A City Witch

Lady Rhea is a workaday witch, grinding out a living selling oils, spell kits and her specialty: spiritual candles. She runs her business out of a stall at Original Products, the decades-old Bronx Botanica that sells bulk quantities of oils, candles, incense, animal skulls, amulets and other hard to find specialty items for followers of Santeria, Paganism and folk religions.

Born Aurelia Bila to an Italian-American-Catholic family in the Bronx, Rhea remembers bringing bouquets of flowers to the local Madonna grotto. By her late teens she began reading books like What Witches Do and says she walked into her first Wiccan circle in Brooklyn Heights “and never walked away again.”  She became a Pagan initiate, changed her name to Rhea Rivera and eventually wrote her own book, The Enchanted Candle, selling her spiritual candles all over the city, from Brooklyn to Yonkers.

A practicing Wicca for nearly four decades, Lady Rhea is one of the longest-serving “Pagan Mothers” in the city. In a loft space above Original Products – the building was originally a supermarket – she has built two temples with her wife Lady Zoradia. One is a Bon Buddhist temple while the other serves as the Pagan Center of New York where the couple holds drum circles, silent suppers, and celebrates Sawin – Pagan Halloween.

As a Practicing Buddhist (she refers to herself as Bu-Wiccan) Rhea is accepting of change, and there will be one more big change by year’s end: Lady Rhea will be moving to a new location, this one on City Island. It’s the temple she hopes to grow old and retire in.


(Hear the accompanying radio short from NPR’s All Things Considered)

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