Interview with The Alchemist's Kitchen

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I was recently included in an interview series for The Alchemists’s Kitchen’s article on How 5 Young Healers and Creatives Claim Their Magic. The article includes interviews with Regina of Wolf Medicine Magic, Morgan Claire Sirene, Mary Evans, and Crystal Lee Lucas. For brevity’s sake, I’ve included my interview portion of the article below.

When did you first realize that shamanic healing was the path for you?

I first realized the shamanic healing path was for me when, as a root doctor in the Southern Conjure tradition (also known as hoodoo or rootwork), I found myself most drawn to the work of uncrossing, exorcism / entity removal, and the plant medicines called upon for healing emotional blocks and wounds. There are all kinds of materia magica that help enhance one's self-esteem and virility, and cut mental and emotional attachments to persons and old ways of being standing in our way. Because when we experience power loss through abuse, oppression, and unconsciously giving our power away, it is necessary to get that power back and restore our sense of self.

My shaman sickness began in Summer, 2013. I had just finished a performance art intensive in Athens, Greece under the radical live art group La Pocha Nostra and, through a series of omens and synchronicities, found myself in Ariadne's mythline through an experience of isolation and psycho-spiritual crisis on the island of Naxos while in search of the ruins of the Temple of Dionysos. A few months later I would experience total loss of my default sense of self while Mami Wata and Mongolian spirits dismembered me, deceased transwomen took up residence in my life, and I'd awake from nightmares of a tiger trying to consume me.

A lot was happening to me, sure, but it was also an opportunity for me to take action to heal past traumas and come to grips with the stories I was telling about myself. I had to shed old skins and learn new techniques of spirit communication, boundary setting, and power retrieval, and quickly. It was during this period that my call to the path of shamanic healing - technologies for diagnosing and resolving what is out of alignment through direct engagement with the spiritworld - was made fully clear to myself and those around me at the time. Whether in one's personal life or an ancestral line, sometimes the only way we know something is broken is when something we thought was at least functional breaks in a way that is undeniable.

You work with a variety of different modalities and traditions. How do you bridge them together when working with people?

My work is very spirit-led. I use divinatory tools, mediumship, and trance states to communicate with my spirits and those of my clients. It's a conversation - all of us together, with certain voices being prioritized depending on what is needed. During this conversation, we can find out what’s at the root of what the Southern Conjure tradition calls “crossed conditions” - what’s causing dis-ease in the life of an individual, family, ancestral line, business / organization, or environment.

What needs to be removed through acts of cleansing or release? What needs to be transformed? Who or what needs to be fed or given an offering? Does a soul part or a creative / spiritual gift need to be retrieved and restored? Does a relationship with a helping spirit, spiritual tradition, or even artistic practice need to be cultivated?

What is the precise medicine that will shift the conversation we're having to a new one that enables us to be more joyfully effective in our lives and communities? Any or all of the above ways of engaging can be the necessary bricks on the path to healing. This can include referrals to persons with specialties, training, or initiations I don’t have.

Whether the conversation finds it footing in an animist / shamanic perspective, African-Diasporic cosmologies, practical everyday actions that shift perspective, or a combination of these, what we’re engaged in is a dance of reciprocity between parts of ourselves and energies related to those parts that sometimes need to be called in to bolster our own abilities to manifest and share what we've been given. Gifts, for instance, need to named so they can be cultivated - so we can get out of the way of our own medicine and so that others can identify their need for our gifts and celebrate us for sharing them.

My experiences and training have put me in the position of being someone who sits at the crossroads between the Old World, the New World, and a number of modalities that can provide a way "in" and a way forward. We're all meeting there, together, at the crossroads.

What does the term “shaman” mean to you? What is its connection to the “witch”?

The term “shaman” is a very contentious one here in the industrialized Western world. Popularized by anthropologists and applied to similar roles found globally, it has its origins in indigenous Siberian contexts and has come to signify indigenous medicine persons and their initiates in Meso- and South American plant medicine traditions as well as those who've studied the Core Shamanism techniques developed by Michael Harner, founder of the Foundation for Shamanic Studies.

There's a bit of an obsession with the word that is proportional to our lack of identity and sense of purpose. This leads to its misappropriation by persons who may feel called to work with shamanic technologies for the purposes of healing but might more accurately be embodying a different role. This goes back to our trouble with naming gifts.

Shamans and many of those who might belong to the "shaman class of persons" (to quote my colleague Theanos Thrax) are no longer human in the way we commonly understand, being more of the spiritworld than they are of the human world. North Asian cosmologies recognize a triplicate human soul, and shamans are considered to have one or more additional soul aspects. Any impulses or yearnings that are inspired by the shamanic calling are a call to recognize one's own profound personal mystery and to step onto the path of mastery. To quote Christina Pratt, “Shamans are not the only initiated people. Anything we choose to do in our life that is ultimately a path of mastery has within it an initiatory function. Some are simply more profound than others. The shamanic initiation happens to be extremely profound, and others are simply more subtle, but they all involve a fundamental transformation of the person who is on that path of mastery.”

That path of mastery might indeed involve technologies wielded by shamans, witches, healers, diviners, and other types of medicine people. Every traditional culture has multiple types of medicine people. The word "witch" is very unique to the Western world in its current popular usage as its use in other languages differs greatly. In contrast to words like "shaman" and "curander@", the terms "bruj@" (Spanish) and "macumbeiro" (Portuguese) can be considered pejorative in their traditional contexts, indicating someone who might be prone to wield magical power unethically that is at odds with community values. The latter term is being reclaimed by many Latin-American magical practitioners as an identity marker recognizing inherent spiritual giftedness, descendance from animist cultures, the value of subjective and embodied ways of knowing, and the desire to wield that knowledge on behalf of "the folk" in a way that disrupts oppressive norms. Similarly, the word "witch" (rooted in European contexts with its own denigrated history linked to the oppression of women, queer people, and people of color) has been being reclaimed by many Europeans and Americans to signify the same.

The identity of "witch" is necessary for our times, wholly accurate for many people, and can be a source of great personal power in a culture that outright denies subjective, embodied, and ancestral epistemologies. The path of witch is the path of the highly empowered "free agent" at the borderlands of the people and the spirits of the land. I have my own connections to the word and encourage gift identification, intimacy with innate helping spirits, and dedicated skill-building so witches can play the role we need them to play right now in our culture and society.

How has studying theater helped you in developing your relationship to leading ceremony?

Much of my study of theater has been about its relationship to ritual and embodiment and the importance of performance in representing peoples, histories, and ideas. I entered my undergraduate studies hypothesizing that it is our lack of embodiment that leaves our ethics and values by the wayside. How can we embody civic responsibility and our relationship to our environments? How does performance name and heal trauma in bodies and communities? I know that the root of some of my own trauma in this lifetime has been a lack of representation of persons like myself in media, a lack of true mirrors. What needs to be mirrored about us? What needs to be reflected back to us and for us?

I jokingly call the field of Performance Studies "secular animism" because, in addition to exploring performance lineages, it asserts the idea that objects, words, and gestures are performative - they act upon us and have agency, which is at the core of what animists, witches, shamans, and magicians work with in their crafts. To quote poet and spoken word artist Jordan Chaney, "How do you conduct spiritual warfare? With spirits." Our world is an inspired. Join the dance. Join the fight. Be inspired.

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