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Bless this house

With the real estate industry stuck in doldrums, it's a boom market for links to a higher power -- whether feng shui, psychics, or saints

With real estate agent Janet Howcroft looking on, Salem witch Lori Bruno performs a ceremonto to cleanse any negative forces from a Peabody home. With real estate agent Janet Howcroft looking on, Salem witch Lori Bruno performs a ceremonto to cleanse any negative forces from a Peabody home. (Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe)
By Taryn Plumb
Globe Correspondent / May 12, 2011

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Inside the white Colonial with its flaking whitewashed fence and debris-flecked yard, there’s the shrill clanging of a bell; the intense aroma of incense; the flashing of a sword.

Enrobed in black and swathed in jewelry, standing in the kitchen of a foreclosed Peabody house, Salem witch and self-described psychic Lori Bruno feels a heaviness, a constriction, and she scatters salt, wafts incense, splashes holy water, and clangs bells in an attempt to expunge it.

“Energy goes into things, and it soaks up,’’ the 71-year-old explains after performing a short blessing on the property, in a cluster of homes on a Peabody side street. “You clear that energy.’’

With the real estate pendulum seemingly suspended midswing — experts predicting foreclosures to rise this year, a continually cluttered inventory, home values in many cases dramatically low, and a national home vacancy rate above 10 percent — some are seeking metaphysical intervention.

To clear away bad vibes caused by the swirl of anxiety, desperation, and loss encircling the market, local buyers, sellers, and agents have been turning to witches, psychics, intuits, mediums, feng shui consultants, and 2,000-year-old saints — among others — to perform house clearings and blessings, and to provide direction and a divine cloak of protection.

“Because I don’t know the history of the house, I don’t want whatever happened there to follow me,’’ explained Nicole Palmer, who, with her husband, Richard, has a contract on a foreclosed Peabody home that Bruno blessed, and which the couple plans to have blessed a second time by a Native American relative.

“These are very, very uncertain times, and many people come to me, and people like me, in search of some guidance,’’ said Kyri Spencer of Billerica, who identifies herself as a clairvoyant psychic adviser and medium.

Ultimately, blessings and clearings are believed to remove remnants of negative energy stagnating after arguments, physical or mental pain, sickness, and other hardships.

And, practitioners cite drastic results, including foreclosures or other houses that have sat idly on the market for months suddenly attracting multiple offers.

But before all that, “you can hear the anger, it gets into your bones,’’ said Bruno, who does blessings for free — except for a promise that the recipients will make a donation to charity.

Houses are a lot like people, agreed Natalia Kaylin, a feng shui consultant based in Westford: Some feel joyful, others feel neglected.

“They absorb human emotions,’’ she said.

That’s something Palmer picked up on while house-hunting.

A lot of the homes “felt very sad, and like a lot of things occurred there,’’ she said. But she recalled stepping inside houses blessed in previous years by her stepfather, who is partly Native American, and noting a lighter, newer feeling.

With her future house (which has a tentative closing date next month), meanwhile, Palmer said, she didn’t feel any particular sadness or “heavy feeling,’’ but the blessings will make her feel more secure.

Palmer said that she and her husband want a “new beginning, our own adventure.’’

However, Bruno stressed, it isn’t just a one-way benefit.

“You want to bless it for the people who will be going there,’’ she said, “but also the people who had to leave.’’

Still, Spencer noted, she and others like her don’t have the power to protect people who have exercised bad judgment or who have been persuaded to enter into ultimately disastrous financial arrangements.

“I can only ask that any entities or intelligences that may have any influence upon the course of events to look favorably upon those who are in need of assistance,’’ she said, and to also help them see their choices, options, and consequences more clearly.

In such cases, “even if they don’t get to keep their home, it will probably get them someplace better,’’ Pamela Landenburg of Wakefield, who describes herself as a psychic medium, asserted of house clearings.

At that precise moment, she stood barefoot, abalone shell in hand, in a green duplex on a busy Dracut street. Her goal: To provide good tidings for the owner, who isn’t facing foreclosure, but who hopes to soon move on to a new home.

Over the next roughly 20 minutes, Landenburg moved in clockwise circles around the perimeter of each room — three bedrooms and upstairs bathroom, living room, kitchen and downstairs bathroom — waving the shell with its smoking frankincense and white sage, clapping in each corner, shaking a rattle, squirting holy water from a spray bottle, scattering kosher salt in doorways.

The owner “feels that things aren’t going right for her,’’ she explained. “We’re hoping this will get her flow of energy going.’’

Which is also a core principle in Kaylin’s work; with feng shui, she does compass measurements and gauges the flow of energy as part of her calculations, and employs more conventional methods as well, such as altering colors, rearranging furniture and decorations, or adding plants.

The placement of the “for sale’’ sign is also crucial, she said.

“What I’m trying to do is find the reason the house isn’t selling. If there’s a negative aspect, how can I minimize it?’’ she said. “I do see a house as something alive. I feel it, work with it, get to know it, learn its story.’’

The ultimate goal is to create a lure for a buyer, she said, so “it’s like certain harmony lands on them when they enter the property.’’

But when energy or the spirits aren’t called upon? The saints are.

Specifically, St. Joseph, husband to the Virgin Mary and patron saint of carpenters. Sellers looking for help will bury a small statue of St. Joseph upside-down near their realty sign.

“Some people perceive this as a good-luck charm; others see it as something much more divine,’’ said Phil Cates, founder of St. Joseph Statue LLC, which sells kits with 4-inch and 8-inch statues.

Ultimately, Cates said, “it’s about protecting people against bad real estate decisions. I think he’s more of a protector than a home-seller.’’

Testimonials might say different, though; as Cates noted, people have reported receiving multiple offers just after burial of the statue, and even interest the moment they place an online order for a kit.

All told, the Calif.-based company has seen business “starting to really pick up’’ over the last year, Cates said, although interest overall tends to be cyclical.

Bruno, for her part, has experienced a similar demand: These days she performs an average of two house blessings a week.

“In the past four months, it’s gone crazy,’’ Janet Howcroft, a broker with Five Star Realty Group, with whom Bruno principally works, said from the driver’s seat of an SUV darting through the Peabody streets on a recent drizzly weekday.

Minutes later, Bruno’s voice reverberates off the pale yellow walls of an empty Peabody foreclosure, a renovated 1840 Colonial.

A figure dressed in black with an array of chains, bracelets, and dozens of earrings running up and down each lobe, and multiple rings encircling every finger, Bruno traces the house’s first floor in several swift arcs.

First, with flicks of kosher salt from a plastic tub.

“To those who come to this house anew, may their dreams come true!’’

Then, wafting incense; then holding a Michael the Archangel candle aloft.

“Joy, joy, prosperity be!’’

Splashing holy water from a bowl.

“By the element of water, I bless every quarter!’’

Motioning crosses and stars at each window and the front door with a steel blade.

“I seal the window with steel most powerful!’’

Finally a clanging bell sharply punctuating her words.

“Send all negativity away!’’

In about 10 minutes, it’s all over; Bruno quickly clears out and shuts the door, in hopes that the lingering energy will follow.

Then, pausing on the front lawn, she nods at the clearing clouds and budding roses, and makes a prediction: “This house will have joy.’’

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