For a freelance writer navigating a tough job market, I probably shouldn’t have spent as much on tarot readings and manifestation courses as I did in 2020. However, once you fall through the rabbit hole of love readings that are generic enough to resonate with most and sleep affirmations that kind of feel good, you begin to ponder the premium experience. Energy work is deeply personal, I learned from a serious tarot enthusiast/friend who looked confused when I told her that the new love that was promised to me in July was still MIA. So I began to seek out personal tarot readings—and that was only the beginning of my spending spree.
This year, I took a four-day manifestation course, stayed up till 3AM for a personal tarot reading session with a healer in Canada, bought Rhonda Byrne’s best selling book The Secret, and even tried to action the Law of Attraction. This is also the same year I remained out-of-work, dealt with my entire family testing positive for COVID-19, and grappled with acute loneliness in lockdown. So I asked myself, mostly in a bid to explain my dwindling bank balance: Are we more willing to splurge on feel-good faith in the time of crisis? Is this illusion of control just what we need when everything around us seems highly out of our control?
A study of The Economic Social Survey’s (ESS) data on religiosity from 31 countries over an 11-year period found that the more developed a country, the more secular it was. In other words, the influence of religion is felt more strongly in countries with lower GDP, income and social welfare availability. Given that millennials are increasingly confirming that they’re “spiritual, not religious” anywhere that they can—from Tinder bios to dinner tables—could a similar correlation exist between crises and spirituality? Another study found that consulting an astrologer is a response to stress (especially stress that stems from an individual’s social roles and inter-personal relationships), and since millennials are now officially the most stressed-out generation, does this explain the rise in spirituality in 2020?
A New York Times report from May highlights an increase in online horoscope consultations in the first quarter of the year, while The Lily reported that astrologers were claiming a 20 to 30 percent increase in website traffic and inquiries. Meanwhile, in India where I live, there’s been a surge in the number of people using astrology apps over the last few months. Start-ups like AstroTalk, AstroYogi, AstroBuddy and LinkAstro have indicated a growth of 10 to 30 percent each, and both AstroYogi and AstroTalk have one million downloads on Google Play store at the time of writing this piece.
Analysts have found that more people were buying “cheap luxuries’”during the lockdown in a bid to feel better and spruce up their immediate surroundings. However, these luxuries were not limited to things like loungewear or face masks; the sale of potted plants, tarot cards, essential oils and books on astrology also increased.
Independent practitioners are seeing their businesses boom too. Law of Attraction expert, author and manifestation coach Suresh Padmanabhan says that an increasing number of people have discovered the transformational field in the wake of the pandemic, causing a burst in the demand for both free as well as paid resources. “It has caused the greatest jump in my career, the greatest transformation I could cause—not just for myself, but for many others,” he tells VICE.
The rising COVID-19 cases at the beginning of March meant that Mumbai-based Ruby Gangadharan was inundated with requests for immunity-boosting, pre- and post-COVID recovery, and cold and cough healing protocols. A certified energy coach, pranic healer and yoga instructor, Gangadharan says, “A few months into the lockdown, people wanted to talk and process their feelings. That’s where my energy coaching business saw new clients.”
Manifestation coach Ajaya Mishra, who runs the YouTube channel Awesome AJ, noticed a sharp increase in the number of inquiries around strengthening immunity at the beginning of the lockdown. Eight months in, the focus has shifted towards trying to stay positive in the face of what everyone is calling the new normal. “The number of people who started or were kind of inclined towards seeking spirituality or manifestation or self-help in the broader sense of the word has definitely increased,” Mishra says, while adding that this increased demand has not translated into an increased revenue for his content and coaching business.
Mumbai-based mystic sciences consultant Roop Lakhani confirms that the pandemic caused an increase in the number of people looking for answers to questions like “When will I get a job?” or “When will I get married?” People who may have lost confidence in their abilities or were struggling to secure a consistent source of income began calling on her for guidance.
For Delhi-based medium and tarot reader Zohra Shakti, who is better known as Woodstock Witch, this rise in demand was accompanied by a personal existential crisis. “The change that really happened for me is that I kind of realised that while I was trying to give people the fishing rod, they were more interested in the fish,” she explains. She reiterates that tarot is about guidance, not just predicting the future, and that she’s using her Instagram community to spread awareness about the positive impact of meditation and other healing practices like journaling.
Meanwhile, business for Maanya Kkohli’s Lady of Tarot slowed down a bit at the beginning of the lockdown. “Initially clients were unsure of virtual tarot reading sessions, preferring instead to meet face-to-face when things got a bit better,” she says. But eight long months into social distancing and restricted movement, Kkohli’s clients are happy to use Skype or WhatsApp for their readings. Kkohli does between four to six virtual readings a day for which she charges anywhere between Rs 1,500 to Rs 3,500 ($20 to $47).
A Collective Awakening?
According to Gangadharan, an interest in energy work has been building in India for the last decade or so. “People, who believe in Western medicine or stress management techniques that come to me—either through my coaching channel or through my workshops—have come because those things didn’t work,” she says. The pandemic, she explains, greatly accelerated the need for people to reassess the tools they were using at both, an individual and collective level.
Padmanabhan agrees, adding, “I feel that the universe has a way of creating a consciousness from time to time, which will propel people to think of these higher dimensions, and this [the pandemic] was one such event.” Just as people began to take better care of their bodies, cook their own meals and use spare time to work out, Padmanabhan says they also began looking for ways to attract true happiness and abundance in their lives.
Manifestation is one such tool, he says. In its simplest form, the law of attraction says that you can attract anything that you can imagine. That you are all you need to make your dream life a reality—and there’s nothing more intoxicating than that idea. Padmanabhan’s own brand and interpretation, that he calls the Eastern Law of Attraction, is now accessible and not just to those who could attend his physical workshops. Thanks to the other big winner of the pandemic—Zoom—he has people from all over the world signing up for his classes.
The Flip Side
Psychologist Kripi Malviya—the co-founder of TATVA, a Goa-based deaddiction centre and rehabilitation centre for mental health—believes that the uptick in those looking for mystical or divine guidance in the time of COVID-19 is because of the mass uncertainty, fear and anxiety that have become a regular features of our lives.
“The everyday anxiety, especially during this unprecedented time, is alleviated for a brief period when you read a horoscope or have someone tell you what your future holds,” says Malviya. “And that is why it feels so good.” It’s a way to make sense of your world so you feel like you have a degree of control.
But she’s not knocking it. “These practices are not inherently good or bad—just like drugs are not inherently good or bad. It’s what you make of it,” Malviya says, encouraging people to be honest about why they are seeking what they are seeking. “We’re not going to go to an ENT doctor for our knees. We need to have that same mentality when it comes to our mind,” she says, highlighting the importance of seeking professional help for mental health disorders. Instead, she suggests building “a repertoire of self-care practices” to cope with the pandemic that shows no signs of abating yet.
And it’s okay if that also includes looking up a Leo love reading every now and then.
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