In the lobby of the Holiday Inn Chantilly, there’s a leak in the ceiling. Next to the pail collecting the drips sits Stormy Daniels, her client and a haunted doll called Susan.
This is a normal — and paranormal — afternoon for the world’s most notorious porn star. In the time since her hush-money imbroglio with President Trump, Daniels has dedicated her time to directing porn, making some for her OnlyFans, reality TV show appearances… and the supernatural. Her latest venture sees her reading tarot for clients who book with her online. This is what has brought Cockburn to the fringes of the Exxxotica DC convention.
“I usually do these up in the room,” Stormy explains, festively dressed in a red-and-black checked shirt and a snowflake necklace. “Not sure what happened last year — not with me! — but they don’t allow that anymore.” A veteran of the adult film industry, she has the air of a woman who has quite literally seen it all. “I saw someone humping that inflatable Santa last night,” she says, rolling her eyes and gesturing across the lobby at a rather limp-looking St. Nick.
Opposite her sits her client, a young woman who we’ll call Hannah, who was referred to Stormy by a friend.
“First I’m gonna cleanse the deck, and then I’m gonna call the gods, spirits, whatever you wanna call them,” Stormy says. She uses two decks of tarot cards — the first, a Lenormand, as her main cards, the second, an Oracle deck, as a “clarifier.” She tells Hannah that if there’s something specific she’s seeking an answer on, “don’t think about it.” Stormy also stresses that Hannah should try and remain as neutral as possible in her reactions: “Being a stripper for as long as I have been, I accidentally got very good at reading body language.”
With that, it’s off to the races. She shuffles both decks in turn, and speaks to herself under her breath as she deals out six cards in three columns of two: representing past, present and future. For the past, Stormy flips over the Guardian of the Gate, and begins to explain. “This is a card of growth,” she says. The second “past” card is the Book, which, unsurprisingly, represents education or knowledge. On the second column, for the present, things get interesting: Stormy turns over the Alchemist, a card that represents dramatic change. “It can be explosive, dramatic,” she says. Stormy talks with her hands a lot as she reads, in a manner that Cockburn found reminded him of Tony Blair — though obviously she’s significantly more innocent.
Next Stormy turns over a card representing a man. “This is a very life-changing reading,” she tells Hannah, “this is not an easy reading.” To assuage any concerns, Stormy asks Hannah to “pretend there’s an imaginary column right here,” between the “present” and “future” columns, “that you have complete control over.” The meaning of the reading, Stormy says, is “starting your own adventure on your own.” “They’re almost all double clarifiers,” she assures Hannah.
“Cards are on the table, I’ve told you what they mean,” Stormy concludes. “Does that resonate with you?” Hannah takes Stormy’s reading into account: she describes a possible move to another part of the country, and a man she’d potentially be leaving behind. Stormy listens attentively, almost as an older sister might (not Cockburn’s older sister, mind). She offers relationship advice and then stands up to let her client take a picture of the cards. Out of her own curiosity, she redeals one row of cards to answer a specific question. “That was intense… my tits are sweaty,” she says at the end, before hugging Hannah and sending her on her way.
At first, Stormy had appeared a touch standoffish upon noticing your intrepid reporter in the lobby. “Dressed down like that you are the spitting image of my ex-husband…and he was a journalist too,” she explains. “I did a double take.”
Stormy Daniels has always had a sense for the supernatural. She does, after all, hail from New Orleans, one of the spookiest cities in the South. She tells Cockburn that at twenty-three she’d had a vision that her daughter was going to die — but that her then-husband didn’t listen. “We buried her five days later,” she says matter-of-factly. In 2019, she moved into what she describes as a “very haunted house” — this was with another previous husband, the journalist. The spooky goings-on led her to reach out to production companies about doing a supernatural reality show, and she sought out a couple of paranormal investigators at a touring live show. She then started making her own paranormal activity show during the pandemic.
“The way I started reading cards was that I started basically seeing dead people,” she tells Cockburn. “I make the joke that I came out into my living room one day and it was like the waiting room from Beetlejuice. I was getting readings from my friend Carly, who finally one day was like ‘I’m not doing readings for you anymore, just do it for yourself.’
“No one actually even taught me the technique I use,” Stormy says, “but I did 250 readings last year and only had three that there was an issue. One, I just couldn’t get anything, just nothing would come through, so I refunded the money. The other, the lady was just saying, ‘that’s all wrong, that’s all wrong…’ But she came to the reading with her mother-in-law, and I saw what was on the cards. So she lied — and a couple of days later she messaged me back and was like, ‘you were right, I just couldn’t admit to it in front of her.’
