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Psychics surprised by recession boon

Susan Asselin is one of Rhode Island's most sought-after consultants. She runs a private business out of her North Providence home, sees up to 20 clients a week and has a pedigree including advisers stretching back a century. And with this week's announcement from the National Bureau of Economic Research that the United States is officially in a recession, Asselin is full of advice for clients looking to climb their way out of a deep financial hole: "Coffins," she says, "and a few drops of prosperity oil."

That's because Asselin consults with the spiritual realm before she meets with her clients. Asselin - or Mother Mystic, as she is known to those who seek her advice - is a psychic reader, reiki master and connoisseuse of "magickal oils." And like many in Rhode Island's spiritual community - including four other local readers who say business is up - Asselin's practice appears to be recession-proof. As stocks plunge and uncertainty surges, more and more people are rejecting ordinary sources of advice in favor of the extraordinary.

Stocks fail, psychics prevail

Since August, Asselin says she has seen an overall increase in business of more than 50 percent and even greater jumps in "anything job- or money-related." Her top seller over the last few months has been "prosperity oil," which comes in nail-polish-sized bottles and can be "sprinkled on job applications or resumes."

"Not only am I sold out of it, but my supplier is too," Asselin says, pointing to her last vial - her "personal bottle."

Asselin isn't the only Rhody spiritualist whose business is booming as the economy busts.

Michele Shull, manager of West Greenwich's Sole to Soul Holistic Therapies, has seen an influx of clients to her practice and a change in the sorts of people and questions she encounters.

"There has absolutely been an increase, but the biggest change has been in the type of people," she says. "I'm having a lot of men taking my classes, which is very different."

In addition to reading tarot cards and astrology charts, Shull offers classes in reiki, whose practitioners say they manipulate "healing energy" with the palms of their hands. For $750, Shull will personally train a client to earn the title of "reiki master."

She also offers $299 hypnotherapy sessions for smokers, which she says have become more attractive "because people can't afford to smoke."

But for Shull, the biggest jumps have been in personal readings.

"Tarot cards tell a story," she says. "People want to know, 'what's in store for me?'"

'People want answers'

Associate Professor of Sociology Gregory Elliott says there is a natural explanation for the rising popularity of the supernatural. Humans are "cognitive creatures," he says, who do whatever they can to understand what goes on around them. But when uncertainty strikes, normal sources of understanding are tossed aside for more unconventional ones.

"There's a basic fundamental human need to understand the meaning of things," Elliott says. "It gives us a good sense of security: Life isn't going to be chaotic. It isn't going to be random. It isn't going to surprise me."

When times become more desperate, people lose their grip on meaning and do whatever they can to get it back.

"When your ordinary sources aren't working for you anymore," Elliott says, "maybe it's time to consult some extraordinary ones."

But why psychics over anyone else? "First of all, they have offices," Elliott says. "They are not easily classifiable as crazy people, they have a legitimacy of sorts because they have a fixed place and obviously they are somewhat successful because they're still there."

Elliott's picture of human rationality isn't lost on its beneficiaries.

"It's really amazing because you'd think people with less money would do this less often," Shull said of her services. "People are doing this who wouldn't even believe in it."

Ivy Nimley, who runs the Seventh House in Providence, says the shift in questions she is asked during readings is an indicator of her clients' deepest concerns.

"Finances are the central part of almost every reading I do now," she says. "That's what's on everyone's mind."

And Nimley thinks she has the answers. She recalls a client who asked last month whether her job at financial services company Citigroup was in jeopardy. "I said I didn't think so," Nimley says, "and that was before the bailout."

But Shull, who says she "doesn't profess to be a psychic medium," concedes that accuracy may not be as important to her sales as confidence.

"People want answers, and it doesn't matter where they come from," she says. "That's why they always ask the questions, 'What's going to happen with my work? Do I need to go back to school to make more money? Am I going to lose my job? My home?' That's probably the most-asked question, about work and losing their homes."


The National Bureau of Economic Research says the recession began last December, but Nimley claims it started a bit earlier. And the invisible hand she sees manipulating the markets is no metaphor.

"It really started back in 2005 or 2006, where - astrologically speaking - there was a Saturn-Neptune opposition in the sky," Nimley says. "I saw this a while back. I used to tell people and they would laugh."

Neptune rules long-term financial investments like real estate, while Saturn rules restriction and is "the great taskmaster, the parent that makes you do your work."

The two planets have been at an unfavorable 180-degree angle lately, "so you can see how there might be problems," Nimley says. "Anybody that did anything financially was gonna hurt."

But Nimley says that was only a forecast, a sign of trouble to come. The source of today's economic gloom is a recently demoted celestial body.

"Pluto is why we're feeling the financial crisis now," Nimley says. Pluto, which rules banking, had been in Sagittarius, which rules gluttony, for nearly 14 years. "But now Pluto has just entered Capricorn, which speaks of taking responsibility, of cutting back," she says.

Asselin also blames more material forces like the news media, who she says hid vital information from the public. "The media covered it up in a veneer," she says of the economic crisis.

Asselin, Nimley and Shull agreed that a return to responsibility and a rejection of materialism is the only hope for humanity.

"We need to get back to simpler times," Shull says. "We've forgotten family."

Shull says she tries to spend as much time as possible with her husband and 11-year-old daughter doing more wholesome activities. "We need more hayrides, pumpkin patches, rides into the city and walking around and seeing the beauty of things," she says.

That, and some out-of-this-world stock tips.

Asselin says she advises her clients to invest in "death-related jobs," citing the "aging baby boomer population."

"It's a little morbid, but coffins, funeral homes, those are really going to shoot up as the baby boomers, well, die," Asselin says.

In the meantime, the economy "hasn't tanked yet" and still has a while to go before it can recover, Asselin says. And until then, no amount of prosperity oil or healing energy can save it.

"I'd perform reiki on the economy if I could," Asselin says. "But the economy is a concept."


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