Witches of Miami: Meet the Women Who Identify as Brujas and Healers

Clockwise from top left: Aja Butler-Burns, Jessica Freites, Sisther Pravia, Jacque Palmer, Carolyn Desert, and Jenn La Reine
Clockwise from top left: Aja Butler-Burns, Jessica Freites, Sisther Pravia, Jacque Palmer, Carolyn Desert, and Jenn La Reine Courtesy photos
If you buy into the witch cliches — pointy hats, flying broomsticks — Miami might seem an awfully sunny place to headquarter a coven compared to, say, the rainy and foggy Pacific Northwest. But to be a witch is to be misunderstood. They bear the ridicule of storybook stereotypes, are feared for their mysterious abilities, and yet embrace their supernatural identities anyway.

Call it third-wave feminism or the fact it’s been 300 years since the Salem witch trials, but witches are making a comeback. These six Miami women embrace their identities as witches, brujas, and healers. Find them charging crystals in the full moon's light on North Beach, making candles to bring their clients wealth in Little Haiti, reading tarot cards at Las Rosas, and, of course, on Instagram. They're from different pockets of South Florida; different ages, ethnicities and upbringings; and yet all wield their alleged powers to help put the "magic" in our Magic City.

The Tarot Queen: Sisther Pravia. Sisther Pravia was raised Catholic in a Hispanic family in Hialeah. She was yearbook editor at Barbara Goleman High and wanted to be a doctor. But ever since she was little, she says, her dreams carried premonitions and she couldn't resist sneaking into the supernatural section at bookstores whenever her mom wasn't looking. She found that amethyst crystal opens her third eye, that certain phases of the moon help to set her intentions, and tarot cards bring meanings through her own energies.

Pravia calls herself a tarot "translator," and admits she can feel people's energies so strongly that negative ones have sometimes made her throw up. It wasn't easy, but for the last year Pravia has been open with her identity as a witch, calling herself La Bruja Del 305 and offering readings to folks around town. "I'm still a practicing Catholic and believe in God and Jesus and pray to them," Pravia says, "but that doesn't stop me from doing tarot and full-moon rituals."

The majority of her clients are women and people in the LGBTQIA community. With her tarot deck and sequin tablecloth, she's a common fixture at Gender Bender at Las Rosas, drag shows, and nightlife events around town. She also offers private readings. Miami is a diverse city, but Pravia has found that its residents ask her about the same things: business, love, a specific outcome, the general future. "I wanted to be a doctor because I wanted to take care of people, to heal them," she says. "With what I do now, I still feel like it's my purpose."

The Crystal Apothecary: Aja Butler-Burns. The youngest of three sisters, Aja Butler-Burns is the daughter of a "witchy lady." She remembers her mother taking folks on herb walks in their Baltimore neighborhood and performing winter-solstice rituals. As a 10-year-old, she found it embarrassing. Years later, as Butler-Burns found herself drawn to crystal and jewelry design, it was a mysticism she started to embrace and nurture within herself — one she believes she inherited from her mom.

"Most people, especially women, inherently have this ability and it depends on our circumstances if it gets cultivated or not," she says. "I was rejecting it for a long time until I couldn't ignore it anymore."

Butler-Burns moved to Miami to study accessory design at Miami International University of Art & Design in 2007. She was drawn to crystals and their healing abilities, and studied how certain crystals are linked to certain chakras, how specific colors can induce certain emotions, and how crystals can be charged in moon- and sunlight. She incorporates these lessons into her jewelry, which she sells at local craft fairs and online to customers up and down the East Coast, in U.S. metropolitan cities, and as far away as Qatar. "I'm super into crystal healing and energy," she says, "and I like that I incorporate feeling good into something that makes you feel beautiful."

She has branched out into small-batch skin care using natural herbs and remedies for facial scrubs and bath salts. Last year, she bought her first tarot deck. "I'm still a novice," she admits. "But I am coming around to it and so are others — it's no longer seen as this weird, scary devil-worshipping thing."

The Lunar Creative: Jenn La Reine. Jennifer Lauren Accius — known as Jenn La Reine — knows precisely how to define her work: "I'm a creative and I make the nontangible tangible." She meditates, works with crystals and their healing energies, channels the moon's phases to set intentions and reflect, keeps a dream journal, has premonitions in her dreams, follows astrological transits, and writes things (insecurities, intentions, etc.) down and burns them to release them. She says she is claircognizant, that her psychic intuition allows her to think clearly about the future.  "I'm intuitive and someone who works with energy," she says. "I'm fine with calling myself a witch."

