As the coronavirus pandemic leads storefronts, restaurants and other small businesses to shutter their doors, one unlikely industry is booming – fortune telling. Psychics around the country are seeing an increase in business, thanks to concerned Americans looking for answers in less traditional places.
Michelle Scheef Welch is a medium based in Dallas, Texas. She said even though she saw an initial dip in March and April, business has never been more bustling.
“We got a general uptick in our business [early this year], but it started storming during COVID,” Welch told Inside Edition Digital. “Our readers are way up, but the diversity, the age groups. Especially readings, I seem to be getting a lot of younger and a lot of older clients.”
In fact, psychics around the country have been reporting a spike in businesses. Florida psychic medium Theresa Fernand said she saw her business doubling amid the pandemic, Today.com reported, while psychic Laura Day, who works between New York and London, said so many people try to book her workshops via Zoom that the video calling platform often forces her to cut off the number of clients she takes due to their 1,000-person cap, the New York Post reported.
Also worth noting is that digital publications like Dazed and Refinery29 said their stories surrounding horoscopes and astrology have seen more onsite traffic since the coronavirus began, The New York Times reported.
And many experts like Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University of Hertfordshire who has done extensive research into peoples’ belief of the paranormal, agree that these sorts of businesses thrive in turbulent times.
“In times of uncertainty, people often turn towards the paranormal to provide a sense of comfort,” he told Inside Edition Digital. “People become more superstitious when they face uncertainty, and so I suspect that COVID will have resulted in more people carrying out superstitious rituals. Visiting psychics can be a part of that.”
He explained that superstitious rituals help people feel more in control, and while he’s not sure that there’s more believers now than ever, it’s no wonder that – in a year of an unforeseen pandemic, social justice demonstrations and election stress – psychics report an uptick in clients.
And while Welch insisted that she didn’t predict the coronavirus pandemic bringing the world to its knees – a missed prediction she said she struggled with for a while – there were signs in her clients’ readings that hinted trouble looming.
"You Have a Job, But It's Going to Be Different. You're Going to Be At Home."
Every year, Welch makes predictions for the year ahead, but at the end of 2019, when she went to forecast the coming year, she said she couldn’t pull up anything positive.
“You want it to be something positive, right? Some kind of hope for the new year,” she said. “I couldn’t get anything positive. It’s just going to be all black, like protection. I said, ‘I think it’s going to be a rough year.’ Everybody thought it's going to be a great year and I didn't think it was as great as everybody said it was going to be.”
She ended up abandoning the project and setting positive intentions instead.
“I’m not going to misrepresent and say that I predicted COVID. I did not,” Welch clarified.
But when doing readings for her clients, she kept coming up with predictions that didn’t entirely add up.
“I did get hints of a lot of people having loved ones with health issues,” she said, saying that predicting signs of sickness in people who showed no symptoms was her first indication as a child she could sense things others couldn’t.
Welch said she predicted that one of her more prominent clients, who travels a lot for her job, would be doing much less traveling this year and spending more time at home with her sister, to whom she had been estranged at the time.
Another client, a wealthy business woman, had come to see Welch delighted by how well her business was doing and that she had been looking forward to a long trip to Italy over the summer as her reward. “At the time, I’m thinking 'things are not [going as well as you hope], and you won’t be taking that trip to Italy,'” Welch recalled. “She stood there for a while and said, ‘You know, that’s not right.’ She was literally laughing through the whole reading.”
More minor things, like habit changes due to shutdowns and lockdowns, came up frequently in her predictions of this year as well.
“You’re going to be staying home, you have a job but it’s going to be different, you’re going to be at home,” Welch said she told people. “I told a girl she would be redoing her kitchen. [Another client], I told her she would get a cat, and she said she already has like four dogs and she wouldn’t get a cat. She bought one, just like that.”
After the pandemic began, the types of questions she was getting began to adjust to the climate as well. “There are people who want to know, ‘What’s my purpose? What’s going on? What purpose do I have with everything going on and everybody being so at odds with one another?’” Welch said.
