Believe this: New Yorkers will stop at nothing to get the latest information. Which is one reason why this city is the medium capital of the world. From the storefront palmists watching CNN in the glow of their neon signs to the most prestigious Fifth Avenue seers, psychics rival trainers and nannies as city dwellers’ indispensable support staff. In the secular culture of the city, they’re as close as some of us get to spiritual. Smart people enlisting their own Rasputins is nothing new. First Ladies seem to love it: Nancy Reagan made no secret of her affinity for astrology, and Hillary Clinton was famously led by a medium through a series of conversations with dead people as a means of getting through some of her darker days on Pennsylvania Avenue. But the current uncertainty has made their services more desirable than ever. Psychics are, for strictly secular types, an acceptable way to put faith in a greater force—and to take a break from ambition and control-freakery. Plenty of New Yorkers wouldn’t buy an apartment or accept a new job without an astral okay. And you may say it with your tongue in cheek, but it still helps you handle that co-op-board rejection when your psychic posits that you weren’t supposed to have the place anyway. Even therapists are working in tandem with psychics—another means, perhaps, of helping their clients accept that there are things beyond our control. “I decided to quit therapy,” says a 23-year-old woman who works in the fashion industry, “and my shrink said, ‘If you want to stop seeing me, that’s fine. But let me give you the phone number of a psychic.’ ”
“They’re all very in tune with what women want to hear,” quips Anne Fahey, the executive director of fashion PR for Chanel, who’s seen her fair share of psychics over the years and has even hired one who bases her readings on the contents of handbags to work Chanel parties. “She told me I needed to have more fun with my handbags.”
The dozen people who follow use a variety of methods to provide a compass to their clients’ lives, to help them find lost things or even communicate with a pet. Absolute faith in their pronouncements is not required (do you believe everything your shrink says?), but you may want to have it. Most of them keep the bad news to themselves.
Communicating with the dead is what Laura Steele, a self-described “spiritual medium,” considers her greatest talent. She gave John Edward one of his first readings, but her most famous triumphs seem to involve conversations with lost slides; she’s worked for Condé Nast for nearly fifteen years. It all started in 1990, when a magazine photographer named Barbara Walsh died of cancer. Walsh’s husband was looking for slides of her last expedition, which had been published in Condé Nast Traveller and then returned. The magazine referred him to Steele, and she directed him over the phone: Look by the stairs, under the ribbons, by the blue sweater. There they were. Magazines and photographers like Bruce Weber have used her ever since.
Philosophy: “I have spiritual gifts. I am blessed to carry the message.”
What to expect: Steele, a great big redheaded grandmother in red silk pajamas, gives readings at the dining table of her Central Park South apartment, which is filled with teddy bears and low leather couches. She speaks softly, with a distinct southern accent (she got her start working as a child evangelist in the Blue Ridge Mountains—“At first, everyone thought I just had too many imaginary friends”). She holds clients’ hands, asking relatively vague questions, often about the older people in your life, and making predictions (“You’re going to meet a tall man in a crowd, maybe at a supermarket”). Given her track record with the slides, it’s tempting to believe everything she says, even when it’s vague.
220 Central Park South, No. 3D (212-645-3722)
Cost: $100 for 90 minutes.
If anyone can predict what you’ll be seeing on runways a year from now, it’s Maria Napoli, an astrologer with a subscription to WWD and a devoted following of 800 clients, including more than a few fashionistas (Isaac Mizrahi, Donna Karan). She’s been studying astrology here and in Europe for 25 years, and has a waiting list that stretches for miles. Philosophy: “The universe has plans.”What to expect: Although she reads the fashion people, she doesn’t emulate them. Her dark Upper West Side apartment is stuffed with crystals and Baroque furniture, and Napoli herself will probably be in slippers and a housedress. Her readings are 90 minutes long, and she just talks, the entire time, straight into a tape recorder. At the end, she gives her client the tape in order to review the glut of information. She doesn’t ask many questions and speaks with the absolute courage of her convictions: Expect a full exposition of your personality (water, fire, air), advice on how best to manage that personality, and an assurance that the universe is working on all of it. Cost: $200 for the first session, $150 thereafter.By referral only.
