Unmasking the Spiritual Scammers of Paris
Legions of phony psychics have twisted an ancient West African tradition into a billion-dollar business that cons desperate and lovelorn people. One band of volunteers is determined to stop them.
Photos by Yulia Grigoryants | Edited by Farah Mohammed
Monsieur Samou sits cross-legged on the carpet, swirling dappled cowrie shells in one hand.
“I see you have lots of potential in your love life,” he says. “But there’s a bottleneck here, and unless you clear it, nothing will change.”
Samou describes himself as a marabout. In West Africa, marabouts are learned Muslims who may be teachers of the Koran, conflict regulators, or leaders of religious ceremonies. They can also be soothsayers. Migrants have brought the latter tradition to Paris and, in the northern neighborhood of Château Rouge, these self-styled clairvoyants have become an institution of sorts.