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Psychic Capital: Tech and Silicon Valley Turn to Mystics for Advice 

Wednesday, Jul 15 2015
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That was 15 years ago. Today, Bonfilio sees about 25 clients a week and has a calendar that's booked two months in advance. "The tech boom seems to have helped my business," she says. "It created more people who are here looking for answers in a different way."

Among those people are young startup CEOs seeking advice about which apps to launch first, or which to shop around to venture capitalists. Bonfilio claims to see product names switch on "like klieg lights" and says she knows if they'll be successful. "It's almost like I'm on a different neurological level," she says.

Bonfilio's clients ask questions clients from any industry might ask, only tinged with the exoticism of seed rounds and IPOs: "What does my trajectory look like over the next six to 12 to 18 months?" "Should I try to laterally move into another department where I'm not product manager but might be more on the platform side of Salesforce?'"

One of Bonfilio's clients, Caroline Cross, compares their relationship to that of a patient and her psychiatrist, a common analogy that many psychics embrace. "You can tell her very little but she can tell you a lot about people and what they're thinking," Cross says. "She can read a situation from so many different angles."

Cross, who requested that her employer be identified only as "the largest SaaS CRM provider," began seeing Bonfilio in 2010. She and five co-workers, all women, would get readings once a year and compare notes. Bonfilio and Cross mostly discussed Cross' career trajectory at the large CRM provider.

"Nicki definitely kicked off that whole process of leveraging intuitive guidance," Cross tells me, noting that since 2010, many more co-workers across departments have started seeing Bonfilio.

While tech has been good for Bonfilio's business, its effect on San Francisco's energy has been more ambiguous. "There's a hum going on in this city," Bonfilio says. "I can hear different things that I've never heard before. Everything has changed because of tech. Nine out of 10 people walk around looking at their phones, and there's all this construction going on, all this traffic, all these startups. I have a feeling the city is not down with that mass of energy."

To deflect any dark juju during her sessions, Bonfilio holds a shard of obsidian she bought online. It acts as a kind of psychic firewall — the only tool she uses aside from a deck of oracle cards. "I think there's karmic soul recognition that draws people together," Bonfilio says, watching the rooftops of the Mission go jagged with afternoon shadows. "I don't think the soul is finite at all. Your body is finite, but the soul keeps going."

Much like the Internet.


Across town, in Lower Pac Heights, Joyce Van Horn is talking about death. We're in her home office, a room whose walls are the fatal blue of a Windows crash. Behind her, a bookshelf holds paperback copies of Owning Your Own Shadow, Exploring the Tarot, and Skymates, as well as a framed photo of her with Steven Forrest, the father of evolutionary astrology and, according to Van Horn, a close confidant of Laurene Powell, Steve Jobs' wife.

"Death is trending," Van Horn tells me with the casual authority of a newscast, "but if we look at it we can have more pleasure, because the time is now. We need to play more. We need to love more. Let's be ridiculous sometimes. Carpe diem."

Van Horn used to be an actress and a disc jockey, and, at 63, still speaks with scene-chewing gusto. She calls herself "a wild child that turned into a wild woman," which could refer to anything from her early-onset telekinesis to her belief in fairies to her penchant for feather earrings. "I've had a real messy life," she says more than once.

Like Bonfilio, Van Horn grew up in the Bay Area — in a haunted house, no less — and started giving professional readings in 1984. She charged $10 a session back then; today, her rate is $150 per hour. She says that's a bargain for someone trained in evolutionary astrology. (Sally Faubion, by contrast, charges $180 per hour for a private numerology session.)

"Most of us are born having forgotten the information from our past lifetimes," Van Horn says, "but there is information encoded in us that remembers the essence of who we were and what we were about." She helps people recover that information.

The majority of Van Horn's clients are from the tech industry. Besides in-person readings, she also does phone and Skype consultations, and twice a year hosts a retreat in Calistoga where 50 people gather for a weekend of astrology and mayhem in Wine Country.

In the past couple of years, Van Horn has branched out into private readings for startups. On a recent Friday, she found herself in the back room of one such company in SoMa, hunched over her computer and shivering as, one by one, people half her age asked about their careers, their love lives, their futures, and their souls.

"A lot of what I see in my tech clients is a longing to belong," Van Horn says, "The longing to do something. A lot of them are on Tinder and OKCupid," she adds, as if that says all you need to know about their psychological state. "People are hungry but not everybody knows what they're hungry for."

Even those who aren't single keep Van Horn in their contacts list. For the past 19 years, several women in tech — all in their 40s now, all married to tech husbands — have hired Van Horn to give an annual spring reading in a "fabulous house" in the Richmond District. The sessions average four hours, which, at a rate of $150 per, means Van Horn nets $600 plus travel expenses.

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Jeremy Lybarger

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