CHURCH O* CELIBATE WHORE


By Or Nah & kelly shaw nyala

PERIODT? SPOTTY! U CAN CALL ME PARVATI. I*M THE CELEBATE WHORE U ADORE… 

CHURCH OF THE CELIBATE WHORE is a collaboration, coversation and rhymed constellation between artists Katie Cercone “Or Nah” and kelly shaw nyala. This piece is a call to action for all womxn and femme-identified folks to start pouring love into ourselves, establishing healthy boundaries and rising in our dominion as Brujas at the Gates of the Great Mystery. CHURCH O* CELEBATE Whore is an art piece about saying no to sex when you really want love, worshipping at your own temple; cleansing and healing our energetic yoni, preparing for sacred marriage, sex magic, cosmic orgasm & more…

It all began with a trip into the heart of the fairy forest, where we interpreted by soulful seance the 10 TENETS OF WHOREFUL CELIBACY:

1) SPIRITUAL ISOLATION:::..

2) NO. [IS A FULL SENTENCE]:::..

3) ENERGETIC YONI:::..

4) PROTECTION:::..

5) SEX MAGIK:::..

6) FERTILE EMPRESS v. BIG DICK ENERGY:::..

7) CREATION – SUBLIMATION – ART:::..

8) SACRED MARRIAGE:::..

9) COMMITMENT AS ANTI-CAPITALIST:::…

10) SHADOW WORK v. SPIRITUAL BYPASS:::..

SPIRITUAL ISOLATION:::.. We recommend a year of celibacy, but not in the strictly asexual or religious sense. This year is about centering yourself, your pleasure. It is a cleansing, self-focused container for healing. Corresponding to The Hermit in tarot, we feel that a period of isolation and reflection allows one to really sit with, consciously, who we are in our fullness. When we’re running from partner to partner, we often find that our unconscious matter surfaces (again and again) as something we perceive outside of ourselves. We get triggered and blame the other, failing to do the real inner work, playing the victim as “X” keeps happening to us! We begin to create a layer of removal from “our story” once we have acknowledged it in full, once we have called it in with love. This brings clarity, presence and peace of mind. By sitting with past sexual and relationship trauma, we free up ourselves to dive fully into the present, including freeing our friends and future partners from the limiting projections that spring up from our unconscious. 

NO. [IS A FULL SENTENCE]:::.. This tenet deals with boundaries, openness and vulnerability living as femme-oriented individuals. The concept is borrowed from Crunk Feminist Collective member Robin M. Boylorn’s article, “How to Say No and When to Say Yes.” She writes, “Saying yes to everyone else was, in essence, saying no to myself.” In Boylorn’s reminder that “No.” is a “full sentence,” we begin to not only say yes to ourselves, but minimize our need to people-please or justify our decisions to others. (1) By leaning into our focused, directed, masculine *YANG* energy, we orient ourselves around our own path and purpose, trusting that we are the rightful stewards of our own time and energy. By giving what we intend to give (what we want to give) we avoid the feelings of resentment that often accompany giving too much, giving at our own expense, or giving to the point of depletion. Over time, harmony and balance in family constellations is restored.

ENERGETIC YONI:::.. The energetic yoni, as explained more in the writing to follow on the 2nd chakra, is our “inner temple” as womxn. We define this not only as our all-encompassing vulva, womb and heart space, but in the sweet openness we bring to our relationships – thee holy honey. The energetic yoni in principle is where we make space – or not – for the people that we care about in our lives. This tenet is about being conscious of who and what we are taking in and holding. It could look like taking a break from social media, the news or even family and friends. Although most of our relationships may not fall into the category of sexual, they nonetheless factor in overall to the intentional use of our creativity/libido, also called our creative *flame of intelligence.* The more consciousness we bring to the use of this energy, the more sovereignty we claim over our lived experience. 

PROTECTION:::.. Straight up from your alien bruja gang, this tenet explores the creative use of indigenous anthropomorphism, spirit animals and protective symbolism aka “cocoon juju.” Here we learn to trust our intuition, call upon our guides, set energetic shields and feel into the synchronicities and jewels of experience that grace us in each moment. As creatrixxx weaving our own unique webs, our gateways of experience – we use the full capacity of our imagination, drawing on native traditions, astrology and yes, pop culture (!) to situate ourselves in the center of the ever-evolving miracle of life. 

SEX MAGIK:::..This tenet harnesses the energy of our imagination to use masturbation for manifestation and release of ancestral trauma. Particularly as womxn healing from white male capitalist patriarchy, releasing pattens of victimization, rape and abuse is key. This type of magik is for whoreful celibates looking to evolve their pleasure principle – imagine capitalizing on a higher vision of future potential at the tip of a delicious climax! Embracing pleasure as a healthy, holy and integral part of your spirituality and healing.  We also explore the connection here with making art and artists as natural mediums and “border-crossers” betwixt worlds. As with any magic, just be careful of becoming too attached to any particular outcome. 

