Interview With the Witch

CreditAnnie Tritt for The New York Times

Hi, I’m here to see the witch in residence,” I told the front desk employee at a West Village hotel. He asked me, with a slightly alarmed look, what I was talking about.

It didn’t take long to figure out that I had gone to the wrong hotel. A short taxi ride later, I found myself at the James New York, a hotel in the NoMad neighborhood, which is hosting a witch in residence for the month of October. Even at the correct destination, it took two employees to figure out what to do with the woman requesting to see the witch.

They sent me up to a room where I found Melissa Madara, an owner of Catland Books, an occult bookshop and community space in Brooklyn, where workshops have titles like Mediumship for the People, Yoga for Witches, and Reader’s Coven. One book it carries is called “Magic for the Resistance.”

This is a busy time for Ms. Madara, 27, who lives in the Kew Gardens section of Queens. She is a folk witch, herbalist and scryer (that’s like a reader of the crystal ball sort). “A lot of people are, like, ‘Can you come in and be spooky?’” she said.

She was wearing head-to-toe black but had an open demeanor and ease with strangers. Which is good because on Wednesdays, while she is in residence, interested parties can book her for 15-, 30- or 60-minute tarot sessions. Prices start at $ 30 for a 15-minute private session, and Appointments can be made at the Catland website.

Ms. Madara grew up with a mother who was a medium and a tarot reader. (She inherited her deck.) “It wasn’t until I got to college when I realized most people don’t have tarot reader moms,” she said.

Ms. Madara learned tarot by watching her mother give readings. Her sister went on another path. “She is a Jesuit,” she said. “We are quite different.”

After studying robotics at Tulane University, Ms. Madara spent time living in India and working as a pastry chef. “I’m a Gemini,” she said. “I get bored easily.”

She eventually made her way to New York City and got involved as a community member at Catland, then became an investor and owner.

Ms. Madara calls herself a “hobby botanist,” with a focus on poisonous plants. (For those curious about how she incorporates them into her practice, she is teaching Potion Making 101 on Oct. 28 at the hotel.)

“I love October,” she said before mentioning some of the embarrassments that come for prominent witches at this time each year. “I get ridiculous questions. Someone from Russian news media stuck a microphone in my face and asked what a witch looked like. A food channel asked if I could make a cupcake that could levitate.”

With movies like “Midsommar” and television shows like “Sabrina,” there is a pop image of the occult. Ms. Madara is concerned with showing what it means beyond the aesthetic. “I try not to be super-descriptive about what I do,” she said. Although, as a small-business owner, her daily responsibilities presumably involve fewer caldrons and more QuickBooks.

Ms. Madara is amused at the current vogue for all things occult.

“We are having our time in the sun, which seems to happen every 20 years, or when we have a conservative government,” she said. “It’s easier to find community, books, independent occult publishers. Girls who bullied me in high school are into it. Some people will stop at a certain point, and we’ll see who is here in the next 10 years once the fad wears off.”

For our tarot session, she lit incense and burned a candle, which she placed next to a crystal, all of which gave the suite a vaguely witchy ambience among the modern furnishings and giant TV.

She laid out two decks for me to shuffle: a classical tarot deck and the Supra Oracle, which is based on Jungian psychology and Gnosticism, with cards like Potential and Threshold.

We focused on specific questions I had, including whether I should pursue a future project. She said, “It is not going to end up in the form that it exists now” and that I needed to be flexible about it.

On easing my rampant anxiety, the cards told her that I needed to figure out where it was coming from. For my love life … well, maybe I needed to try some apps.

I asked Ms. Madara one particularly grave question about how my father would fare during an upcoming surgery. She paused and said that one thing she had learned from her mother was to ask if I wanted to know even if the cards didn’t predict a good outcome. I nodded.

She drew cups and swords, cards that didn’t mean anything to me, but she said they were all good signs.

Who knows what the future holds for any of her predictions? But I can say that two days later his surgery went smoothly.

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