When Pearl Prather opened Mystikal Scents in 2006, she served customers mostly from the Thonotosassa area, where her store is located. But with the rise of social media, and then the pandemic, she watched interest in the metaphysical grow.
People started coming from all over Tampa Bay to visit her witchcraft shop.
“We are becoming a lot more known, but so is witchcraft,” Prather said. “If you go on any website and look up witchcraft, you will find so much out there now compared to when I first started.”
The world of psychics and fortune tellers are filled with misconceptions, but Prather said that has started to change over the years. While Mystickal Scents carries mostly products related to the Wiccan faith, a pagan religion that emerged in the 1950s, the fortune-telling practice is transcending belief systems.
“It is big business,” said Prather, 61. “There are a lot of people that get readings: people who are of the Wiccan faith, people who don’t believe in a god or goddess and people who are Christian or Jewish.”
She said her store was the busiest it ever had been during the pandemic as people were forced to stay inside and had to reckon with themselves.
“Everybody had no extraneous distractions,” Prather said. “They had to sit at home and focus, so they focused on themselves. It really helped our store and it helped us get more on the map.”
Tampa Bay’s local governments have seen a rise in the number of fortune-telling and clairvoyant businesses and have tried to regulate it by requiring psychics to apply for permits. But many psychics operate without them, making it hard to calculate just how many there are in the Tampa Bay area.
St. Petersburg, which has several crystal and metaphysical shops sprinkled across the city, has only two licensed psychics, according to city records. Still, the psychics and mediums who spoke to the Tampa Bay Times said they’ve seen curiosity into their industry grow.
“It’s definitely getting a reputation and it’s getting a good reputation,” Prather said. “I find that there’s more people that are looking into witchcraft as a healing method for emotional, spiritual and physical needs.”
Psychic medium and University of South Florida business professor Danielle Clark said it’s a common misunderstanding to think that psychics possess some kind of magical powers. She described psychic ability as a sixth sense that everyone has but some people are more attuned to than others. Most in the industry claim to have it from birth or develop it during life-changing events or near-death experiences, Clark said.
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“When I work, I work with your energy so I can give insight into things like career, purpose, to financial abundance to pretty much anything that we experience in day-to day life,” said Clark, who specializes in trauma-informed readings. ”And then the medium part of me is also where I have the ability to open myself up and lend my energy with those who are not able to have a conversation with you.”
Many psychics, mediums and clairvoyants lean more toward life-coaching and wellness over predicting futures, Clark said.
Barriers to access to mental health care have forced some to turn to alternative methods. Clark added that many who visit readers don’t want to feel like a medical textbook example and are looking to see how they fit in the bigger picture through the spiritual realm.
“I might remind you of some breadcrumbs to follow yourself in the future,” Clark said. “But it’s really about me giving you empowerment, not telling you what’s going to happen.”
For angel card reader Ronald Dayton, one of two registered psychics within the city of St. Pete, said he found the community across the bay more welcoming and a better place to set up his psychic practice Angelic Whispers Inc.
“St. Petersburg has become more diversified and our population has grown,” said Dayton, 57, who was baptized Catholic but now attends a nondenominational Christian church. “It has really brought in an incredible diverse people who are looking at things from many different perspectives.”
While the more common tarot cards have universal messages that a psychic can interpret about a client’s path, Dayton specializes in interpreting messages from the angels of biblical fame like Archangel Michael and Gabriel with a similar but different deck of cards.
“After I had a near-death experience, I came back with some new abilities,” Dayton said. “It was an auto accident. I was resuscitated and crossed over to the other side. Then when I came back into my body, I was privy to guests I previously was unaware of.”
A handful of local governments have ordinances requiring psychics and fortune tellers to get special licenses to practice. In 1995, Hillsborough County passed two ordinances requiring psychics to obtain a business tax receipt, according to county spokesperson Hilary Zalla.
The ordinance also mentions a permitting process that requires character references from five county residents, getting fingerprinted by the sheriff and paying $2,500. While that ordinance still is on the books, it is an “outdated” requirement that is no longer being enforced, Zalla said.
But some locals say Hillsborough’s requirements have caused confusion for their business.
Dayton said he could interpret angelic messages for 25 years and launched Angelic Whispers in 2015. In addition welcoming clients to his office by Gandy Boulevard and Fourth Street North, Dayton works at private events and Halloween festivities. Part of St. Petersburg’s draw was the ease to register as a psychic, which allowed him to work both at parties and through his store.
“It’s a very rigid process (in Hillsborough County). You have to get letters of people vouching for you and you have to go in front of people. It’s just awful,” Dayton said. “I do everything in St. Pete just because I don’t want to deal with the bureaucracy of Hillsborough County.”
Prather in Thonotosassa said she remembers a competitor calling code enforcement on her shop when she first opened. Since then, she’s made sure her staff become ordained reverends online to have religious liberty laws protect them from being fined.
Pasco County required psychics to obtain a license from the Board of County Commissioners since 1975, according to county spokesperson Sarah Andeara.
In 2000, Pinellas County officials began discussing a special license for fortune-tellers after its consumer affairs office noted a rise in the number of businesses locally, according to Tampa Bay Times archives. However, Pinellas has not had a special permit requirement for psychics since 2007, county spokesperson Tony Fabrizio said. The city of St. Petersburg enacted its own psychic permit requirement in 2009, according to City Clerk Chandrahasa Srinivasa.
At the time, a representative of Refuge Ministries expressed concerns about how the ordinance would impact religious liberty, according to council meeting minutes when the ordinance was approved. A member of the Astrological Association of St. Petersburg asked the council to delay its vote so the organization could discuss it.
The state tends to attract people seeking second chances — a population that might naturally seek out mystical guidance, said Florida historian and USF professor emeritus Gary Mormino.
“There’s also probably a desperation in a lot of these cases that would appeal, I suppose, to wanting to discuss their future with psychics,” Mormino said.
New Yorkers brought a strong spiritualist movement to Florida in the late 19th century, Mormino said. But even in recent decades, economic and political turmoil may also have driven people to seek counsel from fortune tellers.
“There’s just a lot of angst living in Florida,” Mormino said.