Whenever a friend has a mysterious condition, a lingering illness, or a series of crap interactions, I will often consult my friend Lola for advice. She has remotely cured my friend’s sore throats, broken a streak of shitty dates, or planted some wise seeds for my friends without even knowing them. Her nettle infusion recipe, which consists entirely of water and nettle leaf, cured my ravenous cravings for chocolate at night.
To describe Lola by her many professions doesn’t really encompass her: retired corrections officer, herbalist, energy worker, and folk healer don’t totally define her. Terms like artist, cook, photographer, designer, and a social media maven also technically apply, but these things all meld together in a cauldron of collaboration and connection that extends far beyond her individual skills.
Lola grew up in Stockton and her family is a patchwork quilt of Native American, Mexican Indian, and European origins. Her eager talent for plant-based medicine came from her mother.
The family would shudder to hear Lola’s mother referred to as a witch, she says. When Lola was young, she would hide her mom’s strange books and artifacts if her friends came over. “Why can’t we have real shampoo?” she would complain.
Even though these ancient recipes and spells were considered superstitious by many of her family members, they endured because they were so effective.
“Strangely when you disassociate as an adult from your family, you turn around one day and realize: oh yeah, I am my mother.” Lola explains.
“That’s universal,” I say.
She laughs, “right, so in this instance, I sort of realized that I’ve always been a witch. It’s a loaded term and I’ve had discussions with other practitioners and they say it’s a real privilege to use that word, and at the same time, a risk. There are some places even here in the states today, you call yourself a witch, you will get ostracized. Real harm can come to you.”
But let’s back up a bit in this witch origin story. Several years ago, Lola had a series of illnesses and nagging conditions that went unexplained by her doctors. Dissatisfied with the recommended treatment and lack of diagnosis, Lola went on what you might call a matriarchal medicine journey. She began actively seeking out other experts in her Sacramento community (of which there are many) and reaching out to her distant relatives. She not only healed herself, she found she was hungry to learn more.
In the spring of 2017, Lola was drawn to Mexico after seeking out a medicine woman or Mayan-Tzeltal curandera. Curanderismo is a folk healing tradition native to Chiapas. Her lessons required a translator and when that wasn’t available, she simply intuited what her teacher was relaying about native plants. While she was traveling in this remote part of indigenous Mexico, she happened to get the results back from her ancestry test and was surprised to learn that a good deal of her genes come from Chiapas.
Not too long ago, we had a conversation about a term I heard Lola use: spiritual bypassing. I asked her to explain it within the context of her work and we got into a discussion about the term “Goddess.”
The prevalence of the term, where women refer to themselves and to each other as goddess is a little irksome to Lola.
MC: What does it mean to you?
LV: Well, it has to do with women and connection to an archetype. And I think there is value in that. Humans identify with archetypes, but so often, I see it as a removal from self, a diversion of energy. If I’m calling myself a goddess, it’s detracting from my humanness and my human experience.
It’s like life doesn’t seem fun enough, or beautiful enough, so I’m just going to skip ahead. To me, that’s damaging because you aren’t doing the fucking work. All pain and healing are within the self. It’s like playing dress-up: it has value and it allows us to explore. But you don’t stay playing dress up because then you are detached from real life.
MC: How is this dressing up distinct from ritual?
LV: Ritual is there to connect to the archetype. But I’m not lighting a candle and becoming goddess. I’m honoring the goddess as a way of connecting to the divine.
MC: So you miss out on that interplay between yourself and symbol that happens when you self-identify as a goddess without the ritual. What does it look like when you are respectfully resonating with that idea or stealing it? Do you have a clear idea in your mind?
LV: No. (more laughter) You just know it when you see it. There’s two ends of the spectrum, there are folks who are like, ‘stay in your lane’, and then there’s folks who are like, “why isn’t everything up for grabs?’ Extremes are unhealthy. So there is certainly a middle ground. That’s how all cultures have developed, through contact with others. Whether it’s through food or religion, there is this interconnectedness. It’s when you blatantly take something, claim it as yours, usually for profit, that’s appropriation. It’s not gaining knowledge, there’s no honor, and it’s not symbiotic.
