Spain's economic crisis has pushed Maite Izquierdo and her family to do their best to get by, as work and money are very difficult to obtain.
After years looking for a job in a country where one in four is unemployed, this 48-year-old mother of two has turned to alternative ways to try and improve her fortunes.
AdvertisementAround her neck hangs a necklace of shungite, a shiny black mineral from Russia, said by occultists to bring emotional stability. In her bag she has a statue of a smiling Buddha and another of a three-legged frog, Asian charms reputed to bring wealth.
They are her latest purchases at Magic International, a spirituality fair in crisis-hit Barcelona where crowds browse over magic stones and spiritual tomes and countless fortune-tellers seek new clients.
"Any kind of help is welcome," said Izquierdo, who has curly dark hair and bags under her eyes.
"In our house, we've had enough. My husband can only find temporary, badly-paid jobs. My eldest son can't find anything and neither can I."
The government says Spain is recovering from recession, but many Spaniards are still struggling. Attendance at the occult fair has surged to 50,000 this year compared to 30,000 before the crisis started in 2008.
At one stall, hung with red drapes and gold stars, a woman waits for a tarot card reader to tell here whether her small family restaurant can escape bankruptcy.
"I often come for a reading, especially when times are hard," says the woman, Natalia Herrero. "It calms me and gives me an insight into how to face my problems."
The tarot-reader, dressed in a white robe, reassures Herrero that her restaurant will survive.
For Izquierdo, it is the first time she has consulted spiritualists since she lost her job as a factory administrator four years ago.
She didn't use to believe in the occult, but says she was persuaded by friends.
At the fair, she asks a public panel of four seers whether she should sell a flat in order to pay off her debts.
"It looks like a difficult time to do that," replies one of them, Maria del Mar Tort, one of Barcelona's best-known tarot-readers, scanning the cards. "The price seems a bit high. You should lower it and in a year or so, you'll sell."
Tort runs a tarot-reading school where she teaches 200 pupils the esoteric ways she learned from her mother.
The recent years of recession in Spain have brought fortune-tellers a new class of client, people "rather disoriented by the situation who are looking for guidance to move forward", she says.
"Sometimes I feel like a real estate administrator or an employment counsellor instead of a tarot-reader," she said.
"They ask you about their homes, their jobs, their businesses. And I ask myself: whatever happened to asking about your love life?"
Addicted to tarot
Specialists at the Ancora psychological clinic in Madrid say they have seen a rise in the number of patients addicted to occult consultations since the crisis hit.
"They have low self-esteem and resort to that in search of quick answers: you will meet the love of your life, everything will get better. They tell them what they want to hear," said one of the psychologists, Belen Sanchez.
"That causes emotional dependency. They get so they cannot make any decisions without consulting the fortune-teller."
Late-night television in Spain is full of tarot-reading and fortune-telling shows.
Psychologist Jose Elias says the popularity of these is influenced by Spain's Catholic tradition with its doctrine of divine predetermination, as well as the stifling experience of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975.
"Franco over-supervised citizens. He did not teach them to fight and grow by themselves," said Elias, a member of the Madrid College of Psychologists.
"Psychotherapy emerges in democratic societies, because dictatorships are not about promoting personal development."
The director of Magic International, Sebastia d'Arbo, warns that the occult arts should not be dismissed lightly, however. He says a growing number of businesses are consulting fortune-tellers.
He said a chemist's store in Barcelona nearly went bust for lack of customers before it called in spiritualist help.
"It turned out to be a feng shui problem," he said, referring to the ancient Chinese method of harmonious household alignment.
"The cash register was in a zone of electrical interference. We changed where they put the cash register and now the chemist is doing great."
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