The words renaissance business woman is not something that many toss around, but that is exactly the phrase I would use for the person who I will be interviewing. Her name is Charissa Iskiwitch and this is why you want to know her.
For those who do not know the woman behind the curtain of one of the most dynamic growing organizations founded for Pagan businesses, who is Charissa Iskiwitch?
I am a practicing witch, healer, teacher and business owner. I was born and grew up in Northwest Georgia. I learned a love of nature and plants from my mother and grandmother and a love of doing things with my hands from both sides of my family. I live on a 21 acre farm in Southern Appalachia with my husband and a whole herd of cats and dogs.
Let’s start at the beginning. How long have you been a Pagan and a business woman? And when did the two intersect?
I have identified as Pagan since the mid 80’s when I met a phenomenal wise woman that took me under her wing. She invited me into her Circle and treated me as if I was one of them. The entire Circle taught me all about their ways from the folk uses of herbs and animals to the spiritual side of gratitude to our gods. I was always extremely spiritual and active in whatever church I was involved in even as a child and teenager. This path touched me in a way I had never been touched before and sparked something inside me that has never gone out even all these years later.
My father was a business owner and he instilled in me the need to work for myself. I have had jobs. But I have also always done my own thing. As a teenager I worked in fast food restaurants while building up an Avon business. I worked at the library in college and started a dorm room business cutting cadets’ hair and sewing patches on their uniforms. (I went to a military college) I later sold other lines like Princess House and Pampered Chef, made crafts with my sister and sold them at craft shows, started a firm to oversee tax credit properties and keep them in compliance with government regulations and went into business with my husband making coffee mugs with photos on them. This was all before the internet so marketing was much more expensive and on a smaller scale.
Currently my husband and I run Charissa’s Cauldron (http://CharissasCauldron.com ) and Kit’s Flea (http://kitsflea.com ). Charissa’s Cauldron carries things I make as well as some other magickal supplies. I make natural remedies, hoodoo waters and some other little tidbits. I do some art but have not ever listed it in my shop. I might decide to at some point.
Can you tell us a little more about your business?
I started Charissa’s Cauldron shortly after we moved out into the country. I have studied and worked with plants and other natural materials for years. As an herbalist moving to a property that has both fields and woods was a dream come true. The first line of products I decided to offer was flower remedies. I have worked with and made flower remedies for years for family and friends. Having access to so many different plants gave me the opportunity to have an ever expanding line of remedies to which I later added crystals.
Since then I have added a line of Goddess, Lunar and Elemental Waters to the brand. I sell retail through the website and have several shops and vendors selling my product on consignment. I offer a unique program for retailers allowing them to not only make a profit from items sold in their store but also from sales made on my website.
What was your first brush with the wonderful worlds I like to call the American Neo Pagan Diaspora?
I was a part of what most Pagans would call a coven when I got started. We just called it Circle. I went through 5 years of rigorous training. The people that I circled with then had some unfortunate experiences with the greater Pagan world and instilled a little bit of fear in me about networking outside the Circle. So later, when I was forced for geographical reasons to become solitary I stayed that way for quite a while. Then I found a small shop that promoted a more social approach. I kept quiet about my experience and played it as if I was brand new because my people had told me that I would not be accepted and could even be harassed.
I realize now that was a mistake based on their limited experience with a local traditional Gardnerian coven. It did make it harder to be taken seriously as a leader later on because some people remember me being “new” in those days. I know that sounds crazy but people tend to do a lot of stupid things based on fear.
This led to your involvement and eventual leadership roles in your communities. Tell us what that was like.
When I first started seeking out others after going solitary I found covens galore but not much locally for solitaries. Finally a friend forwarded something from Meetup.com to me. It was a time and date at a local restaurant for witches to meet in our area. I went with two friends and we found that that restaurant and time and date had been set automatically by Meetup.com. There was one couple there. There was no real life organizer setting up the meetings or planning any kind of activities. So, my two friends volunteered me to step in as organizer. That was in 2004.
The following year Meetup.com started charging organizers to use the service so we moved to a Yahoo Group as our means of communication. Shortly thereafter we changed the name of the group from Marietta/Roswell Witches Meetup to North Georgia Solitaries (http://NGSolitaries.com). From there we grew into a group that traveled together to festivals, put on festivals, put on open rituals every Sabbat, did community service work and helped local businesses network. We started a charity – Pagan Assistance Fund and ran that for a few short years.
Looking back, when you were earning your stripes in leadership and the social webbing of the various causes and societies, what do you wish you could have told your younger self if you had a time machine?
