Pagan Culture - Magical Places
- Category: Magical Places
Article & Photos by Natalie Zaman
Adventures in the Big Apple
My initial trips to New York City as a teen (going to “The City” is a rite of passage of sorts for New Jersey youth) were a desperate search for a shop called The Magickal Childe. Several friends told me all about this Mecca and the things I would find there, only... they couldn’t tell me where it was. No address, no phone number, nothing. All that could be garnered were the cryptic, yet tantalizing words, “you’ll find it when it’s ready for you find it.” Needless to say, I spent many a weekend wandering the streets with no luck.
I confess, my adolescence fell in those dark times before the Internet took off; Googling and map—questing weren’t options. There were the yellow pages, but who in New Jersey keeps a New York phone book? These obstacles, along with a naiveté that has long since vanished, built up The Magickal Childe to the point where I was sure that when I found it, it would be a truly mystical experience.
Some time later, I began working in New York, in the vicinity of 23rd Street and 5th Avenue. One day while wandering around on my lunch hour, I turned down 21st street, and caught sight of a frayed and weathered black—and—white banner which read: The Magickal Childe. Flushed with excitement, I stumbled through the door. The dark and narrow space was filled with an aura of mystery; books and tools were crammed onto dusty shelves, and the women behind the counter didn’t seem to acknowledge that I was alive. But I didn’t care — at last, my time had come! I didn’t exactly achieve Nirvana by finding The Childe, but it did mark the beginning of my serious study of the Craft. It turns out that I wasn’t the first person to find The Childe by chance.
Of course, that store is long gone, but it is far from forgotten; the tribute website www.magickalchilde.com preserves its place as the “Ground Zero for the Occult explosion in New York City.” The site collects stories about the shop and its maverick owner, Herman Slater. Both have passed from this mortal coil, but in many ways, they are still representative of what New York City is for today’s Pagan community: eclectic, eccentric, and full of surprises. It is also apt that The Childe has moved on; the one constant in New York City is change; always triple—check your plans before visiting to make sure that the event you want to attend, person or shop you want to visit, or landmark you want to photograph hasn’t switched locations, times, or just plain escaped from Planet Earth entirely.
A prime example of the changeling nature of the city is New York’s Open Center. Between the time this article was originally written and the time it went to print, the Open Center moved from it’s old digs on Spring Street to bustling midtown. Browse this shop for books, cards, music and Zen gifts, and then visit the wellness center. A massage (there are dozens of styles on offer from Shiatsu to Reiki), or one of their drop in yoga classes may be just what you need to prepare yourself for all the walking you’ll be doing! Shopping here is a little self—indulgent instant karma; the Center is a not for profit organization and provides free classes for social service organizations throughout the city.”
Everything’s Waiting for You Downtown
There are treasures to be found all over Manhattan, but you’ll find the Pagan—friendly shops downtown, below 14th street. Begin your wanderings at East West Books (78 Fifth Avenue at 14th Street). This sleek and well—stocked bookstore also carries jewelry, pouches, stones, incense, music, statues, and more. In other words, you’ll walk out with something! I found a basket of pretty, very large pouches made from recycled sari material for $7 each. Crystals can run into the double, and even triple digits depending on type and size.
When you’re done shopping, go upstairs to their cafe for an organic treat; they have a full coffee bar with WiFi access.
Next, head down to Christopher Street where you’ll find Stick, Stone, and Bone, a more earthy shop brimming with good vibes as well as tons of carved, tumbled, and set (in jewelry) crystals, stones, and minerals. Owners Yolanda and Linda and their friendly and knowledgeable staff will happily help you select something just right, and you get a free reference sheet to take with you. Stick, Stone, and Bone also sells music, incense, and a huge array of Native American items including dream catchers, drums, and medicine bags.
From Christopher, walk over to Bleecker Street, the home of Aphrodesia (264 Bleecker Street). Since 1969, this bright and friendly shop has been providing New York’s holistically—inclined with herbs, spices, teas, and essential oils. You’ll also find an assortment of European sweets, a friendly kitty, and a vast reference library of new, classic, and out—of—print books. Herbs and teas are sold by weight, and a bottle of oil will run you between $6 and $20.
Next, head uptown on Broadway and then East on Astor Place (which turns into St. Mark’s Place); a stroll down St. Mark’s will pass you by the fab clothing boutique Trash and Vaudeville (4 St. Mark’s Place) where you can get club wear, and brands like Tripp, Dr. Martens, and Tuk. Once you’ve satisfied your cravings for spiked belts and corsets, turn up one block to 9th Street, and Enchantments (424 East 9th Street), the last traditional Witch store in New York, and descending in a long line from the afore—mentioned Magickal Childe. Make your way past the copious altars you’ll find everywhere to the custom candle bar in the back. Anyone on staff can make you one of these hand—carved, herb—and glitter—infused beauties. Doused in sacred oil, imbibed with a spell tailored to your specific needs — and reasonably priced at $22 — these candles are a great way to inject your practice with a dose of urban magic.
