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

Wednesday, Jul 15 2015
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"There is this trickle-down effect from the ethers, or the divine, or whatever is outside of us into our consciousness," Van Horn says, wide-eyed and flushed. "There's something else trending which is this era of compassion and inclusivity and music and the healing aspect of a community."

Drugs are trending, too. Nootropics — dubbed "smart drugs" because of their cognitive enhancements and alleged ubiquity in Silicon Valley — have inspired dozens of trend pieces; they're this year's answer to 2014's ayahuasca craze. But Van Horn's clients prefer old-fashioned MDMA.

"I have one client around 26, and he works his tail off, but at least once a month or every six weeks he and his soulmates get together for a weekend to take MDMA in a sacred space and use that to clear the decks, and connect, and relax." You can almost feel Van Horn italicize the words as she says them.

According to Michelle Jackson, a Van Horn client who works for a software startup near Union Square, MDMA is the cornerstone of "journey work." She twice spent an entire day at Van Horn's house tripping on MDMA, meditating, and letting herself be guided through "an intense therapy session."

Jackson started seeing Van Horn in 2007. She had just moved to San Francisco from Texas, an adventurous 25-year-old eager to escape her fundamentalist Baptist roots and memories of the Sunday school where she'd "pledged allegiance to the Bible along with the American flag." Although she wasn't looking for a tech job, she landed a gig at a startup that monetized blog ads.

"When I was 27, I had a panic attack at work," Jackson says. "There was just so much pressure and stress. And I realized that that job wasn't making me happy anymore, and I didn't know what I wanted to do. So I went to Joyce. I don't know why. I just needed a sign. I needed something."

Wary of traditional therapy with its doctor-patient protocols, Jackson plunged headlong into a confessional intimacy with Van Horn, calling her a "kind of life coach." Van Horn turned her on to Abraham Hicks, the name given to a collective consciousness from another dimension discovered by Esther and Jerry Hicks, a husband-and-wife team who now preside over a cottage industry of inspirational books, CDs, and DVDs. (In a cosmic coincidence, the Hickses also hail from Jackson's hometown of San Antonio.)

"Whenever I start to feel like I'm not doing okay and need some help, I listen to one of the Abraham Hicks CDs that Joyce let me borrow. I transferred them onto my phone so I can listen while I'm walking," Jackson says.

Her work with Van Horn has clarified something she's suspected since 2007: The tech industry rewards conformity. "It's like a cult," Jackson says. "When I walk downtown it feels like everybody is saying the same thing and talking about the same VCs." Her honeymoon phase with San Francisco is over, she says. Someday, she plans to saddle up and decamp to Wine Country, where the pace is slower and the sky alive.


It started with a bloody handprint. A young woman in Oakland — a tech worker, like her boyfriend — saw the grisly omen on the blinds of her bedroom window. Days later, similar handprints appeared on the wall, followed by bedraggled letters spelling out obscene words. Desperate and terrified, the couple turned to the only source they trusted: Google.

A quick search for "house clearing" led them to Reverend Joey Talley, a Wiccan witch in Marin County with more than four decades of experience and three master's degrees.

"It was a new condo building in Oakland, but there was a parking lot across the street, and I knew terrible crimes had been committed there," Talley tells me. "I could feel children suffering. I'm pretty sure there had been a murder at some point."

Talley built what she calls a "psychic seawall." It's akin to an exorcism, except more benevolent and with none of the Judeo-Christian trappings. According to her own tagline: "No problem is too big, too small, or too weird."

Nor, as Talley's tech clients can attest, too beyond her qualifications. Despite lacking a background in computer science or IT, Talley is occasionally called on to perform cyber security miracles. Her approach is more Etsy than McAfee.

"Most people want me to protect their computers from viruses and hacks," she says, "so I'll make charms for them. I like to use flora."

Jet, a black gemstone energy-blocker, is ideal for debugging office hardware, Talley says; bigger or more vulnerable computer networks often require "a rainbow of colors to divert excess energy." If all else fails, she can cast a protection spell on the entire company, office supplies included.

Talley's foray into tech is still fresh enough that she sometimes calls it the "techno industry." That hasn't dissuaded savvy clients in the market for spiritual counseling, hypnosis, dream therapy, moon rituals, house clearings, potion-brewing, and other niche services. Her speciality? "I really like dealing with demons," she says.

She recounts a recent episode involving a startup whose office alarm was infected by an "invasive species." After multiple electricians failed to rout whatever poltergeist was causing the alarm to shrill at odd intervals, the company contacted Reverend Talley.

"I don't know anything about electronics, but I got the spirit out," she says. It's hard to tell whether she's boasting or apologizing.

If it's surprising that companies should entrust critical office maintenance to a witch, it's nearly breathtaking that they also retain her for legal counsel. Talley says that when companies are threatened with litigation, she can cast spells to "divert" (one of her pet words) the plaintiff or the plaintiff's attorney. It's all child's play for her, no more taxing than donning the floppy hats that announce her professional uniform.

Talley's philosophy seems to be a melange of ecofeminism, occultism, and a 1-800 hotline. "You can call me 24/7; I'll pick up," she tells me. (That turned out to be false.) Her conversation is strewn with New Age platitudes that shear into harangues against the judicial system, the prison-industrial complex, and the male species. Occasionally, though, her aphorisms achieve the craftsmanship of folk sayings: "Witchcraft is the art of changing consciousness at will"; "People can't walk around with their minds open any more than they can walk around with no clothes on"; "Auras are information." In those moments, it's almost possible to imagine her clients getting their money's worth.

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Jeremy Lybarger

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