MC: And you’re not making a contribution.
LV: Right. That’s when it’s obvious. I’m not so strict in my thinking that just because someone doesn’t belong to a native culture, that they have no business learning from it.
LV: I’ll use myself as an example. I woke up one day and thought, I’m supposed to get Reiki training.
I found this really wonderful Japanese woman who ended up as my teacher and I had a conversation about this because I was hesitant – I didn’t want to lift some other culture’s medicine. And her response was, no, every culture has their own healing modality, this is just a label we attach to this particular style. You’re not passing yourself off as being a Japanese Reiki Master.
So what I do is incorporate these traditional Japanese methods into my own healing heritage, my Native American Heritage, Curanderismo. It just serves as another way to access my healing energy, but I’m not workshopping as a Reiki Master. It’s just in my tool box.
MC: When you talk to skeptics who are firm believers in Western medicine, how do you describe what you do in a way they will understand?
LV: My first disclaimer is that it’s nothing new agey. It’s traditional healing that all of our ancestors did prior to the dawn of modern medicine. So it’s practical, approachable healing. It provides you with a sense of agency over your own wellness. Everyone has the ability to work with plant medicine and work with energy medicine to develop their own healing protocols.
Energy work in particular, provides a conduit to pick up on different patterns or rhythms in the body. Science is just a more exact vocabulary for understanding these practices. All that the laying on of hands is doing is detecting energy.
MC: So tell me about this word Magick.
LV: With patriarchal medicine, people end up removed from their own healing process because it makes them dependent. The knee-jerk reaction we have to anything painful is to seek outside ourselves for the solution. It’s a radical idea to go inward first.
“I am not your healer. You are your healer.”
I mean you get into a car accident, Reiki is not your first solution. You set the bone first, then you do the Reiki.
Western medicine has a place, but it shouldn’t be the default. Personal genius is something beyond intellect, it’s also about your reason to be; it’s your intuition. We all have gifts from birth, how much we realize them, where you are the most of service, at home in yourself, that’s Magick.
“Magick isn’t specific to culture: all cultures have these healing practices in their history.”
Folks of European descent are further removed from ancestral medicine earlier. So that’s where the cultural appropriation comes in so easily because people have a need to access this Magick. But what is accessible to them? Native American medicine, because it’s right there. It’s easier than tracing back to indigenous European ancestral medicine. And how beautiful would that be if people did that, the opportunity to learn from each other and share would be…
MC: Like an actual Thanksgiving.
LV: Right! And there’s no taking.
The other attraction to Magick (spelled with a ‘k’ to distinguish ceremonial healing ritual from the Blaines and the Copperfields) is that it was rooted in storytelling. Lola not only tells great stories, but she is a seeker of stories, surrounding herself with other healers, myth keepers, and dreamers.
The process of sharing for Lola has also evolved recently. Coming from the service industry, her online presence went from pictures of pretty food and drinks (I mean really pretty) to a kind of visual storytelling where ingredients are metaphors and a meal is medicine. Her Instagram account makes me hungry, but it also instructs me on seasonal ceremony. She reminds me to self-love with fire cider when I’m feeling the yuck coming on.
One time, I was talking to Lola on the phone while I was doing laundry and I found what could only be my ex-husband’s new girlfriend’s underwear that must have come home with my kid’s stuff. “Burn it,” Lola said without hesitation. “You don’t want that shit in your house.” I cannot tell you how healing it was to set those panties on fire.
This conversation was so useful to me because I regularly lose sight of my own power, I think we all do. We are distracted from our real capabilities and enticed by some dreamed up impossible goddess that doesn’t exist. We live in a world that really casts a deadly illusion, one where we at once disconnect from and hyper-glorify our bodies. We forget our planet and our ancestors.
Lola’s Magick is as simple, cheap and plentiful as the earth is round, and there is no “goddess” required. She also regularly joins forces with other practitioners and conducts workshops, ceremonies, and meals with traditional or seasonal themes. Connect with her on Instagram.