When you tear yourself away from Enchantments (if you’re so inclined, you’ll be on a first—name basis with everyone by the time you leave), cut across 9th Street and get buzzed into Flower Power, the East Side’s source, for herbs. Check out the variety of henna carried here — three shelves worth! You will also find a variety of salts, scrubs, resins, incense, butters, essential oils, and special elixir—oil blends by Praecantrix (www.aemenbell.com). Flower Power also offer classes and workshops; check their website at www.flowerpower.com to see what they will be offering while you are in town.
The City Never Sleeps…
…and neither will you while you are there, but be sure to fit in some items from this must—do list:
• Get Festive. There’s no better way to get to know a Pagan community than by attending a public ritual. Enchantments holds regular Sabbat and Full Moon Circles in their outdoor ritual area (341 East 9th Street). For local events, try contacting the New York City Meetup Group at www.meetup.com/nycwitches/ Annual events draw the biggest crowds, and are a great way to meet, mix, and mingle. On the last Saturday in September go down to Battery Park and take part in New York’s Pagan Pride Day. Visit their website www.nyc—ppp.org for dates, times, and details. The annual New York Witch Fest (www.witchfestival.com) is held in Long Island on the last Saturday in October. You’ll find speakers, vendors, healers, and readers from all over the tri—state (NY, NJ, CT) area. Samhain isn’t the only festive season for New Yorkers; also on Long Island, Beltane In The Park offers free workshops, vendors, live music, and a festive Maypole Dance!
Another exciting element of city life is parades, and Pagan (or Pagan—friendly) parades are very popular in New York. In the city for Summer Solstice? Then make Coney Island’s Mermaid Parade part of your celebration. It’s an outrageous outpouring of extreme self—expression, and reputed to be the largest art—car parade in the U.S. Another amazing event, this one at Samhain, is the Village Halloween Parade. Not a serious public ritual to be sure, but fun, amazingly creative, and a way to express your personal path — which is why many of us are Pagan in the first place.
• Explore a Different Flavor of Spirituality. A million and a half people of all kinds are concentrated on the island of Manhattan. One of the tenets of modern neo—Paganism is an acceptance and respect of others’ beliefs, so why not take advantage of the many sacred spaces here to discover another face of the Goddess?
Clear your mind while sitting in the spartan simplicity of the Friends Meeting House (15 Rutherford Place at East 75th Street, http://15stfriends.quaker.org) or visit the Mahayana Buddhist Temple (133 Canal Street at The Bowery, http://members.aol.com/MahayanaTemple) and gaze into the eyes of New York’s largest Buddha as he smiles down kindly at you. Walk the labyrinth in the chancel at Riverside Church (490 Riverside Drive between 120th and 121st Streets, www.theriversidechurchny.org) or attend a lecture at the New York Theosophical Society (240—242 East 53rd Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues www.theosophy-ny.org). A botanica isn’t a house of worship — but pay a visit to one and you’ll find everything you need to turn your home into sacred real estate. The grand-daddy of them all in New York is Original Products, a family-owned business in the Bronx that’s been a resource to a variety of spiritual communities for nearly fifty years. (2486-88 Webster Avenue).
For a special treat, head uptown to Fort Tryon Park and the Cloisters. This museum is dedicated to Medieval art and home to the famous Unicorn Tapestries (despite the Christian associations you’ll be told about on the tour, these are full of Pagan symbolism!). Wander through the monastary-styled buildings and out to the herb garden where you’ll find plants depicted in the Unicorn Tapestries, illuminated manuscripts, and other works of art housed in the collections.
If you’re in town during the Yule season, make sure to come here to see the period — and positively Pagan — holiday decorations. The museum also hosts concerts of Medieval music. (www.metmuseum.org/Works_Of_Art/the_cloisters).
• Visit Ground Zero, but No Photos, Please. (First, a note: if you are psychically sensitive, suffer from PTSD, or are otherwise easily tipped off your emotional balance, you may wish to avoid this site entirely.) The former location of the World Trade Center has become a morbid tourist trap: loads of visitors unload from buses, taxis, and subways, stand and smile in front of the chain link fences, and check another item off their to—do list. Please don’t participate in this bizarre commodification of the world’s most famous mass—murder site; instead, if you choose to visit, take a moment for some quiet meditation. I offered a pinch of salt cast to the wind and a prayer for safe journeys to aid any souls still trapped between the worlds. (www.groundzeromuseumworkshop.com and www.tributewtc.org.)
• Discover the Unexpected. Despite being dominated by blacktop, concrete, steel, and glass, New York City is dotted with many a verdant spot worthy of any Pagan gathering. There are the biggies, Central Park (59th — 110th Street between 5th and 8th Avenues — the Great Hill Site is utilized by local groups for outdoor circles and gatherings, www.centralparknyc.org) and the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens, whose 52—acre compound is home to thousands of varieties of plants and herbs (www.bg.org), but also take the time and effort to find the smaller, less well—known parks to steal a quiet moment.
Listen to the splash of the waterfall in Greenacre Park (51st Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues, 212—838—0528) or spend a Sunday afternoon (the only time it’s open to the public) atop the 97th Street Parking Garage in the Lotus Garden (97th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue www.thelotusgarden.org).
