INTERVIEW BY LISA MARIE BASILE
LMB: You’re a poet, a writer, a witch, a reading series host, and (as of this summer!) a magical workshop instructor! Can you tell me a little bit about your background in both writing and magic, and how they intersect for you?
AT: I think I've sort of always been both a witch and a writer, since before I understood the terms and knew how to put the work and effort into each practice. I've been storytelling since early childhood and writing/performing poetry since age 10. As for witchcraft, I'd felt alignment with the identity for as long as I can remember. The first Halloween costume I chose for myself was the Wicked Witch of the West. I thought she was remarkably powerful and I wanted to feel that, to mimic and evoke it.
As I got older, the practice of writing down ideas for spells, tarot spreads, important moments, dreams, etc - that ends up becoming one's Book of Shadows, but I don't separate mine from my everyday notebook. To me, the practice of writing down the beginning of a poem, and in the next moment, writing my errands for the day, and in the next moment, recording my ideas for a new moon ritual - it's all from the same place. It all comes back to memory, practice, and ritual.
You’re identify with the Strega. Can you tell me a little bit about how Italian folk magic and your Mediterranean/Italian heritage finds its way into your practice?
When I first started "studying" witchcraft, ie, trying out first spells and rituals that were found in actual sources other than my imagination, I studied Wicca because that was the information available to me at that time. It didn't all resonate with me, to be honest. When I started talking to the women in my family about Stregheria, and started hunting down the scarce resources about Italian folk magic, it all made sense to me, how you can incorporate spellwork into everyday kitchen work, or how you can read your dreams for meaning, or how you don't have to set up a sacred, untouchable alter to work your magic.
My great-grandmother was a Sicilian Strega whose "specialty" (many of the local Streghe had their "thing" that they did best, as it's been explained to me) was taking the malocchio, or the Evil Eye, off of people with a folk magic ritual. When I started studying that, and really digging deeper into these practices, it started to make more sense to me than the Wicca I had explored previously.
I identify with Strega magic because there's a lot of room for everyday intuition, and that works for me. It's about much more than just my Italian-American upbringing, though, because I'm a total mix. My mother's family is mostly English, so some of the Wiccan beliefs really align with that part of my heritage.
On my father's side, we're Italian and Lebanese and there were students of Alchemy in the Lebanese side so in a way, I feel born into many magical traditions. But I chose the one that spoke to me the clearest and the loudest, which is what I think every curious person should do.
Also: did you read and fucking LOVE Strega Nona as a child? I know I read that book a hundred times and it’s basically why I am who I am these days.
You know, I didn't read that book until I was an adult! I feel like I really missed out, haha.
You’re teaching a series of classes in nyc at Word Bookstore in Brooklyn this summer on tarot, astrology, and ritual! I’m so excited! Can you tell me more about the classes & about the way YOU approach magic?
Thank you! When I was approached by WORD, they asked me to teach some Witchy 101 classes which really made me examine my practice and my belief system, for sure. I had to break down the elements of what goes into my magic life and think about the connections and stories and education behind them. My studied understanding of the esoteric realm started in seventh grade, when I stole a gigantic book, Zolar's Astrology, and gobbled down like 1,000 pages of info and started telling everyone about themselves astrologically. At the time, it was a way for me to understand and categorize the world a little easier. It was insight into the human condition, which is the focus of much of my work - helping others through astrology, tarot, ritual, and self-care.
The astrology workshop will show people how to make and interpret the basics of their natal charts, since our zodiac signs are so much more than just our sun signs. Toward the end of the class, I'll discuss astrology across the magic spectrum, like for instance how it can change the way you read tarot cards. That will lead us into the second workshop of Tarot, where I'll discuss ideas for making the cards work for the individual reader. While there are some hard and fast rules in Tarot, I think there's a lot more room for intuition and the art of natural storytelling than some may think. I've always approached my readings as a writer and an author, like here are these ancient plot points being laid out for you - what's the story, what's the lesson, what's the theme, what's the message?
At the end of this workshop, we'll discuss other ways to use Tarot, like for instance in ritual, which leads us to the final workshop. In the Ritual discussion, I really want to give people permission to practice in a way that works for them, and not worry about setting up some expensive altar based on something they read in a book.
There are SO many fun, creative ways to create your space and figure out what works for you, and I love talking to people about their ideas here. For example, growing up, I assumed that to really perform a moon ritual, you had to be outdoors with your coven, skyclad (witchspeak for "naked") and dancing around a fire, and that simply doesn't work for most modern witches, especially us city-folk witches. So I'm looking so forward to bringing in elements of my altar and sharing them, and having a real conversation about practice, ritual, and sacred spaces that can create for ourselves.
What are your thoughts on the burgeoning popularity of witchcraft? I think we both agree more magic and positivity and autonomy is a GOOD thing—so I’m interested in your perspective as a long time practitioner.
You know, I think I aligned with witches at a young age, because their other-ness and power both spoke to me. I was always a bit of a weirdo and an outcast, so witchcraft made sense to me. Seeing the popular kids take it over and makee it cool and mainstream was a little off-putting at first, I'll be honest, but that was just a knee-jerk ego-speak reaction on my part.
