Befriending a psychic: the inner-workings of mediumship

Ali+Deva+performing+a+tarot+card+reading.

Photo: Ashlyn Wang

Ali Deva performing a tarot card reading.

By Maddie Barron, Staff Writer

Reverently resting in a box in Ali Deva’s apartment are her first set of tarot cards. These cards, bent and tattered from use, were bought by Deva in 1984 when she performed her first tarot reading amongst friends at a sleepover. Initially, Deva used a manual to guide her through, but her inexperience was not a vice. She describes feeling a natural confidence take over. 

“I didn’t know what I was saying,” she explained. “I just [said] what I felt compelled to describe.”

Today, Deva owns Copley Tarot, a Boston-based tarot reading service she runs when she’s not working at her 9-5. She adopted a shortened version of her full name, Ali de Varona, and became Ali Deva for her tarot business.

Since performing her first reading, Deva’s spirituality has not ceased. She came to realize the wave of confidence was the presence of her spirit guide who provides visions that allow her to perform readings. 

Deva’s visions manifest in a variety of ways—scents in the air, goosebumps on her body, or compelling thoughts that itch to be said. The tarot cards are the vessel to harness these communications, allowing her to forward her guide’s words.  

The art of The Tarot overlaps many spiritualities, but Deva’s instruction began at home. She was raised in a Roman Catholic family where forms of spirituality remained a large part of her life—often involving the Afro-Cuban divination Santería. Family ties of spirituality extend from Deva’s mother and aunt who shared similar talents to ancestral connections to mystic historical figures. 

She shared a family tale about La Varona de Castilla—the Varona of Castille—a woman named Maria Perez who lived during the Spanish Inquisition and was from an area where witches were rumored to congregate. Her social status prevented her from being persecuted. Perez later fought in the Crusades despite being a woman and was knighted for sparing the life of a king and exhibiting bravery in battle, earning her the name Maria Pereza de Varona, or La Varona de Castilla. It was decided that her female descendants would all bear the name de Varona.

Deva’s exposure to spirituality in her childhood in conjunction with her intimate knowledge of all things witchy prepared her with the necessary tools to run Copley Tarot. 

Before sessions begin, Deva cleanses her cards with a selenite stone — known to have healing powers — to ensure the cards are not skewed by past clients’ energies. Furrowing her brows in concentration as her eyes shut, Deva’s hands became lost in a hypnotizing rhythm.  

Clients participate in the pre-reading setup by cutting the deck into piles of three and thinking of their intentions for the reading, giving Deva a better feel of the individual’s energy.

Deva combines the client’s stacks into one again and begins to theatrically place each card onto the tabletop — providing her client a brief period for respite and enjoyment of the card’s artistry before learning their true meanings. 

Her professional rule of thumb is to always report what she sees, saying, “My deal with my spirit guide is [to] say whatever I am told to say without question,” Deva said. “I need to trust [it].” 

She deals with sensitive subject matters by keeping communication open with clients and reminding them of their power. Deva frequently talks to grieving family and friends, heartbroken lovers, self-help book readers, and paranoid clients who believe the end is near. 

Clients are often reminded that free-will reigns supreme — tarot readings are not set in stone and should rather act as a guide. 

“No matter what I say to you, ultimately your choice is what determines everything,” Deva said. 

Once the cards are entirely splayed out, Deva begins to read. She avoids looking at clients as she reads, not wanting her interpretations to be swayed by their reactions. Her interpretations of the cards come with different examples of how they could manifest in the client’s life, clarifying anything that is asked. 

 Deva is rated highly for these readings and many reviewers noted her accuracy. 

“I cannot believe how spot-on she was with everything we discussed,” said reviewer Jaala Davis. “Every time she would read a card she left me like ‘wow’!”

Another reviewer, Jordan MacRitchie, wrote, “Ali has changed my life. Her reading was so accurate and personal.”

Despite Deva’s supporters, the spiritual industry is often combated by skeptics who believe psychics use the internet to learn details about their clients prior to sessions. Deva denies researching clients in advance, saying readings are an opportunity to prove her skills not only to clients but herself. 

 “If [clients] think they’re being Googled, there are many honorable readers who do not [do that],” Deva said. “For me, a reading is a challenge.”

According to the Better Business Bureau, there are plenty of people who exploit movements, like the energy therapy movement, for less clinical forms of healing and their vulnerable clients; however, there is also triumph in knowing some are willing to use their skills honorably to listen and connect to people in the community. 

Ultimately, the spiritual industry is about human connection. Many of Deva’s clients leave sessions relieved, she said, and she rides the emotions with them. There is something cathartic about feeling seen for 60 minutes, a rare occasion for many of Deva’s clients. 

“Last week I was doing a mediumship… [the client] told me she wanted to connect with her roommate who committed suicide,” Deva said. “She started crying and that made me emotional.” 

Deva offers a space where clients can grieve people, relationships, and their pasts. It satisfies a primal want in people to hear that despite their suffering, they are cosmically destined to feel good again. 

“I’m not sure if I’m feeling sad for the person who passed or the person in front of me who’s hurting. It’s hard to tell,” Deva said. 

Human beings crave something to believe in, according to the American Psychological Association, and they put their trust in people like her because she fulfills this need. 

Deva wants her clients and anyone interested in spirituality to know there is nothing to be feared about the practice. It is an alternative way to form connections and cope with the demands of the mind. 

“Witchcraft and witchiness is all about intention,” Deva said. “It’s not about [readings] having any inherent power themselves, but rather the intention that you put into them…There’s nothing scary about it.”