Melissa Madara is one of the owners of metaphysical bookstore and community space Catland, but her title doesn't do her role there justice. “I am also one of our educators; run our intro-level community workshops; tend to our seasonal educational backyard herb garden; edit our biannual metaphysical magazine, Venefica; manage our other publishing projects at the shop; and do a lot of community outreach,” she told us in a single breath on a recent afternoon. “This morning I had a Kickstarter meeting; I came [to the bookstore] to do my second phone meeting of the day; and I am packing up our orders that need to be shipped out from our online store today,” she continued. “I'm also cleaning our event space, managing our back stock, placings orders, and teaching a class on dream interpretation. At some point, hopefully, I’ll eat something.” Did we mention she's also a witch? Still, Madara found time to chat with us about the very worldly tasks of communing with other worlds.
Photo courtesy of Melissa Madara
What Should We Do: Your business is not affiliated with a specific branch of occultism or metaphysics. Why did you decide to go in that direction?
Melissa Madara: Catland is a metaphysical community space, a witch shop where we hold space for other traditions. We carry books on Hermetism, women in the Kabbalah, and things like that. We try to have a good representation of many different perspectives of occult spiritualities. There needs to be a place for that. If we’re going to call ourselves a community space, then we need to be able to hold space for everyone in the community who doesn't necessarily believe in what we believe.WSWD: You help build that community through daily classes on all different subjects and approaches, including Yoga for Witches, Witchcraft 101, incense making, astrology, and tarot.
Madara: There are not many spaces in the occult community where people are meeting in person and making connections that way. A lot of what happens in the occult world happens online, so I think it’s important that we get to do that in a brick-and-mortar shop within our community.
My personal practice is nature-based…the idea that the human ego drives manifestation is not part of my practice.
WSWD: You are also a botanist. Can you tell us more about how plant magic resonates with you?
Madara: Plant magic has been superpopular in this community. Especially in New York, where we’re so divorced from wild spaces and the natural world, and people get excited every time they get to touch a plant. Right now I am really into morning glories; I'm fascinated by vining plants, in the way they seek out new pathways and make decisions.WSWD: You make the store's plant-based tinctures. How did you get into that?
Madara: Because I do readings here all the time, I get to hear the common problems that people deal with. I have a lot of people coming in telling me they have nightmares, chronic anxiety, joint pain, this or that. I selected the nine most common issues and developed blends to address them. Everything that I make uses what we grow here. Only a handful of the plants that I use are ones I have to buy in bulk online. It takes two weeks to make a tincture. Most of it is putting herbs in a jar, covering them in alcohol, and letting it sit. It’s not labor intensive, but it takes time. WSWD: What about your personal practice?
Madara: I decided to be more private about my practice, but I’ve been surrounded by occulture and occultism my whole life. My mom wouldn’t identify as a witch, but she’s a tarot reader and a medium. And my father was deeply engaged in nature exploration of the underworld. My personal practice is nature based and anti-humancentric: The idea that the human ego drives manifestation is not part of my practice.
We have people taking pictures of customers and objects in the shop and then giggling to themselves. It creates an unsafe environment.
WSWD: What’s your relationship with Instagram, both on a business and personal level?
Madara: Instagram is essential for everyone with a business right now. There’s no way of doing business without linking your content and media presence to Instagram. Personally, I hate to compulsively engage with an advertising platform. But the person who manages our account is an important part of the shop, and the photography is great.
On my personal account, I talk about what I am into. Sometimes it feels like an obligation, but I mostly just use it as a platform to connect to other witches and artists in the community.WSWD: You have a no-photography policy at Catland. What’s the rationale behind it?
Madara: People like to come in and engage with witchcraft as a spectacle, and that’s not the kind of environment we’re trying to engender at Catland. We’re a community space, so it’s really important that everyone in our shop feels safe to discuss what they need to discuss, safe to ask for help, and the like. We have people taking pictures of customers and objects in the shop and then giggling to themselves. It creates an unsafe environment. It’s more about making sure this is a safe space for everyone than protecting our aesthetic. WSWD: Last year you launched Venefica, a metaphysics-centric magazine, published twice a year for the vernal equinox and autumnal equinox. What has the process been so far, now that you're approaching the third issue?
Madara: It’s never easy. It’s always a massive undertaking, and I never give myself enough time, but I like the work and putting all these voices together. Venefica has become a talismanic object that is greater than the sum of its parts. I think that the second issue is the one where we really found our voice. For the first issue, I was winging it, having never edited a magazine before. But that’s typical Gemini fashion. The third issue is focusing on vernal themes. We’re talking about storytelling, transformation, mythology, dreams, dreamwork, and plant magic. We even have two pieces on poisonous plants. This will be the first time the launch party won't be held at Catland. We’re partnering with local businesses and artists to do something that we've never done before. It’s going to be huge.
Do you know someone who makes New York special? Tell us about them! Send us their story at PeopleWhoMakeNYSpecial@whatshouldwedo.com.