Talking to this Witch I Know about Spiritual Bypassing, Ritual, and Magick: a Conversation with Lola Venado

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 the Bay Area 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.

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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 Latin America. 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.

Mexican marketplace

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.

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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.”

Sangrada Folk

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.

 

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#MeToo: 7 Ways that Men Can Help Dismantle the Patriarchy Everyday

A new male friend and I were chatting last night and I was describing to him how the waterfall effect of the Harvey Weinstein revelations has affected my relationships. He made a flip comment about it being “the new thing these days.” I was flabbergasted and replied that it was not a trend from where I sit; it’s the beginning of a revolution. He apologized for the comment, but I don’t think he had any sense of the implications.

This is a dark and confusing time for all of us where bedrock social norms no longer apply and I have observed a lot of bewildered behavior from men as a result of this steady stream of reports that men behave badly on a regular basis.

To try and put the MeToo thing in context, I’ll use myself as an example. At the age of fifteen, I lost my virginity to a boy I had met two hours before. He was one of the popular boys, I had a huge crush and his sudden attention caught me completely off guard. He and his friends convinced me and my girlfriends to ditch and go to someone’s house nearby.

I had no idea that once he got me in a room alone he was going to try and go “all the way.” It’s an understatement to say that I didn’t know how to say no to this boy that I really liked and I was the last girl in my group to remain a virgin. I was so confused and ashamed that even when my girlfriends tried to barge the room, I told them to get out. After he was done, he told me not to tell anyone.

By the end of the school day, everyone knew and one girl saw me in the hall and started screaming his name, imitating me having sex with him. He called me that night and asked me why I told everybody, that he was talking to this other girl and now I had wrecked his chances with her.

Boys who had ignored me all year were suddenly swarming. I kept a brave face and pretended to my friends like I was in control of all this, but everyday, I came close to running away just so I didn’t have to face going to school.

This treatment was normal and it branded me.

Historically, my interactions with men are commonly characterized by: interruption, aggression, manipulation, and inappropriate comments and touching. I’ve experienced lying, gaslighting, emotional abuse, stalking, catfishing, and I was targeted by a romantic con artist.

So when these stories started to come out, it may have broadsided men, but no woman I know was surprised. The thing that surprised us was that there are actual consequences for this behavior. When we say #MeToo, we don’t mean once. We mean this is the toxic atmosphere we live in. We mean predators of all stripes count on a complicit system.

So I direct this list of action items specifically to men in this new territory. If you want to know how to be part of the solution, here are a few places you can start:

1. Be brave. I’m not talking about the kind of brave where you save a baby from a burning building. You guys are pretty good at that. But frankly, you suck at having emotionally vulnerable conversations with the women and men in your lives. It’s not your fault, we can squarely place the blame on the patriarchy, but you still have work to do. It’s time to have some tough conversations, to confront our collective complicity. Be ready to be wrong about some things. Be ready to change your mind and develop more awareness.

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Sacramentos’ Women’s March, January 20, 2017.

 

2. Do an inventory and clean house. My brother and I had a profound conversation a few days ago. There was someone in our midst who required unfriending and I took the opportunity to point out to him that he had crossed a line himself. He apologized to me and made amends in a way that I thought was really brave. Men should know that an apology for even a mild transgression has enormous healing potential for women who regularly deal with this onslaught and go their entire lives without ever hearing the words “I’m sorry.” Think back to the times that a woman told you that your friend did something gross. Did you blow her off? Do you still hang out with that guy? If so, maybe a conversation is in order.

And if you know someone who has a considerable track record of bad boundaries with women, you’ve got two choices: decide he can improve and work with him, or disengage. Does this seem like a tough choice? Well, it is.  And we do it all the time.

I know this is going to make some of my loved ones uncomfortable, but it enrages me to this day that they still have my ex-husband to dinner when he catfished me on the Internet, hacked my cloud, and posted revenge porn. When I told them all this as it was unfolding, my friends would shake their heads and say, “wow, that’s fucked up.” And then two weeks later, he would stay the weekend at their house with his latest girlfriend.

