Someone looking for a tarot reading in Brooklyn, New York would not have to search for too long. The city is rich with tarot readers from many backgrounds and belief sets.
From witch covens to tarot readers to occult bookstores, the borough houses an active and eclectic community that has developed particularly strongly in the traditionally working-class neighborhood of Bushwick. Many of the tarot readers and spiritual explorers in this area have gathered in recent years around two focal points: the occult bookstore, Catland, and the biweekly tarot bazaar, Tarot Society. Between these and other affiliated venues, a diverse metaphysical community is forming.
Meet 7 of the tarot readers who are actively shaping this community:
Damon described himself as a “nerdy boy” in childhood, raised in a Catholic family, who spent most of his time in libraries. But he was always fascinated by divination, he told HuffPost, having grown up watching his grandmother tell fortunes with playing cards. “I can’t live in nihilistic world,” he said. “To me the notion that there is a way to connect to a higher consciousness is essential.” At age 14 he asked for his own deck of tarot, and by his mid teens Damon began training with a professional tarot reader.
After leaving home, Damon hit the road. “I was a vagabond with my pack of cards,” he said, hitchhiking throughout his native South Africa with a friend. In their travels Damon and his companion developed an interested in the practices of the sangoma -- traditional root workers who use divination to communicate with spirits on behalf of the living. Damon and his friend journeyed to the Mautse Valley where the sangoma were said to live in caves while receiving spiritual training. They lived there for two months -- an experience Damon said set the tone for his future career as a "spiritual practitioner."
His own spirituality encompasses paganism and witchcraft. “I self identify very strongly as a witch, and I see my practice as a card reader as an extension of witchcraft.” In his readings Damon uses two decks simultaneously with various talismans, or sacred objects, placed on the table for added magical potency. He is most comfortable, he told HuffPost, reading from metaphysical bookstores where he can incorporate other healing traditions into his practice (i.e. writing ‘prescriptions’ with certain herbs and incense or directing clients to the right candles or oils to use for various spiritual ailments.) “I want people to feel empowered and feel that they can take agency for their own spiritual practice.”
Stella bought her first tarot deck at age 13 with lunch money she had saved up. In the process of learning about the cards she befriended a classmate, Dante, who shared her interest and who would become a lifelong mentor and friend. Dante told Stella she was a “natural born witch,” a term mentioned often in the magical community and which, Stella said, refers to someone “born with their light turned on.”
“The more I do tarot,” Stella told HuffPost, “the more I understand that when I’m reading at my best it’s because I have something to say that’s helping someone.” Between being a tarot reader, a sex educator, a BDSM educator, a consent educator and also doing manual labor and service jobs, Stella is humble about her work. “I’m not trying to be a big shot. If I’m doing my job right, I’m providing a service.”
Stella describes herself as a “pragmatist.” For example, she was born with cancer in one of her hands which prevented her from using her thumb. When she was 17 she got reconstructive surgery that left her with chronic pain. To emotionally cope with the pain and reclaim that part of her body, Stella got an arrow tattoo on both of her wrists. Years later she walked into Catland, and one of the owners saw her tattoos and immediately mentioned the Norse god, Týr. According to myth, Týr was a one-handed god whose associated rune symbol was an arrow. “I wouldn’t believe in magic if I didn’t have some kind of evidence,” Stella said.
For Bruno, reading tarot was never something he could share with his Catholic Italian family. He began exploring divination at the age of 15 at a time, he said, when there was a lot of interest in occultism among his peers. A friend bought him his first deck -- a practice of gifting which assumes the potency of a rite of passage for many, Bruno said.
His first phase of tarot reading was characterized by exploration, reading for his high school teachers in secret and making after school visits to a local metaphysical bookstore. “When I was younger I had more of a wild approach [to tarot reading] because I didn’t have the knowledge of the history and the symbolism.” That said, the “wildness” allowed him to tap into the tarot as an intuitive tool, Bruno told HuffPost. “Being young I felt almost more in tune to it.”
He put the cards away for several years, returning to them when he felt more “psychologically ready” to tackle the kinds of issues people might bring up in their readings. Nowadays Bruno promotes transparency in the occult community. “To me it would be beautiful if everyone could learn tarot,” he said. Bruno reads primarily at events like Tarot Society and his approach is what he describes as “new age.” “[Reading tarot is] something I do, but it’s also part of who I am.”
