Occult practitioners build their brands on the Internet, with some struggles

Occult practitioners are moving from part-time avocational interest to professional work as they ply their trade in the spiritual marketplace on the Internet, writes Karen Gregory in American Behavioral Scientist (online in September). Gregory looks specifically at how Tarot card reading has shifted from being a face-to-face practice one might do for spiritual fulfillment alongside holding a job to a new form of self-employment. While the Internet facilitates this professional turn in Tarot card reading, Gregory finds that many women readers are drawn to commercialize and digitalize their work to compensate for the lack of other employment. In interviews with Tarot card readers in New York, she finds that while face-to-face connections and referrals remain a vital component of these practitioners’ lives and livelihoods, “social media platforms such as Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter and blogging…play a strong role in facilitating self-employment. In addition to helping establish a digital presence and, in some cases, a digital brand, these platforms also work to network readers to one another,” promoting the notion that “lucrative, self-employed Tarot work is possible.”

Gregory found a good deal of competition among Tarot readers over presenting an ideal brand that would give them a good reputation among clients, but that they also tended to struggle to translate older business models to the web. She calls the readers “reluctant entrepreneurs,” since their work online and off is beset by issues of access to and knowledge of the latest technology to keep them competitive. Such professional struggle has led Tarot card readers to rely on greater assistance, support and guidance from others, finding “validation from the community” as they engage in training workshops and other mentoring services. Often the turn to professionalism (what is known as “getting real” and finding one’s “true” brand) “can look like digital conformity to normative aesthetics.” The impetus to present one’s life and spiritual practice as a “perfect accomplishment” online is met with hostility and criticism as readers struggle with material concerns and professional failures.

(American Behavioral Scientist, http://journals.sagepub.com/home/abs)