I know what you’re thinking: Tarot readers (or psychics or witches or anything on the occult spectrum) are a) the stuff of storybooks and ’90s movies and/or b) if they are real, probably live somewhere in your mind as inspired by The Craft.

For nine years I’ve been working with tarot cards, and as a tall, blond girl who despises cats and would wear white every day if she could, I hardly fit the Craft-ean stereotype at all.

My passion for tarot began when I was 15. I found an old Rider-Waite deck in our 1910 California farmhouse (that may or may not have been haunted), and since then my heart belonged to tarot. Something about their mysterious symbolism, and the idea that if I got good enough at deciphering those symbols, they could maybe reveal things to me, was bewitching.

So bewitching in fact, that I began studying tarot with an enthusiasm for learning equal to Hermoine Granger: books, guides, blogs, shows, you name it. I practiced on my sister, my friends, and before I knew it, I was working events. But up until about two years ago when I opened Rose Hip Readings on Etsy, the cards were merely a hobby and a cheap party trick.

Fast-forward seven years and I’m a graduate student in England, studying Victorian literature. I was paying my own dues, with no income, and no opportunity to get a work visa. And once the international fees, monthly flights to visit my boyfriend, and my slowly disintegrating bank account kicked in, it was clear I needed another source of income–fast.

My solution? Open an Etsy shop and sell online tarot readings. Naturally.

An order would be placed, I’d shuffle, and with a tried-and-true prayer, lay out the spread. I’d turn each card over, gathering my thoughts, and by the end have a clear idea as to what direction the spread was going. Then I’d write in detail the connections I saw, and send them to the client via email, with a picture of their personal spread. (I wasn’t quite ready to share my new business venture with the world though–hence my very approachable, holistic stage name, Maisy Bristol.)

It was a brilliant plan. Digital readings cost me almost nothing to produce and were veiled under a U.S.-based company so I could avoid the visa net. They could be done on my own time, and were available to me as long as I had wifi (i.e. cooped up in my small dorm room in northern England, stuck at a layover in Amsterdam, or sipping a latte at Stumptown in New York City).

Well, it was a brilliant plan until I considered the one *big* question looming over me: Would digital tarot readings *actually* work or was I about to capitalize on the most classic psychic cliché of all—scamming people of their money?

I had received money for my readings before, but they were always face-to-face. Never through a digital medium, and with zero personal contact. So I approached cautiously. And by cautiously, I mean by pricing my readings so low that I was practically gifting them to customers. Traffic was slow at first. I averaged a pretty sad sum of $7 per week, but I kept patient…and thank goodness I did!

Today, I barely have time to fill my weekly orders. I have a devoted following on Instagram and wonderful returning customers. I’ve received close to 200 five-star reviews and continue to grow my clientele on a daily basis not just in the U.S., but internationally as well. I’ve worked with people from Brazil, Belgium, Germany, Canada, Sweden, England, Malaysia, Denmark, Singapore, Australia, and the list just goes on. One girl from Mexico even messaged me in Spanish; we did the reading via Google Translate.

Then there’s the fact that I have come across some pretty crazy stories. I heard from clients about their scandals, affairs, depression, medical issues, and more. A woman once confessed to me that her hair was falling out. A mom-to-be asked me to map out the details of her pregnancy. There was also the man debating jobs between two cities, and the woman who asked whether she should move across the country.

And there I was, a young grad student sitting in a small room, taking pictures for the site with a white dorm bed sheet backdrop and my feet straddled between a chair and a desk. But a seasoned reader, I knew this was coming. That’s what happens in a reading, you dig deep. So I stuck with what I knew: the cards and their symbols.

Running the shop for almost two years now, I’ve learned a couple things. The first being that, contrary to even my own beliefs, online tarot readings do work. And just as I wouldn’t consider myself to have the quintessential “psychic look,” the type of person who seeks out online readings isn’t so easily targeted either. I get orders from men and women, adults and teens, artists, skeptics, lawyers, crystal-worshippers, mothers, students–all backgrounds. I’ll get an order from a middle-aged male stockbroker longing for love one day, and the next I’ll be chatting with a young Australian girl about how to enhance her “spiritual path.”

Some of them aren’t even sure they believe in tarot readings, made clear by the man who included in his order note that he could use some direction “from the God/the Universe/the Spirit or whatever.” I’ve always known tarot cards to be applicable to everyone–I just never knew the rest of the world was so open to the idea.

So that brings us to the next question: skeptics or not, what are all these people looking for? Answers? The “great beyond” to swoop in and fix all their problems?

Hardly.

After sending off a reading, half the time I’ll receive a response like this: “Wow thank you, you shed light on something I hadn’t even thought of.” The other half I’ll get more of a demure answer: “Thank you so much Maisy, you’ve clarified everything I’ve been thinking lately; that was a great help!”

So nobody comes into a reading expecting a cut and dry answer, or for God to bestow them with the gift of sight and Labrador puppies. What they really crave is either 1) subconscious insight or 2) for the reading to match what they already believe to be true.

It’s like this: Sometimes our conscious minds know what we are hoping to hear, other times they aren’t aware of what they need to hear. It’s like knowing what salad toppings you’re going to order at the deli, but realizing once you get to the front and see those avocado slices, that you have to have them too. Tarot spreads simply create an opening for this insight. They are a visual map of our minds, as I like to say, and tarot readers are the key.

Not everyone may be totally convinced that astrology is real (it is), or that ghosts exist (they do), or that tarot cards can be trusted (they can), but they are still to some degree, interested in the topic–why else did you click on this article? I’ll tell you why. Because we all–even the skeptics–want to believe. We are open to the possibility. Or rather, open to neglecting the Craft-ean stereotype that says only *certain* people have anything to do with the occult.

A year and a half later I’m still running the shop, but I’m done hiding behind my alter-ego. Maisy allowed me to take the risk, and open the door for ridicule by starting an online tarot reading business. But through that process, I’ve learned people are more intrigued by tarot than scared off by it–and likely to try it with a little push. Some are terrified of what they’ll hear, others are cautious about providing too much personal information, but most don’t even take the chance to begin with. Maybe that’s why I love reading for skeptics; it’s the opportunity to show a non-believer that only positivity and light comes from tarot cards.

By Katie Robinson. Via Marie Claire USA.