The term “Psychic” turns out to be a kind of umbrella, encompassing a wide variety of activities and styles. Psychics can present themselves as tarot card, chakra, and palm readers, mediums, healers, fortune-tellers, “psychic therapists,”—the list goes on. Psychic styles can run from trendy millennial occult to expensive crystal healing, from high-class celebrity psychics to tarot card reading at parties to classic walk-in shops.
Psychic shops are scattered throughout New York City, easily discovered by a brief walk around almost any neighborhood or a quick search on google maps. But any publicity or media-attention usually comes as a result of a lawsuit or court case. There have been a number of major court cases over the years. In 2009, a psychic in Queens pleaded guilty to charging a woman $40,000 in exchange for removing demons. In 2011, two Manhattan psychics were arrested and charged with grand larceny for their work. And just last year, a psychic who charged a man $718,000 over a period of months was charged with Grand Larceny and remains in jail.
Officially, “fortune-telling” is illegal, a class B misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail or a $500 fine. Under this New York State law, passed in 1967, “fortune-telling” happens anytime a person takes a fee to “tell fortunes,” use “occult powers to answer questions or give advice,” “exorcise” or “influence of affect evil spirits or curses.” However, the practice is allowed so long as psychics officially present themselves as “entertainers.”
For this reason, there aren’t a whole lot of concrete statistics about the psychic profession, at least coming from the US Department of Labor. But a 2015 report by Ibis World did explore the revenue, profits, annual growth and service makeup of the industry. It determined that Palmistry (Palm Reading) and Cartomancy (Tarot Card Reading) made up the bulk of the industry, followed by Mediumship and Aura Reading. The report found 81,996 businesses offering some kind of psychic service in the country, with 85,004 employed and an annual growth rate of 2.4%. The report stated that several factors led to the growth in the industry: mainly an increase in societal acceptance of the practice as well as an increase in the general public’s disposable income, as well as a demand from bars and nightclubs, as well as an increase in the labor force participation rate of women in the country.
When I first started this project, I thought it would be easy finding palm readers, mediums, and psychics willing to talk to me, but I soon realized that between the murky legal issues surrounding the industry and the impact that social media and reviewing sites like Yelp have had on it, many psychics were not interested in talking to me. About 40 phone calls and emails and one very long walk around Manhattan later, I found three people willing to speak with me: Angela Lucy, a Tarot Card reader working out of her apartment on 14th St. and 5th Ave, Elaine, a psychic with a storefront on Prince St, and Blue, a Tarot reader and “Crystal Caster” who reads occasionally at Catland Books, an occult bookstore in Brooklyn.