Mahendra Sharma can tell you, fairly confidently, what the stock market will look like next week, or even next year. Back in 2012, after Facebook's IPO sharply fell, Sharma advised his clients not to buy stock just yet, because the price would dive another 50 percent more—and he was right. He knew this not because he is an investment adviser (though he does have a degree in finance), but because the moon was in the House of Scorpio, and it was all there on the astrology charts.
Since he launched his "financial astrology" business in 2001, Sharma has authored nine book-length editions of financial prophecies, including (correct) predictions like the dot-com bubble burst in the early 2000s and the spike in gold prices a few years later. Overall, he says he has a 90 percent accuracy rate.
Services like Sharma's aren't as uncommon as you might expect. There are numerous purveyors of the supernatural, offering investment advice with the flip of a Tarot card or using psychic energy to help a CEO make hiring decisions. As psychic services move from the Ouija board to the board room, companies are banking on the value of supernatural "insider information" while the psychics are making bank.
According to Lawrence R. Samuel, a cultural historian and author of Supernatural America: A Cultural History, corporate psychic services first emerged in the 1980s. Around the same time, psychics had gained a foothold with individuals as an alternative to therapists—a way for people to seize control of their lives by looking outward, instead of inward—a notion that carried over to the business world. What business owner doesn't want a crystal ball?
"Psychology and psychoanalysis and all that had been around for 75 years by the 80s, so folks were dropping their shrinks and going to psychics instead." Samuel's research makes note of businessmen like oil tycoon H. L. Hunt and auto mogul John DeLorean, who each consulted with psychics before making business decisions; designer Diane von Furstenberg and Sony co-founder Akio Morita both took business advice from the same fortune-teller.
Today, according to market research from IBIS World, the psychic services industry rakes in somewhere north of $2 billion each year, with an annual growth of 2.5 percent over the past five years.
Linda Lauren has been a professional psychic since the 70s and a corporate psychic since the 90s, listing clients as big as Pernod Ricard on her roster. She says she's a "color-energy expert," able to read energies through colored bubbles that appear to her. She's been asked to help companies make hiring choices, reorganize their work spaces, and smooth out managing decisions. She also has a few clients who work on Wall Street, who she's given insight about viable investments. Recently, she helped a company maximize its employees' potential by creating "sacred spaces" on their desks. "Each desk has a little mat with a salt lamp on it. They each have a piece of pyrite, which encourages money and calm, and they each have a little water bottle, which they fill every day and eventually negativity is contained within the bottle," Lauren told me.
About a quarter of her business is made up of corporate clients like this, all of whom she says believe deeply in her work. That very belief could explain some of her clients' success: A series of studies from the University of Cologne showed that people who believed in the supernatural also had better performance in various tasks, likely because of the confidence-boost from their own superstitious beliefs. Another study, from the University of Queensland, found that those who believed in psychics had greater feelings of control. It seems feeling confident and in-control of business decisions likely has as much of a positive effect on positive outcomes as actual psychic abilities.
"For psychics, the market is boring when it's good. But [when the market is bad] is the chance to really shine with psychic abilities." —Shawn Robbins
It follows that psychic services tend to thrive during periods of uncertainty. People don't dial 1-800-PSYCHICS when everything's dandy. With corporations, the same is true: Psychic and supernatural services are sought out more often during financial crashes and market slumps.
"[Supernatural services] definitely thrive in periods of uncertainty or turmoil," Samuel told me. "The 1930s were a Golden Age of the supernatural because of the Great Depression."
Between 2007 and 2012, the psychic industry grew at an annual rate of 2 percent according to IBIS World—the time period that straddled the financial meltdown of 2008. That report also cited a "financial psychic," Andrrea Hess, who claimed she grew her business from a $250,000 in 2011 to $750,000 in 2012, largely due to the financial turmoil of the time. As corporate psychic Shawn Robbins told the Associated Press in 1988, one year after stock markets around the world plummeted, "For psychics, the market is boring when it's good, but now is the chance to really shine with psychic abilities. This is a good time to go to a 'reputable psychic.'"