Her family is from Haiti and moved to Miami in the '70s. Her grandmother was also a practitioner, but La Reine didn't learn this until after her passing (which has led La Reine to study ancestral energies). Though La Reine admittedly practices many mystical acts, she says her main "divination tool" is her writing, which she uses to connect to others. For example, her book, Butterfly in the Reine, tells the story of one young woman's metamorphosis through heartbreak and trauma. "It portrays a vulnerability that many people connect to," La Reine says. Her lifestyle brand Reine + Rebelle creates pieces designed to bring people closer to themselves (think hats that read "Teach your light" and shirts that say "Yoncé taught me there are no rules"). 

Now based in West Palm Beach, La Reine cofounded a full moon event called Karnl Moon that brings together Reiki healers, tarot readers, and astrologers from around South Florida. These are people, La Reine says, who "use magic to help others."

The Sound Maven: Jacque Palmer. Jacque Palmer was born in Miami Beach, is of Puerto Rican and Afro-Cuban heritage, and considers herself a bruja, not a witch. She has always been intuitive, she says, and organized religion never interested her much. In fact, she remembers her mom taking her to Wiccan meetings when she was 10. She embraces her relationship to nature and its cycles, pulls tarot for herself, studies the body's chakras, and believes in the power of words of affirmation that she sometimes writes on bay leaves and burns in seashells (her own form of spell work).

"The bruja was always the crazy lady of the neighborhood," she says. "You realize that they're not crazy but approach thinking and spirituality differently and are the healers of the neighborhood... To be a bruja is to be a feminist and to embrace and believe in the healing power of feminine energy."

A songbird since she was little, Palmer has always been drawn to music. And when she struggled with anxiety and negative thoughts, she turned to the vibration of meditative bowls to quiet her mind. It helped her, and slowly her bowls grew bigger and bigger and she found herself enrolled in a vibrational sound therapy (VST) certification course to use these vibrations and sounds to heal others. "I believe in the power of sound and words," Palmer says. "Sound is magic: You are using vibration to heal your body and relax."

With Jenn La Reine and friend Flose Boursiquot, she cofounded Karnl Moon in West Palm Beach, where she leads sound bowl sessions using mainly her seven-piece quartz crystal singing bowls that fill the entire room with sound waves to relax and de-stress everyone in the room. She also conducts individual sessions, where she typically uses metal singing bowls that she places directly on the body. Her work incorporates the body's seven chakras, and she says she can sometimes tell if a certain chakra is overactive or blocked from the vibrations.

The Spiritual Guide: Carolyn Desert. Carolyn Desert grew up in Haiti, where she says she experienced visions as a child. Three days before the 2010 earthquake, she says, she had visions of it, warning others of the danger. Though she had a shaved head, she was crowned Miss Haiti in 2014, a feat she credits to the spirit guides with whom she says she works closely; she believes they are linked to her ancestral lineage from Africa and the indigenous people of the Caribbean. She moved to Miami a few years ago, where she offers energy readings for clients and connects to ancestors along with creating manifestation candles said to make specific intentions come true.

"I had my calling and surrendered to it," Desert says.

Desert doesn't like to call herself a witch because of the term's negative connotations. Instead, she considers herself "a light worker, an alchemist, someone in touch with inner energy and ancestral images."

She never times her readings, saying they take as long or as short a time as they need. She also doesn't sugarcoat what she says her guides tell her. Her money-bringing candles are her most popular product, but Desert also does video readings, sages and cleanses homes, and resets altars. "I'm an uncertified nurse," she says, "always trying to heal, to get the light out of the darkness."

The Healing Mystic: Jessica Freites. When Jessica Freites was born, she says, her mother knew right away she had abilities. “She was very sick and knew I was a healer,” Freites explains. Raised by a Nuyorican mother, who was an avid student of the occult, Freites was raised in Tampa and eventually moved to Miami. Her mom started teaching her astrology at 8 and tarot at 12. She was also drawn to music, learning piano and violin, and would later frequent spoken word nights. Her musical inclinations led her to pursue a career in the music industry but she found herself drawn to the more healing, esoteric side. She now works as a certified sound therapist and performance artist.

Freites considers herself a “medical medium and intuitive,” someone who can pick up on physical and emotional ailments based on energy and intuition. She says she is clairsentient, has premonitions, senses energies and channels them for healing purposes, and studies astrology. She offers astrology readings and sound and energy therapy that consists of chakra balancing and energy block removal.

Freites says she's proud that she can incorporate these mystical abilities into all facets of her life. By day, she works as a resident teaching artist through various local organizations, such as Arts For Learning and Guitars Over Guns. “I don’t separate the artistry from the healing,” she says. “They are one and the same.”
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Jess Swanson is the news editor at New Times. She graduated from the University of Miami and has a master's degree from the Columbia University School of Journalism.
Contact: Jess Swanson