FERTILE EMPRESS v. BIG DICK ENERGY:::.. These cards represent the ultimate yin/yang pair – the power couple! Sovereign over the land, the Emperor & Empress have power that comes with responsibility, they are in service to the community and the family. Here we explain the shift from the ecstasy, pleasure and choice of *The Lovers* to a holistic view of fertility that connects the land to the clan. The Emperor/Empress pair is grounded – they belong – and share a consistent set of values and ethics within and beyond the relationship. Without falling back on cis-gendered stereotypes, we think of these archetypal energies *Fertile Empress* & *Big Dick Energy Emperor* as fluidly available to both partners. As feminists, in particular we celebrate the feminine in her rise to ease and grace, as nurturer, empath, and free sovereign Mother-Lover-Queen. 

CREATION – SUBLIMATION – ART:::.. Use it or lose it!  In Psychology, sublimation is essentially the diversion of sexual energy (or another biological impulse) from its immediate goal toward an aesthetic or social use. The definition of the word notes its added qualities of  “purification” and “refinement.” As a tenet, this principle explores intentional use of our creative/sexual energy. Whatever we are “birthing” into the world, let it be something we took the time to fully integrate and evaluate. Let’s take time to achieve the ultimate level of alchemy we desire. Particularly as artists, promiscuity can be draining if not escapist. By the same token, masturbation and fantasy when not well-intended can lean dangerously into the zone of disembodied desire. At the CHURCH 0* CELIBATE WHORE, we aim to achieve mastery directing our lusciously EMBODIED libidinous energies towards the end goal of Art. 

SACRED MARRIAGE:::.. This tenet is about committing to *Radical Monogamy* at a mind, body & soul level. Acknowledging that we live in a sex-saturated, albeit often sex-negative culture, this tenet establishes how commitment is actually a radical stance against the attention economy, hook-up culture, fuck-apps and casual sexting (all the icy jizz coopting our realities as babies of the digital age). With respect to everyone’s preferences in love, we are two womxn returning to monogamy as healthy, holy and generative between romantic partners. We intend that sacred marriage and *right relationship* is the intended outcome of whoreful celibacy. This entails having a laser clear vision of our needs and relationship goals we honestly and proudly share with our potential mate. By committing to and knowing oneself, we can show up for another person without falling into codependency or other toxic forms of relating. 

COMMITMENT AS ANTI-CAPITALIST:::… This tenet is about the patience & presence it takes to commit fully to the dance of partnership. Living in a capitalist consumer wasteland in which sex has been ideologically denied and sold back to us under the guise of everything but that which it is, we speak to the value of practicing sex and sexuality which is conscious, embodied and sacred.  Let’s slash away unnecessary, unconscious giving of energy and time, and feel into our unique psycho-biology as wild, magical creatures. This calls for a slow revolution in which we cease to look outside of ourselves for escapist *quick fix* pleasure – committing to the full-bodied work of relating, communicating and YAZZZ bish skin-to-skin sweetness.

SHADOW WORK v. SPIRITUAL BYPASS:::.. This tenet, although originally intended to cover twin flames, projection and mirroring (which y’all may very well know all about!) Kelly in her wisdom as a natal Venus in Gemini explores the angle of spiritual bypass as it often plays out in communities, particularly when spiritual leaders abuse their power or fail to do the legwork to make their healing tradition decolonized and accessible. Gemini being the sign of the collective and the heart center expressed … in this tenet we talk about using discernment in spiritual community, and being mindful that we are collectively *communing* in ways that serve the whole. Traversing exclusionary practices in yoga, gatekeeping and power mongering, we always circle back to a core truth at the heart of our CHURCH O* mission, which is that, when we fail to make our own inner shadow conscious, it shows up everywhere as something perceived outside of ourselves. In the spirit of artist-to-artists alchemy and magic, let’s continue to reflect upon, challenge one another, love one another and grow. 

#CHURCHOFTHECELIBATEWHORE

For the CHURCH 0* release in Creatrix Mag, we not only share our full-bodied conversation about the 10-Tenets of WHOREFUL CELIBACY, we drop a sweet new rhyme. In the text that follows we have made an effort to contextualize the context of WHOREFUL CELIBACY, reflecting on our parallel healing journeys as beasts becoming human through the transcultural looking glass of various wisdom traditions. We also offer some tools, resources and scholarship that we hope will help you to situate this work in ways that feel vital, valid and relevant to your lived experience. 

THE CONVO*

YONIVERSE GAME ON!

2nd Chakra Healing

Our 2nd Chakra, svadhisthana in Sankrit, translates to “sweetness,” and is very much about following our bliss. The Sacral chakra is the center of passion, creativity, sensuality and procreation. Another translation of Svadhisthana, is “Dwelling place of the self;” and for women it is very much the seat of our power, process of birthing and gestation, creative abilities, female identity and relationship between self and others.  The element corresponding to the 2nd chakra is water, and the sense is taste. 