Again, my brother said he’d witnessed a lot of shitty behavior from my ex and he sees now that he could’ve said something.  By saying that, my brother showed me that he’s my advocate.

3. Listen without interrupting. I read a great piece in the Washington Post about how at the beginning of the Obama administration, there were two women in his cabinet and 2/3 of his staff were men. Numerous studies have been conducted in the business world that show men are more likely to interrupt women in a professional setting, and more likely to take credit for their ideas. Interrupting is a subtle but tactical method of debasement and so these female Obama staffers started to employ a countermeasure they referred to as “amplifying”. If one of them got cut off, the other would circle back and open up the opportunity for the first woman to complete her thought. They would also echo each other’s ideas by attributing: “Going back to Valerie’s idea…” It must have worked because at the end of Obama’s second term, his staff was comprised of 50% women.

 Men need to do this for women too.

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4. Take responsibility for the ways that the patriarchy has benefited you. To say “I’m not most men,” is akin to white folks saying to African American people, “I didn’t enslave you, so racism has nothing to with me.” No one wants you to personally apologize for racism or sexism (unless you have behaved in a racist or sexist way), but understand that you live in a world that was designed for men and by men. Understand that women are just gaining agency over their lives for the first time in the last few thousand years and if it seems like we have a hair trigger about language or tone, we do.  We’ve gotten punched in the face since the dawn of Western Civilization.

5. Stop minimizing. This one is also subtle, but it has powerful consequences and it’s one step away from gaslighting. Matthew Remski writes about this in a brutally honest blog post titled On Minimization as a Patriarchal Reflex: “My minimizing reflex is mobilized in an instant. The speed is a clue. My partner gives me feedback. Whatever the content is I instantly reframe it so I can feel like it’s either personal attack on me, or — and this is harder to see – as a problem that I am now responsible for, on behalf of someone who I instantly tell myself is overreacting. Both reframes are designed to render the incoming data dismissible.”

In the context of sexual misconduct, it’s harmful for men to point out that what Louis CK did isn’t the same as what Harvey Weinstein did.  it’s true, Louis didn’t lure women into his hotel rooms and rape them, but these are part and parcel of the same sick system whereby women have to make life decisions based on some man’s out of control libido. Let’s not split hairs.  Let’s just give their jobs to women.

6. Call out shitty male behavior in groups. A male friend of mine described sitting at lunch with a bunch of male co-workers when a heavy woman walked by wearing athletic pants. The men took the opportunity to complain that she didn’t have the body to wear those pants and my friend said, “Hey, wait a minute. She gets to wear whatever she wants. You don’t have to be into it, but you don’t get to decide what she wears because of what she looks like. That’s her choice.” He wasn’t mean and he wasn’t righteous, but because of the way he said it, he instantly called these guys’ misogyny to the mat and they retracted.

 No one gets a pass for hating anymore.

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American Girl in Italy by Ruth Orkin

7. If you have questions, don’t pose them on social media.  A new acquaintance of mine did something ingenious on Facebook, a platform she uses for political discourse and organization.  She asked the men on her feed to bow out the discussion for the purposes of the post and then posted questions from men so they could remain anonymous.  This was a really effective way (as far as I could tell) to allow men to listen to a range of female responses without starting a flame war.  If this option isn’t available to you, consider approaching one female friend in person and start the conversation with “I need help understanding this.”

We are in the middle of a reckoning. All these actions take practice. They take effort and they will necessarily make for some discomfort. But guess what? Women have been uncomfortable this whole time!

It gives me tremendous hope that our voices are starting to be heard. We will no longer be ignored, paid off, silenced or otherwise punished for someone else’s actions. There is a groundswell happening, an indirect response to having a predator in chief.

If any one group is capable of turning the ugly turmoil we are seeing, it’s women. Men only stand to benefit from empowering us. And it’s time. We’ve all waited long enough.