Elizabeth Autumnalis is a lifelong multi-generational witch, writer, ritualist, professional psychic and occult teacher throughout New England. Growing up in Salem MA in the early 90s, she was fully immersed in the witchcraft community from a very early age. It is because of this that she was able to develop the tools needed to develop her own personal path, as well as formal training through multiple initiatory traditions. She is an initiate and priestess of the Temple of Witchcraft Mystery School, a graduate of Black Rose Witchcraft, and an initiate of the Sacred Fires Tradition of Witchcraft.
Elizabeth writes for Patheos Pagan in her blog Hawthorne & the Rose and runs a business under the same name where she sells magical wares, spellwork, and other services. She performs regular rituals at several occult shops in the New England area, including Salem Massachusetts. As well as teaching classes on witchcraft across the country.
You were raised with witchcraft as a child with both of your parents being active witches as a child in Salem, which has a huge witchcraft community. As such, would I be correct to assume you don’t have the hangups regarding monotheism that a lot of us who were raised indoctrinated do? Are there any hangups of the witchcraft and polytheism you grew up with that you strongly dislike?
I feel like every child growing up in the United States will have some of the hang-ups associated with monotheism because it’s the over culture of our country. To be fair though, a lot of the hang-ups that I have are more finely engrained into society and less directly associated with growing up indoctrinated in a monotheistic culture. For example; our society is extremely patriarchal because of the over culture and no amount of neo-pagan goddess worshipping is going to combat that.
Something that I am extremely grateful for about growing up in the witchcraft community is that I was able to start my relationship with spirits very young and it was fostered rather than being shut down. I see a lot of people struggle to work through their disbelief enough in order to be open to spiritual and psychic experiences later in life and I am glad that I didn’t have to fight through those same layers of disbelief.
Ultimately there are still a lot of hang-ups about growing up in the witchcraft community as well. Even though it is a very varied community when it comes to belief, a lot of people within the community like to push their beliefs on one another. I was also subject to a lot of witchcraft being done for me and on my behalf that I did not consent to.
What advice would you give someone who is just beginning the path of exploring magick and witchcraft?
Don’t be afraid to view yourself as a magical resource. Oftentimes people go right for the shiniest gods and goddesses in order to explain their experiences and they get stuck there rather than focusing on the work that they’re truly being called to do. My personal practice is extremely animistic in nature and if everything has a spirit then that includes you. Your practice doesn’t need to look the same as everyone else’s, as long as it is working for you.
Also, be a skeptic. Don’t take everything at face value, but see the lesson in everything. Always research into things further if it feels off to you.
As someone who was raised with witchcraft and someone who also is studying under formal traditions such as The Temple of Witchcraft and Sacred Fires, what benefit do you think formal training has as opposed to teachings being passed on to you verbally through your family?
While I was able to learn the basic tools of witchcraft early on, I had a lot of gaps in my foundational work. My upbringing was somewhat chaotic in nature and a lot of what I learned was very informal, or through the observation of those around me. Rather than being taught one on one, I was mostly watching the people around me figure out their own paths. Though I was surrounded by witches, a lot of the people around me were just figuring out their own paths at that time. This was the early-mid 90’s and the majority of the adults around me were still students. My mother was in Laurie Cabot’s classes, and then a few other covens that formed outside of that. I was enamored with witchcraft from day one though, I could sit and watch rituals all day long. A lot of my earliest memories are huddling under my mother’s robes or sitting by the window watching as they cast circle. Essentially, if we look at it like an instrument, I had learned how to play by ear rather than learning how to read the sheet music.
For a long time, I worked on my own path just by listening to the spirits and going where I was guided, but at a certain point I found myself at a bit of a plateau. Finding formal training allowed me to fill in those fundamental gaps while also focusing on my own journey. Being involved in initiatory traditions allowed me to take what I had already developed and push it to new levels that I would never have been able to reach on my own. It also helped me realize what community could be for me.
Last October when we went out to dinner, you were pointing out things about Salem and touching upon the local spirits of Salem. How did that relationship with the local spirits of Salem begin? How do these spirits differ from those of other locations?
Ah yes, the spirits of Salem. I’m not sure that I can honestly say when that relationship began, the spirits have been there for as long as I can remember. It actually took me a while to realize that other people didn’t experience them as I did. To me it was just natural that they were there. I think most of the adults in my life chalked it up to the fantasies of a child, but their presence never faded. There are still several that I have working relationships with to this day.
I feel as though we all have a slightly different connection to the spirits of our hometown. To me the spirits of Salem (for the most part) have always felt like family. I turned to them when there was no one else, they were called upon for protection, and I was quite literally offered to them. There is definitely a toxicity to it though. The spirits there aren’t necessarily interested in working with people. They’re more interested in their own agenda and that’s not always to the benefit of the people living with them. I think the same can be send for a lot of spirits though.
There is a deep shadow to Salem that has been fed into and largely left unchecked for a long time. It’s just exacerbated by those who have left their own shadows unchecked and I have seen it amplify those insecurities within people. It can cause a sense of hysteria if you’re not aware of it. That being said, there is a lot that can be learned from it as well.
For those seeking to build a connection with their local land spirits, what practical magickal advice would you give them?
Listen. Let go of any expectation or agendas with them. They are very much their own beings, with their own wants, desires and paths. They’re usually all around you and willing to communicate, but they tend to go unnoticed in favor of bigger and grander things. Be careful when making deals with spirits as they can be a lot less forgiving than the gods.
I have also found that personal divination systems tend to work better for communicating with local spirits. I personally had been reading with bones for a couple years and recently felt drawn to revamping a set specifically made with pieces more aligned to the local spirits rather than the ancestors or more traditional bone reading pieces. I have fallen deeply in love with this set and will be speaking more on that process soon.
