In spending any amount of time investigating the services one could access through Minitel in France from the mid 1980s to early 2000s, it quickly becomes apparent the little computer left hardly a corner of any market unreached— even that of the occult. By typing “3615 DIVINITEL” into their Minitels, customers had access to a wide variety of mystical services, all offered over the phone. The Divinitel office appeared innocuous, as it sat among other tech firms in Paris. Perhaps Divinitel existed as a company and offered its services before Minitel, but the name suggests a rebranding after the network entered into wide use across France. The fact that all the employees— even those in seemingly managerial positions— also worked as clairvoyants for Divinitel alludes to there being some kind of magical practice in place before Minitel and the move online.
Of the hundreds of “clairvoyant consultation” service providers on Minitel, Charles Bremmer of The Times reported Divinitel to be the largest in 1993. In his article “City Lights,” Bremmer interviewed the managing director of the company, Claude Naisse. Naisse boasted of the wide array and appeal that Divinitel’s services had to the public. They offered every kind of magical practice imaginable, including voodoo doll acts, spell casting, political consultations, and astrological readings. Customers needed to just call in through their Minitel, services being 200 francs an hour. Even though these services may only seem appealing to a very fringe few, Bremmer notes that Naisse’s company made over 1 million pounds in its previous business year. Bremmer seemed inclined to attribute this to the economic fears of the public at the time, suspecting a sizable portion of Divinitel’s clientele may come from employers trying to pre-screen applicants with a little help from the beyond (despite France’s move to make “irrational” employments practices illegal). Naisse attributed the company’s boom to the anonymity Minitel provides, having said “People really appreciate being able to talk to someone neutral.” While Bremmer seemed to write his article from a slightly mocking perspective— obviously not personally seeing the value of the practice— it is evident he was impressed by the company’s lucrativeness and strong customer base.
It seems London dwellers were not the only foreign population intrigued by France’s occult consulting market via Minitel, as Diana Jean Schemo of The Baltimore Sun investigated Divinitel in her 1993 article “Dial-a-fortune comforts the wealthy but nervous WAR IN THE GULF.” As the title suggests, Schemo also seemed inclined to label Divintel as nothing more than a meritless money grabbing scheme. She wrote about Divinitel’s increased business that accompanied the start of the Gulf War, as the French turned to the clairvoyant to seek answers in a time of uncertainty. Many people called asking for their deployed spouses to be given protection from harm. In addition to the Iraq War, Schemo also harped on the economy driving up the company’s business. She also talked to Naisse and he told her about customers who came to Dinvintel hoping to put spells on their industrial competition. While Schemo did not overtly make fun of their services, she clearly seemed to think of Divintel as nothing more than an institution taking advantage of the fears of the community, exploiting them for profit.
Minitel’s rise and prolificness throughout French culture certainly seemed to have made a more niche practice widely accessible. While perhaps people sought the help of the clairvoyant before Divinitel, the way on which it was reported suggests the boom of this industry was not something obviously foreseeable. A 1989 article from Le Monde adopted an alarmist tone, focusing mostly on the fact the “satanic” practices were made easily available and widely used by French people. The article concluded by saying “This report, complete and well done, surprises and disturbs.” The unnamed author seemed unable to reconcile the notion that people taking money for performing such mystical services as Divinitel did was both criminal and spiritually reprehensible. Much like Minitel Rose, Divinitel and other similar services did not create a new market— they rather exploited a seemingly more latent interest of the public. There was not a commercial industry for their product anywhere close to the size it would become with the introduction of Minitel. Divinitel offered people an attempt at controlling the uncontrollable, likely providing them a sense of comfort. It likely also simply served as something entertaining and fun, given its newfound accessibility.
Given the transience of Minitel and all it offered, research into its former contents will be obviously limited. Although the way on which Divinitel was reported lends insight into its cultural function and general reception, it does not lend insight into opinions held by those who actually used and appreciated (or did not appreciate) its services. Given its monetary success, it can be assumed it had a more than satisfied client base. Specific accounts and reasons for fondness over the program, however, are unfortunately lost in the past.
Charles Bremner. “City Lights”. The Times. October 30, 1993, Saturday. https://advance.lexis.com/api/document?collection=news&id=urn:contentItem:3T2M-8YT0-00H1-F3CS-00000-00&context=1516831.
“THE WITCH LIVES IN THE BUILDING: A2, 10:15 p.m. Paris, magic”. Le Monde. October 29, 1989. https://www.lemonde.fr/archives/article/1989/10/29/lundi-30-octobre-le-sorcier-habite-l-immeuble-a2-22-h-15-paris-magie_4130221_1819218.html .
Schemo, Diana Jean. 1991. “Dial-a-Fortune Comforts the Wealthy but Nervous WAR IN THE GULF: [1-DOT Edition].” The Sun, Feb 16, 3A.