This story was originally published in Entertainment 2morrow on September 2, 2017
By Tony Sokol
Vanita Karma has a dilemma. The mystic, spellcaster and psychic is very good at what she does, but can’t tell anyone about it. Not where she lives, anyway. The area is so remote, remote viewers have trouble accessing it, and the people who live there don’t take kindly to strangers knocking at doors to their minds. Vanita is not alone. Spiritual workers and alternative healers often hide their gifts because of the social or religious restrictions of their geographic locations. While the majority of metaphysically talented people who talked with Entertainment 2morrow complained that this is a rampant occupational hazard in the Christian south, it is a universal problem, spanning global communities.
“I was in Lafayette, Louisiana, at the Jockey Lot flea market,” Vanita, who runs a shop called AScorpioMoon on Etsy, tells us. “I worked as a regular there for about three years. I had a man ask me if I slept with the devil. I told him no, the line was too long. Another man got in my face and told me I was going to die for what I was doing. I told him no matter what we did we were all going to die.”
Intuitives and natural healers, whether they define themselves as wiccans, pagans or nothing at all, are looked at with through the lens of evil eyes.
“Some accept it without judgement while others are convinced I’m going to burn in hell,” says Vanessa Renee Hogle, the author of Soulscapes and Giving Up the Ghost, who grew up in Wichita, Kansas.
“I have been told it is a sin and the Devil’s work and I will go to hell doing it,” says Brenda Jablonsky, a tarot reader who lives in Indiana’s Bible Belt. She says she feels outcast by Christian groups “because I believe differently than the church teaches. I also have lost friends when they hear what I believe.”
In small towns where everyone knows each other’s business, you tend to stand out when you can do things that make you a little different from your neighbors. While you shouldn’t have to hide it, there’s always a temptation not be the town’s Carrie, the gifted but outcast teen in Stephen King’s first book.
“I had to hide gifts due to living in the Bible Belt where superstition was high and unacceptable,” a healer who spoke anonymously told us. “Fear of the unknown was the foundation to the secrecy.
Though Vanita says the staff at Jockey Lot “was always extremely supportive,” the problems of community standards remained the same. The area is in the same state as the magical mecca of the south, New Orleans, so open to alternative energies it hosts HexFest. But it is worlds away.
“I do readings at local fairs and festivals,” Vanita says. “That is where I have encountered the largest amounts of negativity. The majority of the time, I encounter no problems because I only connect with people who are already seeking my services.”
Vanita has been cultivating her clientele on the sly through word of mouth for a long time. She follows a family tradition where the supernatural was considered completely natural.
“I come from a long line of ladies who have been card readers and healers,” Vanita says. “They used to come and pick up my great-great-grandmother in a covered wagon for her to read at the local festivals. I learned to read cards, before I went to school, sitting at my grandmother’s feet, in her parlor when she had clients.”
Times, areas and attitudes change, but also remain obstinately the same. Some attitudes are carved in stone and written as edict.
“The Catholic religion is very much against people going to palm readers and fortune tellers,” says Vanita. “The majority of people in this area are Catholic. So it is always like you are walking a fine line to not offend someone’s beliefs.”
“I grew up old school Catholic and I’m grateful it gave me my start,” says Southern California resident Tricia Ruiz, who is empathic, intuitive, clairsentient and clairaudient. “My path has been spiritual for 12 years. As a catholic I was looked up to.”
Vanita includes the tenets of the very church that would bar her.
“I work with the healing energy of Padre Pio, and several other Saints, so most people are comfortable once they know a little bit about me.”
“Most churches would call me pagan,” Ruiz says, “and I am by far the most faithful person I know to Creator, Angels, deities of light, I count on them daily for guidance.”
Ruiz, who works in law enforcement, hasn’t gone public in her area because “my background is such that I would lose credibility in my field. I rarely share my amazing gifts and insights for fear of people ridiculing and judging.”
“I’ve worked with a local detective on a murder case,” Vanita says. “I have read palms for attorneys, and many political candidates want to know if things will go well for them. So client confidentiality must be assured.”
All the readers and spiritual workers we spoke with only want to bring comfort and healing to their clients and neighbors. If they can could be called on by respected professional defenders of the peace, and respect their privacy, why do people still find them so frightening?
“People are scared of the truth,” suggests Cynthia Fiore, who offers tarot and energy readings. “If you’re telling them something they’re afraid to hear, you seem to have control of their lives. Once someone hears their truth, things never are the same again. Actions need to be taken for healthy growth. Once you’re aware of the truth, it can’t go back into the dark.”
Ruiz believes people are afraid of “the unknown and many are simply brainwashed not even open to researching.”
“I feel that people are afraid of the unknown,” says Leslie Steffman, a remote viewer who lives in Connecticut. “People are afraid of fear. People tend to believe what they are told.”
