The people making money as digital mystics
There’s cash to be made in these uncertain times – and in 2020 guidance from above is simply a scroll or a follow away.
“Social media has destigmatised the world of spirituality,” Tamara Driessen, an east London hairdresser turned modern healer called Wolf Sister, tells me. Driessen’s work as a crystal healer, tarot reader and Reiki Master may have once been brushed off as “woo woo” but much like a massage or a manicure it’s now being taken seriously as a valid part of self-care. Thanks to platforms like Instagram, ancient spiritual practises have shifted into mainstream cultural conversation. “Online you can see people you relate to and admire using these tools which makes it much more accessible and appealing,” she adds.
Spirituality is having a moment in the digital world across the board. Astrology meme accounts on Instagram – like @notallgeminis (576k), @astrowonders (239K) and @cancermajesty (208k) – are growing in popularity while the “mystical services market” (that’s apps dedicated to the occult) is estimated to be worth $2.1 billion. Co Star, an astrology app that uses AI technology and NASA data to create “Hyper-Personalised, Real-Time Horoscopes”, recently raised $5 million in venture capital funding from Silicon Valley after receiving three million downloads. On Etsy, the online marketplace for handmade goods, there are over one million products listed under “crystal” and digital media platforms like New York-based The Numinous have helped rebrand spirituality for the “now age”.
For mystics – that’s people working in alternative healing across astrology, crystals, energy work, tarot cards, psychic powers and more – the Internet has provided ample income opportunities. While traditionally they would have relied on a single income stream, making money purely from one-on-one sessions, they now have a platform for a portfolio career. Communication tools like Skype, WhatsApp and FaceTime mean they can offer services to clients across the world while audio and video software allows them to create downloadable products that can be used in their absence (think at-home guided meditations or visualisation sessions). As mystic work becomes a core pillar of mainstream wellness (a market estimated to be worth $4.2 trillion globally), there’s opportunities to speak at corporate events, lead team-building days, host press launches, run retreats and appear at festivals. With a new generation of budding mystics keen to learn these skills, those established in the field can also share their knowledge and expertise by teaching training courses and writing books. Plus, thanks to social media, they are content creators in their own right who can leverage their influence to sell all sorts of mystic paraphernalia from astrology artwork to crystal jewellery and everything in between.
But what does it take to make this into a full-time business? For 36-year-old Driessen, transitioning from hairdresser to full-time mystic meant dedicating much of her twenties and early thirties to training, prioritising annual leave and days off for online courses and reading up on subjects like angels and psychics. “I was lucky that my salon let me take a two month sabbatical to do an apprenticeship with a Shaman in Bali,” she noted. As she built up her client base and her social media following, she slowly dropped days at the salon. It wasn’t until a Penguin editor found her through Instagram and offered her a book deal that she could consider quitting completely. “I still did three days a week hairdressing so I could get a mortgage.” Once the book and the house were sorted, she took the leap.
Fast forward two years and two books later – The Crystal Code (out now) and Luna: Harness the Magic of the Moon for Life, Love and Contentment, (out this summer) – and Driessen is still a one-man band, and a strict schedule is key to running her business. Monday is at home dedicated to emails, updating her website and event admin, Tuesday and Thursday she sees clients at her studio in Hackney (a converted shipping container at the Gossamer City Project where sessions start at at £110 for 55 minutes) while Wednesday, Friday and Saturday is a mix of events, workshops and meetings with brands like ASOS, Anthropologie and Lululemon. “Sunday I try and keep as a day for me. I love reading novels (Daisy Jones & The Six is her latest recommendation) and getting out to the sea.”
Instagram didn’t just get Driessen her book deal, it directly drives business (she now has 14k followers). “Nearly all my customers tick ‘found on Instagram’ on my online booking form.” After all, social media is her shop window. “It gives people a chance to dip their toe in the water without having to commit time or money. They can try a lunar ritual they’ve seen on the grid at home or join me for a crystal session on Instagram Live,” says Driessen. However, having a business so tied to social media can take its toll. “I kept replying to Instagram DMs late at night so now I uninstall the app at 8pm (I’m trying to make it even earlier) and then reinstall it after I have meditated the next morning.”
When I speak on the phone to Emma-Lucy Knowles, a 34-year-old Clairvoyant and Energy Healer who counts Victoria Beckham as a fan, it’s her birthday and she’s supposed to be off work. “The joys of being self-employed,” she jokes. Much like Driessen, her journey to full-time mystic involves sacrifices: “It was intense, I was working 8am-8pm as an Executive Assistant to the CEO of a big media company. I put every bit of spare time into building my clients, I didn’t care about drinking or socialising.” To start with, this came with no financial gain: “I didn’t charge for the first ten years – I felt I had to earn my stripes.” A book deal (The Power of Crystal Healing: Change Your Energy and Live a High-vibe Life) also pushed her to quit. “I was having a bad day with my boss but received great feedback on my first draft, I handed my notice in there and then,” she recalls.
