Do You Believe in Magic?

By Sarah Downey

After six weeks and no phone call, Valerie was fairly sure the relationship with her boyfriend was over. But it was a visit to a psychic–20 minutes at a dollar per–that finally persuaded her.

Valerie, who’s 46, found Nora Herold at last weekend’s Psychic Fair at Fallen Angel–an “ethereal Gothic boutique,” according to its ads, in the River West neighborhood. “I feel a lot better,” said Valerie afterward. “I feel like someone helped me see a different solution to a problem.” Herold said, “I could tell Valerie wanted to get back together with this man. I told her no.”

The fair–which included tarot reading, channeling, and general predicting–was a first for Fallen Angel’s owners, Mandi and Eric Lynn. The 250 flyers they mailed out in advance didn’t exactly draw a standing-room-only crowd, but plenty of people did show up. Some wanted an update on their future. Others browsed among the clothes, which bore brand names such as Fetish, Eternal Love, and Lip Service.

No one bought a $125 Dagger of Ra, but Mandi, a self-taught Wiccan, saw such things flying off the shelves in the near future. “We’re trying to get more into things that have to do with ‘the craft,'” she said, “so I think we’ll have some more of the psychic fairs, sell some cauldrons and wands, things like that.” Mandi is now trying to balance her witchcraft studies with preparing for the birth of her first baby. “The psychics tell me it’s going to be a little girl.”

Mandi also consulted her personal spiritual counselor about whom to hire for the Psychic Fair. Herold, a full-time psychic, and Amy Spohr, a part-time practitioner, came highly recommended.

“I felt kind of connected to Amy,” said Bob, a DePaul University student. “I felt she had something to say, something that I couldn’t answer myself.” Still, he thought the craft had drawbacks. “It’s a controversial lifestyle, and there’s people who are attracted to it more for the trappings rather than the substance.”

Cheaper than psychotherapy–though with comparable one-on-one attention–psychic fairs have come into their own in recent years, despite stiff competition from infomercials that promise psychic help is just a 900 number away. Herold, who quit waiting tables last year, sometimes sees 20 clients a day, usually in her home, though she also does gigs at corporate parties.

Herold and Spohr, who are both 32, met in 1992, when they were sales clerks at Victoria’s Secret. “That was a channeled moment,” said Herold. “Amy and I have been psychic since birth–we just didn’t know it. I think it’s an ability available to anyone able to access it.” Herold, who grew up in Mount Prospect, and Spohr, a farmer’s daughter from Ottawa, 70 miles southwest of Chicago, became close friends after they learned to read tarot cards together. They say they knew each other in past lives–in one life they were mother and daughter, and in another they were sisters. In this lifetime they both majored in theater, though they’re quick to add that they aren’t acting during work hours, aren’t pretending to see the future. “We give options or choices,” said Herold, who does mostly psychic and tarot-card readings and channeling with guardian angels. “We don’t tell people what to do.”

Being clairvoyant just comes naturally to her, said Spohr, a big advocate of the healing powers of “psychic art,” abstract chalk drawings she does that reflect a client’s “soul-color palette.” She also recommends yoga, 70s music, and channeling, which she says once helped her find a vintage Dodge Charger for a client in search of his dream car.

Since the state doesn’t regulate the psychic industry, just about anybody can claim to be a psychic, though Herold warned that not everyone is good at it. She said some occult practitioners do try to take advantage of the unsuspecting. Removing a curse on a family, which can entail a $1,000 charge for curse-removing candles, is among the more frequent ploys.

“I’m pretty skeptical,” said Danielle, a 24-year-old who’d just moved to Chicago from San Diego. “I don’t normally go in off the street.” But she’d dropped into Fallen Angel and signed up to see Herold. She gave Herold high marks for her “solid” reading of Danielle’s recent breakup. “If anything,” she said, “it makes me feel a little more insightful.”