2024-02-19
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Predictions for you. Who and how makes money on Ukrainians' fear of the future

Unstable times are a fruitful season for magicians and clairvoyants. Daniel Lekhovitser found out how the war has affected the market for esoteric services, what Ukrainians ask fortune tellers, and how much they pay for their predictions.

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Oksana, 54, (who asked not to have her surname disclosed) lives in Dnipro, where she works as a costume designer in a theater. Throughout her life, she has never made an important decision without consulting a fortune teller. Which of two suitors to marry, how to build a relationship with her husband, how to treat her seriously ill mother – in all these matters, Oksana relied on fortune telling. She assures us that she constantly analyzes her behavior and makes sure that the instructions from fortune tellers serve only as a basis for her own decisions. But she admits that now, during the war, little depends on her decisions. For example, the fate of her mobilized husband. That's why fortune tellers are no longer her advisors, but rather a source of hope.

Oksana has always consulted fortune tellers about which suitor to marry and how to treat her sick mother

Oksana admits that she used to hide her interest in esotericism, but now she is not ashamed of it, as she is sure that in difficult times her belief in the supernatural will be shared by many Ukrainians. 

Crisis presents an opportunity

The popularity of the search query "psychic" on Google has doubled in Ukraine since the beginning of the full-scale invasion. The peak values occurred in March 2022 and June 2023 (the beginning of the summer counteroffensive). The demand for tarot readers has increased fivefold since the start of the all-out war, and there is substantially more demand for astrologers.

The psychic market has always welcomed shocks, and not only in Ukraine. In 2009, New York-based psychic Roxanne Usleman admitted on CNN that during the financial crisis she received a lot of new clients who asked for business advice instead of predictions about personal relationships. In 2020, when the future became unclear due to COVID, the business of psychics in the United States grew by 140%. And that was just the beginning. The pandemic contributed to the emergence of not only digital offices, but also online fortune-tellers' offices. So now analysts at Credence Research predict that by 2030, the global market for online psychic services will grow by more than a third to reach $1.16 billion. 

Online psychic services market will reach $1.16 billion by 2030

The portrait of a typical consumer differs from country to country, but almost everywhere two-thirds of the audience of psychics are women. According to neuroscientist Serhiy Danylov, belief in the supernatural is usually inherent in people with an external locus of control, i.e., those who tend to explain successes and failures only by external factors (fate, supernatural forces, etc.). The external locus of control is activated when a person feels they cannot influence events.

Fortune tellers are often perceived as intermediaries who can tame supernatural energy and direct it into the necessary channel for the client, Danylov explains.

‍Cards against hypersensitivity

Clairvoyant Valeriy Shatylovych, a curly-haired young man, comes to the meeting with a wheeled suitcase. After the interview, Valeriy has a train to Odesa, where a client who has ordered a personal consultation is expecting him.

Shatylovych doesn't like the word "gift" in the definition of "clairvoyant’s gift." For him, clairvoyance is not a supernatural ability, but "a neurophysiological feature of the brain of a hypersensitive person."

Valeriy Shatylovych has been working as a clairvoyant since 2016. He says that with the full-scale invasion, there has been so much work that he has no time for vacation. Among the new requests, the most frequent are about the fate of a mobilized husband or a missing soldier.

In 2022, Valeriy had to plan a safe route for a client to the occupied city of Kherson as the woman was planning to go there to pick up her grandson, whose father had just died. To predict the days when there would be no shelling, Valeriy claims to have asked for help from a ray from space. Eventually, the woman and her grandson returned home safely. 

Shatylovych's colleague, Maksimuza, agrees to an interview, but only online. Yulia Maksymenko (Maksimuza's real name) lives in Lublin, where she moved from Kyiv after the start of the full-scale invasion. As she recalls, she packed in a hurry: only her clothes, an acupressure mat, and a deck of tarot cards went in her suitcase. 

In order to predict the days when there would be no shelling, Valeriy turned to a ray from space for help

According to Yulia, she has been studying tarot almost all her life but has only been reading it professionally in recent years. The war has helped her career. Maksimuza says that since the beginning of the invasion, more than two thousand people have turned to her. The stable contingent of clients has been joined by men who are interested in whether they are destined for mobilization. The fortuneteller assures that servicemen are among them. In particular, a soldier who periodically asks how the tactical situation in the Zaporizhzhya sector will pan out.

Sometimes Maksimuza is asked about the end of the war or the fate of the occupied cities, but she comments on the political and military situation on her YouTube channel, where she already has 54,000 subscribers (the most popular videos are: "The end of the war! An unexpected catastrophe will spread across Russia", "Zelenskyy will surprise everyone! Force majeure prisoner exchange", "What territory will Ukraine sacrifice for peace").

