WRITTEN BY SCOTT BERSON
If you’ve taken a walk down Broadway recently, you might have come across an interesting sight near 11th Street. For many weeks now, Columbus local Melisha Schmitt has been offering free tarot readings for passerby outside Iron Bank Coffee. But she isn’t just telling fortunes for fun and profit—she wants to help the city’s least fortunate along the way.
“I just kind of reached the point in my life where I got tired of doing meaningless jobs that just didn’t give me any fulfillment and were hindering my mental and physical health,” she said. “I decided that I just wanted to do something I was passionate about and made me feel like I had a better meaning in life.”
Melisha had been doing tarot readings for fun ever since she’d learned the art from an old roommate. “She got me my own deck, and I turned out to be really good at it,” she said. “I’ve always kind of had a natural talent for understanding things and reading people.” She decided to use that talent to help fund her dream of being a filmmaker.
“I decided that I wanted to make a film project on homelessness and the poverty situation that’s going on in Columbus, and just have that be the launch of my videography career,” she said. Schmitt, a veteran, has struggled with homelessness herself, so the problem is especially close to her heart.
“I want to draw attention to the homeless population, and show different programs that actually help people—not just in giving them shelter and food but also mentally, giving them an environment that feels nourishing and growing, that will make them want to be a part of society again,” she explained.
While she still gives tarot readings for free, she has started asking for donations to help support her film. “I don’t force people to give donations—it’s entirely up to the person I’m reading if they want to donate to what I’m doing or not,” she said.
It hasn’t always been a smooth ride. Tarot cards have been used for hundreds of years in France and Italy for simple card games, but they gained a reputation as instruments of the occult in the 18th century.
“I’ve had people who are really grateful that I’m doing this. They refer to me as a kind of street counselor, so people definitely come up to me and talk to me about things that they probably wouldn’t talk about with some other people,” said Schmitt. “But I’ve also had the negative reaction. I’ve had people come up to me and tell me that this is evil, that I shouldn’t be doing this. Some people just bombard me with insults, or try to pray for me or save me, and I just keep telling them that I don’t need it. I believe in God, just because I’m doing Tarot card readings doesn’t mean I’m evil.”
Once she completes her project in Columbus, Schmitt says that she wants to travel the country making films. “Eventually I want to suit up a camper van and just live on the road,” she said. “I’m still going to do pieces on social issues, but I also want to do things that are about making people smile, and really highlight the people I get to meet and the places I get to see. I especially want to highlight street performers. I’d love to get some more attention on people who do the whole traveling thing full time.”