Now, Knowles’ days are generally less hectic. She has time for the gym before work (she’s often found at KOBOX – the King’s Road boxing club), takes singing lessons and actually sees her friends. “I neglected those things for a long time,” she says. That’s not to say she finds it easy to strike a work-life balance: “I’m an idiot and its my natural inclination to be a people pleaser and over commit.” She generally sees clients 10 – 7pm Monday to Thursday with 70 per cent of appointments taking place in person at her Fulham flat and 30 per cent done via “distant healing” (IRL sessions start at £180 an hour while remote ones cost from £45 for 30 minutes). This allows her to attract business internationally with remote clients from all over the world. While she used to rely on phone calls, it’s now FaceTime that works best. “People feel like they can connect with you on a more real level,” she said. Alongside writing two more books, Knowles recently collaborated with fine jewellery brand Roxanne First on a crystal necklace collection (pieces start £305). She doesn’t monetise her Instagram – “It doesn’t feel right for me” – but having nearly 9k followers directly drives sales of her jewellery: “The brand notices spikes in sales each time I post.”
Giselle Pompe-Moore, a 30-year-old modern healer (her mystic name is Project Ajna), has always been fascinated by the spiritual but spent most of her twenties working in beauty. “It was such a huge and scary jump to start my own mystical business,” she says. “Feel free to eye roll here, but I just trusted the universe.” Embracing a multi-hyphenate career, Pompe-Moore still dabbles with beauty writing for magazines and working on a beauty culture project Painted Women, but the majority of the time she is doing mystical work.
Her working schedule is erratic: “It’s a real mix of extremely long and busy days punctuated by days with more stillness.” Sometimes she will be at her east London home seeing clients both offline and online, preparing her Reiki courses (she charges £307 for a weekend) and creating digital content. “I’ll start work around 10am and before I know it, it’s 8pm or later,” says Pompe-Moore. When she has events in the evening, it’s more chilled: “I will spend the day getting into the zone by meditating.” Pompe-Moore is regularly hired by corporate clients to speak about spirituality, self-care and wellbeing in the workplace at
talks, events and panels and clients include brands like Estée Lauder and River Island, cult female members club The Wing and festivals such as Pure Life Experiences in Marrakech. “Many of these partnerships have come from people finding me through social media,” she says.
She uses her carefully curated Instagram feed as a promotional space and an educational tool. When deciding what to post, she checks in with her spreadsheet of core teachings around her ethos of #findyourinnermystic. Whether it’s a “Screenshot and Save Spell” or “A Mystic’s Guide To Calling in Money,” she uses millennial-friendly language to make her work accessible.
While Pompe-Moore doesn’t make money directly from her Instagram account, the platform allows her to reach many potential customers. “Younger clients usually use my online services, downloads and one-off sessions, while the ones at the older end will often come to me for my three month journeys, which are more of a deep dive.” Structuring her services in this way means Pompe-Moore can monetise across her audience: a digital audio download (Pompe-Moore’s voice leading you through meditation and journaling prompts) will only set you back £24 but commit to a three month immersion (that’s six 90 minute one-on-one sessions, at-home rituals and ongoing support over WhatsApp) and you’re looking at £1,250.
The digital sphere also gives her options to experiment with new mediums like WhatsApp, and in December she offered tarot readings for customers looking to “break up with 2019 and nail 2020”. Instead of using a video service like Skype or FaceTime, Pompe-Moore dealt cards via photos over WhatsApp with a mixture of voice notes and written messages to give predictions for the new decade.
It’s not just social media causing this interest in ancient spiritual wisdom, there’s a melting pot of factors at play. The slow and steady decline of organised religion has no doubt contributed. According to British Social Attitudes Survey for 2018, 52 per cent of the public do not belong to any religion in comparison to 31 per cent in 1983. In the US, the Pew Research Centre found that 35 per cent of adult Millennials (that’s Americans born between 1981 and 1996) are “none” a.k.a religiously unaffiliated. It seems people are searching for the type of community religion creates but in a less structured way. Knowles makes an interesting point: “People are looking for a greater sense of connection. Social media has made people recognise that they want to be part of something “more” or “bigger” but it never really satisfies that itch we’re trying to scratch.”
From polarising politics to the impending doom of climate change, it’s hardly surprising that uncertain times create a desire for connection and community. And it’s no wonder people feel lost. According to the modern mystics I spoke to, their client base – which tends to primarily be women in their twenties, thirties and forties – has a variety of reasons for booking in. Some are navigating a difficult process like grief or infertility, others are at a turning point following a career change or a relationship break down while lots are struggling with being stuck in a negative cycle with dating, family members or self-image.
Lindsay, a 29-year-old Fashion Buyer, sought support and reassurance after a tough break up at the end of her twenties. “I felt entirely lost,” she says. “During a crystal healing session I was reminded of the importance of being patient and reassured that I would find love again. It was a light at the end of the tunnel on some really dark days.” For others, seeking spiritual guidance helps highlight what they know deep down already. “I sought a tarot reader when I was sick of my stressful corporate job. She told me she could see me running my own business. I was quite sceptical initially but looking back I think it gave me the impetus to bite the bullet and do it,” says Lucy, a 32-year-old personal trainer. It doesn’t always come from a place of difficulty or hardship though, as spirituality becomes an increasingly common practise, more people are seeing it as one piece of a larger wellness puzzle. “Some clients just want to bring a little extra sparkle to their life. People are recognising that it doesn’t have to be just about the hard and heavy stuff,” says Knowles.
As the interest in mysticism continues to soar, the future careers for these healers looks bright. “I would love to do another jewellery or product line,” says Knowles. “I’m excited to do more IRL talks and panels to spread the word wider,” says Pompe-Moore. Whereas for Dreissen, it’s all about going with the flow: “Right now, I’m focused on my next book – I just want to grow in a way that doesn’t burn me out.” Expanding their businesses can take many paths and, with tech developing at a rapid rate, knowing what the future world of work will look like is something that even these mystics can’t predict.