Also referred to as the yoni or womb in women, svadhisthana is the  inner temple at the center of the body – the primal female force or “Adi Shakti” as the mantra goes. The esoteric layered meaning of each letter spelling out Y-O-N-I in Sanskrit defines the word’s innermost symbolic value:

Y = The animating principle, the heart, the true self, union

O = Preservation, brightness

N = Lotus, Motherhood, menstrual cycle, nakedness, emptiness, pearl

I = Love, desire, consciousness; to shine, to pervade; pain and sorrow (2)

While the Yoni represents the female aspect of the 2nd Chakra genital region, Lingam is  the male aspect. As a symbiotic pair, they are the physical manifestation of Shiva/Shakti, masculine and feminine energy as sacred to the Hindu cosmology. Linga is the wand of light. Twelve jyotirlingas, “lingas of light” comprise the complex sacred geography of India matched with a network of shakti pithas, or “power seats,” of the Goddess. Precolonial India was much less a nation state than a network of pilgrimage places, a polycentric “sacred geography” or “sanskrit cosmopolis” etched out in the hearts of its pilgrims. Physical manifestations of the linga and yoni in the natural landscape are designated “crossings” or “sacred meeting spots of the divine,” called tirthas in sanskrit, meaning “to cross over” in the transcendental sense. (3)

Tantrically speaking, womxn give from the heart in erotic sexual relationships while men give from the genitals. According to Kundalini yoga, womxn hold on to energy from past sexual partners, particularly when intentional clearing exercises are not utilized. A Kundalini meditation for clearing the 2nd arc line at the heart center, which is energetically encompassed in the yoni (Sanskrit letter Y as “heart, the true self, union”),   is demonstrated by Or Nah here. When we have many sexual partners, multiple partners at once or engage in sexual activity for the wrong reasons – we begin to store and hold energy that is not ours, which can make navigating the path ahead cloudy. Because the 2nd chakra holds emotions related to feelings of self and others, and deals with achieving the balance of mutuality and reciprocity – stuck, undigested emotions held in the 2nd chakra can manifest as creative blocks or co-dependency, and at the physical level excessive emotionalism, fertility issues, PMS, candida, uterine, bladder or kidney issues. 

Did you know there are seven gates to fully open a womxn’s womb? According to Padma and Anaiya Aon Prakasha’s “Womb Wisdom,” the womb opens in right relationship. Making a womb mandala is one practice we’ve found effective in clearing draining patterns, people, and obstacles from our womb space toward eventually, placing our womb in *right relationship.* A womb mandala is a practice we can use to map out who we are allowing to occupy our *energetic yoni* and in what way. This process entails becoming aware of how we engage with others, what feeds us, and how we establish and maintain healthy boundaries. A womb mandala is constructed in three co-centric circles. One does the practice by sitting in meditation with your womb mandala, hands on your womb, feeling into the presence of who is there with you in your space energetically. Through meditation we begin to envision 12 persons (3 persons in front, 3 at back, 3 to the left, 3 to the right) occupying tiers of these co-centric circles. These people could be your sisters, brothers, lovers, intimates, guides, co-workers, emotional support system or even authority figures such as a boss. Use of candles, crystals and clearing herbs like white sage or palo santo may also be helpful. Make notes on your womb mandala and color it to your taste.

Don’t try to second-guess or judge what comes up just let it be for now! According to the author’s of Womb Wisdom Padma and Anaiya,  the inner circle is primary relationships, followed by secondary relationships and the most hidden relationships at the perimeter. To your right is male power/soul brother/friend or partner and to your left feminine love/soul sister/friend or wife relationships. In front of you is guides and in the back of you is strength/support/protection. When you’ve finished, ask yourself, do those people you’ve allowed in truly nourish, support and love you? If not, you can do cord cutting and clearing exercises, saying farewell to anyone who is there that you don’t feel positive about. Remember, following your bliss and shadow work are two sides of the same coin. Keep repeating the practice until you find that your womb is in *right relationship* – feelings of mutuality, harmony, and reciprocity are all good indicators of fruitful engagements. (4) 

kelly shaw nyala on Orishas & Waist Beads

In the Fall of 2008, I arrived in Brooklyn – what was a pivotal, magnetic, and somewhat young experience for a Midwest farmgirl. I’d come back to the city off and on over the years, growing a more focused journey amidst a close and quaint friend group of fellow feminist artists. An absolute highlight in my early years in Brooklyn was weaving magic with one of my then new best friends, an incredible artist named Marissa Arterberry. When Marissa introduced me to her Candomblé faith, as I went down the rabbit role first with Oshun, my entire world began to light up in ways that were deeply transformative. 

