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The Witch's Garden: Mom-and-Pop Store Cleanses the Spirit, Offers Satanic Tomes

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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

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