for whom he did not name the deceased person on the paper. I assume that this is because he couldn’t “read” the name of the person that I had written down, as the name of the person was foreign, and not Spanish. All of the other names of people he named were regular names that were easier to pronounce.

    I do not know what the other audience members had written, so there is no way to know if he actually named extra deceased people from their family or not. For example, he would name an extra person and say, “This person is here too.” Then this would shock the person and they would say, “That is my Grandpa.” But I do not know if the Grandpa’s name was written on the paper or not. I felt very awkward afterward about talking to the others and asking them if what he told them was accurate. So, there is no way for me to know if he actually named any extra people that were not written on the papers.

    If this man is not truly psychic, then I have some assumptions about how this was done. Reverend Ron’s helper placed the exact number of pieces of paper in the basket that matched the number of people in the room, and placed this basket at the stand. But, the basket at the stand actually contained blank pieces of paper. OUR pieces of paper were given to someone who was in a back room or a car somewhere outside. Then, when Reverend Ron put each piece of paper to his forehead, then the names of the people were fed into his ear by someone, as well as the questions.

    I’m wondering if there was a microphone in his tie that was wrapped around his head, as it was the closest thing to his ears. He could have quickly placed an earpiece in his ear when he put on the surgical tape as well. I noticed a few times that when he named the names of some of the people and they said, “yes”, he couldn’t hear that they had said “yes”. Either he is losing his hearing, or he was also hearing something in his ear that made it harder for him to hear the people in the audience.

    As he was holding one person’s piece of paper, he said the person’s name, but then said that she had not followed his instructions on how to write on the piece of paper, so he was having trouble “channeling” the information. He turned his body to the side and said, “I have to read it like this because it’s like she has written the words to the side.” So I suppose that the person who was feeding him the info couldn’t read the lady’s writing.

    I got Ron’s business card after the reading, as he is selling 45 minute psychic readings for $150 (he charges $250 in New York). His card is very plain. This is what it says:

    Rev. Ronald Fredrics, Ph.D Ct.D.APA

    He also includes his address and phone number.

    He told us that if we want our own reading, then we need to mail him a check. We also need to write on a piece of paper our name, address, and date of birth. He will then make a 45 minute tape of what our lives will be like for the next 12 months, and he will mail us the tape. He is going to predict our future, in essence. He said that he can only do one reading a day, as he goes into trance, so it could take months to get a tape from him.

    He said that writing our date of birth is VERY important. He emphasized this several times. I can’t think of why this would be so important, unless it is so that he can perform a search on each individual on the internet using their date of birth, as well as give us some sort of astrological reading.

    I looked up the man’s credential, Ct.D.APA. I can’t find that credential anywhere on the internet. I don’t know what it stands for. I wonder if such a credential truly exists. I am also wondering what kind of Ph.D he has.

    Finally, the reading that was performed today was held at Modern Zen in Davie, Florida. He seems to have a business relationship with the owner of this business. The first person that he read today happened to be her.

    I am posting these observations because I want to add to, and invite others into this discussion. I have had multiple impressions and dreams come to me that were accurate, and so I do believe in psychic phenomenon. I am honest enough with myself, though, to know that I am not 100% accurate. Most often, messages come in the form of impressions and symbols.

    I have also met those who are completely amoral and who will absolutely lie and manipulate for their own gain. They don’t care about using someone’s emotions, or about messing with someone’s mind. So, the more discussion that there is, the more that the truth can be known. I invite other into this discussion.

    • Anne Morgan Jul 2, 2014, 12:39 am

      Hi Paula, the consensus of opinion is that the whole blind billet reading is a trick, perpetrated in a couple of ways. I would go along with that and just add that all the psychics of my personal acquaintance would not charge for their advice, except perhaps for travelling expenses if they were invited to a circle away from their homes, and often not even then.

      To draw vulnerable people in with a scam such as blind billet reading only to get them to spend more money on a distance ” reading” strikes me as immoral, so perhaps there should be some regulation of the industry, but this is impossible to police and genuine psychics would fine themselves pressurised into providing evidence, which of course is not possible at the present time.

