No crystal balls, no flowing robes Interest in the paranormal has reached an all-time high on the Central Coast, where people are finding it more acceptable than ever to turn to clairvoyants for answers
When Sarah Moore first visited San Luis Obispo psychic Susette Smith, she admits she expected someone exotic — a turban-wearing palm-reader or a Stevie Nicks look-alike with long hair, flowing robes and hands heavy with silver rings.
“I was expecting crystal balls and tarot cards and all that stuff,” said Moore, 25, who heard about Smith via a co-worker. “It blew my mind that she was so normal.”
Smith, who offers what she calls “intuitive guidance” to some 200 clients, doesn’t fit the traditional image of a psychic-medium. She’s an apple-cheeked brunette who laughs easily and greets visitors in a contemporary living room devoid of mystic touches except for candles and a few Buddha statuettes.
“That’s the new breed of this profession,” Smith said. “It’s really good to see normal people doing this work without all the theater.”
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Here on the Central Coast, interest in psychics has never been stronger.
When former “SLO Singles” columnist Ellen Slingsby wrote about consulting a phone psychic who charged $65 an hour for her services, The Tribune received more than 30 calls asking for the psychic’s number.
A 2005 Gallup poll showed that about three in four Americans believe in some aspect of the paranormal, from extrasensory perception and telepathy to ghosts and witches. At least seven new televison shows examine the paranormal, ranging from “Crossing Over” medium John Edward’s newest cable show to NBC’s hit “Medium.”
“Everybody’s kind of open to it,” said Joanie Powell, a self-described “spiritual healer” who owns Touch Therapy Massage in Morro Bay. “You can talk about angels and spirits and guides, and people don’t shudder.”
For some, like Cambria resident Rebecca Pearson, who regularly consults psychics for guidance, the psychic realm represents a way to express spirituality outside of organized religion. “There is that higher power,” she explained. “It alters the way you look at things.”
San Luis Obispo resident Tori Wynn, another believer in psychic intuition, agreed.
“We’ve had such atrocities in the name of God that there has to be an avenue in which people can really have their spiritual journey without that word ‘God,’ ” she said. “It’s really about opening up and listening to your heart and getting back on track.”
Making that connection also helps people searching for validation in a tired, troubled world, explained Lee Lawson, author of “Visitations From the Afterlife: True Stories of Love and Hope.”
Drawing from her own experiences communicating with her deceased parents and other relatives, she collected about 80 stories about people’s encounters with loved ones from beyond the grave.
“We live in a time where (society) had us believing we were random specks of dust in a random universe. That’s pretty disheartening,” said Lawson, who lives in a rural area near Morro Bay.
Being able to discover something greater — whether it’s otherworldly intuition or the idea there’s life after death — brings hope into the equation, she added.
Those with psychic intuition have several techniques for accessing things unavailable to the usual five senses.
Although Smith said she’s read tarot cards and studied palmistry, she typically uses a method called “remote viewing” to slip into a light hypnotic state between waking and sleeping.
Women, the majority of her clients, typically seek insight into relationships or help in diagnosing a mystery ailment, she said. Her male clients tend to be more interested in business matters like stock purchases or company mergers.
“I try not to get in a situation where I’m thinking for them,” said Smith, who started her practice five years ago at age 40.
She charges $75 for an hour-and-a-half session held at her home, works with out-of-state clients by phone and keeps in touch with other clients in London, France and South Africa via e-mail.
In addition to tracking down lost pets or offering insight into past lives, Smith works with a growing number of people who want to hone their own psychic gifts.
Wynn, a former midwife and mother of four, regularly compares notes with Smith on her premonitions about local cases like missing Cal Poly student Kristin Smart and murdered homeless woman Sharon Ostman.
Each time, she’s gone to the police with her insights.
“There’s … a feeling that you might be on the right track,” she said. “The police standpoint is, they have to be able to connect the suspect to the victim. (It’s) kind of frustrating for them.”
When Alabama teen Natalee Holloway disappeared last May while vacationing in Aruba, Wynn said, she started getting mental flashes of the girl being held in the basement of a yellow house and then leaving, intoxicated.
She visited Aruba that summer.
“Everywhere I went was where the cadaver dogs went,” Wynn said. She returned to California a few days later because she suspected the hotel she was staying at was somehow involved in a conspiracy covering up Holloway’s disappearance and death.
Since her return, Wynn said, she’s encountered several others with similar psychic gifts.
“There’s a lot of random meetings that help us say, ‘Oh, there’s a lot of us out here,’ ” Wynn said. “We’re not going to be burned at the stake like witches.”
Although Smith insists that everyone has some degree of intuition, clients like Sarah Moore are content just to follow her guidance.
During that first session, Moore said Smith linked her small-intestine problem to a wheat gluten allergy and warned that her grandmother wasn’t following her low-fat, high-fiber diet. Both statements turned out to be true.
“It was just amazing how accurate she was … How did she know that?” asked Moore, who now considers herself a believer. “It totally changed the whole way I was thinking about psychics.”
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