Witchcraft and Pagan Groups
New York City has one of the largest numbers of pagan groups and witchcraft covens in the world. Witchcraft in New York City has a unique style, reflecting the multi-cultural, multi-religious atmosphere of the city. Only in New York can you walk into a Wicca store and find Santeria supplies, side-by-side with pentagrams, ritual daggers, and swords. The beauty of New York is its multi-ethnic makeup; practitioners share and learn from each other. Diversity brings power.
Witches worship the “old ways,” That is pre-monotheistic, nature-based practices based on the Goddess. Witch covens generally meet once or twice a month and, of course, during the eight Sabbats, the times on the yearly calendar when “magic and power” on the Earth are most intense. Winter Solstice, Beltane, Spring Equinox, and Samhain (Halloween) are the main holidays of the Witch.
Pagans, on the other hand, are harder to define. Witches can be pagan, but not all pagans consider themselves witches. Like witches, pagans follow a cyclical worldview, living according to the changing seasons. Pagans can worship any number of pre-monotheistic pantheons of deities, from the Norse Gods (Asatru) to the African Orisha deities (Santeria).
No introduction to witchcraft in New York City would be complete without mentioning the late Herman Slater and Edmund Buczynski, the innovative “fathers” of the modern Wicca movement in NYC. Nearly every coven today owes its existence somehow to Slater and Buczynski, who operated the Warlock Shop in Brooklyn Heights, and later the Magical Childe, on W. 19th St. in Manhattan.
Slater and Buczynski went on to initiate hundreds of witches, who, in turn, have branched out and formed their own traditions. Most notable is Lady Rhea, who went on to found Enchantments with Carole Bulzone in 1982.
Witchcraft is said to be the fastest-growing religion in the United State and it is diverse enough to fulfill the needs of nearly every spiritual seeker. The average modern American is alienated and disconnected from the natural world. The cycle of the seasons is not measured but the movement of the Moon and Sun anymore, but rather by television reruns and football games. Paganism and witchcraft speak to this modern disconnection by offering an acknowledgment of the sacred rhythm of the Earth and a community that values both wisdom and fellowship.
There are plenty of covens in the New York area. Some of the more established covens do not accept new members are difficult to find. This is especially true of the more traditional Gardnerian groups, whom many believe founded modern witchcraft in the 1950s. The following is a listing of some of the more eclectic and open covens and organizations in the City.
Wiccan Family Temple. The Wiccan Family Temple has replaced the Enchantments Pagan Way Grove as the city’s preeminent learning center for paganism and witchcraft. The Temple holds public rituals in Tompkin Square Park on Full Moons and major Witch Sabbats. The Temple was founded by Rev. Starr Ravenhawk, who has become a well-known figure in the East Village. The WFT also has a teaching branch called the WFT Academy of Pagan Studies, which brings students from neophytes to third-degree high priest/priestesses. The classes are held in the East Village area and, in the summer months, outdoors at Tompkin Square Park. Every July, Rev. Ravenhawk also holds WitchsFest USA, a three-day festival of witchcraft near Astor Place, that features classes, music, and vendors. “Free your mind, educate it and the rest will follow” is the motto of the WFT. Starr and her group have kept the magic alive in the East Village.
Temple of Hecate. The Temple of Hecate was founded in 2014 by HP Laurie BIzzarro, a protege of Lady Rhea. Bizarro says that she has been extremely empathic since her childhood, growing up in nearby New Jersey.
“I had a very rough childhood, I was alone a lot,” Bizarro said. “I was always drawn to nature and darkness. As a child I would escape into the woods at night – I always felt something was beckoning me.”
Bizarro would later realize that it was the Goddess Hecate who was calling her. She believes that she encountered a physical manifestation of the Goddess as a crone in 2000. She ended up establishing the Temple of Hecate on July 28, 2014.
“I have been a daughter of Hecate for 20 years, since becoming involved in Craft,” she says. “I feel that she is my mother and calls to me – she is the queen of witches. I have always been drawn to the underworld and to things not explainable and I feel that Hecate is the goddess of all realms, but especially that one.”
The Temple holds public and online rituals every full moon and new moon. The rituals are currently being held in – of course – the new “Hekate NYC,” a sober bar (meaning no alcohol.) The Temple also has a teaching curriculum specific to the Heketean path.
