It was shortly after the credit crunch hit that Toronto clairvoyant Deborah Levin started getting calls from the most unlikely places.
"All of a sudden I'm hearing from business professionals calling on their private office lines or on their cellphones in the hall whispering," says Levin, who has been a professional psychic consultant for more than 15 years. "These are people who, in the past, were usually skeptical and not really comfortable consulting a psychic."
Levin has had double the number of new inquiries since the beginning of the economic downturn this year, she says. Her experience isn't unique. Psychics, palm readers and astrologers across the city are reporting a "huge" increase in business now that people's job security and retirement savings are quickly disappearing.
"The majority of my new clients are people at their wits' end who are looking for some direction or another way of viewing their life," says Levin, 41, adding that most inquiries used to be about love and relationships.
"Now, it's all about career and finances," she says. "A lot of people will come and ask about their jobs or say, `We've just lost our nest egg. What do we do?'"
Her clients before the recession tended to be women between 25 and 40, she says, but now the majority are over 45, many of whom are approaching retirement, or thought they were.
Paul Humeniuk says a year ago he never would have considered visiting a psychic or astrologer. But the Toronto-based personal trainer visited one for the first time last week to confirm whether the timing is right to sell his house and expand his business. He was told it is.
"It helped me solidify my thoughts on the direction in which I feel my life is going," Humeniuk says. "I think there are powers out there that affect us that we don't fully understand or even acknowledge."
Stella, a Richmond Hill small business owner who asked that her last name not be published, came to Levin when the economy turned sour.
"We're doing a lot of downsizing now, so I turned to Deborah for some strategies," she says. "Sometimes psychics can see things from a different angle. For what it costs, a little advice doesn't hurt."
Psychic, hypnotist and performing magician Mark Lewis says he gives about six private consultations a week during normal economic times. But he says that number has doubled over the past several months.
"It's one of the few businesses that is recession-proof," says Lewis, 64, who likens himself to a poor man's psychiatrist. "People don't usually come to see you when they're happy."
Indeed, some psychics will try taking advantage of people's desperation in hard times, says Lewis, a warning he often imparts to his clients.
"Sometimes I feel that the best financial advice I can give to people is to be careful how you spend your money with psychics," he says. "Some people become psychic addicts, but I don't want them to become dependent on me or any other psychic. They have to take charge of their own lives."
Lewis says he has seen a recent increase in "hard-headed businessmen" looking for advice who, before the economic downturn, would never have considered visiting a psychic.
His mail-order business, through which he provides tarot card readings on cassette tapes for clients overseas, has also jumped.
Donna Van Toen
Toronto-based astrologer Donna Van Toen says her clientele has expanded lately to include not just people nearing retirement, but young people worried about their futures.
"I have university students coming to me saying, `I don't know if I'm going to get a job. What do you see? Should I change majors?'" says Van Toen, who has been professionally consulting for more than 30 years.
Unlike psychics, astrologers use a horoscope chart and the client's date, time and place of birth to provide a reading. Well-trained astrologers - most professionals in the field have done four years of solid study, according to Van Toen - can get all the information they need from the horoscope chart.
"Any intuition is the icing on the cake," says Van Toen, who has more than 100 clients in Canada and the United States.
She says the downturn in the housing market has hit her clients particularly hard.
"People want to know if they should sell their houses," she says. "But I don't deal with the investment stuff because you can get into big trouble for that."