Exploring The Strange Intersection Where Yelp Meets The Occult

07.22.16 3 years ago 4 Comments

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“Absolutely wonderful!!! I had a tarot reading here in 2013, two months later so many life changes happened. Spot on!” – 4/5 stars, Reg R. from Brooklyn, New York

“There seemed to be something wrong here. It gave me a bad feeling and made me feel overwhelmingly dizzy. Can’t pinpoint why, but thought I would share.” – 2/5 stars, Jillian F. from Redondo Beach, California

Hex: Old World Witchery is stationed on Decatur Street, along the eastern edge of the French Quarter, not far from the Mississippi River. Like most occult shops in this New Orleans, it’s cramped, the claustrophobia amplified by the constant conveyor belt of tourists passing through. The main room’s walls are stacked with typical magical fare — charms, candles, incense, and idols. Hex’s doors are propped wide, letting in sunlight and an unseasonably warm breeze. A secondary room is largely taken up by what looks to be a repurposed confession booth. Through a curtained partition, the silhouettes of two people can be seen hunched over a table, as the sound of a shuffling cards slips through the thin cloth barrier. There’s a small library of grimoires and astrology handbooks on a nearby bookshelf.

Hex’s prices are a little steep, though this seems to be the case more often than not with occult vendors. Witchcraft is a boutique business, and like any other specialized supply outlet, those who corner the market can set the prices pretty much as they see fit. A copy of Aleister Crowley’s Gems from the Equinox fetches about fifty bucks, while The Magical Properties of Plants and How to Find Them by Tylluan Penry will set you back forty. Quick fixes are less expensive, a casual passerby looking for small charms and trinkets can nab a set of coffin nails for only five dollars. Using them will aid in “all manner of protection, warding, reversing, and hexing spells!” according to the instruction slip.

Tourists looking for trinkets and joke gifts don’t care about quality, but true practitioners of the dark arts need wares they can depend on. It used to be that word-of-mouth and personal experience were all anyone had to uncover places like Old World Witchery, but now that online sites like Yelp encourage everyone to be a critic, it’s easier than ever to preview a store based on firsthand accounts of former customers.

“We’ve kind of created a little empire for ourselves. It’s all absolutely witchcraft and occult-oriented, but it’s our business, our corporation,” Brian Cain, co-owner of Hex, tells me a few days later.

When speaking about Warlocks Inc. — the venture he started with his husband, Christian Day — Cain pitches like the Don Draper of the magic world. I hardly have to ask any questions, because he’s anticipated those (premonitions, perhaps?) and provided specific answers. It’s no surprise to discover that both Cain and Day have been witchcraft practitioners for decades.

Warlocks Inc. started as a single store in Salem, Massachusetts, but after its success, Cain and his husband rapidly expanded into new markets and locations. Omen, a psychic parlor, is also located in Salem, and Hex now has its sister shop in New Orleans. The couple also organize occult-related conferences throughout the year, one of which, HexFest, sold out nine months before the event was held.

Warlocks Inc. also includes Psychics for Hire, which employs hundreds of gifted seers to work from their own homes. Telling fortunes over the phone may sound like a pretty sweet gig, but this isn’t some cheap outfit hiring just anybody off the street. Cain and Day vet all employees before they can pick up a receiver. The same goes for the actual items offered in stores. Cain describes the intricate process that goes into making all of Hex’s gris-gris bags, traditional Voodoo good luck charms and talismans, remembering the detail his husband put into their crafting.

“I was like, ‘You’re really dedicated to this!’ because some of these ingredients are not easy to come by. He was like, ‘Of course I am. I want them to work.'”

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