Deprogramming Spirituality

From Shaman to Witch: a personal journey + an invitation

Lola Medicine Keeper, Plant Witch

All People, especially those of Caucasian or “white” identification, let’s get real about our Spiritual Privilege.

It benefits ALL beings to take a hard look at how our behaviors perpetuate harm and further marginalize people, especially when it comes to the sacred.

Here at Wild Playground, we’re actively unplugging from the colonizer programming that we’ve internalized, thanks to our western culture. This programming has infiltrated our subconscious and affected our work, our Spirituality, and all areas of life.

It’s ugly.

Like nearly everyone in this field, we have used words from cultures that aren’t ours. So, over the last year, we’ve been letting go of phrases like Tribe. Totem Animal. Spirit Animal. Aho. Even “Shaman” and Shamanism. We retitled this article, shifting from “decolonizing” to “deprogramming” out of respect for marginalized people.

Although our work has always been deep and real, we don’t get a free pass to use these terms to describe it.

Shaman. That one has been the hardest to release, I’ll admit. For many years, it really felt like the best descriptor for the work we did and who I was deep inside (once I stopped resisting it). I’m sure most of my clients would agree – since they were the ones who began calling me that in the first place.

“Shaman” felt authentic.

It was an initiation to step into the meaning of that word. I knew the depths of what that word meant… what I was signing up for with that path. Nothing triggered me more than so-called Plastic Shamans “opening their channel” (as a business) after dropping acid at a party. (Of course, this also means I had my own judgement and superiority complex to work through.)

Photos of women wearing ceremonial Native American headdresses at Coachella made my blood boil. The blatant disrespect made me weep.

But, at least that ignorance was out in the open. Entitlement is equally insidious.

I was special, see? I wasn’t like “those other white people.” I felt deep remorse and shame for the actions of my ancestors. So much so that I wished for nothing more than to be something I wasn’t. I wanted to be indigenous without doing the work to unpack and reclaim my authentic indigenous roots. My excuses were numerous. I avoided my whiteness like the plague.

I was in self-denial.

Yet, for me, a “shamanic” way of being wasn’t a costume or a part-time role. My ever-expanding relationship with the unseen, the shadows, plants, animals, and Spirit informed my entire life. As a mom, as a counselor, as a healer, as a wife; as a human.

But, after Pegi Eyers book Ancient Spirit Rising helped me (and now Tigre) see all this through the lens of systemic oppression, I recognized that we had to release “Shaman” back into the field, too.

There IS a much better word to describe who Tigre and I are.

We are Witches.

Witch

A word I’d avoided embracing because…

1 | I’m not all that “Witchy” (or so I thought).

For me, the word Witch has conjured up images of Gothy White Girls working candle magic and Ouija boards. Which is SO not me. (Totally cool if you’re into it… but I’ve got a different style.)

Our magic is pretty ordinary.

Sending love into the food we make. Noticing if we’re extra cranky because it’s Full Moon. Mixing teas and making tinctures so our family avoids getting coughs and colds. I guess I didn’t really think of those things as “Witchcraft” – they were just a part of our everyday life. Turns out, I’ve been a full-on Witch for most of my life (except for my late teens and entire twenties).

2 | Witch felt trendy, sticky, and forbidden.

I had a lot of reconciling to do with my shady white ancestors and the burning times that I’d seen (and viscerally experienced) in numerous visions. I also wanted to make sure my motivations weren’t stemming from my ego. “Witch” needed to feel deeply resonant, not just appeal to a certain demographic or fluff my follower count.

From Shaman to Witch

I know now that I am not a Shaman. A deeply wounded part of my heart was healed in embracing that identity. And… that word isn’t mine.

I am an Animist ~ like many of my Celtic, Saxon, Druidic, and Nordic ancestors. I believe that all beings are wisdom keepers; that there is Soul in the soil, Life in the water, and Spirit everywhere.

To me, everything is ALIVE and anyone can be a teacher or messenger, if we get quiet enough to listen.

I still learn from the plants and animals, study herbalism, practice energy healing, and share all of the above as a guide and mentor.

All these aspects contribute to our personal and professional paths.

The work we actually do? It’s pretty similar to how it always was – it comes from an initiated, rooted, and now ever-more-ancestral place. Apparently, we’ve been Witches all along. However, if we discover pieces that don’t belong, then out they will go.

We are CERTAINLY evolving the language we use. Triple-checking ourselves with the work we offer. Humbly listening when we screw up. We’re also not going to white-wash our past. You can go back in our archives and see where (and who) we’ve been.

We didn’t write this to get accolades (or trolled). We share this as an invitation.

Fellow white healers, spiritual guides, and practitioners:

Take a look at where you might be feeling entitled or justified in using rituals, language, or other sacred practices that aren’t in full resonance with the self you are deep on the inside. That’s called Cultural Appropriation, even if it’s coming from a well-meaning place of appreciation (which it usually is).