When it comes to 2nd Chakra healing, my darling associations with Oshun, an Orisha of Yoruba-based faiths offers juju for days. She is honey-sweetness, honey-bliss; river magic as fresh water songs, sunflowers, gold, self-loving mirror play, yellow, and cinnamon. Oshun is the sweetest, softest, baddest, healthiest representation of divine feminine power – PURE MAGNETISM and “no shit taking” all at once. Bit x bit x bit x bit, centering Oshun as central to my ever growing spiritual-art practice, I began to heal the yucky relationship I had to the Catholicism of my childhood and teen years. The fear-mongering and shame-ridden stances often imposed by the adult religious community I was exposed to so early on began to lift. 

OSHUN
source: oshunretreats.com

I also had an experience in my mid-20’s on a visit to Seattle that contributed greatly to my spirituality morphing into something more healthy. A girlfriend and I were welcomed to attend a Baptist service in her ‘hood. We were the only white girls present, and I was sandwiched between two grandmotherly figures in sequin pillbox hats. They held my hands, these elders. We sang together, threw hands up, and cooled ourselves with fans that we’d been given. Jesus was depicted on the fans with Black skin and the kindest eyes. I stared into him as the sentimental depth-wielding Cancerian I am, reflecting that He was the opposite of anything I’d ever been shown; he was LOVE – this Jesus made sense to me, and so did his worshippers who celebrated with JOY, MUSIC, MOVEMENT, and off-the-charts conviction. Which is not to say a male figure is or was ever central to my personal practice, just that this was a pre-Oshun example of how a community shared new knowledge (new perspectives) that greatly informed my spiritual healing. Of beloved individuals, the same is true – Marissa, as well as my mentor Reverend Saundra, have informed my practice so richly with their teachings, and have also granted me their permission as elders and friends to teach workshops about my passion for Yoruba and waist beading. There may never be enough thanks.

Goddess of the Sea Yemaya of Santeria syncretized with the Black Madonna of the Roman Catholic Church in a procession by the water.
Image: Teen Vogue, YAMIL LAGE/GETTY IMAGES

Yemaya and Oya are the other two female Orishas who have made a lot of sense to incorporate into my spiritual practice. My introduction to them here is admittedly very brief. Oshun rules the sweet river waters, while Yemaya takes on the ocean – this is her domain. She is offered watermelon, red peppers, flowers, and pearls. She is black woman mermaid, rising from the waters and living there simultaneously. Goddess Oya then becomes representative of the storms and rainbows thereafter. Her presence brings~rides~indicates the winds of change. Her beauty lives in places both ridden with storm clouds and light – her multifaceted presence impresses me, and I often feel in awe of her, unafraid. Though I am an ocean-baby + beach bunny (the sea and sun are prominent medicines for me) there is presently more resonance with Oya than Yemaya, and I do suppose this is because I am at a crossroads in life … many changes on the tip of my tongue. I have felt closer with Yemaya in recent past years when I was living by the sea in Costa Rica and then Thailand. When the breeze picks up suddenly, or trees fall in the park, I know Oya is at work, and I surrender to her knowing as greater than mine – I feel this with all the female Orishas – Spirit is greater somehow … she knows more … plus, she giggles as she paints her messages upon the waking, which is cute as hell.

As a child, I received a collection of seed beads for Xmas one year. Though it wasn’t until my 30’s that I returned to beading as an integral part of my creative practice, beads have been a part of my life for a long time. About 5 years ago, when I was living in Costa Rica, I began to make waist beads for myself. Waist beading is an Afrikan women’s tradition far too intricate and honored for me to speak to extensively at this point in time, but I did have the pleasure of learning more about it in conversation and workshop with a Kenyan woman, Wawi, a few years back. Since this time, I have offered a few workshops myself (with the permission of Marissa, Saundra, and Wawi) in Costa Rica, Guatemala, and the States. I have been exploring the possibility that I have some Native American heritage originating from the South Eastern United States, so when I’ve been given a hard time for adopting a waist beading practice as a white woman, I get awfully sad, thinking, “but my blood works with beads too – extensively and ritualistically. I am not only white.” A side note is that Katie’s paternal side has heritage tied to Afrika, and upon learning my own blood more deeply in the near future (it’s in process) I sense that I also do. 

What I know about waist beading for myself is that it’s a freaking life-saving embodied meditation practice that encourages the creation of self-love ritualization and adornment as sacred. Meaning is assigned to bead color. Meaning is assigned to the numerical patterning of the beads. Natural pieces such as stones, shells, and seeds can be strung in to support any number of chosen spells – a love conjur, an offering of healing to one’s womb, an element of grounding, etc. I acknowledge waist beading is a practice specific to Afrikan women, with variation in meaning/making as varied among regions and tribes. Part of my vision for my 40’s involves spending permissioned time with women in Afrika learning more deeply about tribal life, and where applicable, Yoruba-inspired faiths and waist beading.

