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'Completely unique': Durham bar offers tarot and safe space

Photo Courtesy of Arcana Durham.

Past a lesbian pride flag and down a flight of stairs into an underground bar, customers of Arcana Durham are met with mismatched antique furniture, mood lighting, themed drinks and a "family" of tarot readers.

As a hidden bar in the center of downtown Durham, Arcana is alternative, witchy and LGBTQ+ friendly. While the bar frequently hosts literary readings, queer trivia and queer craft nights, they are most well known for their tarot. 

“Arcana Bar and Lounge is completely unique in that regard,” Heiltje le Roux, a card reader at Arcana, said. “I have not encountered that before. Not on any continent.”

Erin Karcher, the owner of Arcana, has established a family of eight readers who come on a weekly basis. Since each reader has their distinct style and deck, they all conduct their sessions differently. Customers connect with readers depending on their personalities or needs.

The bar has no televisions, which allows guests to be more present in the moment, Karcher said.

Despite misconceptions or stigmas about tarot, Devon Pelto, a member of Arcana's "family," sees tarot sessions as opportunities for people to share their experiences.

Pelto is completing a masters in social work at UNC, and said they use their studies to aid interpersonal connections in their spiritual work.

“[Tarot reading] is just another tool that we use to help with self-growth,” Pelto said.

By working in a safe, inclusive space like Arcana, Rene Lambert — a self-taught reader — hopes that tarot will be used as a tool of clarity for clients. They hope that their work will provide alternative trains of thought for making decisions. 

For people who have never tried tarot, booking a reading can be an intimidating process. Karcher described this inconvenience as an energy hump. She said that Arcana makes this task less daunting.

“It just makes it a lot more accessible,” Karcher said. “It’s easy to get a reading done and to just be spontaneous and take that opportunity when you're out at a bar.”

Although the readings are conducted in a public space, the social atmosphere of Arcana provides enough privacy to allow for honest and difficult conversations, Pelto said. 

Lambert said Arcana is a place of interaction, for people to come together and uplift one another, whether intentionally or through the space's collective energy.

Karcher said some customers see the tarot experience as part of a fun night out, while others might leave a read crying and using the tissues available on the bar's tables. 

“Hearts are tender, so in a bar that is very feelings-based that definitely bleeds in,” Karcher said. “But I think it becomes a really bittersweet fabric when folks come out and still find really meaningful human connections during a time when things are hard in the world.”

By engaging and promoting tarot practices, Arcana has become a hub for many forms of spirituality. The bar has been a meet up spot for the Triangle Area Pagan Alliance community network of Pagans, witches, Polytheists, Wiccans, Druids, Heathens and practitioners of earth-centered faiths.

“[Arcana] is an incredibly inclusive, safe environment for anybody of all expressions,” le Roux said. “In that, they are beautifully unique. Everybody and anybody is welcome.” 

@dthlifestyle |

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