For many, a witch is something you only see on Halloween. They dress in black, wear pointy hats and get around by broomstick.
But Lady Rhea, the “Witch Queen of New York,”wants you to know nothing could be further from the truth.
Rhea grew up in a Catholic household in the Bronx in New York but was always fascinated by witchcraft ever since watching Disney’s “Fantasia” when she was just 5 years old.
“My friends and I were totally enamored with the fairies and all the mythological beings in there, and we just used to pretend and play like they were real,” Rhea, now 67, told InsideEdition.com. “We had tea parties with the gods.”
It was a book called “The Gypsy Witch Fortune Teller,” given to her by a friend, that led to her true awakening. In September 1972, Rhea was looking to purchase a crystal ball as a result of the book. She walked into the Warlock Shop in Brooklyn, where she met co-owners Herman Slater and High Priest Eddie Buczynski, the men she calls her mentors, and never looked back.
“I was in it for life,” said Rhea. “I got involved in the pagan way.”
Since then, Rhea has worked her way through the ranks to high priestess in her coven. Now, she owns her own business, Lady Rhea's Enchanted Studio, selling enchanted candles and oils, and doing tarot card readings.
She’s also the proud founder of the Witch Pride Parade, which marches across New York City every summer to fight for acceptance in society, and leads to WitchFest, a festival celebrating witches created by Starr Ann RavenHawk.
“Saying Witch Pride Parade isn't because I need rights. Witch Pride Parade is because people need to understand we're not demonologists,” said Rhea. “We're not satanists. We're not anti anything.
“We are earth worshipers,” she continued. “We want to worship our old gods without people going to the persecution.”
Rhea also said she created the Witch Pride Parade and WitchFest in order to bring people from different religious backgrounds together.
“We wanted every religion to know that we're there for them as well. We know what persecution is like,” said Rhea. “It breaks my heart because these people have a right to honor their deity the way they want.
She added: “We work in solidarity for all religions.”
As the parade has gained increased attention, Rhea said she hopes that the exposure will allow more witches and other pagans to be open with their families about their practices.
“You got to remember, for a lot of people, it's you want me to come out of the broom closet. This is the whole purpose behind this,” she explained. “This familiarity will bring understanding and people will say, ‘Oh, yeah, they're a witch. It's OK.’”
Still, every year they see protesters along the parade route and outside the festival.
“They have a right to their beliefs, but don't step on somebody else's,” said Rhea. “We don't show up when they're having their church services and evangelistic atmosphere. They choose to be happy that way. We don't worship Satan. We don't harm others.”
Rhea added she longs for the day all witches can worship freely and even hopes to see a temple built in New York City where witches can attend services, just like any other religion.
For now, though, she’s focused on mentoring the next generation of witches. Asked about her advice for anyone thinking of becoming a witch, Rhea said it’s important to get out there.
“Look up your local coven listings. If you know there's a shop, go visit,” said Rhea. “If you hear of an open public event, even if it's two hours away, if this is really your interest, make the day. Make the trip.”