Lady Rhea is not the kind of witch you’ll find in a pointy hat this Halloween. She is a real workaday witch, grinding out a living selling magic products in a booth at Original Products, a grocery store-sized botanica in the Bronx. She’s been a practicing Wiccan for nearly four decades, making her one of the longest-serving high priestesses in New York City.
“I am a Wiccan high priestess and Witch queen,” she says. “My age — I’ve been in the craft since ’73. I have a lot of coven people and people who are attached to me over the last years, so one of them coined me ‘Pagan Mother.’ Call them up and I’ll say ‘Hello, are you listening? This is Pagan Mother, call me.’ “
This week, Lady Rhea will see a small increase in Halloween-related sales, but most of her clients come looking for the same things that have kept her in business all these years: money, luck and love.
“Some of the requests I get are for love,” says the high priestess, whose birth name is Aurelia Bila. “Or, you know, come-to-me candles.”
A lot of customers want their boyfriends back or help losing weight, Lady Rhea says, but others want help with money. “They gotta get that dollar going, it’s a tough area.”
At her booth, people can buy cascarilla, camphor, candles, crystals, frankincense and $40 spell kits.
“This is a museum in itself. You have people asking for a bath. … Pompeia water, which is an old perfume. Yeah, walk into Macy’s and tell them you want Pompeia cologne,” she says. “This is a practice, it’s an earth religion and so we are a very earthy people. I will not look at a pigeon and consider it a flying rat, I will consider it a creature of the sky father.”