      In the UK alternative beliefs etc are well tolerated and although there are vulnerable people out there, I don’t think there will be any changes to the fraudulent mediums act in the near future.

      Blessings, Anne

  • lee May 17, 2013, 9:35 am

    I think you missed the word Blind in the question about billet readers. I have been to them and they really seem to cover their eyes completely and read the billets.

  • Kevin Lee Jan 24, 2013, 8:13 am

    Any mystical work and demonstrations can be fraud. Who knows what your Medium was doing.

    I have witnessed this Blind-fold Billet Reading by multiple Mediums in the USA. I know the true character of each. I can honestly say i KNOW they are receiving their Mediumisitic messages from their spirits regarding your question and names on your billet. There was no fraud involved. I am a huge skeptic and always pay attention to slight of hand and psychic tricks.

    How can fraud be involved when a Medium looks at you and say “Your grandmother wants to know what those other folks you wrote down in the billet have that SHE doesnt have!?!? Why wasnt her name written down?” No THAT, is mediumship! (That was my grandmother teasing me! I started crying as I was so happy!)

    You need to talk to the church you attended and ask them their opinion of the Medium doing Billets..or ask around.

    • Rosemary Breen Jan 24, 2013, 8:47 am

      What I love about your story Kevin is the reminder that the paranormal is not all doom and gloom. It is also about light, hope and in this case….humor.

      Love it.

      Our personality doesn’t die 🙂

      Cheers

      Rosemary

  • Lis May 15, 2012, 2:12 pm

    While undoubtedly Billet Reading has been performed by many illusionists and ‘mentalists’ in both the 19th century and beyond, it is not necessarily a trick and genuine Billet Reading does occur.

    The ‘Billet’ (from the French word meaning ‘note’) was initially used in early Spiritualist circles and was a means of ‘testing’ the spirits who were purporting to communicate via raps and later through trance. In the early days the sitters would write a name or a question on a small piece of paper and after it was folded up the billet was placed on the table. It was not touched at all by the medium, but the ‘spirits’ would rap out the answer to the question or appear to communicate as the person named.

    Subsequently, a number of mediums in the 19th century developed the process of having a billet placed in a sealed envelope and they would either place their hands over the envelope or put it to their forehead or against the back of their head and attempt to answer the question or make a connection with the person whose name was on the paper.

    Of course it was not long before the illusionists, often in an attempt to ‘expose’ Spiritualist mediums as frauds, developed the techniques for appearing to do Billet Reading while actually cheating along the lines described in your notes.

    To say that Billet Reading IS a trick and nothing more, is, therefore, not really correct. It MAY be performed as an illusion, but it may also be a REAL exercise of psychic ability.

    I note that your enquirer writes of “blind billet reading” which suggests that the billet reader is probably blindfolded and therefore unable to actually see what is written on the pieces of paper. Of course, some of the best illusionists of the past (Anna Eva Fay is one that comes to mind) could indeed perform fraudulent billet reading while blindfolded but to do so there would need to be an accomplice who secretly feeds the information to the billet reader.

    Perhaps the person your enquirer saw was fraudulent, but then again, they may just have been genuine as well. Without a lot more information as to how the billet reading was performed it is perhaps premature to come to any definite conclusion. Many genuine mediums in the past and today have demonstrated billet reading, which in many respects can be likened to psychometry, and have done so in Spiritualist churches and halls with entirely genuine and sincere intent. Many don’t widely advertise the fact that they do billet reading exactly because of the fear of being unfairly called fraudulent.

  • Lee Nov 5, 2011, 8:36 am

    Hi Rosemary-He certainly is marketing himself as a psychic. But he puts bandages over his eyes and then a scarf – this is called Blind Billet Reading. He puts the billets up to his forehead and reads them and supposedly tells you information about the three people in spirit that you have listed.I know of two mediums? who do this Blind Billet reading. All the billets are mixed up in a basket so it’s different than the mentalist trick. One is named Hoyt Robinette and the other Reverend Ron Fredrics. The second one does not have a website but I don’t know about the other. I will let you know if I find any info. Thanks so much. Lee

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