Magickal Realms, Bronx, NY. Lady Rhea is a luminary in the NYC witch community
Lady Rhea is affectionately known as the Witch Queen of New York City. She has been an icon in the NYC magickal community for more than 40 years.
She is the High Priestess and elder in the New York Coven of Witches as well as the Minoan Sisterhood. She has initiated and mentored generations of young witches in the city.
She began her magickal career while a young girl growing up in the Bronx. She began reading playing cards when she was 12 and also using an Ouija board for divination.
I wanted to be a Gypsy card reader,” she said. “At that time there were not many card readers, except for the Spanish readers, who would usually read in the basement of buildings.”
Her spiritual quest took to 300 Henry Street in Brooklyn Heights, home of the famed Warlock Shop, owned by the late Herman Slater. It was there she had a meeting that would change the course of her life – she met the late high priest Eddie Buczynski, the founder of Welsh Traditionalist Witchcraft and the Minoan Brotherhood.
“I was enchanted by him and used to follow him around like a little puppy dog,” she says. Bucczynski initiated her into Welsh tradition and began her magickal training. Together, along with Carole Bulzone, they formed the Minoan tradition, which allowed for same-sex magical partners to lead rituals, opening up coven work to gay and lesbian witches.
Rhea later worked at the Magickal Childe when Slater moved his operation from Brooklyn to 35 West 19th Street in Manhattan.
t was at the Magickal Childe that Lady Rhea first created the “Enchanted Candle,” a pull-out seven day candle that is dressed with specific oils, magickal sigils and glitter to achieve a specific goal, like finding a job or a new romance. She published The Enchanted Candle and Enchanted Formulary, of her magickal oil blends Her style of candle carving has inspired other books and has become a uniquely New York magickal practice.
Lady Rhea and Carole Bulzone left the Magickal Childe in 1982 to open Enchantments on Ninth Street in the East Village. She sold her half of Enchantments in 1987 to pursue motherhood, but eventually opened Magickal Realms in the Bronx and also was affiliated with Original Products for a number of years, managing their readers.
Her own spiritual can be described as eclectic; in addition to witchcraft, she has initiations in Tibetan Buddhism, is a devotee of Santa Muerte, and works with a large pantheon of deities, including Hindu, as well as the Orishas.
“New York is a melting pot, with many magickal traditions,” she says. “We share and learn from each other. It is what makes New York unique. In the end, the Earth is our mother and the witch is her voice.”
Rhea is a highly sought-after reader, using both tarot and her own intuition to guide a client. Her readings are magickal. Often times positive shifts will occur in the client’s life shortly after the reading.
Otherworldly Waxes, 333 Verplank Ave., Beacon, NY . Otherworldly Waxes used to be located in the East Village; however, has since moved to, Founder Dr. Catherine Riggs-Bergesen has helped popularize the powerful white magic self-help technique of candle magic with her book “Candle Therapy.” The ancient technique merges psychology and magic. By ritualistically carving a seven-day candle with the appropriate sigil and magical oils, Dr. Bergesen claims that you can get a new job, find love, expand your business and increase your prosperity.
Dr. Bergesen uses her training as a psychotherapist in her magic. While Otherworldy Waxes sells carved candles, she contends that magic is more powerful if you carve it yourself.
Otherworldy Waxes is now located in Beacon, NY, and is open once a month to the public and also offers appointments during the week. In addition to candles, incense, and occult supplies, the store also offers psychic readings.
The Magical Path School of Witchcraft, Conscious Spirituality, and Personal Transformation. Based in Central New York, this primarily online school has one of the most respected Witchcraft 101 programs – training that lasts a year and a day. Fiona Duncan, a lifelong witch from New York founded this school. She was first introduced to Italian folk magic as a young child by her immigrant grandparents. Over the years she has developed her own unique style that she calls “Modern Eclectic Witchcraft.” She is joined by teachers Nichole Beamer, Rhonda Alin, Jennifer ClarOscura, and Tree Carr. The school also offers a tarot program and personalized coaching.
Catland, 987 Flushing Ave., Brooklyn, NY 11206. Catland is a wonderful magickal store in Bushwick, known as “Brooklyn’s favorite little witch shop.” Founded in 2013 by Melissa Madara and Dakota St. Clare, the store has catalyzed the younger, hip witches in Brooklyn. The store has an excellent collection of herbs, candles and books. The book store has a great collection of local authors. The store also has a back room, where classes and lectures are held. Post-Covid, the lectures are primarily online. The eclectic classes include a monthly meditation circle, Yoga for Witches to Working the Fourth Book of Occult Philosophy.
