NONSENSE OR NOT, surely everyone has sneaked a peek at their horoscope at some stage. Not Michael Shermer, editor-in-chief of Sceptic magazine and director of the US Sceptics Society. He not only ignores his daily horoscope, he's made a career out of debunking so-called fortune-telling. Shermer says the unknown isn't so mysterious, and that astrologists, palm-readers, tarot card-readers and the like are all graduates of the same school of make-believe. 'They employ a cold-reading technique in which they 'read' someone they've never met,' he says. This entails them asking questions, making numerous statements, and seeing what sticks. The one occasional strike is all that's needed to convince the client that it's genuine. Shermer tested his cold-reading theory for a science television series in 2003, for which he posed as a tarot card-reader, palm-reader, astrologist and medium. He had mixed results, but maintains his stance. 'There's not a shred of evidence that any of this is real,' he says. 'The fact that I could do it reasonably well with only one day of preparation shows just how vulnerable people are.' But for self-taught astrologist Christine Challis, fortune-telling isn't about lucky strikes. She says she's predicted job promotions and house sales - right down to the day and time - and is yet to find a person who'll denounce her readings as hocus-pocus. 'Any failure of predication or analysis is due to the interpretation by the person and not the science itself,' she says. 'I know it works and have been studying for nearly 30 years. I wouldn't have spent so much time and money on the subject if it was bogus.' Here are some of the most commonly sought fortune-telling systems: Astrology It's based on studying the alignment of the planets as a way of interpreting personalities, and our interactions with others. Your birth date determines which sign you're born under. There are 12 star signs in the horoscope chart, each one supposedly giving people born under them certain characteristics. Those born under Aries, signified by a ram, are said to be strong-willed. Challis says that although star signs provide a general overview of a person's characteristics, birth charts provide a deeper insight. 'All expert astrologers have their own way of analysing a particular chart or charts, but the basic principles remain the same,' she says. 'The planetary positions at our birth denote our destiny. They do this through their vibrations, but no one knows exactly how. I feel the planets that are in our solar system are enough to get any information you want, especially with everyday people and events.' Nonetheless, astrologers can rarely offer clear and simple answers to specific problems. 'I usually read my daily horoscope and take what I want from it,' says devotee Natasha Paiken. 'I think it's just out of habit. It's also fun to see if it comes true.' Numerology Based on your name, certain numbers or combinations are regarded as lucky or otherwise. Numerologists first derive your personal number by adding the letter values of each of your names (no nicknames), according to the following: A, J, S = 1; B, K, T = 2; C, L, U = 3; D, M, V = 4; E, N, W = 5; F, O, X = 6; G, P, Y = 7; H, Q, Z = 8; I, R = 9. If the value is greater than 9, the digits are added together to get a number smaller than 10 (the exception being if it's 11 or 22 - which are so-called master numbers, according to US-based numerologist and astrologist Michael McClain). The value of each of your names is then added - and again reduced to a value less than 10, unless it's 11 or 22. See top sidebar for what this result is said to mean. I-Ching The I-Ching or Book of Changes is a 4,000-year-old oracle used to shed light on difficult situations. It's been used by emperors, the philosopher Carl Jung and any number of ordinary people with everyday problems. 'I only found out about the I-Ching when I moved to China a year ago,' says a 28-year-old female teacher. 'I was having a hard time adjusting to work and thought it best to look into a Chinese solution for a Chinese problem. It really did help and made me think about things I'd never considered before.' To try it, you'll need a coin, the Book of Changes (available from Amazon.com, among other places) and a pen and paper. Clear your mind and think of a specific question that has a 'yes' or 'no' answer. The head of the coin is yes or yang, and is represented by an unbroken line (-). The tail side of the coin is no or yin, and is represented by two broken lines (--). Focus on the question and toss the coin six times, recording the broken or unbroken lines on paper. The result should be a hexagram. Look through the Book of Changes to find your hexagram and read the answer to your question. Tarot cards Tarot cards have a 2,000-year-old history, and there are hundreds of different types of decks to choose from. 'It 's a common misconception that tarot is a fortune-telling tool used only by psychics,' says one tarot-reader. 'Everyone has the ability to study tarot, but it's not accurate to say that it's used to predict the future. A spread shows us the various options and probabilities, but it's up to us as to which path we choose.' Sharryn Garner, 26, has been dabbling in tarot for eight years with mixed results, but firmly considers it to be another form of therapy. 'It's like a journey of discovery of who I am and what I want to achieve,' she says. 'It's a way of clarifying issues that I have and sorting out my life. I don't think there's any harm in it.' Palm-reading Although hand reading, also known as chirognomy, isn't as popular as some other techniques used in the west, it's alive and well in China - much to the disappointment of Guo Zhengyi, a researcher at the Chinese Academy of Science and Technology. 'The Chinese think their fate is closely connected with their birth year animal and the time and day of their birth - just like star signs,' he says. 'Palm-reading, according to our last survey in 2003, is the most popular method. But scientifically, the lines of the hand or their shape have nothing to do with a person's fate, which is actually related to one's heredity.' Palmist Sue Compton, who has been studying hand reading for 20 years, begs to differ. 'The lines on our hands and other characteristics are a blueprint to the soul, offering insight into our past, present and future,' says the British-based practitioner. 'Some hand readers offer far too many untried and untested theories in their interpretations, attempting to pass them off as truths, many of which later turn out to be inaccurate.' Such people give hand readers a bad name, she says. Compton claims that scientific studies have shown a link between certain hand features and different personality types, and that these observations have stood the test of time - which is why she's a firm believer. 'For instance, earthy, practical people tend to have square, robust palms with short, well-developed fingers and a coarse texture,' she says. The three major lines on the hand are: the life line, running from the ball of the thumb to the base of the palm; the head line, running across the palm from right to left; and the heart line, which sits at the top of the palm. Palmists not only read these lines, but also examine the shape and length of the thumb, fingers and fingernails, the positioning of the fingers and any marks and colouring, she says.