Clients come to him for everything from spiritual cleansings in which he recites a powerful prayer that was written in the dark ages to combat the bubonic plague, to the reversal of an impotency spell that was cast by an ex-girlfriend, to the removal of the evil eye from children. When customers come in for tarot readings, he simply asks for their first name and nothing else, knowing that his readings will typically answer any questions they have.
Despite hearing stories of local ghosts and whisperings of cursed neighbors since I was young, I’ve remained something of a skeptic. Possibly sensing my reservations, Olmeda offers to do a reading for me. Within minutes, he’s mentioning family secrets and personal details about my life that aren’t Google-able. I start to see why people across the globe will pay for the long-distance phone calls.
It turns out there’s more than one way to predict someone’s future. Original Products Botanica, located on a bustling street in the Bronx, offers a variety of consultations. Chris Ochun, aka Crystal Truth, runs the spiritual center. The third-generation psychic is a Santeria priest who fills his staff with readers from different cultures and backgrounds. “We cater to just about every type of religious system,” Ochun says. They offer tarot card readings, water gazing (“I look through the water and I can spiritually travel through it, like a movie scene, and then I dictate things that I see,” explains Ochun), and shell divination, which involves interpreting cowrie shells.
Since the mid-1960s, the botanica has been serving anyone looking for a little help. Now run by cousins Steve Amateau and Jason Mizrahi—the latter’s dad founded it—the core is still the same. Most products fall into one of three categories of issues for which people seek assistance: money, love, and protection. “It’s a wide range of who you’re going to see and what their need is,” Amateau says. “Everybody’s different, so you just try to help them however you can.”
People might come in looking for oils or candles for their altar. The botanica creates specially carved candles dedicated to particular situations, such as a chakra-balancing one—say a prayer when you light it and it will help realign your energies. It also offers stones, which have been used since ancient times for energy work (think amethyst for calming power). Then there are recipes for spiritual baths, which can be blended to help with a specific issue. Simply pray over the liquid and then pour it over you from the neck down. “That’s to exorcise the energy in your body and in your system,” explains Ochun. “Our bodies are like forces of energy. They have a lot of energy within them, so sometimes we either need to calm them down or raise their vibrations. That’s what the baths are for.” Most of the products are made downstairs in the basement, while all of the candles come directly from Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic. “We have [employees] that have been here for 10, 20, 30, 40 years, so they’re knowledgeable,” Amateau says.
“Knowing I have the ability to change somebody with a good direction is what inspires me,” says Ochun. “I try to have [everyone who works with me] inspire people with the best of their abilities and utilize the different materials that we have here, like candles, to give people a focus. Basically you’re using an item to generate your vision so you can transfer that energy into something good. The miracles happen within your own hands.” And he wants others to be able to do it, too. Every Saturday, Ochun leads a spiritual development class at the shop. Filled with hands-on exercises, it teaches people how to enhance their psychic abilities.
To send me on my spiritual journey, Ochun lets me choose a hand-carved candle, encouraging me to pick whatever speaks to me. The green ones with dollar signs feel obvious, so I choose a pretty yellow candle with a peacock in glitter, partially because I like the mystery of it. (And admittedly, because I like the design, too, which Ochun jokingly calls me out on.) “This is considered sweet honey; you can use it to sweeten up any part of your life. We add rose petals and a little bit of lavender to give the energy of the spirit,” he says, advising me to pray to whatever I want when I light it, and suggesting I add a bit of sandalwood to balance out energies, while an employee carves my name into it. I haven’t decided what needs some sweetening in my life yet, but Ochun assures me, “The power of prayer is within the candle and yourself.”