Nestled in a quiet attic room just north of the Oakland-Berkeley border, Alese Osborn’s office is stuffed with personal mementos and eclectic objects that make a typical psychic’s set-up look corporate in comparison.

“I grew up moving around a lot, so I’ve always collected fabrics because I can use them to create the feeling of home,” she said, pointing to the dark textiles lining the walls and draping over her furniture. Dressed head-to-toe in velvet with a bold necklace and wide-brim hat, she gestured for me to sit down at a mirrored table and pulled out an antique trunk filled with various tarot decks and other occult items.

Though divination has been her full-time gig since 2009, Osborn moved into her new headquarters earlier this year as demand increased for her tarot readings. A fixture in Oakland’s nightlife scene, she first made a name for herself doing tarot at warehouse parties and special events at stores like Bloomingdale’s and the vintage boutique Painted Bird, both of which are in San Francisco. Now, most of her business comes from private sessions with devoted regulars.

While some people view what she does as pure entertainment, others see Osborn as a life coach. Hannah Deutsch, a 28-year-old fashion stylist living in Oakland, visits Osborn for tarot readings once a month. Deutsch was quick to praise Osborn’s often startling accuracy and empathetic approach. “Sometimes I get stuff from her that I don’t necessarily want to hear, but because it’s coming from her I am able to listen,” she said. “Over the past five years, she’s been spot-on with everything she’s said to me. … [Once,] she even predicted a major health issue before I knew about it.”

Bianca Foss, a 29-year-old artist and leather worker who was one of Osborn’s first clients, said that she admires the way Osborn applies ancient esoteric teachings to modern-day personal dilemmas. “It’s just like talking to a good friend,” she explained. “It’s a really compassionate and caring space. I always leave feeling a little kinder towards myself and like things are going to be easier than I thought they would be coming into the reading.”

Unlike the so-called “neon sign psychics” scattered around Oakland and Berkeley, Osborn won’t promise to fix your student loan debt through an obscure spell or give you a generic prediction of your tall, dark and handsome future lover. Instead, her tarot practice combines intuition with research from various social sciences, astrology and mythology. Her goal, she said, is to give her clients the tools to work through their problems on their own terms. Rather than making them feel like she holds the keys to their destinies, she explained that she wants people to leave a reading feeling empowered to trust their intuitions and create the changes they want to see in their lives.

“All of my readings come from the idea of, ‘How do you understand the terrain of your human experience and what’s immediately in front of you?’” she said as she had me pull my first three cards from a deck she designed herself. “How can you feel empowered and enlightened to overcome your obstacles?”

The social media-savvy Osborn has found an audience among millennials who mistrust organized religion but still feel a need connect with their spiritual sides. The internet plays a big role in how she engages with her audience. She uses Instagram to impart bits of tarot-inspired wisdom to followers from all over the world and occasionally books appointments with out-of-town clients via Skype.

“Tarot to the people” is a mantra Osborn repeats often. For those who can’t afford one of her private sessions (which typically cost between $60 and $100 and can go for over an hour if necessary), she still regularly does free readings at events. And this summer, she’ll have her own tarot-themed show on Laney College’s 9th Floor Radio, which will be available for streaming online.

While I observed during my own reading that Osborn is keenly intuitive — and sometimes freakishly accurate with her assessments — she is surprisingly pragmatic for someone who claims to be an oracle. Ultimately, she uses tarot’s ancient symbols to map out her clients’ states of mind and illuminate the path to becoming their best selves — something most of us can get behind, regardless of our spiritual beliefs.

About The Author

Nastia Voynovskaya is an Oakland-based freelance writer and editor covering arts and culture. She is the online editor at Hi-Fructose Magazine and has written for Oakland Local, East Bay Express, SF Weekly, The Bold Italic, and more. Follow her at @nananastia.

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