Frank Andrews won’t name his current clients, but his list of those who have died gives a pretty good idea of the lives he’s advised: Princess Grace, Perry Ellis, John Lennon, and Frank Serpico. Originally trained as a mime, Andrews was encouraged to pursue his psychic abilities by Marion Tanner, reputed to be the “real” Auntie Mame. “She told me, ‘You have big eyes, you see things,’ ” he recalls. While women traditionally flocked to him with questions about love, the past two years have brought a demographic shift that surprises even the psychic himself: “I’ve gotten more bankers and lawyers.”
Philosophy: “If I hit on something, you gotta tell me—if you’re going to sit there and say nothing, then why waste your time or mine?”
What to expect: Readings take place in the parlor study, a room filled with Biedermeier furniture—from the custom cabinetry to the round burlwood table where he and his clients sit. There is almost no stereotypical psychic paraphernalia about, except for a Buddha-like statue that according to Andrews is a “young man seeking enlightenment, just like you and me.” Hanging out with Andrews is fun. While he’s slight in stature, he’s a big personality, talking quickly and getting excited when he “hits” on something.
261 Mulberry Street (212-226-2194)
Cost: $175 for a one-hour consultation that includes several tarot readings and a palm reading.
A Hands-On Approach
Mark Seltman looks like a wizard: He’s tall and lanky with a gray ponytail and beard, and although he doesn’t dress up for consultations, he’s not above the occasional purple robe and pointy hat for the public readings he gives at parties and corporate events for people like Martha Stewart (“People don’t realize how hard you work, Martha!”) and the ladies of The View. He actually started out as a successful industrial designer, but he gave up that career to pursue hand reading, which he’d been studying for 25 years. “I was sick of depleting the planet and polluting the environment,” he explains. “I got some consciousness.” His greatest accomplishment occurred when his daughter was born. Her short index finger indicated a tendency toward low self-esteem. Seltman decided on the spot that he would work only from home in order to give her the extra support she would need, and he feels that now, nine years later, she has avoided this fate and the topography of her palm has actually changed.
Philosophy: “I like to think I’m fast-forwarding my clients toward self-awareness. You still have to do the work.”
What to expect: Private readings are held in Seltman’s incredibly tidy East Village railroad apartment, where the organic foods and world-music cassettes are alphabetized neatly in shelves reaching to the ceiling. Don’t look for prophesies; Seltman doesn’t believe in them. He just likes to help his clients understand themselves better.
111 East 7th Street, No. 72 (212-777-0540)
Cost: $250 for a reading.
For Fahrusha, telling fortunes is in the blood: Her father was psychic! But she’s heavily supplemented her inherited trade: She’s a belly dancer, attends shaman seminars at the Omega Institute, has gone as far as North Africa and Asia to enrich her psychic capacities, and is savvy on the subject of stone circles (i.e., Stonehenge). She also casts spells.
Philosophy: Fahrusha’s motto is “For their betterment, not their detriment.” The worst vision she had was of a client’s house burning, but in terms of bad news, mum’s the word.
What to expect: A buxom redhead who tends to wear a lot of velvet, Fahrusha rarely looks into her crystal ball (which is called “scrying”). She interprets handwriting, reads tarot cards, makes energy-balancing jewelry out of minerals and animal products (such as shark’s spine), and practices psychometry, whereby a physical object (lock of hair, pair of underpants) in her hand fuels her clairvoyance. Fahrusha also reads photographs of both people and pets, dead or alive.
Cost: $60 a half-hour, $100 an hour; $50 surcharge for house calls.