Do not be afraid to be who you are. Do not let others bully you because your pedigree does not fit into their experience. If you want to teach, teach. If you want to heal, heal. Helping others build their dreams is something you are called to do but do not let it derail your own dreams.
How different is it now?
The popularity of Wicca being the exclusive club that is somehow better or more legitimate than all others has shifted. It is no longer unpopular to admit that your practice is not Wiccan. As for leaders, I believe that true leadership is about walking the walk you talk about.
Too many leaders are out there telling us what to do and how to behave but not doing the “boots on the ground” work. We still do not have a lot of the resources available to us as Pagans that the more mainstream businesses, religions, musicians, authors, artists, journalists and events have.
What things have improved? What things have seemed to regress or degenerate?
Society in general has changed both in positive and negative ways due to the internet. Before the internet it was harder to find other Pagans to network with. You had to actively seek them out in person or using snail mail. Now you can find thousands on social media from the comfort of your own home. On the flip side of that arguments can escalate within minutes because social media allows for instant responses before people have a chance to think things through.
What do you feel about the current state of Pagan leadership right now?
I believe there are many good people trying to do good things for the Pagan community. There are so many more Pagans than there were 40 or 50 years ago. Consequently, there are more people stepping up into leadership roles.
When it comes to our role in the landscape of U.S. Society, do you feel we are coming into our own as a group to be listened to in the places of power, or are we still back at the Starhawk point of activism?
I believe we still have a way to go. The current political climate in the country makes me believe that minorities of all kinds, especially religious minorities have much more work ahead of us before we can expect widespread acceptance.
Do you see any new “Starhawk” level leaders on the field right now?
We owe much to the leaders that pioneered the freedoms we now enjoy. We still have a lot to do and need leaders to step up and work to create a cohesive community for Pagans and remove the barriers that isolate us from mainstream society. We have quite a few leaders that work through interfaith organizations to bring down some of the barriers.
Where have we progressed, in your view, when it comes to our festival relevance insofar as incorporating our gatherings with that of, say, the level of the local Baptist Picnic, or Elk’s cookout, in acceptance?
We are already starting to see a little more acceptance. However, the social climate has taken a bit of an ugly turn recently causing some of the more vocal mainstream religious groups to target anything they do not understand and consequently fear.
When will we get there?
I believe it will get worse for all minorities before it gets better.
Do you believe it will be in our lifetimes that Paganism is on a par of freedom with other mainstream religions in this nation?
I would love to believe it will but I believe we will need another generation or more before the people running the country have evolved past the fear of differences.
What role do Pagan Businesses and Media play in making that happen?
I can only base my opinion on my own experiences. I find that behaving professionally and speaking with tolerance effects more change than accusing and pointing fingers.
By being afforded first hand vision of how the sausage is made, so to speak, what has given you the perseverance to continue?
My father served in local government and instilled in me the need to serve community. As early as my teen years I did what I could for my community. From organizing a movement in my high school to make an unused corner of the property into an outdoor mini-park for students that wanted to spend their lunch or study hours outside, to traveling with my church group to lower-income communities and do chores like clearing an overgrown yard, painting houses, home repair and helping with the local Meals on Wheels program. After college I started a pet rescue operation in St. Louis helping to reunite lost pets with their owners and get unclaimed pets out of the pound and into foster homes while we looked for forever homes. When I joined the Pagan community it was natural for me to be drawn into service.
No matter what kind of community service you are doing there are challenges.
Organizers and leaders must overcome those challenges for the good of their community.
I continue to serve because I love community and people and feel that it is our duty as humans to try and bridge the gaps between different facets of the world so all can enjoy a safe and helpful community.
For a while you were doing events with Pagan Pride Project. How was that? And how did it affect your views on Pagan businesses?
Actually, I did not organize a Pagan Pride myself. I support the Pagan Pride Project whole-heartedly. For several years my organization, North Georgia Solitaries, provided labor for loading and unloading at Atlanta Pagan Pride. One year we hit the road and attended Savannah Pagan Pride as a group and got there early so we could provide loading and unloading help. We find that having a group of people helping vendors to unload and set up keeps traffic moving so other vehicles can pull up and get unloaded.
I was on the board of Church of the Spiral Tree that put on Auburn Pagan Pride a few years ago but I have to say that Linda Kerr did most of the work on organizing that. I just helped out by providing ritual, a children’s activity table and a couple of workshops. I offer my graphic design services free of charge for programs and marketing to any Pagan Pride that wants it. I always donate product for fundraising to as many of the Pagan Prides I can.
I organized two local events, Beltane Bash and Pagan Pathways Festival in addition to an open Sabbat celebration every Sabbat as well as an annual Litha camping trip for several years.
