Divining the Future, Channeling the Past

By: Jyl Benson

Since 1929, the Bottom of the Cup has been offering coffee, tea and psychic guidance

Many local facets associated with alternative belief systems can be traced to the days of slavery when a myriad of faiths amalgamated into what is commonly regarded as voodoo, which came to Louisiana from Santo Domingo during the slave uprising of 1790. It is a combination of religion, myth, practice and superstition. The superstitious of all races sought the charms (gris-gris) to solve problems of all types, from romance to finance.

Shops and businesses catering to those with beliefs stemming from the supernatural are scattered throughout the French Quarter. The least formal of them are established, seemingly willy-nilly, on the sidewalk and involve little more than two chairs and a small table over which proprietor and patron will converse. Others are operated out of residential back rooms or front parlors and purveyors simply hang out a shingle and you seek them out.

Tarot and Palmistry Popular “Sports”

Whether laced with elements of voodoo or not, general fortune telling is a popular “sport” here and the most commonly available forms of the practice are palmistry and tarot readings. The ancient art of tarot is largely reliant on psychic “ability” and seeks to divine the “truth” from symbolic images. The equally ancient art of palmistry is based on analysis rather than intuition. Through its practice the lines in the hands are interpreted as an electrical diagram of the two hemispheres of the brain, based on the principle that the shapes and lines of the hands are the living picture of the forces that make each individual unique.

There is no standard for ability within either medium and anyone who buys a city license can offer readings, as is evidenced by the small army of practitioners who operate from tables and small booths around the perimeter of Jackson Square. You won’t be able to tell beforehand whether your chosen reader turns out to be genuinely gifted or an absolute charlatan. Readings can be frightfully accurate or completely nonsensical. Expect to pay $20 to $50 for a reading that can last from ten minutes up to half an hour and agree on a price before you start.

If you believe there’s safety in numbers and age brings a patina of authenticity then Bottom of the Cup Tea Room (327 Charters Street 524-1997), is the place for you. Alys Mullen followed in the steps of both her mother and grandmother when she entered the family-run businesses, which has been in operation since 1929. Mullen is now training a fourth generation of family fortunetellers to eventually take over and business is booming. Mullen said Bottom of the Cup has a steady clientele of over 10,000 people who call or visit regularly for consultations through tarot cards, crystals, palmistry, tea leaves, crystal ball readings, astrological readings and general psychic readings, all of which are recorded so you can listen again and again. With all of this activity it is best to book appointments in advance.

“We also have an inventory of over 100 absolutely delicious teas and coffees,” Mullen said. “If you don’t want your fortune told then just stop in for a cup.”

Wiccans Will Conjure Up a Séance on Dumaine

If a cup of tea and a bit of fortune telling are too lighthearted for your purposes perhaps a séance will better fit the bill? Not the easiest thing in the world to come by but you’re in luck while in the French Quarter. The coven of self-described professional witches and apprentices of Wicca who operate Esoterica Occult Goods (541 Dumaine Street, 504-581-7711) not only offer tarot readings, spiritual consultations and everything you will need to create an altar at which to practice your alternative faith, they will also host a séance for you, by appointment, in the private occult library at the shop.

Jyl Benson is a New Orleans-based writer and publicist and frequent contributor to Time, New Orleans, St. Charles Avenue and the Times Picayune. She also regularly contributes to travel and guide books on New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.