Once seen as an oddity only found on carnivals and hippie stands, the psychic has today become more and more ubiquitous – you can find thousands of astrological meme accounts on Instagram and order a tarot reading on Etsy.
More often than not, young women are at the forefront of this emerging movement as both customers and practitioners. A 2017 Pew Research Center survey found that seven in ten women believe in at least one New Age concept (psychics, reincarnation, spiritual energy and astrology), compared with 55 percent of men. Young people in general are also drawn to this field – adults aged 18 to 24 were found to be the least likely to consider astrology unscientific. Why is the mystical getting more popular, especially among the young female demographics?
Novelist Caroline O’Donoghue said it’s all about power and sense of control. “If you have an internal locus of control, it means that you think that you decide your own fate. You are probably a white man. You have probably approached me at a bar to tell me that tarot is bullshit,” O’Donoghue wrote on The Pool.
“If you have an external locus of control, it means that you think other factors decide your fate and you’re probably a woman, a LGBTQ+ person or a person of colour… Women and minority cultures are more likely to believe in non-traditional forms of spiritual practice because they live within a system that works against them, and the occult is one of the few ways they’ve been able to redress the balance.”
Fiona Lensvelt, co-founder of literary tarot consultancy Litwitchure told the Guardian that tarot reading can help people figure out their present situation. “It’s no surprise that a lot of the online communities are driven by queer people or people from minorities, segments of society where people feel as though they’re not seen or heard, because tarot allows you to consider a problem, give a voice to it, work it through and see where the blocks might be,” said Lensvelt. “It can give voice to problems or fears.”
Given that the political climate is turning surlier in the past few years for women and minorities – what with climate change, #MeToo, the rise of the far right – the mystical and spiritual might be an increasingly viable source of relief.
Ruby Warrington, founder of New Age business The Numinous said more people “who you wouldn’t necessarily associate being into this kind of stuff” have been coming in the last four to five years. “It reflects a shift away from materialism and mass consumerism,” said Warrington. “This was sparked by the financial crash of 2008, when we were reminded that material markers of success can, literally, vanish overnight.”
Indeed, some people still think the mystical is, at best, a welcome distraction and at worst, a lie. Writer Marisa Bate said, “I’m interested in the pragmatics: where did she read your cards? How much did you pay? How old was she? Does she go straight into the card reading or does she tell you things about you from your aura? What is an aura, anyway? … Surely, mystical enlightenment is just another facet of the life hack sector, another promise to make life a bit easier, another short cut to feeling a bit more OK.”
But perhaps feeling a bit more OK is what we need right now. Author Ada Calhoun admitted that “logic is often no match for superstition or persuasive myths… Maybe innocuous forms of pseudoscience are just the grown-up version — an easy way to inject a little magic into daily life, to willfully suspend disbelief, to escape reality.”