As a millennial witch who was raised with the witchcraft of the last generations, what reforms would you like to see in the witchcraft community?
Growing up within the community that I was raised in, by the individuals who raised me, and the near constant drama of it all is actually something that I am oddly thankful for. When things are good you never notice, but when things are bad it’s all you can see. I have spent the last couple of years working deeply through past traumas and quite a few of them stem from the pagan/witchcraft community. It comes from the unenlightened pushing agendas and energy on the children of the next generation rather than doing the work to better themselves. I can’t speak for the community as a whole, but there are things that I have personally found lacking within the community. I can’t act for others, nor do I want to, but I can treat myself as a microcosm of the greater community and make the necessary changes within myself and hope that others do the same in order to change for the better.
I think one of the biggest disconnects of the “community” is that we aren’t one. Ultimately when it comes down to it we are just the leftover weird kids who all kind of get lumped together and form an odd kind of dysfunctional family because of it, but we are all pulling ourselves in opposite directions and tugging each other along as we do it. I think that the best thing that we can do is realize that each and every one of us is sovereign in our own path. I also want to clarify that by “sovereign” I don’t mean walking your own path and not caring what others think. That’s being brash, not sovereign. Sovereignty means walking your path on your own and fully taking responsibility for everything that that path entails. We are in charge of ourselves. Leadership is there to help organize things should you choose it, but they are not there to dictate your path for you.
We need to let go of our dysfunctional codependency that stemmed from a deep-seated need to be accepted and break our cords. We don’t need to be a “community”, but we can be functioning adults who work together towards common causes. In order to do this, I have been teaching myself not to be afraid of speaking my truth while simultaneously learning to hold the space for others. I have been learning to actually listen to everyone, rather than going into common spaces with expectations and agendas. I have seen witches tearing at each other’s throats over petty disagreements for my entire life, and I am sick of it. I think it’s time to prove that we can be more.
One of my favorite articles by you is Are We Becoming Distracted by the Gods? I’m curious as to what your relationship is with the gods and goddesses. Do you worship them?
Short answer: I don’t worship the gods.
Long answer: I do work with the gods. One of my favorite quotes is from Terry Pratchett in which Nanny Ogg says, “All them things exist. That’s no call to go around believing in them. It only encourages ‘em.” At the root of my practice, I am an animist. Everything is a spirit; the gods just get more attention. Essentially, I view them as greater spirits that are available to be worked with like any other spirit, but they don’t need my worship. When it comes to gods I tend to work more with archetypes at the deity-level and more with the specific deities as greater-spirits. If that makes any sense. I like to work more with epitaphs rather than specific names as well. It just feels less limiting to me and gives more room for whichever spirit is needed to come through. Sometimes there are spaces that are specific to certain gods though, and I also respect that.
There has been a lot of discussions about the pitfalls of community lately in the pagan and witchcraft spheres. As someone who has been a part of many of these communities your whole life, what are the benefits of community? Why is healthy community important?
I have had a really complicated relationship with the pagan/witchcraft community in my life. At one point I even thought that I was going to turn away from witchcraft entirely because of it (I was young and naïve). Eventually I realized that we can all complain about the things that we don’t like, or we can work to change them. I know which path I’m taking and I am determined to do my part.
Community challenges us, in every sense of the word. I believe that if we are never pushed outside of our comfort zone, then we won’t grow. When a community is healthy then it gives us a safe space to be able to grow by listening to each other and doing work that is beyond any one person. We can collectively add our strengths and work on our weaknesses in a community in ways we would never be able to do on our own.
You are someone whose magickal and psychic talent I trust. As someone who charges for spellwork, readings, and for your magickal concoctions, what are your thoughts in regards to magickal services for money? Why should a professional witch charge for their services to others?
When it comes down to it, witches need to make a living too. We work hard to be able to offer our services and we need to be able to provide for ourselves. Many of the witches that I know (including myself) still need to work regular day jobs in order to make ends meet. As a witch it is important to take care of ourselves before we can take care of anyone else, and that includes keeping food on our tables and roofs over our heads. Hardly anyone is getting rich off of offering their services, but it is a craft and a trade. Growing up I always just assumed that I would grow up to be a professional witch. My mother was a professional tarot reader long before I was born and I was raised in her occult bookstore watching her give readings. The cast majority of the adults in my life had occult shops or worked as psychics. I believe that witchcraft is a trade just like silversmithing or carpentry is. It’s a set of tools that you hone in order to be able to offer them to the community. Nobody bats an eyelash when the carpenter sets a price for his work though.
I do believe that there is a problem with consumerism in the craft right now though. It has gone beyond witches offering their services and become a competition over who can sell bay leaves for more money. We are also seeing more and more people selling the aesthetic of witchcraft without actually being practicing witches at all (witchy enamel pins are at an all-time high). I personally just want to be able to live comfortably doing what I love most.
Anything we can expect from you in the future? Any projects or events?
I have a few things coming up in the near future; I will be teaching a workshop at PantheaCon in February and at the Temple of Witchcraft’s Beltane ritual. I will also be offering regular rituals soon at Moth & Moon Studio in Bedford, NH.
I am very excited for this year! I have a lot of things in the works, but I have to be quiet about them for now. I will be sharing them on social media and my own blog soon!
Elizabeth Autumnalis – Are We Becoming Distracted by the Gods?
Elizabeth Autumnalis – Missed Call From Your Local Land Spirits
The Washington Post – The Seekers
Mat Auryn – What Millennial Witches Really Want