By Chrissy Tolley

Photo by Lauren Monet Ortiz


When I asked people to submit questions for my new series, “Ask a Psychic”, I anticipated more volunteers. People couldn’t stop asking me questions when I first launched my business, but once I needed them, I received only three queries. Four if you include my grandfather mumbling, “So what, you make up stories for money?”

I received four queries.

Brian commented on my Instagram photo. He’s a chef, and he wanted to know if I was psychic back when we worked together at his restaurant. Brian doesn’t know that his question, or at least the crux of it, became a theme this week.

A client of mine interviewed me on the phone yesterday for a creative project she’s working on. She’s interviewed several psychics in the past few months, and has caught on to the common patterns. She wanted to know: did it start when I was young? Did it get stronger in puberty? When did I start to suppress it? And at what point did I begin to accept it, and use it to my advantage? Her questions all spiraled this way, multiplying as they went. 

My origin story isn’t nearly that impressive. “Oh, I couldn’t do shit when I was little.”

I’m a big fan of mediocre children. As a former teacher, I think there’s a lot to be said for the quiet girl who sits down and shuts up. I was a smart kid, and I was a sensitive kid, but I was not a special kid. I watch videos of children on Youtube singing for crowds or screaming at their parents, and while I feel entertained, I also feel sorry for them. Prodigies are burdened.

The only special thing I could do as a kid was feel how other people were feeling, and glean a basic understanding of why they felt that way. That gift is called “empathy” (no really, it’s called that), and it’s a total pain in the ass to have. I consider empathy a common denominator in the world of magical gifts. If you're not empathetic, you’re probably not a person who’s genetically magical. Magical humans care. Normal humans don’t. 

I remember being five years old and weeping about the concept of homeless people. My Mom could not understand what I was crying about, and I couldn’t find the words to tell her. I was always crying about other people’s pain. My heart would break open every time I realized not everyone had the same shot in life. Sick cats were dying. Other kids were hungry. Some people had nowhere to go! At nighttime!  If I was relayed a version of, “They deserve it,” subtle rationale in a conservative family, I never believed it. I always knew that was a lie.

My insecurities and judgments blocked out information as I got older. I could still read people, but not without inserting my own opinion. Luckily that wasn't a problem, because people started coming to me and asking me for my opinion. At my Catholic high school, four queer kids came out to me in the span of one year. I constantly attracted misfits, outcasts, the unheard. I labeled myself as one of them by association, but looking back, nothing about me fit that mold. Everyone wanted to tell me everything about themselves. 

I started reading books about angels four years ago, at twenty-three. That was a year after I worked with Brian. I never read about them with the intention of working as a professional. I just bought more books, and then cards, because I wanted to. My life felt sad and confusing, especially when I started teaching middle school, and praying to angels somehow made it tolerable. I asked angels questions and heard answers in my head. It could have been my own brain, and I knew that, but when a white twelve-year-old screams the n-word and sprints out of your lunch detention in mutiny, you’ll take all the help you can get. I was bad at teaching, but I was good at angels. Then, after I worked with the shaman, I became really good. Now I can channel angels, and I can talk to dead people. Have I done it my whole life? I don’t know. Maybe a little bit. But I didn’t know about it.

Here are some graphics created by magician and author Sophie Reich and included in her book Spiritual Protection. Magical gifts are called "psi-talents", and she organizes them into categories as follows:

“There is a difference between magic, psi-talents, and faith,” she writes. “Psi-talents may enhance the experience of the others, but they’re certainly not synonymous.” Read as: you don’t have to be spiritual or religious to have these gifts, and no one needs them to perform magic. 

I recommend Spiritual Protection to everyone who comes to me wondering about their own magical gifts. I’m not a strong gift catalyst yet, but I’m one hell of a gift identifier. I say to certain clients, “If we put you on top of a mountain for a year and did nothing but train, you’d be able to do this.” I believe wholeheartedly that the longer someone works against their gifts, magical or not, the harder their life will become. That doesn’t give anyone a right to flounce around screaming, “It’s not my fault I make terrible choices— IT’S MY MAGIC”, but it should give the right people pause. Magic doesn’t like to be ignored.

I think we’re drawn toward activities we’re good at less out of pride and more out of knowing (“This is the thing”), and we stop doing activities we’re not good at for the same reason (“This is not the thing. Something else must be the thing.”). Violinists weren’t compelled by soccer or painting; the violin compelled them. I wanted to help people early, so that's what I do now. My life would be much easier if I were an engineer, or something. Not because engineering is easy—far from it—but because building is considered something people should be paid to do. Helping people, especially as a woman, is supposed to be done for free.

It’s worth bearing in mind the price of a magical gift. Being genetically magical does not makes your life easier. It’s not Harry Potter, getting what you want, or a path without effort. All individuals with magical gifts have mental health issues, and most experience acute trauma as a means of initiation. The more marginalized (i.e., queer, POC) seldom have the access to the resources that make dealing with mental health issues and acute trauma managable. The degree of pain varies by person and by community, by race and class and gender, but the rule of thumb never wavers: magical people get hurt.

No one chooses to be burned at the stake. 

“How do you separate your personal life from this work? Do you find that people treat you the same way? Or is it more like you’re alone, like a ‘woman on the hill’ sort of thing?”

I paused.

“Does that make sense?” 

“Yeah. No, it definitely does.”