For psychics, financial future in the cards

By Brian MacQuarrie
Globe Staff / March 1, 2009
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Barbara Bonham slowly shuffled the Tarot cards as Alex Palermo, owner of the Original Tremont Tearoom, locked eyes across a small table brightened by a row of smiling Buddhas. After spreading the cards before him, Palermo gently fingered his graying goatee as the $55 half-hour session began.

"There definitely are concerns here about property and property dealings," Palermo intoned solemnly, culling a message from the astrological symbols and Hebrew letters contained in the cards. "I see circular reasoning. Not knowing when to do it or what to do; indecision about whether to buy or not to buy."

Bonham nodded in agreement. She has, in fact, been struggling with whether to buy a condo in Colorado in this plummeting, unpredictable market.

In a business that has long catered to questions about romance and family, many psychics are finding that the reces sion is not only good for business, it has changed their business.

Palermo said the tearoom, which opened amid the desperation of the Great Depression, has seen a 50 percent increase in customers since the economy tumbled into free-fall late last year, with many of them looking for guidance through the hard times ahead.

Now, instead of 150 clients a month, Palermo said, the tearoom is handling 225 patrons who range from lawyers to single women to CEOs to priests.

"It's like we're being called into action again," Palmero said between readings in his cramped sixth-floor workspace near Government Center. "The economy has created a psychic wound that people do need to heal. I think we're only going to see more of this."

What Palermo is seeing in downtown Boston is playing out in varying degrees across the country. Rosemary McArthur, founder of the American Association of Psychics, a professional trade organization with more than 100 members, said 90 percent of her customers are now asking questions about their jobs and the economy.

"People want to know where they're going," said McArthur, known professionally as Rosemary the Celtic Lady. "People are just asking whether their lives are going in a pothole."

At $100 for a half-hour, McArthur's analysis and advice do not come cheap at a time when people are pinching pennies. Despite the cost, she said, her monthly business has climbed at least 10 percent, or 30 additional sessions, since late 2008.

"People are concerned about losing their homes because they're in dire financial straits," said McArthur, who is based in Colorado. Still, McArthur said, she does not sugarcoat what she sees.

"I'm known for being brutally honest, so don't call me if you don't want to hear the truth," cautioned McArthur, who said she receives direction from the spirit Joshua, an "ascended master" from biblical times.

Such conversations are spilling more and more into the realm of world and current events, as psychics are being asked questions about the future of global markets, mortgage interest rates, and when the recession will hit bottom. It's enough to make a psychic yearn for a business degree.

Dee Bingham of Atkinson, N.H., who bills herself as a pragmatic "left-brain psychic," has not seen a big bump in business yet but welcomes the shift in questions.

"It's a relief from, 'When will he marry me?' " said Bingham, who charges $105 an hour. "I was always angered with the silly ladies who were living for love."

Palermo, for one, said he does not shy away from questions that take him onto unfamiliar turf, but always offers a disclaimer when asked about whether to invest in a specific hedge fund, for example.

"I feel comfortable answering to the best of my ability, but I remind them that I'm not a stockbroker," Palermo said. "Sometimes I feel like the character Bones in 'Star Trek,' when he tells Captain Kirk, 'Damn it, Jim, I'm a doctor, not a magician!' "

As a result, Palermo's staff of six full-time psychics and six part-timers have huddled to discuss how to handle economic questions for which they have little or no expertise.

The consensus, Palermo said, is to keep it simple, "answer honestly, but only answer if it will benefit the person."

In a corner of the office, tucked just inside the door, Sonia Medeiros offered soothing words of work-related comfort to a phone client.

"These cards are very positive," said Medeiros, a Suffolk University student who has performed readings for three years. "It doesn't feel like you're going to lose your job."

Sometimes, however, the readings lead to some scorchingly tough love. One of the tearoom staffers, a soft-spoken psychic called Raymond, recounted such a session. "I just told one lady that her life would be destroyed and that she would go through three months of hell, but then the sun would shine on the shipwreck of her life," Raymond recalled with a smile.

In the Original Tremont Tearoom, such a reading counts as supportive.

Despite the gloomy times, the psychics interviewed for this report say their card readings and other sources suggest the economy will rebound later this year.

"I tell people it's not going to be that bad, that it's going to be going up in the summer," McArthur predicted.

"Things will pick up in the spring and summer," Medeiros said.

"The general consensus is it'll get as bad as it's going to get in September, and then we'll start digging out," Palermo added.

Bonham, the 50-something tearoom client who is uncertain about her real-estate future, pronounced herself satisfied with Palermo's insights, even though they included the off-putting prediction that she would find romantic nirvana with a much older man.

"Look at Cesar Romero, he had it going on," Palermo said, with a chortle, of the late actor. "You have one more shot on this miserable planet at finding true happiness."

Bonham, however, wasn't buying that prickly prescription.

Palermo acknowledged that psychics invite skepticism, some of which he called deserved because of charlatans and carnival-like practitioners. The city of Boston has strict rules governing the business, he said. Psychics, for example, cannot try to sell additional time to clients at the end of a session.

"We also wouldn't do something like putting an egg in a cemetery for $20,000 to make somebody's lover come back," Palermo stressed.

Psychics, however, do serve a need, Palermo suggested.

"I don't know if I would say what we do is important," he said. "But when you need answers you cannot find with your five senses, that's when you go to your sixth sense."

Even at $110 an hour, more people are apparently coming to think that's a pretty good deal in a very bad time.

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