“And then the other one was at an event like this. It was Exxxotica New Jersey, two years ago I guess. The guy came to the room, the second he walked in the door, I was like, ‘this is not gonna go well.’ Like, he wasn’t there for a reading. And I said, ‘well I’m sorry, I’ll give you your money back.’ And he was like, ‘or you could do something else?’ ‘For a hundred bucks? Now I’m pissed and insulted! Get the fuck out — and I’m keeping your money!’ Those are the only times: most of my clients are repeat clients. The girl I just saw was a friend of one who at first didn’t really believe me so she tested me — and I scared the shit out of her. I like, told her where stuff was in her house several states away.”
Cockburn offers his observations on the reading he’d just witnessed, and particularly her sisterly demeanor.
“I wish you had seen the reading I did yesterday, I ended up straight up yelling at her,” Stormy replies (this sounds much more like Cockburn’s sister). “I was like, ‘you’re not listening to me, I’ve pulled the same cards for you the last three times I’ve met with you.’”
Tell us more about seeing dead people? “Sometimes I pick up stuff and use the cards less, sometimes I’ll stop and be like, ‘who was this person? Do you know this person who looks like this?’ And it has nothing to do with the reading, it’s just because we’re open and someone shows up for them. That’s the most frustrating thing for me. I know it’s in there, I know I can do it, I just don’t know how to control it. Like if you sat down right now and said, ‘here’s a thousand dollars, I want to contact my grandfather and ask him about this’… I won’t even say it’s 50-50. But I’ve had it happen to me the other way where I’m like minding my own business and somebody shows up. It’s almost like the dead come to me and I have to figure out who the living that goes with them are — and everyone else is the opposite. It’s so frustrating.”
Cockburn takes the empty seat at the table. Stormy sits opposite him. Susan the angry haunted doll takes the third chair. “That’s a whole separate story,” Stormy says, when Cockburn asks about her. “She doesn’t like to be left out.”
At the table, a bowl of sage is burning. “It cleanses the energy between each reading,” Stormy explains. “You don’t want somebody else’s cooties.”
Once again, Stormy composes herself and cleanses the decks.
“Your birthday’s not in May is it?” she asks as she deals. “I’m only asking because my ex’s birthday was…”
And so we begin. “Ooh… Death!” Stormy says, flipping the first card. Cockburn thinks about crossing himself to ward off the reaper, but decides to focus instead. Stormy mutters under her breath: “That’s a very interesting… fish, fox or….” She overturns Cockburn’s second “past” card. A fox. “See, I called it, you hear me say it? Fish or fox!” Stormy turns the other four cards face up.
“I’m just gonna tell you what the cards mean, then I’ll tell you what I think it’s about and then you can tell me what it is,” she says. First: the Death card. “Death is not actual ‘death’… I mean, it can be, but I’ve actually never had it be that. It’s just the ending of something, it’s the finalization. It can be a really good card, you can’t start something new unless something ends.
Stormy goes on to explain how the Fox can be either “the other man… if someone’s cheating” or the work card. “Foxes are cunning and smart and they will do whatever it takes to get into the henhouse.”
Moving onto the next column: “Current energy is the Sun, which is success, joy, happiness, all of the good things… but it’s reversed, which means… not happiness. And I paired it with the Moon, and the Moon is changes in emotions. When I pull this for women, I’m always like, ‘there will be tears.’”
But what of the future? “The Friends card, which is asking for support, or having friends help you, or you have a friend that’s gonna need your help, basically relying on friends.” The final clarifying card is the Clouds. “The confusion, clarity, things coming to light.”
True to her instructions, Cockburn endeavors to maintain his most Vegas-appropriate poker face.
“So if I look at this as a whole, I think, and I did not Google you, that something ended, it was work-related,” Stormy offers. “And you have something new, but… I don’t know if you’re actually completely happy with the change… just because something ended and it’s good that it ended, doesn’t mean that it doesn’t kind of suck. Just the fact that this is reversed, I’m hoping it means that the kinks haven’t been worked out yet.
“This is the outcome, and this is the trajectory, but it’s not set in stone. You can change it: if you like it, let it ride, if you wanna force it along, just put your own cards there and whatever you want them to be, take the steps, or if this fucking sucks: change it.
“The clouds are gonna clear, and hopefully when that happens this,” she picks up the reverse Sun card, “will do this,” she turns it the correct way around.
Stormy’s cards are certainly right about one thing: Cockburn frequently finds himself missing the pub. Her fourth husband, Barrett Blade, gets up from a nearby table to escort his wife to the adult convention next door. Shaking Cockburn’s hand, he says, “just tell the truth, man.” Cockburn endeavors to do his best, with the help of the cards — and he can see why that would matter so much to Daniels. In the days since his reading, her former lawyer Michael Avenatti was sentenced to an additional fourteen years in prison for stealing millions of dollars from his clients. Who could have seen that coming?