The Zodiac Lounge. In the movie “Bell, Book and Candle,” the “Zodiac Lounge” was a hangout for fictional witches in New York City. The real-life Zodiac Lounge formerly occupied a storefront on West 96th St. in Manhattan, run by Anthony Russell. Russell has kept the spirit of the Zodiac Lounge through his eclectic YouTube show that he runs on Esoteric Guides TV and also through Astro West Underground, a metaphysical store in the Upper West Side that he helped establish.
A Manhattan native, Russel is well-known as a highly sought-after Tarot reader. He embodies the romantic vision of a psychic from New York city – sophisticated, well-traveled, articulate, and a master of several mystery traditions reflecting the melting pot of his locale.
Russell discovered the Tarot when he was 9 years old. He was on a visit to the Pierpont Morgan Museum and Library in NYC when he saw original Tarot cards on display from the only intact deck of the Visconti – Sforza tarot, which dates back to 1451.
“I was drawn to the cards from across the room,” he says. “I was fascinated by the colors and the composition – when I got closer to them, they almost appeared to be moving– they were very fluid to my vision.”
As fate would have it, Russell met a descendant of the Visconti family – the wife of one of his father’s business contacts – who agreed to teach him the deck. She agreed to teach him one card a month, with the agreement that he would write a report on each card.
“By the time I was 15, I had learned to interpret the entire deck,” he says. Russell says he often took his cards to Central Park and began reading for himself. It wasn’t before long that he had a long list of clients that he would regularly read for in the park.
“Some of those clients still call for readings,” he said. “And I also read for many of their children – and now, their grandchildren.”
Russell read Tarot as a way to support himself through his university degree and his post-graduate degree. He then left the occult world to pursue a career in music. He began by writing Pop and R&B, eventually transitioning into World Beat, where he was able to travel the world and learn the sacred music of many cultures and incorporate it into his work product, thus bringing sacred energy to the dance floors.
It wasn’t until he was in his 40s when a serious illness forced him to re-evaluate his life. During a near-death experience, he says that he had a vision that changed his life. Russell chose the road which brought him back to life, on the condition that he take care of “the very old, the very young and the very ill.”
As part of this agreement, Russell regularly raises money and awareness for abandoned children, senior citizens who find themselves isolated, and any who are living with a terminal illness. He also returned to Tarot reading to guide souls on their journey.
After he closed the Zodiac Lounge, Russell focused on his readings and pursued an advanced degree in clinical psychology at age 61; not to open a practice – but to give better counsel in his readings.
Russell has been a natural medium since childhood; however, for many years, Russell refused to do straight-up mediumship sessions. He says that many clients “were only interested in where the money was hidden, rather than resolving any issues with their loved ones.”
He has since softened his views – he says that he often gets “disincarnate beings” who join in on his psychic readings in order to give advice to his clients, often a relative. In this case, he will ask the client if they are comfortable with their deceased loved one joining the session and abide by their wishes.
“I liken my role to that of a multi-lingual bike messenger,” he says. “I have a document for you in a language few are fluent in. It is my job to interpret it for you. My cards are my Rosetta Stone, and they’re always on the money.”
Brid’s Closet, 286 Shore Road, Cornwall-on-Hudson, NY 12520. Bernadette Montana has been popular reading in the NYC area for years; she is well-known for her yearly Beltane ritual and festival held in Cornwall on Hudson. The maypole ritual at the festival has attracted more than 800 participants, making it one of the largest maypole rituals in North America, if not the world.
Montana, who runs the popular store Brid’s Closet, says she was raised in a magickal atmosphere in Harlem.
“I grew up in a Puerto Rican-Italian family,” she says. “My grandmother used to read Spanish cards.”
She began her occult journey after wandering into Enchantments on East Ninth Street and meeting Lady Rhea. “I bought many books on witchcraft and tarot,” she says. “It was my first foray into paganism.”
Her journey eventually led her to get initiated into the Progressive Tradition by Janet Farrar, earning three degrees. Montana has subsequently established her own Star and Crescent Moon coven, based in upstate New York. She describes her path as progressive witchcraft.
Montana has been reading tarot professionally for more than 30 years. She is also a natural medium and often will get contacted by passed-over loved ones of a client during a tarot reading. One of her specialties is finding lost objects, as well as people.