Voice of Reason
Patricia Masters, with her dancer’s posture and dramatic stage-whisper voice, is one of the city’s most discreet psychics, doing a lot of work she’s “not at liberty to discuss”—including, according to the psychic grapevine, helping to crack cases for the NYPD. She describes herself as “clairvoyant-clairaudiant,” which is to say that she not only sees things but hears voices. Before the session, she spends some time thinking about your name, so that by the time you arrive, she, and the voices, are ready. She believes that people inhibit themselves by limiting their imaginations to what is known; she considers it her mission to get them in touch with the unknown.
Philosophy: “I can show off, but that’s not the good stuff.”
What to expect: Masters is incredibly thorough. She’ll tell you everything about your career, health, and love life, then ask you for questions. She’ll close her eyes, turn her head, move her hand around in your general direction, and conduct brief conversations with her voices. “Oh, really? Hmmm. Interesting.” She’ll then face you, open her eyes, and make declarations. “They say your body does not like orange juice.” She does make predictions, and she offers very specific advice, particularly where nutrition is concerned. Here’s what not to expect: any explanation of who “they” might be.
Cost: Rates on request.
The Good News on Love
A former Broadway actress with flowing gray hair, bloodred nails, and funky green glasses, Ann Johnson works out of the formal living room of a well-appointed apartment in a midtown doorman building. The two of you are all alone—except for her chihuahua. “Everybody is psychic,” she says, fingering the large gold pendant around her neck. “People just become blinded to it. I had this one woman who was desperately in love with someone who wasn’t in love with her. She kept on asking what she could do, and I told her nothing! That might not be the answer she wanted, but it’s the right answer.”
Philosophy: “I just feel what I see in your face, the depth in your eyes, and from there pick up your essence—I concentrate really hard, and it all comes at me.”
What to expect: Johnson begins by leading her visitors on a set of “energy-focusing meditations” (for example, you could be told to imagine your heart as a blob of turquoise jelly, or to envision covering yourself in white cloth), followed by a palm and tarot reading. But these are just “tools”—she’s really concentrating on “reading your face.” But don’t worry about the skeletons in your closet: “I don’t use anything negative, ever.”
Cost: Rates on request.
Deb McBride, with her rosy cheeks, friendly smile, and chintz-filled Park Slope walk-up, is probably the coziest astrologer in town. But she’s also one of the most academic: She’s the author of some of the practice’s more scholarly articles, and treats her craft like a true science. “There are certain things in an astrological chart that we carry with us our whole lives,” she says, “and I know when they’re going to get pinpointed time-wise based on what the planets are doing.”
Philosophy: “You tell me what’s going on, I tell you what’s going on, and then we try to meet in the middle and figure it all out. I just like people to know that if they feel like they’re going through the juicer, they’re not crazy. There are bigger forces at work here.”
What to expect: While McBride is a very by-the-books astrologer—not only does she spend a good deal of time with your chart before you arrive, but she frequently studies other charts during the reading in an attempt to identify patterns in your life—she recently completed a three-year course in counseling. It’s almost like talking with your favorite R.A. from your college dorm: gentle and wise.
445 11th Street, No. 3, Park Slope, Brooklyn (718-832-3129)
Cost: Rates on request.
Faith in Finance
Mcinerney, the straight-talking former star of the cable-television show Good Heavens, these days gives readings over the phone. She is willing to meet face-to-face but doesn’t think it’s necessary if she’s got all of your birth information. She likes to work over that information using charts, cards, crystals … everything. Her clients like her thoroughness: “I’ll pick up every rock,” she says, “and really do my homework.”
Philosophy: “I’m a technical astrologer. I work with formulas.”
What to expect: She likes to get as much information as possible—she’ll ask not only whether you have a partner but what your partner does, and if his or her company is publicly or privately held. Finances tend to be central in McInerney’s readings. “I have unfortunately unleashed a little group of litigators,” she says. “Whenever they have the chance of getting something from a lawsuit, they pursue it, and I guess they sort of clog court systems with nuisance suits. Which, incidentally, they win.” 212-598-0754
Cost: “Full bells and whistles” is $325 (for a two-to-three-hour session); a comprehensive half-hour is $125.
