HIALEAH, FL. – She may not have a green face and long, thin nose – or ride a broom to get from place to place, but Marizel Almirall wants this to be very clear: she is very much a witch, a real witch.
Almirall, a mother of two who owns a “spiritual shop” with her husband in an industrial section of Hialeah, Fla., says her profession has gotten a bad rap through the years, making witches of all kinds go into hiding.
But, she said, she is real and she is proud – even if she is largely misunderstood.
"A lot of people practice magic and they are witches but they don't classify themselves as such because 'witch' has gotten such a bad name throughout the ages," Almirall said as Ingrid Michaelson's "Everybody Wants to be Loved" beckoned from the store's overhead speaker. "We had the 'cojones' to name the shop the 'Witch's Garden' — to basically educate," she added.
Amulets dangle over the counter of her cramped boutique as her two girls scurry about, giggling. Tucked away in the fourth floor of an office building, Almirall cheerfully rings up customers at the shop, where she and her husband provide “spirituality consultations" and community workshops on magic.
"Our whole family, we practice together. We are not in the closet. It is a way of life," she said firmly. "This shop is an extension of our family."
The shop is not quite a botanica store, which sell religious and spiritual artifacts. And while some people mistake her for someone who practices Santeria, she said she has no connection to the Afro Caribbean religion popular in this part of South Florida.
"We work a lot with herbs and with animal medicine," Almirall said, quickly adding that she does not believe in "animal sacrifices" like Santeria and other beliefs. "I am going to be honest with you, that is the only thing I don't connect with at all. I don't have any Santeria products.”
The Cuban-American calls her belief system “eclectic witchcraft” and says it is not a part of any organized religion, like Wicca, but an expansive form of her own inclusive spirituality that incorporates diverse ideas – and includes everything from Native American culture and South American Shamanism to African Voodoo and Buddhism.
"It is about being extremely open on your spiritual path. It is spirituality," said Almirall, who labels herself a healer. "We are all connected. We are all basically practicing the same thing. In my belief system, we are all supposed to unite and take care of one another and create, you know, a peaceful ambiance in this world,” she said.
And while many might believe Halloween would have a special significance to Almirall, she said it does not.
“I don't wait until Halloween to connect (with the dead) because that is what I do,” she said. “I am a medium, I am always connecting. But to a lot of people, that's when they honor their deceased ones."
She does, however, connect with the day after Halloween, known as Day of the Dead – though she thinks the day has become too commercialized in the United States. In places like Mexico, it has a more spiritual meaning.
“To me what you see in Mexico is what it is about. I want to see people in the cemetery with their families and sharing a meal, playing music,” she said. “But they don't do that here. Here it is all specialty shops."
Almirall said that from an early age she had the ability to connect with a spiritual side of life, including "seeing spirits" or ghosts that others could not.
"I was born like this," she said, adding that her grandmother and one of her daughters posses similar capabilities.
"We're both witches," Almirall's husband, Armando, said. But then he smiles and says "But she is the witch."
Almirall said when she was a teenager her abilities were not always welcome by other kids. When she was 13 or 14, "gangs of children" would chase her around school with crosses made out of sticks.
"Groups of … kids would chase me, reciting the Bible, because I was the ‘devil girl,’" She recounted recently. “I used to wear black and I would hypnotize people during lunch period and all that. They knew what I practiced. I was very open about my belief system."
Now 34 years old, Almirall has the freedom to practice her beliefs with her family, and with impunity.
"No one is going to tell me what I can believe in," Almirall said as she lights up incense and watches the smoke rise." So why not take it and educate people about it?"
Katherine Lepri contributed to this report.
Top Fortune Tellers In South Florida
October 28, 2013 8:00 AM
It can be just for fun or it can be life changing, it depends on who you ask. But there is no denying that some people seem to have a special gift when it comes to helping others, whether it be through words of wisdom, psychic ability or holistic healing. We are blessed here in South Florida to have several of these gifted people to call on when seeking some kind of spiritual guidance. If you’ve never been to a fortune teller, these are all reputable and have loyal followers not just here but all over the world.
Step inside this eclectic mom and pop spiritual shop and you’ll be transported to a comfort zone in the midst of the Hialeah chaos. Marizel is the clairvoyant and offers spirituality readings using ground energies. Her partner is Armando, a certified Reiki teacher. As a healer, he will work with you hand-in-hand to develop a system that works for you. Make an appointment for an energy session, spiritual consultation or one-on-one workshop, or just stop in the shop and find a wide assortment of spiritual objects and aids.
Hialeah Witch Shop Peddles Potions
"I'm very hard-core," she says.
The 34-year-old and her husband, Armando, are the owners of the Witch's Garden, a "magick shoppe" in Hialeah that caters to people who identify as witches. The two favor the term "witch" because they don't dig the organized religion of Wicca. Neither of them wears pointed hats or navigates South Florida by broom — both have long, black curls and drive their two young daughters around in a silver minivan with a bumper sticker that reads, "Life's a Witch and Then You Fly."