Carrying a lineage that you’ve been initiated into and trained in is one thing. Copying and pasting sacred tools, objects, medicines, words, and ceremonies, and then claiming them as your own is quite different. You know the difference. You can feel it in your bones.

Ready to heal these spiritual wounds?

Here are some of the ways we continue to reduce harm, decolonize ourselves, and live our Spirituality AND work with integrity. Please join us by:

  • Owning and embracing your ancestry. Find out who your ancestors were and where they came from. We’ve both done the ancestry.com DNA tests, and I am currently awaiting my MtDNA results (to trace back my maternal line).
  • Reading Pegi’s book as a starting place. It may tear a hole in your universe (and it will be the best thing to happen for you in a long time).
  • Learning from (and paying) BIPOC who are willing to guide your work, such as Rachel Cargle, Layla Saad, Andréa Ranae, and Darla Antoine among others. (All excellent folx to follow on instagram and purchase programs from.)
  • Acknowledging your teachers in both human and other forms. Especially if you have permission to practice rituals and/or work with medicines through a different lineage which you’ve studied and been initiated into. Integrate the plants, songs, and sacred words from your people, too. This will make your ceremonies and rituals such safer, truer spaces to be in.
  • Honoring your local ecology and importing as little as possible to support your medicine cabinet and ceremonies. Plants evolve to heal the ills of their eco-range. There are potent medicine plants right in your backyard.
  • Connecting with your local indigenous population (if they are a) still around and b) willing to open up to you, which they may not be).
  • NOT over-harvesting endangered plant species. Yes, this means you have to learn which plants are and aren’t thriving in your area.
  • Learning from (and about) the plants!! Herbalism is a way of reclaiming your power over your own health and wellbeing.
  • Starting up a meditation practice to get to know all sides of yourself – especially the unconscious ones who are usually in the drivers’ seat.
  • Being genuine with your intentions and ruthlessly honest with yourself about your motivations.
  • Speaking up and helping when you see racism, ignorance, or bigotry in action. Be a true ally instead of staying comfortably numb and silent. This work starts at home; with yourself and your family.

There’s SO MUCH more to tackle on this.

But, this gives us all a solid place to start, and you’ll be in good company. ANYONE who wants to have an actual impact (we all say we’re here to make the world a better place, amiright?) needs to be doing this work.

EVERY HEALER NEEDS TO DECOLONIZE THEIR PRACTICES.

If you find yourself getting defensive, or needing to justify yourself, or otherwise feeling white exceptionalism or fragility… Ask whether your discomfort at confronting Spiritual Blind Spots even COMES CLOSE to the actual horror, abuse, and vilification that’s the daily experience of sooooooo many BIPOC – the very folx whose Spiritual paths we love so much.

And – let’s all do our best to refrain from judgement. I do know a few genuine white Shamans, for whom that is actually the best and most authentic word for them and their work. If you have questions for someone, ask.

I want to close this with a HUGE thank you to our teachers.

From the human realm: Hermano Salinas and his partner Maria Schmitt from Santa Eulalia, Peru. Eladio Melendez Garcia from Iquitos, Peru. Cynthia Robinson and Roman Hanis from Paititi Institute. David Hewson, AKA Slocum in Iquitos, Peru. Dońa Julieta from Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca, Mexico. Robin Rice, Jane Richmond, John Finch, and The San Diego Sustainable Living Institute from the US. Plus our incredibly diverse and brave village of clients who teach us so much on the daily.

From the plant realm: Peruvian Pepper, Ayahuasca, Huachuma, Cannabis, and the many healing culinary and medicinal herbs in our garden and kitchen – Mugwort, Lavender, Skullcap, Cleveland Sage, Andean Sage, Pericón, and so many others.

Thank you to our fungi allies including the Psilocybe family, Reishi, Lionsmane, and Cordyceps.

And, thank YOU, dear reader, for being receptive to this message. May we rise up together in integrity; standing WITH our BIPOC kindred, each honoring the similar-but-different ways we connect to each other and our collective Mother.

Lola - Creator of Wildly Amazing Things at WildPlayground.com

Lola Medicine Keeper is a healer, herbalist, and wild witch; offering ceremonies, rituals, and perspectives informed by her teachers in Peru and Mexico as well as her ancestral European lineage. She continues to study with indigenous elders around the world to deepen into her practices and uncover more of what her bones remember. She is devoted to seeing with her heart, knowing with her soul, and revering the magic + medicine of life.

She’s honored to guide her clients as they navigate the turbulent waters of waking up. When not leading ceremonies, retreats and classes or in a client session, you can find Lola soaking up the sun, drinking wildcrafted tea, or playing with her rambunctious family in the mountains North of San Diego, CA.