The fact that more people are aligning themselves with witchcraft and ritual and interdependence and intersectionality - we need more of that in the world. So I don't care if you just bought your first Rose Quartz because it made a pretty Instagram post - go get it, friend. Make it meaningful if you want to and if you can, and if not, that doesn't take away from my practice one bit. Witches who want to quiz you on how serious you are, what coven you belong to, who initiated you, what order you belong to: that reeks of hierarchal bullshit and elitism to me. Even being a natural Slytherin, I just can't hang with that attitude, haha.
I couldn't agree more. We shouldn't judge, gate-keep, or assume everyone is going to approach magic in the same way!
So, what books are you reading right now?
I read a lot for place and mood and I'm a total Summer Baby so I've been on a roll with reading books about the ocean. I just finished Ocean Sea, a gorgeous magical realist tale, by the Italian author Alessandro Barrico. I'm currently finishing up the abso-bloody-lutely brilliant novel The Pisces by Melissa Broder (which is so deliciously dirty - it's been fun to spy people reading it on the Subway because I'm like oooooh, what part are you reading right now?)
Lastly, I'm digging deep into Practical Magic: A Beginner's Guide to Crystals, Horoscopes, Psychics, and Spells by Nikki Van De Car because we'll be discussing that in the WORD Workshops. It was so hard to choose JUST ONE book, but I think this guide is a beautifully un-intimidating place to start.
So, what is your birth chart like? How do you think the zodiac actually has a hand in our lives?
Whew boy, this is a big question and a big answer. I feel like there are sort of two types of people here, the ones who say, "Astrology could never be real," and the other camp who are like, "You're SUCH a Sag rising," haha. The thing is, Astrology is really hard to defend, right? How could the alignment of the stars affect our personalities and paths in life? The tough answer is that I'm not totally sure, to be honest, but I also don't need a scientific basis for every single aspect of my life.
What I know is that after years of exploring astrology charts with people, I've seen way way way too much interesting coincidence and important metaphor and meaningful symbolism to every be able to completely deny it. I think Astrology is a fascinating way to gain insight into who we all are and what we're all working with. It helps us understand our strengths and weaknesses, our attractions, our patterns of behavior, our shadow selves.
For me, I'm a Cancer/Leo cusp, and that water/fire split goes down most of my chart and really makes sense to me. I'm a Rising Sagittarius (fire) and Pisces Moon (water.) It basically makes me a textbook ambivert. I have no stage fright but don't do well at a get-together with a few people if I'm not close with all of them, haha. My water side makes me deeply empathetic, intuitive, and moody af. The fire side keeps me performing, laughing, taking risks and chances, and kicks me in the ass when I get too far in my own head.
What a GREAT combo you've got going on there (says the skulking, moody Scorpio with a Cancer moon). I love that you've got that water/fire duality!
So, you’re a tarot reader (and a wonderful one!). How do you approach tarot? How do you think creatives can use the tarot?
Thank you, Lisa, you're too kind. Tarot for me is a way in which we deal with universal messages. The cards themselves speak to many ideas of universality, from Jungian Collective Unconscious to the beats in a novel's plot, from common dream symbols to astrological alignment.
When I read for people, I tend to focus less on the fortune-telling aspect of it and more on the actions that have brought the querent to this moment in time. What patterns are at work, what forces are blocking us, how can we best approach this issue or problem with the tools we have in front of us? With that mindset, you can use the tarot to help you write your way out of a block, or perhaps understand what your dreams have been trying to communicate to you, or of course why perhaps you're crushing on someone who isn't reciprocating. When you loosen up the strict Tarot rules, you find uses in them for everything from spellwork to finding your next poem.
How does magic intersect with our social and political climate right now? I’m interested in your ideas on hexing Trump and self care rituals?
Being a witch has always aligned deeply, for me, with feminism, intersectionality, and putting power in the hands of the marginalized. Witches, historically, were often women healers that provided care outside of institutional patriarchy and that history resonates with me in a hugely meaningful way. The people historically accused of witchcraft were mostly women of questionable status: the unmarried, the lower-income, the other-ed in terms of color, gender, sexuality, etc. I think in particular, that young folks who are today's marginalized people - LGBTQ, POC, women - end up being attracted to witchcraft as a way of harnessing a power that's been denied to us.
That being said, do I want to hex Trump? Uh, of course I do. But I wouldn't and I won't. Hexing feels extraordinarily dangerous and irresponsible to me. I use my magic to help others and myself. I don't call myself a "white witch" because I definitely embrace the darkness within and believe in expression of that darkness, but hexing is something more than that, and it's not a place I choose to go. I don't know that it's possible to poison someone spiritually without taking it some of it yourself, too. That's the only way I know how to explain that, which may not make much sense, I'm sorry.
As for self-care rituals, I wish that every person out there could find what restores them physically, emotionally, and spiritually and put it into practice.
Time for the hard-hitting question: Which Hogwarts house are you, most importantly?
I'm such a goddamn Slytherin. It took me a while to be comfortable with that but now I'm proud. I definitely don't have the elitist attitude shared by many Slytherin, but that dark energy has my name written all over it, haha.
SLYTHERIN 4 LIFE.
How can people sign up for your courses this summer?
Folks can sign up through WORD's site right here.