What was the thing that sparked your passion to create the Pagan Business Network?
My health the last few years has kept me from staying as active in the local community as I would like. I am able to attend events if I do not have to travel too far, but the physical elements involved in putting on events was too much for me. When I decided to start Charissa’s Cauldron I was looking for ways to network. I did not find anything more than a few Facebook groups where you could post ads. I wanted more. My father taught me that if you cannot find the kind of organization you are looking for to create one.
I have been a member of many business networking organizations, some geared for women and some for local businesses. They work. I created a network for women business owners in my local community when I was running my family’s insurance agency after my father died. It just made sense for Pagan businesses to have a network.
Was this mainly an intellectual motivation that drove you, or was there something more at play?
I like to say jokingly that when I started my own business I got lonely. That really is not that far from the truth.
Running a successful business means you must wear many hats. Not all of us have the knowledge to wear all of those hats effectively. For online retailers you need to have a place to sell online, create your product and market your product. If you do not want to use a selling site like Etsy or Amaranth you need to have a way to put up a website. You need to find suppliers that do not eat up your profit margin, learn how to take effective photographs and edit them, write effective copy, and learn how to market in a way that allows you to sell your product and still have enough left to restock and have a little left over as profit.
Having a network means we share our knowledge. We are building lists of resources such as suppliers. By adding an ezine such as PBN News we have a place we can help promote each other, keep up with community news and share information about events some of our businesses might want to be a part of.
Our main website has pages that list all kinds of resources. We have built some social media channels we use to promote community businesses, artists, authors, presenters and more.
When you hear the words, Pagan Business, what do you feel is the mental image most people have now?
I believe vendors and brick and mortar stores offering Pagan type goods come to mind first.
How do you want to change that?
Anyone doing something that requires getting the word out falls into the definition of business I want the Pagan Business Network to use. This includes musicians, radio stations, authors, artists, podcasters, bloggers, presenters, teachers, clergy, causes, events, vendors, online stores, brick and mortar stores and so much more.
In your experience as a successful business owner, what do you observe to be the most difficult barrier to the success of niche businesses?
Targeting your demographic is crucial. Today there are so many Pagans working to build a business of their own it makes it harder to get the attention needed. Then there are big box places you can shop that are able to offer goods at lower prices. I find that one of the best ways to stand out is to become known in the community. If you are running a shop online get involved in online communities. Not as a troll or someone pushing their business but more as someone that shows they care about the community and are willing to share knowledge and be present in discussions.
You need to build credibility for buyers to feel comfortable buying your product. Presenters and teachers need to build credibility to entice speaking engagements or students. Musicians and authors will sell more of their work if they are viewed as approachable.
The Pagan Business Network was designed to do what?
PBN’s mission is to build resources through cooperation and collaboration. In other words, bring the Pagan business community together rather than treat each other as competition. We are always stronger together.
You built an empire. Just how expansive is this?
I would say that I am building a network. I want to bring people together so we can all help each other find success in our chosen paths.
Can you tell us about your vision in the beginning vs. now?
Honestly, when I started this I really only expected to build a small group of businesses. I did not anticipate how hungry our business community is for something like this.
Instead of the 20-30 businesses I expected we have over 2000 businesses participating in one way or another. With that growth the vision has grown.
I was looking for a group of businesses to share knowledge and skills. With the sheer number of people that have become a part of this we have expanded the vision to include providing actual promotion as well as a place for writers and budding writers to publish, a way for musicians to get their music heard in more places, and a place for business owners to be spotlighted so they can start building a larger presence. I hope to see PBN add a few more resources to the table in the future.
What unforeseen challenges have arisen due to this labor of love?
As I mentioned before my health comes into play limiting what I can do. My biggest personal challenge is setting limits for myself and not trying to do it all.
In what ways have you been able to master them? What has been your main support system?
I cannot take responsibility for mastering anything. I have found a great team of people that are inspired by a similar vision. That team makes all of this doable. In that team I have found some friends that I hope to have for the rest of my life. My husband keeps a close eye on me and calls a time out when I put my health at risk. My mother supports anything I do regardless of how crazy it seems. My chosen brother (meaning not by blood) always supports my wacky ideas and joins right in to help without question.
You are very gifted with creativity, which you have manifested in many ways. How did flower essences become your forte?
