Chatonia Underwood grew up in a small town in South Carolina. Her family, descendents of African slaves and Irish sharecroppers, mostly stayed close to the coastal Carolinas after the Civil War — in other words, Chatonia’s southern roots run incredibly deep.
Raised by her grandmother, Chatonia says she was introduced to her grandmother’s love of growing things from a very young age. “As a devout Christian, she doesn't practice what she would consider to be witchcraft, but she is very much an herbalist with healing hands and an amazing green thumb,” Chatonia explains. Still, she says, “Exploring mysticism of any form was positively forbidden in my household. So, it wasn't until more recently in my spiritual journey that I realized that a lot of the things I learned from her would be considered Hoodoo, or ‘rootwork’ by our more recent ancestors.”
Roots and rootwork took on a new meaning when Chatonia found Wicca, while studying business and marketing as an undergrad. ”At that time, I was very much a broke college student who could barely afford textbooks, let alone supplies for this new spiritual journey,” Chatonia says. “One night, I was up late with a friend, talking about how we wished there was a more accessible and affordable way to learn. Subscription boxes were the new craze, and we just knew there needed to be one in the metaphysical space. Three years later, I launched Box of Shadows.”
Though Chatonia found her first inklings of connection to paganism through her family, she says that the vast majority of pagans are solitary practitioners, practicing more or less alone. “Without guidance,” she says, “it can be incredibly overwhelming to sift through the tons of information out there, especially when you are new to this path.”
Box of Shadows focuses on providing resources that guide their “Circle Members” down a path of continued growth. “We are whole-y and unapologetically pagan, so, of course, we love the aesthetic,” Chatonia says. “But our focus is on the more profound ‘shadow work’ that is an essential part of this spiritual path. I think that focus is what sets us apart the most.”
The basic structure of the Box of Shadows is that monthly themes are planned around the Wiccan Wheel of the Year. The Wheel of the Year is a calendar of sabbats (or holidays) that celebrate the seasons changing — just this week marks Mabon, at the autumnal equinox, for example. “Since Wicca is where many neo-pagans, myself included, begin their studies, it’s a natural and familiar starting point,” Chatonia says of the calendar. “At our heart, though, we are very eclectic, or as my best friend says ‘non-denominational.’ Our community of Circle Members practice many different traditions.”
Those traditions have exploded in popularity in recent years, and especially, it seems, since the pandemic descended in March. It’s not just witchcraft, but modernized, witch-adjacent practices (like crystals or astrology) that have been on a steady rise among young women. Chatonia thinks this might have to do with control, or our lack thereof.
“Historically, witchcraft has been a tool of the oppressed and unheard,” Chatonia says. “In a world where so many things feel out of our immediate control, I think paganism is appealing because it's a practice that places the means to affect change squarely in the practitioner’s hands.”
She adds that practices like astrology or tarot reading help make sense of and navigate the chaos. Crystals, meanwhile, can “provide a tangible way to align our energy with our intent.” Chatonia adds: “Many are finding comfort in these gateways to paganism while in quarantine, and they want to learn more.”
So what if you are one of those people — “baby witches” or pagan practitioners — who are exploring new spiritual practices like these? What advice does Chatonia think you need to know as you get started? “Start with your ancestors,” Chatonia says. “I wish someone had told me that when I was brand new to the craft.”
She explains, “With so many traditions under the umbrella of paganism, it's sometimes hard to find a place where you feel you fit in, but you will always find a home with those that paved the way for your existence, even the ones you didn't know in this life. All of our ancestors practiced a form of paganism, and there is power in reconnecting with that ancestral knowledge.”
And just how do you do that, exactly? “We are blessed to live in a time when we don't have to rely solely on our living relatives to connect with our ancestry,” Chatonia says. “Take advantage of resources like 23&Me and use that information to kickstart your journey.”
Once started, that journey can find its natural next point at Box of Shadows. Because Box of Shadows follows the Wheel of the Year, each item chosen is associated with the current sabbat, or another chosen theme for that month. And as a bonus? Their products are sourced from small businesses.
“All of our products come from other pagan-based small businesses, most of which are women-led,” Chatonia says. “We partner with pagan book publishers for the texts we offer. Any herbs we provide (including sage & palo santo) are sourced locally when possible, but always ethically and sustainably.”
Those products lead, Chatonia hopes, to positive outcomes for her customers. “For me, success is the ability to positively impact someone's life and make their world better in any way I can,” she says. “Many of my subscribers do not have access to a pagan community or even a metaphysical shop. When a Circle Member emails me about how their box helped them or was exactly what they needed, I know that I've successfully done what I set out to do with this business.”