Steffman lives in the relatively progressive tristate area, where people tend to be tolerant of the unexpected, and don’t necessarily feel like going on the attack.
“I have never felt threatened,” Steffman admits, but “once in a while in my dream state, I have felt the thoughts of a handful of people I was remote viewing that particular week.”
“I have absolutely felt threatened,” says Hogle. “I’ve actually been physically threatened. It’s weird how people act when you can do special things. If they want something from you and you can’t give it because you don’t have the time or the energy, they can get really angry.”
Fiore finds certain churches to be more aggressive in their judgement, “just as they are with rigidity of their beliefs. Spirituality is very far left and is liberating whereas organized religions are inclusive.”
“I’ve studied many different religions and attended many different churches and never really felt welcome,” Vanita says. “Hinduism aligns more closely with my personal beliefs.”
That is not necessarily the case in the land of Krishna and Kali. The country may cradle one of the oldest surviving linear line of spirituality, but the average practitioner is really not much different than the weekend parishioner who goes to church on Sundays and casts stones on Monday.
“They have limited beliefs, mostly religious, or social,” says Simran who does readings, Reiki work and guided meditations in Hyderabad, South India. The former pharmaceutical research analyst “can read past and present energies especially related to traumas.” Simran has been told that she is “mad,” but declined getting further into the threats she’s faced in her area. None of that stops her from moving forward as a lyricist. She will soon have three songs featured in Bollywood movies.
In the Muslim world, even travelers carrying something extra risk being treated like criminals on par with mules smuggling dope through customs.
“I had to hide my psychic abilities and tarot card skills while living in the Middle East,” Lisa Mounteer Watson responded on the Facebook chat. “You can be arrested for witchcraft if practicing these beliefs. I think stories about beautiful sorceress would be unlawful as you are not allowed to show any part of a woman’s body in publications.”
Being an occult worker is often a thankless job, but not everything can be laid at the feet of community bias.
“I offer traiteur services in person and by telephone,” Vanita says. “That is a Cajun term for a person who does healings with prayers. A person cannot thank a traiteur, it is said to negate the healing, nor can they pay for it, as it is said that while we are performing that service we are the healing hands of God, but they can leave an inconspicuous donation.”
“If someone doesn’t like me, that is fine,” Vanita says. “They are entitled to their opinion.”
Some people try to push away things that scare them. Others can’t get enough. There will always be people who get addicted to psychic readings, or who come to rely too heavily on supernatural guidance, but in areas where the practice is restricted, there is an added allure.
“Stalkers are probably the biggest problem,” Vanita said. “Some of them are just shy about asking for service. I have walked outside several times at 5 a.m. and found people who were waiting to speak with me.”
Old witchy ways can prosper in the modern era of digital communication, where practitioners can post their own websites and promote themselves with daily tweets. It comes with blowback, though, as the haters can hide behind firewalls of anonymity to spew vitriol on those they think have lost their way.
“Social media brings an entirely different type of stalker that is usually much more cruel,” Vanita said. “I have been threatened several times or ridiculed. It is usually easy to block those people.”
It isn’t only the faithful who cut psychics a wide berth. The faithless put up their own unique barriers.
“A skeptic will sit down with arms crossed and simply say, tell me what you see,” Vanita said. “Only a very few will have no reaction or ask no further questions. The majority of time it opens a dialogue as to what a person can do to repair their situation.”
Some people just don’t trust psychics. They see them as frauds looking to con people out of money with cold reads and hypnotic hocus pocus. Whether they are being tested or ridiculed, the readers are empathic enough to know the people who approach them are carrying their own burdens, and many are at their most vulnerable.
“Most of the time when a person seeks a psychic, they are having a problem,” Vanita explained. “So it is important to remember that you are dealing fragile human in an upset emotional state. So a large amount of integrity is required. Some people will offer you any amount of money just to fix their problem. So it is important to seek someone who enjoys what they do, who is not just in it for the money.”
While all of the magical practitioners who spoke with Entertainment 2morrow agreed they wouldn’t give in to temptations of casting spells on malevolent unbelievers, they do hope their personal charms can bring people around.
“The most important thing is to begin a dialogue with a person and see what they are open to,” Vanita says. “Each person filters things through their own belief system. So you have to begin there.”
Magic of all kinds have filtered through the public consciousness enough that there is more to be revealed from the world of the unseen than fees. That doesn’t mean the works should be given away for free, especially as a lot of these practitioners do so at some risk of discovery.
“A treasure is supposed to be hidden and sought after. In my case I feel that it is the same with my services, why cast pearls before swine,” Vanita asks.
Occult means hidden knowledge. It implies secret societies of magical practitioners reading dusty old books. It doesn’t mean evil. It’s just out of the way, off the beaten path, something seen out of the corners of your eyes. The people who uncover these secrets remain on the periphery, but live next door. None are really frightening. They just have a secret, but it doesn’t have to be occult.