PHNOM PENH – Around midday, a young Cambodian woman enters Eileen McCormick’s stall, decorated with a Japanese cat for good luck, Buddhist figures and pictures of praying mantis (representing a totem spirit), in Phnom Penh’s Boeung Keng Kang market and requests a tarot reading.
Speaking in Khmer, which the former U.S. consultant for a nonprofit learned as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cambodia, McCormick warns the client she will not be happy if she marries and advises her to consider other options.
“Foreigners ask more questions about their travels and where they should visit next, while Cambodians ask about property, sales, visits abroad, or whether they will marry a foreigner,” she says after concluding her session.
McCormick had decided to become a fortune teller around a year ago and opened a stall in the Cambodian capital, on the advice of a spirit when she was under the influence of ayahuasca, a South American herb with hallucinogenic properties.
“I began to work with a shaman who grows ayahuasca, a natural hallucinogenic drug from South America, and received the advice (under the effect of the drug) to help people see the reflection of what they knew about themselves,” she says, explaining why she left her job as a consultant with a nonprofit to join the chaotic market of fortune tellers.
“It is not very different (from working for the non-profit), it requires communication abilities and asking people what they want,” she says, adding that instead of moving around and doing surveys to decide what kind projects to implement, she just consults the cards.
Eighty percent of her clients are Cambodians, who pay between $2.50 and $5, providing her with a monthly income of more than $400, which is almost double the average income of a policeman, she reveals.
Esotericism, she says, is an integral part of day-to-day life in Cambodia, and Buddhism, which is the religion of the majority, has assimilated the rituals of animism to an extent that many Cambodians do not distinguish between them.
McCormick claims to have been consulted by powerful Cambodians and even members of the royal family, although lately she has stopped consuming ayahuasca for spiritual growth, as she believes it is not the only way to receive guidance.
“All of us are a little lost, you know... trying to find our place in the universe,” says the fortune teller, while the market continues to bustle around her.