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Visions of prosperity
By KRIS HUNDLEY
© St. Petersburg Times, published January 23, 2000
CASSADAGA -- Economists routinely hedge their predictions for the future with a nervous chuckle and the disclaimer that they don't have a crystal ball.
But the psychics in Cassadaga do. They also have tarot cards and crystals, as well as readings that can reveal past lives and seances to reach the spirit world. So we visited a few psychics to get a lighter look at the year ahead.
Understanding that most Americans want wealth of the material kind, the psychics recently turned their energies toward receiving ethereal messages about such mundane issues as unemployment rates and election results.
Though they predicted occasional setbacks in the stock market, the psychics generally were optimistic about the coming year, foreseeing little change in the jobless rate, continued corporate mergers and a change of parties in the White House.
In other words, absent lingo like GDP, T-bills and P/E multiples, Cassadaga's fortunetellers sounded a lot like economists. And they have crystal balls.
* * *
On 55 acres owned by the Southern Cassadaga Spiritualist Camp, dozens of worn wooden cottages cling to hillsides. In front of about half of the homes hang shingles with the owners' names and profession: certified psychics, mediums and healers.
A banner over the entry to the Cassadaga Hotel, home of the Lost in Time Cafe, urges visitors to "Book your millennial readings now!" Across the street at a house converted to a Psychic Therapy Center, a temporary sign promises "5 psychics on duty."
Sydney's Psychic Corner is right across the street from the U.S. Post Office, which offers a more traditional means of transmitting messages. Next to Sydney's is the Universal Centre, a bookstore cum psychic center that offers readings in person, over the phone or by mail. They take Visa, MasterCard, Discover and American Express.
In the yellow barnlike headquarters for the spiritualist association at the town's center, a bookstore sells chimes, crystals and books on topics such as Chinese palmistry and horoscopes for pets. Resident psychics sign in daily on a whiteboard in the corner. Visitors can drop a quarter in the cup and use the store's phone to book an appointment. Charge for a half-hour reading: $35 to $50.
Cassadaga's spiritualists are pros at reading auras to tell if a person is going to lose a job or gain a boyfriend. They can deal out tarot cards that tell the future or tap into a person's vibrations to reveal past lives.
But when it comes to predicting the stock market or politics, the mediums in Cassadaga are wary. Few of them invest in the market or even concern themselves with current events. Peeling paint on the cottages and aging cars out front suggest there's limited discretionary income in town. It doesn't take a medium to deduce that these are not the homes of slick psychics to Hollywood stars.
The Rev. Jamie Tolaver Ruiz, whose brochure describes her as an oracle "in the ancient traditions of mystical Russia," sits in her pink office at the town's old hotel, a Dunkin' Donuts cup in front of her and picture of Jesus behind, and puts it bluntly:
"If I could predict lottery numbers, I'd be in Aspen," she sighed.
The Rev. Jerry Frederich, a medium who offers occasional workshops titled "It's Healthy to be Wealthy," can think of only one rich psychic in town.
"And he inherited it," said Frederich, sitting in his neat but modest living room decorated with stuffed toy unicorns and a tiny TV. Then, as if to explain that wealth can be measured in many ways, he adds, "But most of us are healthy and independent."
* * *
The Rev. Mary Lou Cooley slipped her can of Diet Coke on the corner bookstand in her cramped booth at the Universal Centre and began to shuffle tarot cards on a wobbly card table. Laying out seven cards with the smoothness of a Vegas dealer, Cooley, 65, sized up the economy for the coming year.
Now through April seems pretty good, she announced, surveying the spread through thick glasses. But the Devil card popped up in the middle of the run. "That could really hold things back," Cooley warned, tapping the menacing horned figure. "That may be those Asian markets people worry about."
With another shuffle, she laid out the run of cards for the stock market. Though the general picture is pretty good, the appearance of the Page of Swords has Cooley concerned. "That means some negativity around one of the coasts," she said. "Could there be something going on in California or New York?"
The Dark Night of the Soul card also showed up, indicating, Cooley said, a scare in the market in the near future.
"Maybe it's new ventures failing," she said. "I'm not seeing the card for big corporations. It might mean more mergers."
One good sign: the High Priestess card, symbolizing women. "I'm seeing a lot more women around the market," Cooley said. "Are more women investing?"
Another seven-card run gives Cooley the lowdown on the job market. She cheers up when the Knight of Swords is the last card dealt. "That means some individual or some movement will come along at the end of the year to help workers," said Cooley, who swears she was a union organizer in a past life, though she hasn't uncovered it yet. "It's like a Don Quixote, a person who's going to make a big impact, for the better, late in the year."
Cooley initially declined to predict the presidential election, saying she was afraid her own political beliefs would influence the cards. But she takes a chance and moans when she sees the cards, with the Page of Wands upside down as the last in the series.
"Oh no, this means a name out of the past is coming back," said Cooley, who quickly adds that she loves Barbara Bush. "There will be a lot of change and it may not be the way I wanted it to be, but it will be good for business."
* * *
The Rev. Jamie Tolaver Ruiz waits for walk-ins in the lobby of the aging Cassadaga Hotel, a bit of a comedown for a priest in the order of St. Thomas of Christians who comes from a long line of Russian mystics.
But Ruiz, whose pale skin and white-blond hair contrast with her black clothing, doesn't need swanky surroundings to be a medium. And after counseling hundreds of clients using ancient Hawaiian Huna healing techniques ("I have no idea how it works"), Ruiz thinks she has a handle on how Americans will fare in the coming year.