My performance art, as a ritual right of passage for myself and an offering for an audience, is laced with spellbound intention and is potent with iconographic symbolisms – waist beading feels similar to performance art for me in that it is an intentional and embodied practice rich with personalized symbolisms of protection, reclamation, and pure feminine wisdom. Pure feminine wisdom, at the heart of my project with Or Nah, is about speaking and living in alignment with our word. It’s about vulnerable expressions. It is about our power. It’s about creating work and personal conduct that brings us closer to a way of life that has been historically hijacked by white male patriarchy. Life’s deepest and most royal practices were lived by our Native and Afrikan ancestors. Many living millions still fight today for the inevitable resurgence of Native and Afrikan-rich practices as central to the world’s desperate cry for healing.

 The writing I share today comes from a place of admiration, arguable innocence, and pre-initiation. I do not write from an academic perspective, but from a story-rich diaristic style laced with independent research as well as recollected conversational tidbits shared mostly in one-on-one unplanned exchanges with womxn. – kelly shaw nyala

“The guilt and shame white girls that like Black culture sift through is potent, painful, ancestral and necessarily karmic. There is profound beauty and naturalness in the exchange of culture – one that doesn’t excuse systematic, exploitative culture-vulturing – but something that is mutually-explored and generative.” 

– Or Nah “ASS CLAP THERAPY” Creatrix Mag, 2019  

Our Lady of Martyr Ida Craddock

Ida Craddock, Source: The Daily Beast

Although there are many fierce femmes that have trailblazer this path, CHURCH O’ CELIBATE WHORE highlights here *Our Lady of Martyr* Ida C. Craddock, the self-proclaimed *Priestess and Pastor of the Church of Yoga.* Ida was a white queer 19th century sex martyr, mystic, writer, belly dancer, student of spiritual eroticism and criminal Sex Therapist. (5) Born in Philly, as a young woman Craddock was drawn to occult wisdoms, Yoga in particular. Never married, Craddock claimed to have a blissful marital relationship with an Angel. An “Instructor in Divine Science,” to some, Ida wrote extensively on healthy sexual relations in marriage, synthesizing ancient teachings which stated sexuality is not only mental, physical and spiritual, but that the upper echelons of erotic experience is our gateway to God, otherwise put – The Heart of the Universe

During her work as a sex counselor, Ida helped couples practice intentional, consensual sex during auspicious times of the month, warding off the widespread problems of marital rape, ignorance of sexual matters and paralyzing shame plaguing the day. For Craddock, a woman that concedes to her partner’s advances when she doesn’t desire him is nothing more than a “corpse or a hypocrite in the place of a sincerely loving and tender marital partner.” The wife who is “willing to serve at any time as a convenience for his lust,” likewise “degrades herself from the position of priestess in a sacred mystery.” Sexual techniques from Craddock’s Psychic Wedlock involve channeling the emotions evoked during sex ecstasy toward the highest of spiritual ideals; amounting to a “clear and unclouded transmission of the godlike ideal of the spirit into the bodily life.” Her method, which is clearly influenced by the Tantric practice of semen retention, involves communion with a deity as the third partner. (6) Simply put, Craddock couldn’t tolerate Americans’ ignorance around our most basic biological function—or resistance to its spiritual potential. Her mission ultimately landed her obscenity charges and time in jail. At age 45, one day shy of reporting to Federal prison, Craddock committed suicide by slitting her wrists and sticking her head in the oven. (7) In modern times, Craddock’s many writings have been republished and revered.

kelly shaw nyala on Generational Trauma

TRIGGER WARNING: This section discusses abuse and rape.

Around the age of 19 or 20, I was diagnosed with PTSD. In my book in-process, I discuss many misdiagnosis along the way to understanding my complex trauma and its effect more broadly on the female psyche. I am hardly the only woman who in her 20’s+ was deeply misunderstood within her suffering and incorrectly labeled by very dated psychology. This “system” sadly misses the mark when it comes to diagnosing a human state of being that could be considered holistic. No “diagnosis” in these early years had been made taking into consideration my tumultuous upbringing with an alcoholic father, the kids’ developmental trauma as a result, or my fragmented relationship with my mother by my teenage and early adult years. Also, this psychological process could not take into consideration my rape survival, because I hardly knew what to call it until 5-10 years after it happened.

Three years ago, 15+ years after my initial PTSD diagnosis, an angelic trauma specialist helped me to understand that I was living with Complex PTSD, a distinction that has truly helped me a lot in forming (more recently) community with womxn whose art, lifestyle, therapeutic and recovery practices have informed my own healing. There has been plenty of “weeding out,” if you will, to find what is working for me, and this process has even looked like letting go of decades-long friendships with toxic people, and also not investing in newer friendships where I am taken advantage of for my niceness and/or experience a lack of honesty and reciprocity.

In my real life circles and online the last few years, the topics of PTSD and CPTSD in women, as well as generational trauma have finally become publicly addressed. There are many pages on Instagram run by brilliant women with extensive trauma training – they are also speaking their stories of survival, from abusive relationships with past partners to the dynamics of their childhood households and how our individual experiences growing up play a part in our adulthood choice-making. Children not taught personal boundaries or given adequate emotional support, or who grew up keeping family secrets are all the more susceptible to reliving abuse until the cycle is called what it is and recovered from through active-ass HARD WORK – a feat hardly recognized let alone compensated as work in American society. 