In a conversation with a Life in War journalist, Maksymenko calls politics "boring," but market conditions force her to dive into the material. 

The most popular requests are about the fate of a mobilized husband or a missing soldier

According to Yulia, two things help her to be a fortune teller with a political science slant: energy – which is present not only in people, but also in countries and political parties, and the interpretation of tarot arcana.

“The cards tell me who is who. Zaluzhnyi is the King of Swords. Zelenskyy is the King of Cups. Yermak is the King of Wands. Ukraine is the Queen of Pentacles. Russia is the Empress. Putin is the Devil," explains Maximus.

Price list

In 2022, a 45-minute appointment with Valeriy Shatylovich cost 1,500 hryvnias ($46), six months later the price rose to 3,000 ($81), then to 5,000 ($135). Soon the figure will be rounded up to 10,000 ($266). Online is cheaper at 4,000 hryvnias ($106). The clairvoyant says that he sees an average of 30-40 people a month, but there are also those who "call in a hurry" to consult on everyday issues. As Valeriy himself says, he does not take money from sick people. As well as from those who are "in an unstable financial state".

An appointment with Valeriy cost 1,500 hryvnias, six months later the price rose to 3,000, then to 5,000

At the beginning of the full-scale war, Maksimuza asked for donations for her work, nowadays she charges $65 per session. She counsels three people a day, sometimes five. She can't do more as "the energy tone is disturbed." She also offers audio and video counseling: 2,500 hryvnias ($66) and 2,000 hryvnias ($53) respectively.

All psychics usually have extra services. For example, Shatylovych makes business forecasts. To do this, the client has to show the founding documents, photos of employees (the images can help determine who does not put their heart and soul into the business) and bring the psychic to the office so they can feel the "energy of the place." 

Hippocratic oath for psychics 

Realizing the tax potential of the psychic services market, the Ukrainian state legalized the profession of psychics in 2008 and placed them in the 5th category of the National Classifier of Professions: "Workers in the sphere of trade and services" (designated code 5152).

However, there is still no mechanism for regulating the market of psychics in Ukraine: the state does not certify fortune tellers and seers and, accordingly, cannot hold them accountable for providing poor-quality services. Meanwhile, the activities of psychics can obviously cause harm: both in drawing up a safe route to the occupied city and in advising on the treatment of seriously ill patients.

Yana Pasynkova, a tarologist and winner of the 15th season of the TV show "Battle of the Psychics," assures Life in War that she teaches novice psychics a code of honor, the first rule of which is to do no harm. Valeriy Shatylovych concurs. He says the war has made him more cautious. Especially when clients ask about the fate of a person with whom they have lost contact.

"It's hard to say what is 'professional' in our industry," says Pasynkova, "There are no criteria.”

Psychic services are banned for various reasons: in Saudi Arabia, fortune-telling contradicts religious dogma, in Australia or Britain, this business is considered speculative. But in some places, fortune tellers are certified. For example, in California, local sheriffs issue licenses to psychics, and in Massachusetts, the issue of issuing or extending a work permit to a psychic is considered at public hearings by residents of the area in which he or she works (i.e., the psychic must take care of the trust of clients, because they are the ones who license his or her activities).

In California, local sheriffs issue licenses to psychics

However, there are also people in the United States who are dissatisfied with the services of fortune tellers. Bob Nygaard, an American private investigator who helps deceived clients recover their lost money, says that a court will usually consider a case of property seizure committed by a psychic, but ignore a case of psychological harm. Nygaard says that fortune tellers often escape justice also because people are embarrassed to go to court and appear to have been deceived.

The great esoteric boom

What does the surge in demand for psychic services mean for a country at war? What are the consequences of the massive habit of Ukrainians to make life decisions based on the advice of tarot readers and clairvoyants, whose activities are regulated by literally nobody?

Reflecting on these questions, neuroscientist and Taras Shevchenko National University lector Serhiy Danilov identifies the problem: the greater the stress, the greater the likelihood that part of society will turn off the brain's analytical abilities and synchronize with others in collective magical thinking. However, Danilov is not inclined to dramatize the consequences.  

A visit to a fortune teller, according to Danilov, has a rational component as well: it has a therapeutic effect – like a sedative. This is not merely an assumption. Scientists from the Munich-based Ludwig Maximilian University have found that during a mystical or religious experience, the number of impulses in the hypothalamus, hippocampus, and amygdala, brain areas that are activated even after taking a placebo, increases. 

In times of war, hope can become such a placebo. The popularity of fortune tellers is reminiscent of obscurantism, but there is a mitigating circumstance: in times of war, people seek reassurance. The psychic services industry is a kind of therapy for people with less well-developed logical abilities, says Danilov. If it helps, go for it, but just like with pills, be careful with the dosage.

Collage: Ihor Hora, exclusively for Life in War

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