By Krista Schwimmer
The history of Venice is full of rebels, revolutionaries, dreamers, and even witches. One such witch is Zsuzsanna, or Z Budapest. Some Venetians may remember her for her shop, “The Feminist Wicca” on 442 Lincoln Boulevard. Others, for her arrest and trial for the simple act of fortunetelling there.
In 1970, along with other volunteer women at the Crenshaw Women’s Center, Z Budapest “moved to the beach because we couldn’t take the air anymore. That was a great move because there California could kiss me. The sea breezes, the good smells, more relaxed people, less traffic. There was a lot of blessing there for me. A little Hungarian who made it all the way to the edge of the world.” During this time, Z says, Venice was full of lesbians, many riding motor bikes “because parking was always a premium and motor bikes were easier to park.”
She first lived on Brooks, across from Gold’s Gym, but moved out to Rose because of the street noise at night. In the early ’70’s, she opened a store. Her ad in the Beachhead read: “detailed tarot readings, occult supplies, magical jewels, and books and herbs.” Her first supporters were the black women from the area. They knew exactly what kind of occult supplies they wanted. They particularly approved of Budapest’s oils, as she did not cut them with alcohol. One of Budapest’s favorite oils is Rosa Ava, or, White Rose. This scent was also Susan B. Anthony’s favorite because it was discreet. According to Z, White Rose, “makes everyone stand back and develop a little respect for you.”
While living in Venice, Z commuted back to Crenshaw every Wednesday, the day women came for abortions. She had a job as an abortion counselor before it was legal. Once, Z recalls, a woman came for an abortion to the clinic with her six children. She was fighting not to have a seventh. Her husband was a Catholic and would not use a rubber. Z believes that patriarchy uses the natural bond a mother has with her child against her. “You don’t have to put any more chains on (a woman). Her heart keeps her there.” As a result, many women cannot walk away from abusive relationships because there is a child involved.
Z was not, however, arrested for her work as an abortion counselor; rather, she was arrested for the violation of municipal code 43.30. This code made fortune telling illegal with one exception: it was permitted if part of a recognized religion’s practices.
On February 10, 1975, the fateful day arrived. The cops had been routinely busting psychics and astrologers alphabetically. They had reached the letter Z. A female, undercover cop, named Rosalie Kimberlin, made an appointment to have a reading with Budapest at “The Feminist Wicca”. When Z stepped into her store for the appointment, she was met with a horrific stench: a cat had mysteriously gotten in and left a pile of shit right under the chair she normally sat on during her card readings. Although Z felt this was an omen – after all, she didn’t even have a cat – Rosalie pleaded with her, saying it was her only day off, that she had heard feminists were so reliable. Upon hearing the word, ‘reliability’, Z caved, calling this “the feminist card.” So, they opened the store windows and Z read the undercover cop’s cards.
Z recalls that the reading was succinct and accurate. Z told Rosalie that “she has an occupation that has to do with bondage – the Devil card, you know. Voluntary bondage that she could get out of if she wanted to but she was there for some payoff.” She told her that her daughter would be accepted at a Vet school in Florida, and other detailed things that came to pass. At the end of the reading, the undercover cop left, sending in two plain clothes policemen. They wanted to handcuff Budapest, something that pushed her buttons as a Hungarian refugee. In Hungary, arrest could mean going to Siberia. So, she told the cops that whoever first touched her would receive four months worth of nightmares. Nobody touched her. They even opened the door for her. At the station, she called the feminist lawyer, Marge Buckley, who came and bailed her out.
The trial went on for four days. Her judge, Michael Sauer, was an active Catholic who took communion before work. Her lawyer told Z that to change the law, Z would have to actually lose the trial so that they could appeal. Z said, “Ok, I’ll go the long way, the hard way, and give me something to drink right away.” During that time, Z remembers, you could actually get a good bottle of Portuguese or Spanish wine for just 99 cents!
At the end of the trial, Z was indeed found guilty. Then, a nine year battle began. She obtained pro bono legal work with the help of women finishing law school who would cut their teeth on her case. Fittingly, it was Chief Justice Rose Bird of the California Supreme Court who finally threw it out. Chief Justice Bird was the first woman appointed as both a justice and chief justice of the California Supreme Court. Her decision set a precedent that is still used across the country where similar laws still exist. When Z won, the only congratulations she received was a clipping from the LA times, sent by the last lawyer who worked on her case. Z said that she didn’t mind. Still, every time Z sees people reading tarot on the sidewalk, she says, “I’m just smiling and thinking, little do they know that every penny they make is because Z Budapest fought back.” The ruling, however, was critical for another reason. Because the Supreme Court repealed the guilty verdict as unconstitutional and in violation of the Freedom of Religion Act, Wicca found its first legal foothold.
Before the fight was over, Z moved to Oakland, California where she lives today. She said she stopped reading tarot for a while. “My mind is not just on that. My mind is on history. I am very much interested in the evolution of my species.” This love of history and women led Z to accomplish many other things. She founded the first feminist, women-only coven called Susan B. Anthony #1; she created a year long feature, “Every day is a Holiday,” on KPFK radio where she found daily holidays often feminine in nature. She wrote10 books, all centered around women’s spirituality, starting in 1975 with, “The Feminist Book of Lights and Shadows,” later republished as the beloved book, “The Holy Book of Women’s Mysteries.” Other titles include, “ Grandmother Time,” “Grandmother Moon,” and “Summoning the Fates.”
Right now, Z Budapest is preparing for her upcoming Goddess Festival in Northern California from September 5th through 7th. Z first established this festival in 1980 as part of the Women’s Spirituality Movement which she founded. This year, Z is asking participants to download photos of all the Republicans who cast votes against feeding children and other bad things. Why? Because she plans to lead them in “an ancient little hex. We’re going to pee on those pictures.” Then, they will toss them in a bonfire and send it back to the universe. “This is so instinctive,” Z states, “women peeing on what they want to get rid of. It’s being done in Russia on Putin’s face.”
Z wants women today to reconstitute the consciousness raising groups, like the Red Tent movement. She also wants each woman to find women role models from history. “Who are the women that you respect now, from the past, who are just dust now, but their ideas and what they achieved, you are using. You are living off them.” Then, says Z, “you pay it forward by putting your energy into fighting and maintaining woman’s rights.”
Z Budapest has done just that. From defeating a municipal code in California that did not allow women to seek each others counsel through card readings to igniting a woman’s spirituality movement world wide, Z Budapest is a feminist witch who continues to fight back where ever she goes – a witch armed with knowledge, laughter, many “blessed be’s”, and a hex now and again.