Crimson Kitty grew up going to church every Sunday with her Episcopalian family. Her mother read tarot on the side, which added to the family’s pastiche of metaphysical inclinations. “My mom was a total witch even though to this day she’ll deny it,” Crimson told HuffPost. When she was 12 years old Crimson asked her mom to teach her the ways of tarot, but it wasn’t until she moved to Bushwick in 2013 and met Tarot Society organizer Darcey Leonard that she began reading regularly.
With practice came skill. “I started saying things I wouldn’t normally say, words or sentences I wouldn’t normally use in my daily life.” Crimson also performs drag professionally but through tarot found a means for exploring her eclectic spirituality. “I am pagan,” Crimson told HuffPost, “but I have my own personal spirituality. I focus on a wholeness within myself.”
Her readings emphasize the connection between reader and subject. “I have everyone shuffle the deck and take their time so they put their energy in there. If they’re not giving me energy, I can’t give them anything.” After this she shuffles the deck three times and takes a moment to absorb the energy, which she describes as being “like a vacuum through my throat. When I feel that feeling, I know it’s time to begin.”
Molly was “in the broom closet” for her first years of exploring witchcraft and tarot, she told HuffPost. She received her first deck as a gift from her mother at age 15 but didn’t begin reading for others until college. Those initial years were critical, though, for Molly to develop a personal relationship with the cards. “My deck knows me through and through,” Molly said. She turned to it in times of distress and confusion, cultivating an "inner wisdom" that would benefit her in future readings.
Several years ago Molly had what she described as a transformation. She went onto YouTube and began watching videos of protection mantras. Without noticing the time, three hours passed, inducing a state of “high” that she said lasted for four days. From then on she quit smoking, developed a yoga practice and began studying the tarot in a more focused way than she had before. “[Tarot] has a way of getting under your skin,” Molly told HuffPost.
Molly has been reading tarot professionally for a year. It has taken on renewed importance in the wake of her transformation. “Tarot has been my entrance into believing I’m a spiritual person,” Molly said. Her goal, she told HuffPost, is to “bring [these] magical practices to the mainstream” by helping others awaken their own spiritual selves.
“I’m not a psychic,” Stuart told HuffPost from the outset. “Nothing I do is supernatural.” Books and papers are strewn throughout his apartment, and Stuart himself can be found most days, he said, deep in study. Tarot is an field of academic inquiry for him. The cards contain messages and symbols, Stuart said, that stand alone without the help of “intuition” from the reader. “These symbols are absolute,” Stuart told HuffPost. “I only operate the deck.”
The tarot deck does hold spiritual importance for many, though, Stuart said. “People sense dimly that something is missing from their life,” and they turn to tarot with the hope of discovering some truth about their lives and feeling more “spiritually fulfilled.” Stuart himself is involved with the Asatru Folk Assembly, which he described as an iteration of the native faith traditions of northern Europe.
The burgeoning interest in tarot among the public has surprised Stuart, who began studying Western mystical traditions in high school. “I was the bottom of the totem pole for being into [mysticism],” he said. “Now it’s the height of fashion.” He began reading tarot cards in college and developed a passion for the deck’s cosmology, which he said unifies symbols of many traditions. “The deck is intended to be an accurate representation of the world.”
David first picked up a tarot deck when he was five years old, but his mother quickly told him, “It’s not time yet.” He looked elsewhere -- to magical practices, visualization and Eastern philosophies -- to develop his psychic skills. When his mother finally sat him down later in life to go through the deck card by card, he began to see the potential to help people through his readings. “If there’s a deep wound and you can help fix that, that’s one hell of a feeling.”
But David sees nothing of "magic" in tarot reading, he told HuffPost. “It’s closer to science,” he said, mentioning quantum physics, neurotransmitters and the “vibration of molecules.” Even the concepts of a god, goddess and higher power, David explained, relate to scientific phenomena that he believes form the basis for so-called supernatural experiences. “All this stuff,” David told HuffPost, motioning to the cards, “it’s no big fucking deal.” Thinking it is, he said, leads to fear and “ego trips.” He takes the tarot and its wisdom seriously, though, saying the cards help him decode the “blips” of psychic intuition he receives every time he sits down with someone. When asked how his mind feels after all this psychic work, David replied, “Meditation helps, especially in New York.”