Tucked away on the fourth floor of a giant rainbow-colored complex off West 12th Avenue, it draws no foot traffic. Sales come from a loyal customer base that's been gaining in numbers since 2004, when the couple started their business online. They graduated to a physical store three years ago and peddle all kinds of spiritual cleanses (white sage and palo santo tree bark), offer multiple discounts (senior, military, and student), and run a library that contains an array of bibles (both Satanic and King James).
Marizel, who is Cuban, says she's always been able to see and feel spirits. When she told her Catholic family about her gift, they thought psychic abilities were synonymous with being "of the Devil." Taking her mom's words seriously, Marizel began identifying as a Satanist and dressing head to toe in black.
Later, she became a witch, and within a few years, she could come up with spells and potions easily.
"Right when I met her and realized she was a witch, I started to view everything differently," her husband says. "I really started living."
Eventually, she recounted to Armando a bizarre encounter at a Southwest Miami-Dade Pizza Hut when she was 7. There was a boy playing music, and she just instantly felt he was a kindred spirit. For some reason, she never got the stranger out of her mind.
Immediately, Armando jumped in and finished the story. "Red Red Wine" was the song that kid had put on the jukebox, wasn't it? He remembered details from the chance meeting perfectly.
Even the witches are a little spooked by that story.
The Witch's Garden: Mom-and-Pop Store Cleanses the Spirit, Offers Satanic Tomes
Historically speaking, Marizel Almirall was not the first adolescent to ever feel "different." Nor did she pioneer the concept of the black-clad teenage outcast.
But the South Beach-native might be the only person in the world who can say she tattooed a large upside-down cross on herself at age 13 in tribute to Satan.
"I'm very hardcore," she says.
The 34-year-old and her husband, Armando, are the owners of the Witch's Garden, a magick shoppe in Hialeah that caters to people who identify as witches. The two favor the term "witch" because they don't dig the organized religion of Wicca. Neither of them wear pointed hats or navigate South Florida by broom -- both have long, black curls and drive around their two young daughters in a silver minivan with a bumper sticker that reads "Life's a Witch and Then You Fly."
And they're not alone. The Almiralls are among the more than 400 people who belong to a Meetup group for South Florida witches, and the group is gearing up for for Broward's 13th annual Pagan Pride Day. The event, which will feature belly dancing, drum circles and meditation, will be on Saturday from noon until 7 p.m at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Fort Lauderdale.
The Witch's Garden is the store that serves this community. Tucked away on the fourth floor of a giant rainbow-colored complex off of West 12th Avenue, it draws no foot traffic. Sales come from a loyal customer base that's been gaining in numbers since 2004, when the couple started their business online. They graduated to a physical store three years ago and peddle all kinds of spiritual cleanses (white sage and palo santo tree bark) offer multiple discounts (senior, military and student) and run a library that contains an array of Bibles (both Satanic and King James).
Marziel, who is Cuban, says she's always been able to see and feel spirits. When she told her Catholic family about her gift, they thought psychic abilities were synonymous with being "of the devil." Taking her mom's words seriously, Marziel started identifying as a Satanist and dressing head-to-toe in black. A year later, though, she realized that she wasn't dark enough for that brand of spiritualism -- her parents' assessment was wrong, and she was only really interesting in white magic.
"Fuck it, this isn't me either," she remembers thinking before performing her first, real ritual: burning off the upside down cross tattoo which would leave a strawberry-shaped scar on her right forearm. The pain brought her closer to a higher power, she says.
So just like any other teenager, Marziel moved from one persona to the next. Granted, going from Satanist to witch isn't as typical as going from skater to raver or from jock to stoner, but she was still a high schooler trying on a new hat.
Marziel is neither typical nor fickle; her second identify stuck for life.
Within a few years, she could come up with spells and potions easily, a process that just involves knowing the types of ingredients that go together, sort of like cooking. At 23, she was working at a boating supply store and feeling annoyed by a recent series of short-term flings.
One day, while cleaning her house in pigtails, she lit a candle and wrote an open letter to her dream man. Two weeks later -- wearing pigtails again -- she watched future husband Armando walk right into her workplace. The two made eye contact, went gaga for each other and became official within a week. Six months later, and they were married.
Armando was loosely raised as Catholic, and he didn't realize Marziel was a witch until he found an ice-encased note in her freezer one day. It was part of a simple spell to help a sticky situation literally "cool out" by slowing down time. At first, Armando was a little freaked; but then he came around.
"Right when I met her and realized she was a witch, I started to view everything differently," he says. "I really started living."
Marziel felt a strong connection, too -- one that had only been matched by one other experience in her life. Eventually she recounted to Armando a bizarre encounter at a Southwest Miami Pizza Hut that happened when she was seven. There was a boy playing music and she just instantly felt that he was a kindred spirit. For some reason, she never got the stranger out of her mind.
Immediately, Armando jumped in and finished the story. "Red, Red Wine" was the song that kid put on the jukebox, wasn't it? He remembered details from the chance meeting perfectly.
Even the witches are a little spooked by that story.
But for Armando, spiritualism answers more questions that it raises. "Things used to just happen to me that I couldn't understand," he says. "But now, to me, the universe is just an ocean of energy."
Follow Allie Conti on Twitter: @allie_conti