In my book, a theme that comes up often is how important it is for womxn to gather with each other and to share stories. Upon my departure about 3 years ago from the Caribbean of Costa Rica, two women living there as expats granted me interviews about their experiences with the local men. I had had my own very bad experience with a local man, which ultimately informed my choice to leave the country, and in this delicate + heart-wrenching process, I was incredibly soothed to know that I was not alone in my experience. These women were well rounded, bright, and in time created better life circumstances for themselves. 

Below, I share an excerpt from Jess of Trauma Aware Care, who explains the entirety of my 20’s, which was basically one sustained hypervigilant panic attack. Mornings were always the worst, and can still be rather delicate. I am grateful to relate to Jess’ simple and honest writing (I’ve also listed a few trauma resources at the end of this article).

“Some many years back, I didn’t realize complex trauma existed. I was in the depths of my healing, but also at the beginning of it in so many ways. I didn’t have the language and frameworks I have now, and everything was so confusing. No one talked to me about my nervous system, or mentioned complex trauma. I was grappling with so many symptoms. Anxiety so constant it felt normal. Panic attacks I didn’t even have words for, because why would I be getting panic attacks?Chronic pain both spontaneous and relentless.

Jess, Trauma Aware Care

Given how invested I am in what Or Nah and I have to say ala our heavenly CHURCH O* CELIBATE WHORE orations, included here in video format for the first time, it’s hard for me to elaborate extensively in writing. I am also very invested in my personal book writing, which is a much deeper dive into topics such as art as the ultimate healing force and generational trauma. Ultimately, the trauma we inherit through our bloodlines from generations back continues to play out until its patterns are unwound – most often, this trauma is sexual, physical, psychological, spiritual, and/or emotional abuse. I believe that there are undeniable components of neglect, abandonment, and systemic trauma at play too. – kelly shaw nyala

ON CULTURAL APPROPRIATION

FROM THE WHOREFUL HEART

As white, femme, able-bodied women, we feel it’s necessary to humbly address the issue of cultural appropriation given our use of ancient symbols, practices, sacred arts and pop cultural aspects rooted in traditions of BIPOC and the greater African Diaspora, which we have adapted in our own practice as artists for the purpose of ancestral healing. It feels important to say that while we have had the benefit of many elder teachers of color – in the cypher, in sacred community, and in the academy – as a collaborative artwork CHURCH O* CELIBATE WHORE has been a personal creation between us, women of white but not necessarily economic privilege, who have come together around our love and appreciation of Black Culture and Earth-based wisdoms rooted in indigenous traditions of the Great Mother (if you didn’t know, She’s Black). An outgrowth of our unique and overlapping trauma-recovery, this piece weaves together myriad tools and tactics. In an effort to more deeply understand the relationship between the throat and vagina (2nd/ 5th chakra creative centers) and become fully self-expressed, drawing on our power as MCs, brujas, teachers, women in recovery, wizards and radical feminists… our process is intuitive, eclectic and hybrid. From the ANKH on Kelly’s ass to the MC name Or Nah – we know that our language and aesthetic is not only subject to a racial turf war, but highlights our own privilege to pick and choose what aspects of Blackness we shoulder and how we spiritually index being down

*Black Wizzle* performance on the Lion’s Gate by Or Nah, photo: Max Flores

To those that take issue with our application of these wisdom traditions (or wearing braids, as is most often the case*) we are sorry if our healing is hurtful or triggering. Although we strive to honor, center and make known and valid the lived experience of people of color in many ways, this piece is about our story, healing from white supremacy, patriarchy, abuse, generational trauma and diseases of the disembodied mental sort that feel rooted in whiteness. We are working through our own heavy human archetypes in the wreckage of colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, industrialization and systemic racism. Although we won’t belabor the specificities of each tradition from which we draw here, we take African Diasporic Arts broadly, accounting for Africa as the cradle of humanity and American popular culture and music in particular as quintessentially Black. 

Understanding the way in which Greek and Roman mythology and philosophy, as well as the foundations of modern Science, Art and Math were based on the model of Ancient Egypt, only strengthens our belief in cultural syncretism. Where the Kemetic Mystery System required its students of math, language, religion, science and the supernatural to be both priests and scholars, we draw upon this example in the hopes that we might restore humility, ethics, sanctity and equality into the human experience. This includes a return to the Divine Feminine, the personified aspect of this Ancient Egyptian system representing the bridge between faith and science being Ma’at – Celestial Goddess of the Universe. While we honor the historically situated history of African Americans, we also recall how long before the British invented “whiteness” as a tool of domination and ideological violence, women were the first slaves. We acknowledge historical realities of African Kings and Queens that not only made slaves of their own people, but long before the proverbial West’s outward expansion claimed their own territories within the many nations of Europe. These and many more histories, suppressed under white male patriarchy, flesh out a fuller picture of our shared herstory.  