"People were overwhelmed by entering the new millennium and they're feeling a little disappointed," said Ruiz, whose office is decorated with several mirrors painted with pictures of Christ. "People were disappointed and frustrated that their problems weren't magically removed."
Ruiz thinks that once people get over their disappointment, they'll have renewed energy. "That can only be good for the economy because people will be working so hard to achieve their goals," she said.
And wealth is a great goal, though Ruiz worries that people may work so hard they become obsessive. "People who have reached heightened success must be doing something right," she said. "When Donald Trump took that big loss, he must have taken something to the extreme."
Though Ruiz reads auras, she said she couldn't make any generalizations about Bill Gates or Alan Greenspan by studying photos. "I could only tell you what they were experiencing at that moment," said Ruiz, who may want to attend the next Federal Reserve Board meeting.
While federal regulators will be glad to hear she never gives investment advice to customers, she does advise them that if they have any doubts or fears about a commitment, they should avoid it. Said Ruiz, "That's your guardian angel's way of telling you it's not right at this time."
* * *
"It's the kid in me," said Hoover, who declines to reveal his age but has long snow-white hair. "It's a tourist attraction."
But Hoover, who said he was too exhausted from earlier consultations to give a reading on the economy, is dead serious about the aliens. His business cards note that one of his specialties is investigation of paranormal phenomena.
"I do believe there are actual aliens," he said, taking a puff on an ultra-thin cigarette. "It's so egotistical to think we're alone in the universe."
Hoover said he's not so sure about abduction stories, however. "If they're that advanced a society, they wouldn't have to abduct anybody," he reasoned.
Hoover doesn't guarantee anything when he gives a reading, going wherever the vibrations take him. "If they have financial situations and that comes in, I may address it," he said.
But sitting on his quiet porch with an "I love Cassadaga" button on his T-shirt, Hoover is willing to make one market prediction:
"You don't have to be a psychic to know a fallout has to occur."
Hoover declined to say when.
* * *
The Rev. Jerry Frederich, a retired tailor from Daytona Beach, leaned back in his leatherlike lounger, closed his eyes and opened himself up to the Infinite Intelligence on certain stocks.
Lucent Technologies, which was hammered at the beginning of the year?
"Four to five months and it will start to go back up."
Microsoft, under the gun by federal anti-trust forces?
"All I see is an escalator, then someone gets off and they don't get back on for a while. When they get going again, they won't be so hungry."
Time Warner and AOL, which just agreed to merge?
"I get a sense of security and stability but it won't allow for great growth expansion for at least two years."
Red Hat, a high-flying Internet stock?
"I don't get a thing."
Frederich, who teaches seminars on manifesting your prosperity, is a big believer in wealth. "I like to say there's nothing spiritual about being poor," said Frederich, who has lived comfortably, if not luxuriously, in Cassadaga for seven years.
Frederich believes wealth will come to you when you need it. When his blind schnauzer needed a $200 operation, extra tailoring work dropped in his lap. When the congregation at Cassadaga's Colby Memorial Temple, where he is pastor, needed a new organ, it took him just seven phone calls to collect the money.
"If your goals are right, the money will open up," Frederich said.
But he warned against simply amassing wealth for wealth's sake. During a recent trip to Vegas, Frederich was hitting gold on the quarter slots. Then he stepped to a dollar machine and became a walking jinx.
"I pushed it," Frederich said. "I started as a psychic to help people, not make money. By pushing it on the slots, I was denying my own definition of myself."
But Frederich is still happy to help others gain financial insights. He said he is kept on retainer by a Salt Lake City customer who regularly calls to toss out stock names. "I just give him my impression, whether I get a warm feeling or not," Frederich said. "It just comes to me."
So will the unemployment rate stay at record lows?
"It will go up two points, then stabilize. But that's still pretty respectable."
The stock market?
"I don't feel a surge till two weeks past Easter -- I see Easter lilies dying down. And it will peak out, with gains of 1,000 points or more, once in late spring and again in early summer."
And will merger-mania ever end?
"I don't see stability for six to eight years, though it will settle down a little bit at the end of this year with the election."
* * *
Mark it down.
June Benjamin predicts Donald Trump and running mate Jesse Ventura will be the next team in the White House.
"They have the confidence of the average American person because they're not liberal, not conservative but right in the middle," said Benjamin, owner and reader at the Purple Rose store. "All the other candidates are like the same old Whitman sampler. You take a bite and spit it out."
Benjamin, who has long blond hair and an amethyst the size of a baby's fist on her chest, recently took a sabbatical from readings because of illness. Now 71, she's feeling better ("thanks to the love of a good man") and coming back to the business.
Sitting in a worn recliner that has an embroidered doily identifying it as "June's chair," Benjamin said 2000 has a very optimistic feel to it.
"Wealth will be there if we go after it," she said, crossing her moccasin-clad feet. "The market will continue to go up, but in a more realistic way. And there will be some ups and downs, but it will be like going up and down in a waterbed -- the bumps won't hurt us as bad."
Unemployment will stay low and more people will become self-employed, Benjamin predicted.
"I could never work a normal job," said Benjamin, who first realized she had a gift for reading auras at age 5. "I can't even go into crowded restaurants or Wal-Mart after early November. I pick up on too much and hyperventilate in a heartbeat."
But enthroned in a corner of her store, between a South Park character doll and books about Cherokees, Benjamin can hold forth on personal predicaments.
"I don't do the five D's: death, doom, destruction, divorce or doo-doo," she said. "And I don't tell people what to do. But if you don't want to hear the truth, don't come to me."
Predicting that a reporter will go to Denver (a D?) in the next year, Benjamin generalized that 2000 will be a good year to change careers and relationships.
© St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.