Sharma said his clientele tends to stay fairly consistent—financial turmoil or not—but he does see a surge in interest after one of his predictions come true. Sharma offers a selection of these predictions in a weekly newsletter, which costs $550 per month or $5,790 for an annual subscription. Corporate clients can also come to him for one-on-one consultations, which cost $3,900 per session.
Apparently, companies see that as a fair price if the advice is good, even when there's a lot at stake. Seagate Technology, makers of equipment for Playstation and Xbox, formerly used the services of psychic Laura Day, who charged a fee of $10,000 per month. Day told Newsweek that she'd saved multimillion-dollar deals with her psychic prowess, like the time she accurately advised a Wall Street money manager client to pull out of an investment "just before the deal nose-dived."
"Day traders want to know, 'Is this little new company going to pan out in three years?' I can give them honest answers." —David Zarza
Barb Mather, a psychic-medium in Canada, says she tries not to think too much about what's at stake for her corporate clients. "The basis of the work is no different, in terms of how I connect and get the information—but it is a little different because we're not talking about small pennies."
Recently, Mather has been asked to consult on her business clients' hiring decisions. Companies send her résumés and photos of candidates and Mather sends them back a "psychic profile"—this one's a hard worker, this one is going to become very ill soon, this one has a poor work ethic. She says she acquires this information in a variety of ways, including reading the candidate's energy or connecting to a loved one who has passed on, who can attest to the person's character. As a hiring technique, it makes threats about what employers can find on the internet seem like a joke. "With a psychic, nobody can hide," says Mather.
Like Mather, David Zarza, a Seattle-based psychic, says he gives companies psychic readings—delving into their past, present, and future—the same as he would with an individual. "For instance, I can say, 'It looks like this coming April, there's going to be an influx of cash flow. Or with day traders, they want to know, 'Is this little new company going to pan out in three years?' I can give them honest answers."
As Zarza sees it, part of running a corporation is trying to be one step ahead. Every business leader has an artillery of advisers to make this happen, from the person who interprets their financial data to the person who gives hiring advice to their legal counsel. A psychic adviser is just another soldier in the army.
Currently, Zarza has three corporations for which he serves as the "adviser on call," meaning they'll come to him with day-to-day decision-making questions and he'll weigh in. He's careful to note that he never tells clients what to do—instead, he lays out the information as he sees it and lets his clients make their own decisions. "I never say, 'Close this deal now,' or 'Fire this person.' I'll say, 'This is likely to occur.'"
It's not an uncommon consulting strategy; many business advisers present the data and their recommendations, then defer to the CEO for the decision-making. But as a psychic, it may be especially important in terms of protecting one's reputation. Psychics have long been held in dubious regard (which, as Sharma puts it frankly, is because "90 percent of them are fake") and when there's money on the line, it's important not to over-promise.
In 2010, Sean David Morton—who billed himself not only as a psychic, but as "America's prophet"—was sued by the Securities and Exchange Commission for coaxing clients to give him money to invest, which he actually funneled into his own business entities. The fraud earned him over $6 million in total. In their complaint, the SEC pointed out that, in addition to swindling his clients out of their money, Morton was also not a real psychic.
Zarza say he gets why corporate clients might be wary of hiring a psychic. "There's still a lot of shame around the idea of working with a psychic to make decisions, both among individuals and business leaders. I think that comes from there being a lot of shams and fake psychics that you really can't trust." Still, he has a handful of corporate clients who have been using his services for years. They keep coming back because they've seen positive results (though, he adds, some of his clients have dropped the term "psychic" and just call him an "adviser").
"Everybody can [check] Bloomberg, but if you have a psychic coming in and telling you something different, that can be a potentially powerful weapon," says Samuel, before offering his own prediction: that corporate psychic services will continue to flourish.
Follow Arielle Pardes on Twitter.