*Black Wizzle* performance on the Lion’s Gate by Or Nah
photo: Laura Kimmel

 Moving forward, we urge everyone to continue to draw our critiques from ripened vines which run deeper than Twitter and higher than Cancel Culture. We are of the understanding that while none of us “own” these wisdom traditions, few of us even really remember them in full, nor were they meant to be static and finite. In an effort to combat widespread cultural amnesia and honor previous Black scholarship around issues of cultural appropriation, we’ll briefly cite the work of a few Black scholars who we feel have thoroughly spoken to and historicized some of its complexities.  These next few paragraphs offer a bricolage of scholarly gems handpicked for those who wish to learn more. After over a decade of embodied study, we don’t feel our engagement with Black and Brown art, philosophy, myth and ritual is surface level and if you are looking and lurking with our creations, we ask you to give us that same benefit – go deep

In Brenda Dixon Gottschild’s The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool theorist and dancer Dixon presents a thoroughly researched analysis of cultural appropriation. Although she makes clear that “cultural exchange is a two-way street,” in order to understand the deeper dynamics and dangers given our non-equal neoliberal capitalist marketplace she begins to think about the process as follows: APPROPRIATION leads to APPROXIMATION leads to ASSIMILATION. What she asks readers to take a deeper look at is not necessarily where one’s flesh falls on the melanin spectrum, but who gains and loses in situations of cultural appropriation? And perhaps more powerfully, what is the danger of culturally-specific art forms that become victim of both “approximation” and “assimilation?” (8) 

With the West facing an unprecedented epidemic of depression (current CDC statistics show the number of hospitalizations for self-inflicted injuries and suicides combined is 5x greater than the total number of COVID-19 fatalities in the United States) (9) we feel this suffering is entwined with the loss and neglect of these ancient wisdom traditions. Barbara Ehrenreich’s relating of *epidemics of depression* to the suppression of communal ritual feels more timely than ever. Sometimes called “collective effervescence” – communal ritual – is defined by modern Neuroscience “the biotechnology of group formation.” During colonialism, strong parallels emerged between the “immoral lives” of the British underclass, Irish peasants, and so-called “primitive” darker-skinned tribal peoples. While Anthropologists defended the functionality of ritual bonding, mid-century Psychology conflated group-induced trance with “pathology.” Science was ill-equipped to explain how the compulsions, anxieties, phobias and eventually widespread depression afflicting affluent, urban Westerners seemingly had no counterpart amongst “primitives” in their native lands. Freud, who prized romantic love’s “expansive and intoxicating self-loss;” defined collective (spiritual) experience as submission to an Oedipal “primal father,” or “witch doctor.” Collective rituals [core elements dancing, feasting, and body art] raged on as techniques of ecstasy amongst the world’s earth-based cultures, including Europe’s underground. 

Despite colonists condemning wise ways of those they sought to conquer, religions of ancient Europe were danced religions, Great Mother Religions acted out as “resistance” to the elite. With hair-tossing in ecstatic ritual common, male church figures concerned with respectability demanded church-goers sit down, shut up, and cover their hair, ushering in the secularization of communal pleasure. With new royal-mandates prohibiting revelry, long-standing traditions of Europe’s Carnival became increasingly political. Masks and music covered armed rebellion. Political aspirations of the UK’s poor took the language of ribbons, bonfires, may poles, ballads, political double-entendres, smashed statues and defecating on altars. As industrializing Europe became stricken by widespread depression, lethargy & nervous disorders, Nietzsche authored his philosophies on the “horror of individual existence,” grasping relief in the ancient rituals he knew of only from books (10).  

Part and parcel with cultural appropriation’s effects of secularization and commodification, often times Black arts have become products usurped of their original function as healing agents within a common context of community. In Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture, the lyrically striking introduction by editor Greg Tate looks at “How Blackfolk Became Fetish Objects,” or what Tate terms, the longstanding ongoing and unarrested theft of African-American cultural properties by thieving, flavorless whitefolk.” With several more theories expounding upon it in this thoroughly edited collection, what drives home is how the American music industry routinely privileges the white artist that can perform racial mimicry, “contrived and promoted to do away with bodily reminders of the Black origins of American pop pleasure.” Ultimately, Black music and culture moves from being a music of a marginalized community into becoming the anthem of a young, white, middle-class majority, “due largely to that demographic’s investment in the tragic-magical displays of virility exhibited by America’s ultimate outsider, the black male.” As editor of the collection Tate aims to preserve a bit of ironic distance and also humor in his critique, stating upfront how he is a “scribe” who excels in “measuring the distance between the simplicity of white mimesis and the complexity of Black expression.” (11) With the Black Lives Matter movement now more important than ever, Tate’s conclusion that Black men are “being sold as hunted outsiders” by white corporate American still sadly hits the mark.