Social media: facebook.com/wildplayground | Instagram.com/wildplayground 

4 Comments

  1. Jen

    This is a beautiful article and I understand the points made. The one part of this argument that I can’t wrap my head around is that it is so fixated on our current physical form and our ancestors in THIS incarnation. Are you calling yourself a witch simply because historically those who labeled themselves as witches were of white ethnicity? As you know, you have had many many lifetimes before this one. As has everyone else.

    There may be many people who have been indigenous in previous lifetimes, who may have suffered the same atrocities that our indigenous and people of color have suffered in this lifetime. It is very possible that a white person has the lineage of shamanism (or even just the ceremonies that you may call cultural appropriation) deep in their soul’s history, written in the akashic records, and now they feel reunited with their soul’s truth and want to spread that through their healing work. I have met people of all colors who have felt resonant with a culture, through their past lives and meditations, that was not ethnically their own in this current body.

    At what point do we give permission to those people to do the work that their soul calls them to do, without labeling them as racist or cultural appropriators? In fact how can we even know what is in someone’s soul history and is a true part of their path? Who are we to make that judgment call? 

    By claiming to know what is “true” for someone solely based on their ethnicity in this incarnation feels like judgment. And above all, judgment is something we should be striving to eliminate on this spiritual path (and using it to learn more about our own shadow selves).

    I am white, and I understand that with that comes a huge level of privilege. As a human, I think we must be careful that in our quest to be open and respectful to all, that we aren’t also perpetuating a culture of separation. As I read on one of your other pages, at what point do we come together to embrace our “humanhood”, and stop separating ourselves by our differences? While I respect this work and I’m interested in reading Pegi’s book, I can’t help but think that we continue to divide ourselves further based on ethnicity, on claiming ownership of certain practices, even on ownership of our oppression and hardships.

    In summary, it feels that judging and labeling someone’s healing work based solely on their ethnic background is caught in a very 3D way of thinking. I’m curious how we can do this work in a way that continues to respect cultural differences while allowing us to acknowledge the bigger picture – to share in this beautiful earth as common ancestors – as at the end of the day, we all cut from the same cloth, we are all infinite energy beings on our journeys.

    Reply
  2. Fenn

    This article is ridiculous as it’s premise is not only absurd but also incorrect.  You can’t determine what a person should or should not believe by the color of thir skin.  You should abandon such racist delusions.  Not all “white people” were “colonizers,” whatever those terms are supposed to mean.  Shaman in and of itself is a word that has evolved over time to classify certain spiritual practices, so certainly anyone can adopt the term.  Cultural appropriation doesn’t exist.  Culture has no boundaries, it is not stagnant, it doesn’t stay in one place in time never changing and therefore cannot be appropriated.  Culture simply is what people do.  Maybe you should stop worrying about what to call your spiritual practices and open a book on anthropology so you can educate yourself before blathering on to your internet audience.

    Reply
    • Pegi Eyers

      OMG Fenn your complete ignorance here is astounding, and makes a mockery of every single historian, academic, journalist, visionary, Indigenous freedom fighter and social justice activist in the Americas ~!!  You can easily google definitions for “color blindness,” “colonialism,” “reverse racism,” “cultural appropriation,” “cultural sharing” and “shamanism” for yourself, but as a quick teach-in here we go.

      YES every single human being has an ethnicity (newsflash!) and we are assuming yours is white; it is an act of the deepest white supremacy and racism to deny that all people have an ethnicity; every single white person in the Americas today IS a member of the transplanted dominant colonial society, and is known as a “Settler;” examining racism DOES NOT lead to more racism; examining and confronting the monumental amount of racism that still exists in white folks such as yourself will hopefully lead to equity and equality among all people in our time; cultural appropriation takes place between the colonizer/colonized dynamic and is completely different from the cultural sharing that takes place on a level playing field; “shamanism” is in most cases an example of cultural appropriation, and a racist New Age lifestyle normalized by white folks over the past 30 years; and last but not least, those of us on the decolonization journey quickly abandon the field of anthropology for the voices and narratives of First Nations people themselves.

      In terms of solutions, what are the earth-emergent or Indigenous traditions of your OWN pre-colonial Ancestors? That is where our integrity and authenticity lies, and where a post-racial world of peaceful co-existence is found.  PLEASE get yourself educated on the excellent and forward-moving ideas as led by Lola Medicine Keeper and Wild Playground, and hopefully we won’t be subject to your embarrassingly uninformed comments in future!

      FOR SHAME ~!!

      Reply
  3. Stacey Gamble

    Blessed Be!

    What a fabulous article, resonating on so many levels, I struggle with labels & tags as I feel they diminish my magick (or essence) while I may possess the qualities, I have not earned them through lineage or teachings, they are not mine to carry or be adorned with, “Witch” sits more comfortably than many others x

    Reply

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