Katrina Spears, a self-described internet medium, was running errands Sept. 30, the day the Dow plummeted 770 points.
"When I got home that day, I had messages from 30 clients," Spears says.
While it doesn't take a psychic to see that tough times lay ahead for the economy, online practitioners of the divination arts say they're seeing a marked sift in the questions posed by their clientele, with anxious consumers increasingly asking what's in store for them financially in the months ahead. Believers who normally seek psychics for advice on a cheating spouse are now asking whether a pink slip is in their future, and internet psychics across the board saw a spike in traffic in the days following the initial market crash.
The boom in superstition is a predicable response to troubling times, says Columbia Business School professor Gita Johar, who's studied the phenomenon. "If the future is uncertain, people turn to psychics," Johar says. Consumers tend to embrace the supernatural when confronted by stress, combined with uncertainty. "You have an illusion then that you can then control the outcome. People want the illusion of control."
Spears is one of many self-described psychics, empaths and mediums who make a living giving online readings by instant message or phone on sites such as LivePerson.com
and AT&T's Keen.com
. Spears performs readings by online chat for $2 to $3 a minute, and says that since September she's been talking almost exclusively with Americans who are concerned about their economic futures.
"People ask if they are going to lose their house or if they are going to find a job soon, or am I going to be laid off," says Spears,
"Usually I can give some time frames, and for some people, it is clearly 'yes,'" Spears says. "I can tell them if another job is coming and a time frame for when they will get another job."
Hourly rates for online psychics typically range from $100 to $1,000 per hour, but those steep rates haven't seemed to deter the monetarily anxious from reaching out.
Another IM reader, Pure Empathy, says his business has soared since the economic downturn. He charges $2 a minute and says he gives away lots of free time.
"It's really starting to pick up," he says. "People are more depressed, and I can easily make $150 to $200 a day."
"Finances are coming up a lot more lately," he adds. "People want to know when their finances are going to get better. I tell them I don't see it happening until middle of next year we are going to have a long down period."
But not all psychics are having bullish times in a bear market.
Amaya Elliot, an intuitive and spiritual consultant who also does IM readings via Live Person, says her business has already entered its own recession: It's off 50 percent from months ago.
This time last year Elliot also known as Autumn Dancing Heart charged a higher rate and made a "fairly nice living" off four to eight sessions a day.
The drop-off is a bit unusual, though, according to Elliot who has been reading professionally since 1999. "Usually in times of crisis war and usually in economic crisis business picks up," Elliot says. "Not this time."
Elliot might take some solace in Spears' reading of the U.S. economy.
"Things will improve in March, April and May and start progressing from there," Spears says. "We are not about to go into a holy war that means everyone will have to eat rice and beans for the rest of our lives. But it is back to basics, and people won't shop as much."
Spears also says that her initial spike of new business has declined, but that her American clients remain economically worried.
"Things are back to normal," Spears says. "I have several clients in Australia and for them every day is the same as usual, but people in the U.S. are stressed about jobs and the economy."
All three say their job isn't just about making future predictions, it's also about giving good advice and listening to people's concerns.
"I answer all of my questions using my cards or gifts, but I make sure to tell them to use common sense in spending, to not quit a job that is a sure pay until another job is secured, and to make sure to use a budget and stick to it as best they can," Elliot says. "I also remind them that readings are entertainment and not a necessity, to keep in mind the things that are wants and the things that are needs."
Sometimes people ask the obvious, according to Spears.
"Sometimes a person asks what does that person feel about me," Spears says. "If he doesn't call you in four weeks, that tells you other things are on his mind, and you are not it."
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