by Nathan Davis; illustrations by Gayathri Warrier
It feels futile arranging an interview with someone who already knows where and when you’re going to meet, what you’re going to talk about and, ultimately, every word you’re going to write. More so when you aren’t privy yourself. It’s almost cruel that they let you go through the motions.
But psychics seem to take some sort of perverse pleasure in letting the unendowed anguish. Even otherwise innocuous questions begin to feel like part of the gag.
“Where do you want to meet?” “Actually, does Monday work? I can’t do Tuesday anymore.” “What is the name of the magazine, again?”
You humor them, but shouldn’t a simple “It was foretold” suffice? Apparently not. As with anyone else, it takes a series of emails, missed calls, voicemails, text messages and reschedulings before you are sitting in a coffee house learning about swirling energies and the other side.
“Them,” in this case, is Shea Herlihy-Abba and Daniela Mouser, two psychics based out of Denver and Colorado Springs respectively. The two hadn’t met before (at least, not in this life) but agreed to sit down and talk shop—and let me listen in.
Shea, in his early twenties, sports a ponytail that nearly reaches his waist and a half unbuttoned teal shirt. The shirt matches his eyes, which are a blindingly bright blue, but clashes with his chakra, which is pink. He is Colorado College class of ’15 and began blending the liberal arts and the dark arts three years ago.
In demeanor, Shea is more or less what you’re imagining right now: he’d fit in just as well behind an Xbox as behind a deck of tarot cards. He knows it, too. His business card reads, in bold typewriter print, “YOU GUYS I’M PSYCHIC.” And on the reverse side: “#ShamanismForTheUnwashedMasses.” Yes, every third word out of his mouth is “spirit,” but every fifth one is “fuck.” As in, “I work with a fuckton of different spirit guides.” or, “Everyone’s good at something different. Like, you’re good at math, I can talk to spirits. Whatever. Who gives a fuck.”
He’s at once frantic and calming. He’ll say something like, “Energetically speaking, every part of your body is taking in and breathing out energy at any given time,” but he’ll say it in three seconds—I timed him. (Read that aloud in as much time and you’ll see what I’m getting at. If you’re in a public place, I’ll save you the embarrassment: it is very fast.) It can be slightly jarring, but for the most part it’s endearing. He is just really thrilled to be a psychic.
“Most of my friends are like 50-year-old psychic women,” he says. “It’s great, it’s so fun. Like, they’re sassy as hell. It’s the best.”
Being a psychic, though, is slightly more complicated than this. Actually, “psychic” might mean any number of things: you might be clairvoyant, clairaudient, claircognizant or clairsentient. That is, you might see, hear, know or feel your way through a connection with spirits from another world. As far as I can tell, clairolfaction is not as popular a method of accessing the spirit world. Or if it is, those who posses it must not be taking great pains to advertise it.
These “spirits” and this “other world,” too, could be any number of things. Different psychics interact with different spirits and have different conceptions of the other world. But in general, it seems that most clairvoyant psychics observe spirits either in human forms—specifically humans associated with ancient religious traditions—or animal forms. Sometimes also as wisps of light energy. Whatever the form, spirits sound like fairly supportive characters. In fact, they sound a lot like Shea himself.
For example, at a crossroads in his life, his spirits told him to go to Denver. “I was like, ‘What’s in Denver?’ and they were like, ‘Just go to Denver,” and I was like, ‘Whatever.’” He ended up finding a better spiritual community there. “So I was like, ‘Oh, that’s why,’ and they were like, ‘Pfft. We fuckin’ told you.’”
Daniela Mouser has a similar relationship. “They help for making day-to-day decisions,” she says. “It’s like they’re your personal 1-800.”
(“Yeah, 1-800-save-my-ass,” Shea chimes in.)
Daniela is, for all intents and purposes, a more conventional psychic than Shea—though not by much. Originally from Germany, Daniela became a psychic upon moving to Georgia seven years ago. The two accents combine in an unusual, but pleasant way—three parts consonant European to one part Southern twang—which you can hear best when she says something like, “How you doin?” or “Oh hell nah.” She has short, well-maintained blonde hair and dresses sharply but conservatively.
It feels cheap to fall back on stereotypes, but there is a certain “German-ness” to her approach. Her website advertises, “Spirituality minus the fluff n’ bubbles.” If she doesn’t feel like communicating with spirits anymore, she tells them to “get the hell out.” I ask if she sees a future in anything besides spiritual healing. She doesn’t bat an eye. “Flipping houses.” Seeing as she wouldn’t have to subcontract out her exorcisms, she might actually have a leg up.
Differences in mannerisms aside, Daniela and Shea have remarkably similar takes on the psychic life.
“I’ve been in some metaphysical communities where there is a lot of dick-waving,” says Shea. “Like, some people think that just because they’re the ones who have the visions, they know what the fuck is up all the time.”
Daniela has the same critiques, if different phrasing. “I like people who are down to earth. Like you can make fun of yourself. Some of these people are so serious about it, and I’m like ‘C’mon, I don’t want people to think we’re abunch of loonies.’”
They also both note the prevalence of psychics who abuse their powers by creating dependent relationships. Take Niall Rice, a Manhattan consultant, who last year paid out $718,000 to two psychics. Among other services, he was built an 80-mile gold bridge to the afterlife. Per the New York Times, he is now suing.
“I see people who are psychic junkies,” says Shea.
“Yeah. Like, you should really only get like two reading in your life,” says Daniela. “That’s all you need. Maybe three at the most. Like, when you’re 70 you get your last reading.”
And even they aren’t immune. Shea recounts spending $700 on what he felt was a sham workshop. “All you learned to do was, like, love your chakras and do some visualizations,” he said. “And that’s it. And I was like ‘Are you fucking—that’s just criminal dude. That’s like metaphysical malpractice.’”
What would have justified that price point?
“A fucking act of God.” (A surprising answer, seeing as there doesn’t seem to be much of a premium on acts of God in the metaphysical community.)
Ultimately, their position boils down to this: don’t take yourself so seriously.
“I always say, you can get a reading and if you don’t like it, you don’t have to get another one,” says Daniela. “It’s not like I’m giving you a colonoscopy.”
“A lot of people are looking for something more down to earth,” says Shea. “They want a psychic who’s just some fucking guy. Cause we’re all just some fucking guy to a certain extent.”
Lulled by their easygoing conversation, one gets the impression that there could be nothing so casual as communicating with the deceased, nothing so effortless as befriending a spirit. The world most of us live in is taxing and complicated and painful. If you take Shea and Daniela at their word, though, this world is far from the only one. It’s a soothing thought.