Am I a Believer?

Design by Cleo Maloney

“Some father God, Eva and I call ourselves forward into the light. With the light of the great spirit, we ask that if there is any karma that can be released and transmitted into the highest levels, please do so.” 

Oh fuck. Please do not let the karma be brought into the light. Internationally renowned psychic Karen Hollis traces her French-tip acrylics over the frayed edges of a tarot card complete with medieval drawings of felines dressed in Renaissance dresses. As she calls out to the spirits around me, I nearly burst out laughing. I do not believe in psychics. Definitely not. 

When I was eight, my great-aunt introduced me to psychic readings. She ran her fingers across my palm and revealed my fortune. She accurately predicted the hot-fudge sundae dates, midnight sprints through the local graveyard, and mid-morning Hallmark movie marathons that lay in my future. In the eerie silence of her secluded Greek village, I was convinced that my great-aunt was a witch. She knew months in advance that her husband would be paralyzed in the Greek-Turkish war, and that her neighbor would die of the flu. But as I got older, my fascination soured into skepticism. I believed my great-aunt was a fraud.  

My great-aunt died four years ago, but psychism has maintained its global presence: some psychics allegedly keep their powers a secret, while others capitalize on their close connections to ghosts and spirits, exploiting customers’ desire for certainty. 

Hollis remembers her parents telling her, “Whatever you do, you’ll use your intuition to investigate the world, and guide people through life.” Hollis was raised in Newington, Connecticut by a stay-at-home mother who, Hollis says, could predict telephone calls hours in advance. Her father was once motivated by an “unexpected sense of foreboding” to drive through the night and visit her at her college dorm—the very day she broke her leg. “I thought everyone felt their way through life,” Hollis tells me. As a Catholic school student who attempted to ignore the hereditary paranormal callings which resounded throughout her childhood, Hollis quickly learned the difference between institutionalized religion and organic spirituality. 

Hollis began her college career as a Political Science and American Studies major at Salve Regina University in Rhode Island, wanting to distance herself somewhat from her supernaturally inflected Connecticut childhood. At twenty-one, however, she found herself once again connected to the paranormal. Hollis decided to advertise the articles she had written as a college student in a nearby office space that also happened to house Mrs. Virginia Randolph’s New Age Psychic shop. When Hollis met Randolph, she didn’t expect to gain a newfound understanding of her future, and she most definitely didn’t expect the woman who she now describes as her “little old grandma” to become her mentor. But after Hollis was offered a free tarot reading and all of Randolph’s visions came to fruition, she developed a passion for tarot. “The tarot cards were my addiction,” she tells me. “They were my personal Da Vinci code.” 

Hollis found her readings to be a consistent comfort in a life teetering on tragedy. In 2001, she was fired from her position as a retail advertising manager for the Denver Post. Only months later, when her neighbor purposely set off a series of forest fires and devastated the entire community, Hollis was displaced from the Colorado home where she had lived since graduating college. She was simultaneously filing for divorce with her first husband, who left Hollis for a woman nearly twice his age. As a single mother in her 30s, moving back home to Newington, Hollis leaned into her metaphysical abilities. “My daughter was born on August 11, 2001, just minutes from when my younger brother had died 22 years prior from a heart defect. Is my dead brother now my daughter? There’s definitely a karmic connection with tragedy.” 

Led by this trust in a higher power, Hollis launched ReadingsByKaren in 2001 out of her home in Newington. ReadingsByKaren has since moved to a multi-use commercial building in the town composed of long corridors lined with standard office spaces—one of which houses a room of tarot cards and year-round Halloween lights. Entering its third decade in business, ReadingsByKaren provides in-person psychic readings and mediumship, couple’s readings, and tarot reading workshops. Hollis’s services—ranging from $150 to $350 in price—gained international recognition from TV and magazine features, including on News8, Discovery Channel, OMTimes, and LIFE. In her work, Hollis warns women about cheating husbands, advises college students which academic path is best aligned with their morals, and comforts families whose children have passed away. Gulping sparkling cider and crossing her legs as she sits on a distressed leather couch, Hollis reflects, “What I’m doing here is changing lives. I can be the conduit between a higher source—whatever you want to call it—and some person.” 

Hollis unexpectedly—fatefully—fell in love just as her business was taking off. Mark Hollis was working at the NBC Nightly News broadcast in New York, miles away from Newington. Geographically, the probability of their meeting was low. Holis was arriving in the city for an interview with the New York Times as Mark was commuting home after a night’s work at NBC. Cue a mistletoe moment: Hollis and Mark stumbled into each other under the clock at Grand Central Station. 

It took a few months of dating for Hollis to reveal her secret. “I have a side business where I help people out by giving them messages from the dead.” She watched as Mark’s face dropped; she readied herself for him to sprint off into the woods. His response: “That’s really cool. My father is in a similar line of work”—as the chief financial officer for the Emissaries of Divine Light, a spiritual renewal community. 

If Hollis’s stories are true, her daughter might be a reincarnation of her dead brother, her marriage might be a manifestation of God’s work, and her readings might in fact be reliable. If I sound skeptical, it’s because I am. That is, I was, until I walked into Hollis’s office, just as she had unsuspectingly entered Randolph’s New Age Psychic shop years ago. Hollis wore multicolored athletic leggings and a brown cotton cardigan. She gestured to me to join her in a candle-lit suite while she sprayed room fragrance to conceal the residual smell of cigarettes. 

As I sat across from her, discussing tarot cards and her “sensings” for nearly three hours, I never doubted her once. “I’ve always just been a reporter,” she said. And I believed her. So when Hollis offered me a free reading the very next day, I was prepared to be stunned. 

“First, you will shuffle the tarot deck. Their order will tell me your life up to this point. You won’t give me any hints,” she said, with a pointed look. 

“What about a Michael? Brownish hair and striking blue eyes? He’s already on Yale’s campus. He’s gonna be ‘the one.’” I gasped. Her all-knowing and relaxed voice pushed me to the edge of my seat.

“Wait, health issues are also coming up. Tell me about your mom and about any medical problems. And, make sure you’re getting regular mammograms. I’m not saying you’re gonna die of cancer, but I definitely see medical visits in your future.” My first call after this reading was to my mom; the second was to Yale Health. 

I’m not claiming to be a convert, a true believer, but I certainly didn’t leave that reading as a skeptic. Not of Karen Hollis, at least. She accurately described my ideal career of working with refugees abroad, pinpointed my favorite characteristics of the new friends I’ve made, and knew way too much about that one subject I won’t tell you about. Believe me when I say: Hollis knows all. “There’s no way I could know the things I know without just knowing them,” she said with a smile when I asked for her secret. 

“So what do I do now?” I asked her. 

“I don’t know. Remember, I’m just reporting what I see.”

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