Cemeteries also make great locations for a quiet moment. Trinity Church Cemetery (www.trinitywallstreet.org) a few steps from Ground Zero (see above) boasts ancient trees and headstones dating from the Revolutionary War.
A city with this much history is full of paranormal activity, ghosts, and general strangeness. Sensitive folks have picked up the fear, excitement, and hope of incoming immigrants on Ellis Island (www.ellisisland.org). This is a must—see, especially if you have family who arrived in the United States via this site. You can also get up close and personal with New York’s Green Goddess — The Statue of Liberty (www.nps.gov/stli/index.htm) — here.
For something a little more ... spooktacular, consider a visit to The Merchant’s House at East 29th Street. This 19th century home, now a museum, is the site of documented hauntings by its former mistress, Gertrude Tredwell. www.merchantshouse.org.
Vote Yourself off the Island
New York City is but a tiny sliver of the vast state of New York. You may know the Five Boroughs, but you won’t really understand New York until you explore further. Consider a day trip to...
• Sleepy Hollow. This famous village is only about thirty miles north of Manhattan, but worlds away in spirit. You can find all the characters of the classic American tale once you cross over the Tappan Zee Bridge and into Sleepy Hollow’s leaf—lined streets. The tall white spire of the church, and the cemetery with its 17th century tombstones crumbling into the green grass are the first things you see when you pull off the main road into town. Beyond the Old Burying Ground is a vast necropolis chock full of wonderfully crumbling Victorian statuary. If you get lucky, you’ll run into the grounds keeper. He’ll gladly point out Brom Bone’s and Katrina Van Tassel’s graves, as well as the one for the Hessian Soldier who went down in history as “The Headless Horseman.”
• Pacem in Terris. About an hour’s drive from Manhattan, tucked away in the tall grasses of Warwick, NY is Pacem in Terris (845—987—9968) home of the late writer, artist, philosopher, and humanitarian Frederick Frank (The Zen of Seeing and Art As a Way). A graceful combination of sculpture garden, meditative space, nature preserve, and art museum, the site is maintained and operated by Franck’s wife and son and open to the public on weekends from May to October. As you meander through the grounds, you may find a reflection of yourself in Frank’s gracefully simple paintings and sculptures. They pop up in the most surprising places; paving stones, windows, or peeking out of the foliage of the woods that dot the land, or the stream that runs through it.
• Woodstock. Best—known as the location of the rock—fest of 1969 (the actual site is a ten minute drive from town), the town of Woodstock is a little bit of Pagan paradise. Wander up Mill Hill Road to Mirabai bookshop, where you’ll find a variety of texts, Tarot cards and gifts, a children’s room, walk—in readings, and many workshops, some including rituals (Face Reading, Clairvoyant Channeling and Natural Healing to name a few).
Mill Hill Road turns into Tinker Street at the town square. Take a moment to enjoy the scene (formal or not, Woodstock is a mecca for streetwise musicians), then step into the garden of the Village Green Bed and Breakfast. After you’ve admired the mosaic peace sign fountain on the front lawn, go into Modern Mythology located on the first floor of this charming Victorian house. Take your time to browse the statuary, oils, candles, jewelry, and full array of Fred Sol’s Resin on a Stick (apparently the Rolls Royce of incense). Further along, Dharmawear’s small space is crammed with Tibetan arts and crafts — everything from hand—woven rugs to clothing, thangkas and prayer wheels. Most of the small, locally—owned shops in Woodstock are also online-friendly so if you find yourself on your way home wishing you had bought that pendant, banner, statue, or chalice, fear not! It — and Peace, Love and Joy — are just a mouse click away.
• The Jersey Shore. Technically, it’s not New York, but a side trip to the beaches won’t disappoint. Train service is available via Penn Station; driving will take you a couple of hours. About an hour and 15 minute drive or train ride from New York, Red Bank is home to Earth Spirit New Age Center. Get an astrological update or a full natal reading (one hour session, $100) from shop co—owner Christopher Midose; your “eerily accurate” session will be taped for you, and you’ll get a printout of your chart as well. (While walk—in readings are available, it’s a good idea to make an appointment, especially if you’re planning to visit on a Saturday). The store also hosts public rituals at the shop, and at their outdoor ritual space, Owl Hill.
It’s the Big Apple, Take a Bite!
Besides constant change, the one fundamental quality of the New York Pagan Community is an ethic of making a difference. Wherever I go in New York, there are charity benefits, fundraisers, and ways to contribute to the greater good. Although NYC has a reputation for being brusque, unfriendly, and generally cynical, under the city’s steely exterior beats a big, brave, welcoming heart. Visit New York and find out for yourself!
When she’s not on the road, Wandering Witch Natalie Zaman livens up central New Jersey with self—sufficientish organic gardening and a few freerange hens. She coauthored Graven Images Oracle with Kat Clark, and is cofounder and editor of Broomstix, an ezine for pagan kids and their families.
» Originally published in Witches&Pagans #20
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