My own personal experiences with witchcraft began, as with most things in my life, during my childhood growing up in a small suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. My southern upbringing shaped me in innumerable ways, and since leaving Atlanta in 2009 I've enjoyed watching from afar as the city has grown and shifted in ways I'd never have imagined when I lived there. As such, I was excited when I read the Creative Loafing profile of Haley Murphy, proprietor of ATL Craft, the first (to my knowledge) ITP (ask a local) witchcraft store in the area. Every city needs a good occult shop. It's part community center, part learning nexus, part support system. I reached out to Haley Murphy, aka Witch Mama, via email to discuss ATL Craft and southern witchcraft.
What first drew you to working with magic/the occult?
I was raised Southern Baptist and homeschooled most my life. I recognized I had the gift of “discernment of spirit” (what Christians call it) when I was very young. Through research, I later found that I was a medium with clairvoyant, clairaudient, and clairsentient gifts.
Because I had no family support and couldn’t openly talk about my gifts, I had to sneak around to learn what I could. Without guidance, it was difficult to follow what came naturally to me: to de-stigmatize it, control it, and not fear it.
Unlike the monotheistic, god-fearing religions I was used to, pagans and wiccans embraced my gifts. After leaving home at 18, I went on a journey of self-discovery. I immersed myself in ancient literature, met all walks of faith, but nothing touched me like the ancient polytheistic pagan ways.
A few years later I was sucked into the vortex that was, and still is, known as The Back Pockets, a musical/performance art group of witches. We were known as a wild bunch of misfits who played music and held deep performance art twisted with ritual and holy fuckery (can I say that?). I found others who were also interested in exploring the magic, the healing arts, and sacred clowning. Years into my own practice, I started teaching. So many people wanted to learn that I became overwhelmed and started the online learning and discussion forum “The Hum." HEY HUM MEMBERS! In The Hum, we talk about herbalism, science, ancient literature, spell work, astrology, magic, yoga, mysticism, and just about anything anyone wants to discuss. With the success of the online forum, I decided to also teach out of my home. Just like the online classes, I soon became overwhelmed with the response, and so…ATL CRAFT was born. It was born out of the desperate need to bring a person to person community back into our culture without dogmatic structure. It was born out of anger and love for human rights, women’s rights, and the acknowledgement of our own power. It was made in the fire of the belly of the beast and plopped right down into the Old Fourth Ward where Grant Henry scooped it up and twirled it around. We decided to make a baby out of Sister Louisa’s Church Murch and ATL CRAFT.
How long was ATL Craft in the works?
I would say, my whole life, and a month and a half. Manifest.
Do you find Atlanta supportive of the occult community?
Hmmmm, Georgia is a very slow to evolve in the progressive mindset. It is a part of the south held together by the bible belt. But, I would also say Atlanta, isn’t the south. Or, that is something we say, here. We are incredibly diverse and very inclusive. Yes, I believe Atlanta is supportive and needs resources like ATL CRAFT, as a safer space for Atliens to find the resources they need to practice, and to learn and network with others also interested in all forms of magic. ATL CRAFT is not just a store but a community center where we have classes and gatherings.
There's a deep spiritual bloodline unique to the southeastern United States--do you find that resonant or impactful in your magic work?
Yes, this is a very deep question. I want to be thoughtful while answering. Essentially the magic that runs in the south’s veins is ancient and HEAVILY influenced from Africa and the Indigenous tribes from this area. It has been stigmatized, eroticized, and colonized. It is the desire of my heart to bring as much awareness and understanding about all the ways to practice magic. That is why we have, for example, a voodoo priest give classes on voodoo, the history, and the realms. We also have a Tao master who teaches eastern philosophy. Everyday that I am open I meet someone new, with a practice that I may not even know about. This is one of the reasons I love the south and Atlanta’s diverse culture. I believe it is Charles Darwin (same birthday btw) who says animal species evolve with their environment. So, absolutely yes. The roots of the south do impact my personal work. Though I believe the foundation of all magic is basically the same. It is ancient symbols we all recognize.
What are some of your favorite items that you stock at ATL Craft?
I designed meditation masks that have a pocket for the third eye. Each mask comes with an insert for the pocket, lavender and amethyst, mugwort and crystal quartz, and chamomile and black tourmaline. I think we have a lot of innovative things made by local artists and healers you cannot find anywhere else. Many metaphysical shops are very commercial and are stocked full of things made in China. It is our deep desire to support local artists and healers and much as possible. Our tinctures, essential oil roll-ons and body products are all made in Atlanta. We also have hand-made ceramic altar bowls, incense burners, tarot bags, altar candle holders, wands and so much more made by amazing Atlanteans.
Any cool plans for the store that you can share?
We have so many distinct classes and get-togethers to bring our unique community together. So many people come in looking for a “coven” they can practice with. I encourage people to come to our classes so they can meet their people instead of getting lumped into something that may not align with their practice. For example, this week we have a meditation and yoga class on Thursday and a “Eat for your Vagina” nutrition class on Saturday.
What is magic to you?
Magic to me, is manifesting through the use of your inner gods, outer spirits, ancestors, and elements. I definitely identify as a green witch. But, I also believe the wisest thing a human can believe is that, we just don’t know. We will never arrive. Every day I meet new people who practice something I have never heard of. I certainly don’t know everything and I desire to constantly learn more.
All photos by Stephanie Pharr
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