Looking into a secular crystal ball

0060175761The headline on the Newsweek piece really catches your eye: "The $10,000-a-Month Psychic." In the magazine's scheme of things, this is a "society" piece. It's important to underline that this is not a religion piece. If you want to be really literal about it, there is no "religion" in the story at all. None. Zip. Zero. Zilch.

Which is really interesting since it is about a woman who is making millions of dollars leasing her supernatural powers (maybe) to giant American corporations that are in the very secular business of anticipating market trends and then making big business decisions.

Like it or not, the story is haunted by a simple question: Is the supernatural real? Or, to state it another way, is this woman tapping into some higher or lower power? Or is she simply a good guesser?

There was one other question that I wondered about. I assume that the millions of dollars that major corporations and celebrities are paying Laura "Practical Intuition" Day are a form of business expense and, thus, tax deductible?

Oh well, here's a key slice of Tony Dokoupil's non-religion story:

What exactly is Day's expertise? While she likes to downplay it as mere "intuition," her clients prefer another explanation: she's a psychic.

Day's feel for the unknown has become a hot commodity among certain high-profile business people, bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year for the 49-year-old mother in the process. The William Morris talent agency has used Day to help it decide whom to represent and how to help the company grow. "It's like looking over at your opponent's cards in a poker game," says Jennifer Walsh, executive vice president of William Morris's literary department, which reps Day. A big Hollywood producer says Day advised him in 2006 to pass on a can't-miss animated film, predicting it would bomb at the box office. It did. (The producer didn't want to be named for fear of public ridicule.) A Manhattan attorney who serves as special counsel to several white-shoe law firms has used Day's insights to help her select juries and anticipate the opposing team's arguments.

Day says she has made about $10 million over the past decade and a half, working for corporations and for other interesting clients -- such as actress Jennifer Aniston and the Harvard Business School's network for female graduates.

What was really interesting, for me, was that the story never even asks Day to go on the record, in terms of how she does what she does. What does she believe about herself? This could be supernatural. It may be a sham. It may simply be a talent for making 2 plus 2 add up to 4, while the client believes you have produced the number 8.

lauras 2picsOne thing is clear from the story. Very powerful people are paying her lots of money and they are terrified -- perhaps ashamed is a better word -- to admit it.

"It's kind of a dirty secret," Day says of business people who use psychics like herself. She declines to identify most of her clients, and almost all who spoke to NEWSWEEK also requested anonymity out of concern for their reputations.

Day is one of a small but expanding cadre of corporate psychic consultants -- the professionalized face of an occupation better known for hokey headscarves and crystal balls. Rebranded as "intuitionists" or "mentalists" -- terms more palatable to mainstream America -- psychic advisers in recent years have been crossing over into the world of legitimate business, where they are used by decision makers in law, finance and entertainment looking for an edge in a down economy. "I specialize in nonbelievers," says Day, referring to her roster of "red-meat-eating, Barneys-shopping, Type A personalities."

Day admits that she is not always right, adding a classic kicker: "If I were God, I'd be charging more."

As for me, I could not help but think of that famous quotation that is usually attributed to the great journalist and wit G.K. Chesterton: ""When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing -- they believe in anything."

Nope. No sign of any kind of faith in this story. No sign of a ghost at all.

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