Which, in turn, led her clients to purchase more products surrounding protection as well, like ethically sourced sage and crystals. “Things that will clear their space and help them,” she said.
And while questions Welch has tried to answer for her clients have always traditionally been about career and finances, relationships or health, even those curiosities have become more specific. Clients have asked for clarity regarding whether they will be laid off or furloughed as a result of the pandemic, how they can better get along with their loved ones and whether their relationships will last now that stay-at-home orders have forced people to change their routines.
“Then, of course, health is really going up,” Welch said, explaining that in the past, topics surrounding health have only come up with older clients.
When asked what she predicted for the coming year, Welch fell silent.
“It’s anxiety,” she said after nearly a minute of thought. “I don’t know if that’s mine. A lot of people feel like their hands are tied. I don’t think it’ll be worse, but there’s fall out, still. I’m still seeing a lot of guardedness and still a lot of illness, is what concerns me.
“Yet, I see travel, so that makes me think we’re able to travel,” she continued.
But perhaps a more ominous warning into the new year, Welch said: “I don’t want to get into politics but I think a lot of people have a lot of hope right now but [I see] a lot of people aren’t happy because of it.”
Crystal Shortages, TikTok Clientele and A Look Toward Spirituality
Welch’s store SoulTopia saw an initial drop in sales of 49% in March and April that can likely be traced to shut downs, job losses and general unpredictability. As Americans were adjusting to the new normal, sales quickly bounced back with a vengeance, with a 97% increase between May and November compared to in 2019.
In fact, business was so well across the board that while everyday Americans were dealing with toilet paper shortages and flour shortages, mediums experienced a minor shortage of crystals and candles.
“We just ordered everything we could from our vendors, we will get literally like pallets, I mean, you would not believe how much that is,” she said.
Wiseman, who is a skeptic, said the response by consumers is consistent with his findings. “When people face a national crisis – such as during a war – they become more superstitious and believing in supernatural forces,” he said.
Whether or not people believe, Welch said she was grateful to be able to support adjacent industries, like artists that create tarot decks. Because it became harder to order wholesale from manufacturers overseas, Welch said she saw the industry look toward local creators and businesses to stock their stores.
She said her business has also seen an interesting shift in demographics of people who visit her shop. Most notably, there have been 20% to 25% more Christians, or metaphysical Christians as they're known in the bible belt, that come in to purchase incense and herbs or ask for readings and energy work, she said.
“Pagan practices amongst the younger to middle age have steadily been growing, even before COVID – not only Wicca, but more and more solitarily practitioners that do not want the confines and restrictions of the main religions,” Welch said. “This is in no way to say all of our customers are Pagan or Wiccan, but we had already noticed a lot more coming in our stores and a lot more products geared toward that demographic.”
There has also been a 35% increase of men who come in for a reading, and often times they’ll first come with their family before paying a visit on their own.
Even though Welch said she reads for people of all ages, she has also seen an increase of teens and young adults, which she believes is credit to a TikTok trend that has psychics on Etsy selling portraits of the buyer’s future soulmates.
But any new clients were probably already curious about the field, Wiseman said, and uncertainty could have led them to act on their curiosities. “I suspect that if you really don’t believe in any of that stuff, you are unlikely to go and see a psychic,” he explained. “However, most people don’t have especially strong opinions one way or another. And so, when they become worried about the future, they look around for help.”
Welch, however, forecasts that the industry will continue being prosperous beyond the new year, and beyond the pandemic. “Business in this coming year will have steady growth but not the exponential growth experienced in May to December 2020,” Welch said.
Much of this, she believes, will be due to its growing popularity before the pandemic and current boom bringing fortune telling and alternative spirituality from something once seen as supernatural or eccentric.
“Essential oils opened that door to many, then sage and crystals,” Welch said. “It’s more accepted. The search for answers outside conventional religions will continue to grow. COVID solidified what perhaps had been a trend.”