I am not sure that they are necessarily my forte. I do many other healing methods as well. I was first introduced to Bach Flower Remedies years ago when I was looking for some help dealing with grief. I felt that I had to step up when my father died and take care of my mother, settle his estate and run his business until we decided what to do with it. My sisters were not able to do any of that at the time. I feel emotions deeply and found it hard to deal with the business at hand while grieving. I found Bach and took them for a couple of years. While I was taking them I read every book I could get my hands on and searched out as many websites as I could about them. I started making them and experimenting with my own. I decided that I was going to incorporate them into my healing methods.
I am a Reiki master and have certifications in several other methods of healing including herbalism, color therapy, sound therapy and crystal therapy. Essences just seemed to fit right in.
Have you found that a change in the way they are accepted in the last few years?
I never really saw any acceptance problems. Although I have seen some of the mainstream media personalities endorse Bach Flower Remedies.
What inspires your selections of herbs and blends for your products?
I tend to work primarily with what I have access to. I often tell students they should start with the plants in their backyard before worrying about others. I can find all the plant ingredients I need for just about any working within walking distance of my back door.
You have so many projects and creations, what management system do you use? Is there a small pixie with a rolodex in your pocket or what?
No, but I would love to find someone to keep my calendar up to date and organized. For now I use Google calendars together with Google drive. It seems to work for me.
Recently a change came about in the disposition of your businesses. Can you share what is going on right now?
My husband called a time out on me after a run of being in and out of the hospital this summer. We decided that it would be best if I handed off the reins of PBN to someone else. Rhiannon Hood, an exceptionally talented business owner has agreed to take on the leadership role of the Pagan Business Network. I am moving into more of a right hand position to assist her.
How has your role changed in PBN?
I will continue to be extremely hands on. I am currently launching a couple of columns for PBN News and a show on PBN Radio.
What is your wish to see happen going forward? And how do you plan to contribute to this vision?
I would like to see PBN continue to work towards promoting our businesses, giving writers a place to publish and podcasters a place to air their shows. I want to work towards better promotion for our authors and musicians.
I want to see PBN bring more Pagan businesses together to help each other reach our goals.
As for how I will contribute, I will continue to utilize all the business skills I have to help the Pagan business community.
We’ve talked a lot about you and your businesses and your creations, but let’s get into some more heady stuff now. What part do you feel your connection to the Divine has had in your life so far?
I have always had a strong connection with the Divine. When I was younger I focused more on the Christian god because that is what my family did. Now I work more with the Pagan gods. I have always felt that my experiences are blessings and I should use that to help others. That is what led me to teach and to do the clergy work I do.
Would you say that you have been walking a path that has been predestined to a point, or are you totally in a freewheel roll?
I believe that a path with choices along the way is offered by the powers that be. It is up to me to make choices on which way I go. Each choice I make creates or removes choices. I would say that my path has been an extremely winding and wandering type of path due to the fact that everything interests me.
How have your recent experiences affected your spiritual practice? Or has it been the other way around?
I believe that each affects the other.
As I get older I find more and more beauty in the world around me and more compassion for what others are going through. When I was younger things seemed more defined in my mind of who and what was good and bad. I see life and people differently now.
Friends come and go, but spiritual relationships are more lasting and enduring. Do any pillars in your life come to mind that you would like to talk about who have served as mentors, teachers, comrades, and inspirations?
There are so many. I would start with my parents. They taught me about community, compassion and creative thinking. My grandparents taught me the value of hard work. One grandmother taught me to look at my differences as gifts and not handicaps. The other, along with my mother taught me the love of nature and working with plants.
You are something of an inspiration yourself. And you are still going. What counsel do you have for the aspiring person, of any age, who seeks to step out on faith and pursue their dreams?
Be smart about it. Have a detailed plan of what you want and how to get there. Keep a backup so you do not hurt yourself financially while you get started. Have faith in yourself and do not let anyone tell that you cannot do what inspires you.
What affirmation would you give them in the face of detractors and underminers?
One step and one day at a time. Let the negative energy and comments flow off you like water off a duck’s back.
Many people have a theme song, or genre of music, that they turn to get them going and rev them up to win. What is yours?
I love country music when I want to get my energy level up. I love the ballads of some of our Pagan musicians as well as classical when I want to relax.
And if you had a theme song for your life up to now, what would it be?
“Thank You For This Day” by Karen Drucker
So, what is next for Charissa?
I will continue to build my businesses in 2017. I would like to get my product into more retail stores and have a plan in the works for that. I will continue to work with PBN to help others find success in their businesses.
Is there anything you would like to add that we may have missed?
Time for a shameless plug. You can find my products at CharissasCauldron.com and our flea market at KitsFlea.com. If any of your readers want to connect with me feel free to friend me on Facebook. I usually have a tab up when I’m working in case anyone needs assistance.