Our topic today is meant to be lighthearted, to take a break from discussing the many social, financial, economic and other issues which weigh down daily on the Barbadian spirit as we grapple, as a still relatively young developing nation, with our various development challenges.
The topic, which admittedly raises a number of cultural and also religious questions, relates to a recent development which certainly would not have escaped the attention of keen observers of local happenings, even though it has thus far generated little debate.
We refer to the emergence of a seemingly thriving business on the island where foreign “spiritual advisers”, of mostly Asian origin, are openly peddling their services on the market, mainly via media advertisements (print, broadcast and online) that promise solutions to a variety of personal problems related to work, home and other relationships.
The list includes “promotion, black magic and evil spirits, children problems, bringing loved ones back [like a husband who has deserted a wife for another woman], court cases, curses, personal finances, sickness and sexual problems”. In most cases, prospective consumers are being offered a “100 per cent guarantee” of satisfaction.
In one recent edition of a daily newspaper, there were five such ads from different providers. Similar commercials are also broadcast on the television services of the financially strapped state broadcaster, with a disclaimer that the contents do not represent the views or have the endorsement of the Caribbean Broadcasting Corporation (CBC).
The fact that so many of these service providers have almost suddenly come on to the scene suggests that there is obviously a demand. After all, a basic principle of economics is that wherever there is a demand, there will be a supply. And a purpose of the media, besides informing, educating and entertaining their various audiences, is to bring buyers and sellers together.
In the Barbados of years gone by, before access to universal free education eliminated the ignorance which fueled a lot of superstition among the population, there was also a strong demand for the “spiritual services”. It was the local obeah-man in this case. Stories abound of rural folk would make weekly treks to The City to get their bush baths and collect other specially-made concoctions to solve various problems.
So what could be behind this apparent resurgence in interest in “spiritual services”? If there are any insights to be gained from what is currently happening in Italy, it may very well be linked in some way to the state of the economy and the hardships Barbadians have been experiencing over the past several years. According to a number of recent media stories, Italy’s protracted economic crisis has created a boom time for soothsayers, tarot card readers and fortune-tellers.
“With high unemployment and a largely moribund economy, more and more people are seeking solace from the esoteric and the occult,” one newspaper reported. Quoting a study conducted by the national consumer organization, the newspaper said the number of faith healers and fortune-tellers had risen fivefold since the global economic crisis began a decade ago.
Around 13 million Italians – estimated to be about a quarter of the adult population – regularly visit astrologers, fortune-tellers and tarot card readers, three million more than in 2001. According to the newspaper, the industry is now worth an estimated eight billion euros a year, with the vast majority of the country’s 155,000 practitioners demanding cash in hand and not declaring their earnings to the tax authorities.
“Deep uncertainty about the future, the difficult in finding work, economic problems and the hope of resolving personal situations has driven a growing number of Italians to look for answers in tarot card reading, paid-for horoscopes and magic,” the national consumer organization’s report said. “They end up in the hands of unscrupulous people who profit from their fragility and their difficulties.”
The trend has prompted the influential Catholic Church to issue a warning that the growing interest in fortune-telling can lead some people to dabble in the dark side of the occult, with some possibly needing exorcisms to rid them of evil. Interestingly, the Church in Barbados too – and not just the Catholics — will have similar concerns though it has not yet spoken about the issue.
It seems, based on the Italian experience, the perfect antidote to dampen demand for such services is to have a thriving economy where at least the basic needs of citizens are met. Here’s hoping, therefore — and without the help of any soothsayer — that our economy will experience a more robust rebound sooner rather than later so that the good times can start rolling again.