“My approach to tarot reading is less witchy and more practical, based on psychology and practicality,” she says. “I try to encourage people to help themselves. I am blunt and to the point. I give the client advice to give them hope and clarity.”
Brid’s Closet offers Tarot, Spiritual items, tea, candles, incense, and Tarot readings.
House of Stang. Damon Stang is one of the rising stars of the New York occult community. “Hip, edgy and charming,” he has made a name for himself as a charismatic reader and spiritual worker.
Raised in South Africa, he cut his teeth as a teenager reading in street fairs later honing his craft in the botanicas of NYC.
He moved to New York City about 15 years ago. His mother is South African and his father’s family is Puerto Rican, most of whom live in the NYC area.
“New York City is edgy, beautiful, and has a soul,” he says. “It is a perfect city for me. I have always been a bit of a rebel, living in the liminal edges of a place.”
Stang quickly established himself in NYC as a popular tarot reader, working out of venues like Catland and Namaste bookstore. He also became a popular icon in the NYC witch community, as a member of several covens, including being a senior member of the Minoan Brotherhood and a long-time initiate with the New York Coven of Witches. Stang, who trained in performance art, has also become known for his public full moon and seasonal rituals with the Witch’s Compass.
“I never studied Tarot as a career, but rather to guide my life,” he says. “This has all been a wild ride.”
Stang comes from a mystical family, that he describes as being steeped in “eccentric Catholic folk magic.” He says that his own reading style combines divination, witchcraft, and Urban Folk Magic.
He has described his readings as “traditional cartomantic prediction, spirit-led gnosis and good, old-fashioned common sense,” during an interview with Theresa Reed. He sees tarot as a “tool of empowerment and transformation.”
Stang says that he usually used two or three packs of cards at a time during a reading, as well as bone dice and “other objects that bring spiritual guidance from my family of spirits.”
“My readings are very direct,” he says. “They are aimed at overcoming what is preventing a client from getting what they need. They are both pragmatic and mystical – with a few laughs along the way.”
Temple of Ara. Phyllis Curott brought Wicca to the masses after her first book, “The Book of Shadow” became an international best seller. Curott, a lawyer by profession created her own style of witchcraft called Circle of Ara, a coven that she says is “liberated from outdated and inappropriate ideas.” The focus of the Circle of Ara is a Wiccan practice without any “cultural baggage.”
“We concentrate primarily on practice, casting a circle, calling of the four directions and the basics of Wicca,” says Curott. “People are encouraged to explore whatever pantheon of deities that speaks to them, but we don’t force any one pantheon on anyone.”
Curott was originally initiated into the Minoan Sisterhood by Lady Rhea and Carol Bulzone in the early 1980s, Although Curott comes from the same Minoan tradition, her coven is coed and the worship of the deities is up to each individual member. The goal of the Circle of Ara teachings is to connect members with the divine, putting them in rhythm with the natural world,
Although Wicca is based upon ancient teachings, Curott notes that its practitioners constantly update its practices and the religion is evolving. Curott uses her talents as a lawyer to fight for the rights of witches and other religious minorities in the United States.
“Wicca is the fastest growing religion in the United States,” Curott said. “Although it has an ancient lineage, we are creating a new religion every day.”
Since its beginnings as the Circle of Ara in NYC in the 1980s, the Ara Tradition has grown into an international shamanic Wiccan spiritual tradition. The group holds online New Moon rituals, as well as three stages of initiatory training.
“Wicca is becoming so popular because people want to live in harmony with the natural world,” she said. “We, as witches, seek to live a sacred manner because we live in a sacred world.”
Enchantments NYC, 165 Avenue B, Manhattan, NY 10009. Enchantments is New York City’s oldest occult and witchcraft store. The store was originally opened by Lady Rhea and Carol Bulzone in 1982. The two had previously worked at the Magickal Childe and decided to open their own store. The store recently moved from its location on East Ninth Street. Stacy Rapp has since purchased the store and has continued providing high-quality products to the Wiccan and Magickal community in NYC. The store offers custom-carved candles, incense blends, talismans, books, and a great collection of Tarot cards. The store has its own formulary section, offering custom blended oils and incense, including “Millionaire’s Dream Formula” and “Aphrodite Love Drawing Formula.” Enchantments remains a must-visit store for witches and occultists in the magickal East Village