By Tanner Saunders
October 20, 2019
Courtesy of The James Hotel Nomad

When I enter a hotel, I usually don’t feel nervous. But this time, as I walked into The James Hotel – Nomad, a little shiver crept up my spine.

Unlike my usual jaunts to hotels around New York City to check out the bar or people watch in the lobby, this time I was heading straight to the penthouse to meet with a witch.

Yes, a witch.

This year, The James decided to truly embrace the spirit of the Halloween season by hosting a “Witch-in-Residence” at the hotel.  Melissa Madara — said Witch-in-Residence and co-owner of Catland Books, “Brooklyn’s premier metaphysical boutique," — was waiting to introduce me to the occult and give me a private tarot card reading.

Courtesy of The James Hotel Nomad

Riding up the elevator, I thought back to the previous tarot readings I’d had at gimmicky parties or themed nights at bars. Nothing about it ever felt real, I’d say, because I didn’t know the person who would be laying out my future for me. This time was different, and I felt that; Madara lives and practices this craft every single day. In fact, I’d walked past her shop many times on the way to my favorite bar to watch “RuPaul’s Drag Race” every Thursday or Friday night for the last four years. I was just never brave enough to go in - but that all changed this day. 

When I got to Penthouse 1, I took a deep breath and knocked. Then, as casual as ever, Madara opened the door and let me into the suite. There were no crystal balls, no black hats or spiderwebs on the wall. It was just me and her — both dressed like every other New Yorker — sitting in a nice living room separated by two decks of cards.

Ignorant, I started with the basics before we jumped into whatever the cards had in store for me, asking “What is the occult?” As it turns out, it simply means what is hidden, and to each person that can mean something totally different, Madara explained. For her it came naturally; her mother had been involved, so she grew up in it.

Courtesy of Catland Books

Like religion, this practice can be small or large, private or public, but for many, it’s simply just spiritual. In Brooklyn, it’s easy to get involved, and a trip to Catland Books in Bushwick is an easy introduction. In other parts of the country, it's a little more difficult to connect with the occult community. Enter: the perfect marriage of Madara and The James, teaming up to host private tarot card readings in the hotel every Wednesday for the month of October.

“What do you want to talk about?” she asked me while I shuffled the two decks. At previous readings this wasn’t a question asked; the reader just blindly told me what she found in the cards.

I rattled off the things constantly nagging at the top of my mind: money (duh), career, and health. And for the next 20 minutes we had less of a “reading,” per say, and more of a conversation about the things I was thinking and what the cards had to say about them.

Getty Images / Godong

While I won't tell you how the cards think my credit score is going to do in the future (blah!), I will say I left feeling vulnerable with my mind turning (in a good way). Before, I’d simply been told “you have a good life,” and maybe “be careful with the next person you meet.” But Madara took the time to explain each card, how she interpreted it, and how it might (or might not) apply to my life.

That dream I have of opening a furniture store? Maybe put it on hold for a while. My Health? Up and down (which is true), but nothing serious (in the near future, at least). I was satisfied.

I may not be a witch, but I don’t need tarot cards to see that as hotels are working to make super tailor-made experiences for guests — we’re talking water concierges and in-room recording studios — they’re also helping us take risks and explore areas outside of our comfort zones. And isn’t that the point of travel?

Had I not had the chance to visit The James’ Witch-in-Residence, I probably never would’ve stopped into Catland to get a true reading. But they made it easy for me, and now, when I’m unsure about something in life, I might just head to Bushwick to ask the cards again.

Until then, head to The James Nomad for “Witching Wednesday” and book a session between 15 minutes and an hour (prices start at $30). If that’s not enough, take “Potion Making 101” with Madara on Oct. 28 to “learn how to make your own take-home potion for personal spell-casting,” according to Departures.

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