Courtesy of Jezmina Von Thiel
- Jezmina Von Thiel is a fortune teller from Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
- Von Thiel began her training as a fortune teller at age 4, and started working professionally at 16.
- “I don’t claim to have divine power that helps me predict the future,” she told Insider. “I’m more of a mirror to your own life.”
This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Jezmina Von Thiel, a fortune teller from Portsmouth, New Hampshire about her life as a fortune teller. It’s been edited for length and clarity.
My Romani grandmother immigrated to the United States in the 50s to escape the brutality of post-war Germany. She taught me dream interpretation, intuition exercises, laying of hands for healing, rituals, card reading, palmistry, and tea leaf reading.
Teaching me the family trade was a way to retain a part of her fragmented childhood.
I started my fortune teller training when I was just 4 years old
Roma are a diasporic ethnic group originally from Northern India around the 10th century. During the tail end of the Crusades, they were met with a lot of persecution, which continues today.
For centuries, Roma worked traditional jobs that they brought from India and the Middle East — such as fortune telling, metal working, performing, and animal training.
By 16, I was reading tarot, palms, and tea leaves professionally at parties on weekends
This grew into a side business I maintained through college while I worked other jobs, including a job as an adjunct English professor.
Courtesy of Jezmina Von Thiel
My grandmother taught me that fortune telling was something that I could always fall back on if needed. Since I’ve struggled with chronic illness and disability, which has been exacerbated by long-haul COVID, I’ve found this career to be the best work to accommodate my illness and a fulfilling life.
My finances fluctuate from week to week and season to season
That’s partly because of my health, and partly because certain times of the year are more popular than others. In October — when demand is highest — I can make as much as $1,000 a weekend. The work I get at that time of year really helps come February to April, when business tends to be quite slow.
For the last year, I’ve worked 18 hours on the weekends at Deadwick’s Ethereal Emporium, an occult shop in the touristy seaside town of Portsmouth, New Hampshire. At the shop, readings start at $30 for 15 minutes, then $60 for 30 minutes, and so on in fifteen-minute increments.
During the week, I offer online readings at the same rate, and I offer a sliding scale for those in need. Weekly readings vary, but I make space for one to five online readings a week. I also work parties and events, where I charge a higher hourly rate of $150 an hour with a two-hour minimum.
My rate is $200 an hour in October because demand is high, travel is difficult with New England tourism, and the events are usually quite involved. I also accept tips.
I know some people think fortune telling is fake, and that’s OK
There are definitely scammers out there. Anyone who tells you that your wife left you because you’re cursed, and you have to buy a magic crystal from them for $5,000 to get her back, for instance, is scamming you. Don’t do that.
I don’t claim to have divine power that helps me predict the future. I’m more of a mirror to your own life, and I use divinatory tools to help clients connect to themselves better and decide how they’d like to move forward.
I’ve had plenty of skeptics get a reading with me for fun, only to remark afterward that the symbols and archetypes that came up in their reading were remarkably insightful and helped them put their lives in perspective.
A lot of people are looking for spirituality, but feel disconnected from the religion or tradition they grew up in
I often fill the role of non-traditional spiritual counselor. I tell folks that fortune telling can be a useful tool to understand what’s going on around you and help you decide how to navigate moving forward, but, ultimately, nothing is set in stone.
I like being of service when I can, and I always refer people to therapists, medical professionals, or other resources when the topic is beyond my scope.
It’s frustrating to see how much Romani culture is appropriated in this field
Romani people are also known by the derogatory term Gypsy, which is not preferred or correct. Some Romani people reclaim the word, and that’s OK, but it is not OK for others to use or appropriate the word. It’s frustrating how often non-Roma people in this field call themselves that.
People are starting to become more aware of cultural appropriation with respect to Roma, and I appreciate that. However, there are still a lot of white fortune tellers in really cringey discount-Esmeralda costumes exploiting stereotypes to make a profit off of our culture and practices.
These practitioners don’t know or refuse to recognize that much of the fortune telling industry’s origins are rooted in Romani survival practices, as well as the spiritual practices of other marginalized people of color. To this day, Roma are vulnerable to financial instability and racial profiling, and they face employment, education, and housing discrimination.
Roma themselves have differing views of fortune telling
Some are afraid of it, some think it contributes to stereotypes. But like many with a fortune telling lineage, my family and I are proud of the work.
Fortune telling is an undeniable part of the history, culture, and achievements of our people.