Christine Bridger buys, flips and rents out vacation properties, so she’s sensitive to the ups and downs of the volatile travel industry. To stay calm, the Evanston businesswoman practices positive manifesting, takes daily “gratification walks” with her husband — and consults a psychic.
She’s relied on psychics for around a decade to expand her thinking about her business, or, as she puts it, “collaborate on what I might not be envisioning.”
“When you hear a different perspective, it helps you think outside of the box, and it helps you be OK with things maybe not going according to the plan that you have in your head,” she said.
Alexis Angelilli, a Mariano’s department manager who lives in Edison Park, consults her psychic for more personal reasons.
“I just talk to her about life stuff, about stuff that I don’t feel asking a specific person or something that I’m unsure of that I need clarity about,” said Angelilli, who said she was sold when, during her first tele-reading, her psychic correctly pointed out she was wearing red shoes.
The COVID-19 pandemic, widespread loss and even the tedium of lockdown have Americans stressed and seeking relief in all sorts of ways. One popular outlet has become astrology, long practiced by psychics and mediums who say they are enjoying more cachet than at any time since the 1970s.
Add broad economic and global uncertainty, and even faltering faith in institutions — for psychics, that has meant a mini-surge of new clients. There’s no hard evidence tracking what Chicago spends on psychic healing, but local practitioners say the pandemic has brought on business growth of 30- to 40% — a spike that has eased since the start of COVID-19 but left an imprint on the industry. Psychics have scrambled to meet fresh demand by adding tele-readings, opening satellite locations in coworking spaces, expanding hours and starting newsletters.
The phenomenon is not new, per se. The city’s ethnic enclaves have nurtured their own economies for decades, from traditional Chinese and Vietnamese medicine shops in Chinatown and on Argyle Street to botánica shops that line 26th Street in Little Village, selling goods for Latin America’s various syncretic religious and spiritual practices.
Beyond that, dozens of professional psychics and mediums in Chicago have been mainstays in Chicago neighborhoods for years, advertising with neon signs services that range from tarot-card readings to reiki, to color therapy to crystal healing.
But the practice has changed, too, reflecting the world around it.
Pandora Pappas works out of a shared Lakeview office, saying she prefers that to “a witchy environment or a woo-woo space.” Her work includes mediumship sessions with people and animals who have died ($300-700), sound healing with a variety of instruments (tuning forks, a tank drum tuned to a “healing frequency” of 432 megahertz and the flute, on which she is classically trained, $75-265).
She offers her psychic services with clients in person and remotely, and has clients worldwide ($75-245).
Pappas expanded her hours to meet demand over the course of the pandemic. “It’s what we’re called to do,” she said. She has had “tons” of first-time clients who have since turned into repeat clients.
“My goal is to help people feel better so that they have the tools to continue to live their lives and not need me. I see myself as a temporary assistant rather than lifelong, you-need-me-once-a-month. And I never prescribe when someone should come in for another reading.”
Carolyn Miller, a psychic who has Astrology Boutiques in Skokie, Gold Coast and Wicker Park, compares herself to a life coach but stresses she is not a therapist. She still has clients come in off the street out of curiosity or just for fun, but the breakdown of thrill-seekers to repeat customers is now 3-to-2.
Like Pappas, she said she recognizes the limitations of her ability to help people in specific situations beyond her expertise and has referred clients to outside counseling.
“Maybe you need some spiritual guidance or help, but if I feel like there’s a problem — like a psychological problem or something that they need to go through — I would definitely refer them,” she said. “I tell my clients when they come in, ‘Go with your gut, go with your feeling.’ ”
She said her work is “based on energy, your aura and what I feel” and that she sees five to 10 people a day. Her prices are $40 for a palm reading, $70 for tarot and a “full and complete reading” for $125 that combines psychic reading and tarot, “putting out the cards and picking up your energies and looking at the colors and saying what they mean.”
Sessions can last 15 minutes to an hour at most. At her Gold Coast space, she has aura imaging (“I take a picture of your aura”) and light therapy. She sells crystals in Wicker Park.
Bridger, the travel company owner, acknowledges some judgment when she brings up her psychic consultations — that some people think she’s strange or falling for a scam, but she doesn’t care. “I’ve been very successful at realizing my dreams and passions and taking risks by being open to new perspectives and trying new things,” she said.
Psychics have tailored their specialties. Some have traditionally given investment advice — and that has evolved into advice about cryptocurrency. Others advertise their ability to connect with dead or living pets, or their ability to treat esoteric “energy” issues with a galaxy of different treatments. Many practitioners encourage a wariness about frauds and scammers in their field.
Toni Discenza left Chicago for Florida, but she kept her local psychic and still consults her to this day over the phone.
She said her psychic has given uncanny medical insights into her pets’ health, suggesting a cat’s stomach issues were not emergencies, for instance, and assuaging her fear. So, too, has the psychic given insights into the medical conditions of people in Discenza’s life.
Discenza said she is a “big believer in science,” vaccinated against COVID-19. During readings, she said her psychic tells her what her spirit guides are informing her. “But no matter what she tells me, in the end, I’m always going to make whatever decision I feel is right,” Discenza said.
Therapists and mental health practitioners, meanwhile, have described astrology’s utility, alongside things like tarot, as they continue gaining popularity. Negative character traits can be identified with a Zodiac sign, allowing people to talk about and work through their issues without pathologizing them. Someone can explain his issues with boundaries that he needs to work on because he is a Sagittarius, for instance — not because he is a bad person.
The flexibility of the field has also made it attractive to people such as Val “Mrs. V.” Patton, who now does business as a psychic medium in Auburn Gresham after leaving a job as a medical assistant five years ago due to her own health issues. Her career change allows her to make good money as a psychic-medium and set her own hours.
She said she started picking up people’s energies as a 5-year-old and had premonitions while dreaming of her father’s hospitalization and death. But she made the leap after seeing a shift in society’s collective consciousness, something she says has been aided by social media and a decade of calamities.
“It kind of awakens the consciousness, allows us to kind of question things a little bit more, to see things a little bit differently and not be so rigid,” she said.
Christine Bridger said her relationship with her psychic comes down to one thing: hope. “In that moment, if you might be stressed about something — there’s bigger things ahead of you that you can’t even envision.”
Aaron Gettinger is a freelance writer based in Chicago.