Shopping for Miracles in the Bronx
Struggling with debt? Just got dumped? Husband won’t do your bidding?
You could use some retail therapy—but of a very specific kind. Take a trip to the Bronx, to visit the self-described “Home Depot of Spiritual Goods.”
Original Products Botanica is a one-stop miracle shop, with a product to meet every possible problem, from bad luck in love to collecting debts. Like any botanica, Original Products sells products relating to magic and folk medicine. The store has been a New York City fixture since 1959, drawing people of all types of faiths and followings.
There are upwards of 100 other botanicas in the greater New York area, but most of them are closet-sized cubbies cluttered with limited inventory. Original Products, on the other hand, stocks everything. “We’re the largest importer and exporter of all spiritual products. We deliver all over the world,” says Chris Ochun, a store worker who’s been doing readings and spiritual development classes for the past eight years.
Ochun, a short Puerto Rican man with a huge smile, claims to be the happiest person alive. On this particular weekday, he wears gray sweats and a white tee, with a hat that shimmers red, pink, and gold. Behind him, rows upon colorful rows line the store’s interior, including crates of horseshoes, an assortment of crowns and necklaces, and Native American statues. There are books that include titles like Miracle Candle Spells, Curses and their Reversals, and the Herbal Magic Workbook. Hundreds of candles, perfumes, oils, soaps, powders, and washes can be spotted, most of which are manufactured in the basement of the store, and labeled in both English and Spanish. A steady stream of customers mills in and out of the store, which feels more like a spacious CVS than a full-fledged Home Depot.
The store is a difficult thing to explain, says its owner, Jason Mizrahi. His father started the business in 1959, so Mizrahi’s been coming here ever since he was a kid. “I may be biased, but to me, this is one of the most interesting stores you could ever go in,” he says. But he still dreads answering the unavoidable: “So what do you do?” He tries to just say he owns a business, but people start digging, and 20 minutes later, the conversation’s been hijacked.
When friends and acquaintances finally walk into the store, Mizrahi says they’re caught off guard. “They’re like ‘WOW, I had no idea, this is not what I pictured at all,’” he says, laughing.
I unscrew the cap of the Garlic Big Al Bath & Floor Wash and am nearly knocked over by its pungency. Garlic is used to remove negative energy, Ochun explains. I put the bottle back. That garlic wash could probably remove anything.
Scanning the shelves, I spy Follow Me and Fly Away Sachet Powder, as well as sprinkling powders labeled for Confusion, Concentration, and Conquering Glory. (You can sprinkle certain powders in someone’s shoes if you want to control them, for example, or around your workplace if you want a promotion.) There’s eucalyptus and avocado oil, as well as dried rosemary and marjoram, prepared and packaged by hand at the herb counter. There’s Bad Luck Out/Good Luck In Bath & Floor Wash, as well as Law Stay Away, Green Card, and Against Negativity (Ebenezer Scrooge should have scrubbed down his house with that).
There’s Patchouli Root and Bat’s Blood Ink, mojo bags and Jinx Removing Soap. At one point, the store even stocked mercury, which when ingested in small amounts, was thought to remove evil spirits. When people started dying, the city stepped in and went around to all the botanicas at the time, and that was the end of that (according to Mizrahi).
Further back in the room are various candles; most come in standard cylindrical shapes and sizes, while others are figurines (known as image candles). There are some shaped like a man or a woman, others a man and a woman standing face-to-face or back-to-back, and yet others shaped like respective reproductive organs. The colors of the image candles are linked to different themes: red—passion, pink—love, white—purification, green—financial gain (“the gold digger candle,” says Ochun). Original Products sells around 20,000 candles each month; they have a factory in the Dominican Republic that manufactures what must be steamships of wax.
“We have a candle for just about every need possible,” says Ochun. And if they don’t have the candle you need? They’ll make one. “The new products choose us,” says Mizrahi.
Ochun is a third-generation spiritualist, or espiritista. He’s been reading people full time since the age of 14. Multiple members of his family have the spiritual gift of sight, and he’s begun utilizing that gift to help others. People come to him mostly for luck, love, and success, trying to find balance and clarity in their minds.
To that end, he gives hour-long sessions inside the store ($30 per hour) and holds spiritual meetings. On this Tuesday afternoon, a line of people wait outside in the hallway for their turn.
Ochun says that everything is based on energy. “Your faith is energy, the energy you’re pulling out is an emotion, and whatever emotion you’re applying into whatever it is you’re doing, is an energy.” His favorite products to keep at home? A glass of water and a white candle, which allow him to meditate and keep himself centered and at peace. A lot of the products—whether a candle, powder, soap, spray, incense, or perfume—share the same basic principle; simply choose whatever item works best for you.
Some people ask Chris why he lights candles or does certain spiritual things. He says it’s a good alternative to going to jail. “I’d rather light a candle and [fuck] you up with that, than go outside and get myself locked up.” It’s much easier and much cheaper, he points out.
Candles help you stay focused on what you’re trying to call upon, kind of like a portal, allowing you to release all your energy and get over whatever problem you might have. “And that’s the basis of what I tell people: It may work, it may not work; I’m not gonna guarantee anything,” says Ochun. “But I can tell you it’s better than going outside and knocking somebody out.”
So did we end our outing with miracles in our pockets?
Well, I paused to contemplate the Everything My Way Bath & Floor Wash, and I stared longer than I’d like to admit at the Find a Boyfriend soap. In fact, I might have bought both—who knows?
But as for the real miracles, it turns out you can’t buy them. “Some people may come in thinking that with certain particular products, their whole world is gonna change,” says Ochun. “No religion, no psychic, no miracle worker should say: I can guarantee you that this is gonna happen. ‘Cause that’s not how it goes; that’s just bullshit to me.”
So if you can’t buy miracles, how do you harness them?
Ochun says to take five minutes out of each day to reflect, refocus, and realign yourself, to correct what is wrong and find happiness if your own personal life. “It’s all about you and the reawakening of your soul, and whatnot.”
Around New Years, Original Products has lines of customers trailing out the door, seeking miracles in the year ahead. The powders and perfumes are there to help us believe, to ground ourselves in rituals upon which we can, with our own sweat and reflection, build paths, or portals, to those distant miracles.
Because at the end of the day, as Ochun says, the miracle comes from within. You are your own miracle worker.
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