Exploring Alternative Spirituality

The past year has encouraged many to reflect on their practices of faith, including the exploration of alternative spirituality and wellness.

While change itself is a certainty of life, it’s rare that we experience as much transformation as quickly and as collectively as with the pandemic. The past year has encouraged many to reflect on their practices of faith, including the exploration, or deepening, of alternative spirituality and wellness. “We’ve had some big transits or planetary events that even the mainstream media has begun to buzz about,” says Pam Gallagher, founder of the Midwest School of Astrology and Lightpath Discovery Center. “We are in changing times, there’s no doubt about it.”

Photograph by Chris von Holle

Astrology teaches that the energy of celestial events can be felt on Earth because the relationship between those events and life itself is intertwined. Gallagher points to Pluto’s completion of its 248-year orbit around the sun in 2021–2022 as one of the events we’re feeling now. “Pluto rules death, endings, and transformation,” she says. “It rules deep change.”

Gallagher has been studying astrological charts for more than 50 years and has numerous certifications from astrological organizations. With her daughter, Mindy, she teaches a three-level program on how to draw out wisdom from reading charts, moon phases, and weather patterns. A one-on-one consultation may include a reading of the client’s natal chart, which reveals the placement of planets and celestial bodies at his or her exact birth time, date, and location. Each placement carries a unique and complex meaning, and Gallagher hopes it offers insight that can influence personal growth. “Astrology is a timing tool for understanding the cycles and the rhythms you’re in,” she says, likening it to the study of mathematics.

In his downtown studio, Shine Your Light Wellness, psychic medium, hypnotist, and healer Jimi Merk has been tending to clients’ spiritual energy for more than 20 years. He utilizes clairvoyant intuition to assess someone’s soul path, understand what ancestral trauma they’ve inherited, and facilitate communication with their spirit guides. His goal is to help a person clarify self-perception compared to what the spirit guides are revealing.

Psychic readings with Merk are, not surprisingly, highly individualized. “The need for attention to specific areas of life, conscious spirituality, and emotion are always going to be different because we’re all very, very layered,” he says. “There’s a lot to us that we don’t even understand, and I feel it’s my job to not only expose the truth and the strength of what is inside of us—coming through us, being given to us by our guidance—but also to teach you what to do with it.”

In a typical session with Merk, a client has a psychic consultation and intuitive reading, along with an energy healing session. He incorporates crystals, aromatherapy, meditative breathing, and chakra work to care for a person’s wounds, be they emotional, psychological, physical, or spiritual. “I really feel like 2020 was a blessing in some way because it forced us to go inward,” he says. “When you have nobody else to argue with at the bar every night, when you have nobody at your office you can shoot the breeze with because you’re working from home, it forces you to have really chew on how you feel personally.”

Helping people “go inward” is also the goal at The Mindful Nest in Northside, a holistic healing shop owned by Darci Gruenwald specializing in metaphysical products like tarot cards, crystals, essential oils, books, candles, and sage bundles. Gruenwald says she’s driven to provide tools for tapping into and trusting one’s intuition.

Gruenwald had visited a number of metaphysical stores while traveling, but Cincinnati seemed to lack enough options despite a strong cultural interest in self-care and alt spirituality. A 2017 Pew Research Center study, in fact, found that six in 10 American adults accept at least one new age belief like reincarnation, psychics, and spiritual energy. Gruenwald’s store is infused with such metaphysical energy.

Gruenwald considers The Mindful Nest a safe space for people to explore different forms of spirituality and alternative means of wellness, no matter their depth of knowledge. “Everybody is on their own path, and everybody needs different things at different times,” she says. “You know, who am I to judge anybody else? Who is anybody to judge? This is just what feels right to me.”

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