Michael Lutin is the den leader of New York’s astrologers: If you’re famous, he’s read you, and if you’re an astrologer, he probably trained you. This astral Mel Brooks not only writes a regular column in Vanity Fair but also pens campy musicals with names like I Was Nostradamus’ Girlfriend. “I’m funny” is how he explains it, waggling his hands. But he had perhaps his biggest moment during the 2000 election. “I was on the Judith Regan show one night, and I said we’re not going to know the results Wednesday morning because Mercury is retrograde! And I said that the winner’s going to be the loser and the loser’s going to be the winner. People thought I was this great genius, but that was the only time I’ve ever been right about an election.”
Philosophy: “Astrology is a way of feeling connected to the universe and to get reassurance in difficult times. I restore my clients’ confidence in their ability to make choices.”
What to expect: An hour spent curled up in a big leather chair opposite Lutin feels mostly like a visit to the shrink. Lutin expects a lot of give-and-take: He asks plenty of questions, and likes his clients to supply serious information about what aspects of their life they’re looking to work on. “The skeptics get nowhere,” he says of clients who wait for him to hand out answers plucked neatly from their charts. Though Lutin cryptically describes Tibet and the art of Roy Lichtenstein as his inspirations for becoming an astrologer while living in Paris in the sixties, he is quick to point out that his greatest mentor is, in fact, a psychotherapist.
39 Fifth Avenue (212-529-6464)
Cost: Rates on request.
Park Avenue Predictions
Karen Thorne’s society clients include members of the DuPont, Johnson, Westinghouse, and Cabot families, and she does admit to meeting with Bill Clinton, whom she found “irresistible.” A few years ago on Martha’s Vineyard, she predicted that a pilot would crash his plane into the White House. She wrote down her prophecy and gave it to Clinton’s Secret Service agents. When that very thing happened, she got a nice, formal thank-you note.
Philosophy: “I concentrate on what a person’s true self is. If we operate from the point of truth, we cannot lose in any situation.”
What to expect: Thorne resembles an Upper West Side shrink more than a New Age shaman; she conducts readings in her West Village apartment, which is free of any clues to its double life as a psychic’s den. She also works out of her home in Boston and has several clients—from Hong Kong to Hollywood—who call her for phone sessions. Her abilities include seeing auras, predicting the future, and identifying lucky talismans. With a laptop, she checks out your astrological chart, using the time and date of your birth. She also uses a 300-year-old Russian crystal ball.
Cost: $175 per reading.
Talk to the Animals
Your dog may know how to sit on command, but Rae Ramsey believes you can have much deeper conversations with your pooch—she claims to have communicated with cats, swans, iguanas, birds, and even insects. Ramsey found her calling about ten years ago, when she trained with pet-communication innovator Penelope Smith. “I just started communicating with everyone’s animal,” she says. “I’d go out to lunch and people would pull out their pictures and I’d just do it.”
Philosophy: “To me, being a psychic is being able to read minds, and I don’t do that. I communicate using telepathy, which consists of an exchange of images.”
What to expect: Ramsey does most of her work over the phone—her own pets make it hard to do readings at her place. She will also communicate with an animal through photos. In person, she’s very Greenwich, Connecticut: a petite blonde who favors pink sweater sets. She begins with what appears to be a short meditation, in which she closes her eyes and explains she’s connecting with your pet. Ramsey then asks your pet questions, and gives its responses. Those responses can be vague—ask her to tell your dog not to chew on the furniture and she may respond by saying there’s no guarantee. “I’m not on a campaign to prove that it works,” Ramsey says. “I’ve had so many people tell me that this adds a depth to their experience with their animals … to find out things about them, about who they were before and what their concerns are, what their mission in life is.”
Cost: $100 per hour, billed in fifteen-minute increments. Minimum of 60 minutes for the first session.
Written by Amy Larocca, Vanessa Grigoriadis, Marc S. Malkin, Denise Penny, Deborah Schoeneman, and Rima Suqi.