Patrick Johnson joins the discussion suggesting Blackness has no finite essence. In his book Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity he argues that “black authenticity” is overdetermined, so much that it has become yet another trope which can be manipulated for cultural capital. He writes that although certainly, “whites [reify] a kind of tribalism and emotionality with blackness… to romantically dissolve the specificity of the history of ‘black’ bodies remains problematic.” Although Johnson reflects on the natural mirroring and bridging of self/other that occurs in performances marked by race, class and gender (similar to Dixon’s notion of the two-way street) he grounds his discussion here again within a historical framework in which whites have constructed stereotypical representations of Black folks that only serve to maintain the status quo of whiteness. Johnson’s analysis of cultural appropriation goes on to determine that white folks “reappropriate these stereotypes to affect a fetishistic ‘escape’ into the Other to transcend the rigidity of their own whiteness as well as to feed the capitalist gains of commodified blackness.” (12) Given the brutal and systematic acts of cultural vulturing and exploitation characterizing white corporate America’s relationship to Black people and cultural forms, it makes sense the millennial generation would collectivize to cancel out white youth casually engaging in the same old business as usual.  

As Kevin Allred reiterates ala Kimberley Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality in AIN’T I A DIVA?: Beyonce and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy, intersectional feminism necessitates that we place Black women’s experiences at the center of our theory. Shifting the focus away from the dominant discourse (the narrative of the most privileged) allows us to see power in critical new ways. In his popular new book about Bey, Allred reaffirms how Black women invented both Rock and Country music. While Rock music remains, ironically, almost synonymous with the epitome of white maleness in the American cultural imaginary, Allred points out that Black queer Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s 1944 single, “Strange Things Happening Every Day” was the first American rock single. Likewise, country music streams from the artistic stylings of Black women, given how stereotypical country instruments like the banjo, fiddle and harmonica were essential facets of southern Black culture. (13) 

When artists like Miley Cyrus get called out in Jezebel for “Accessorizing with Black People,” the point is that she keeps her white privilege intact. Author of the piece “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing with Black People” Dodai Stewart explains how “it’s important to understand that Miley is very privileged to be able to play dress up and adorn herself with the trappings of an oppressed/minority culture.” Stewart’s writing is on point, and while she says that wearing a chain isn’t blackface, we have to look at the power dynamics at play within a music video in which Miley is the central figure dressed in white surrounded by larger-bodied Black women.  (14)  After a stint twerking her way into the American public imaginary, only a couple years later the Disney-bred star publicly returned to her roots (ironically by roots Cyrus meant country music, also created by Black folks). We highlight the case of Miley to reaffirm the urgency around dismantling the hegemonic white power structure and the status quo of whiteness. At the same time, as white women who wear braids, use slang and practice sacred twerk, with or without our Black friends, we don’t feel our work represents a surface level engagement, marketing scheme or attention grab. We feel it represents US.

About kelly shaw nyala

kelly shaw nyala (née Willman) is an (experimental/outsider) performance artist. as a performance artist, she blends sound, installation, & ritual; she gravitates towards sites in nature. her largest project to date, new/mind/ritualz, launched in the spring of 2014; it is a 56-movement performance art offering released one movement at a time. new/mind/ritualz ultimately explores memories, demonstrates moments of personal growth in the present, & invokes rituals of healing + action for the collective future. with deep listening and humbled permission as the foundation, the artist navigates ongoing intimate conversations with womxn creatives, medicine women, womxn elders, social justice voices, & trauma survivors, resulting in art material that threads itself throughout new/mind/ritualz. kelly also praises The Black Woman as Gawd– an honoring that appears in her every work. she expresses rich relationships to Oshun, Yemaya, and Oya. in addition to a daily art practice, an Afrikan-rich spiritual practice inspires her deeply. the artist is loyal to issues concerning the systemic oppression of all marginalized peoples. her blossoming expertise, however, is in reppin those born with a milli extra pores (artist-healers) who are more likely as a result of trauma, lack of access to compassionate mental health treatment & familial/social support, to fall thru the cracks of American society. kelly identifies as an empath + highly sensitive person + introvert, a feminist, bruja, reinita, bad bitch, homebody, poet, writer, beadworker, a practiced shadow worker, mental wellness advocate, generational trauma pattern breaker, an anti-rape activist, independent researcher, & experientially engaged voice on recovery with Complex PTSD. kelly was raised among the cornfields of Eastern Iowa, & has lived in Brooklyn, Costa Rica, & Thailand. 

Learn more at kellyshawwillman.blogspot.com 

Follow her on Instagram @kelly.shaw.nyala

About High Prieztezz Or Nah

Katie Cercone *High Prieztezz Or Nah* is a visionary artist, scribe, prieztezz and spiritual gangsta hailing from the blessed coast. As a double water sign with Black Moon Lilith in Taurus in the 11th house, she’s an outsider with a karmic responsibility to tame her uber sensuality and possessiveness.  Cercone has performed or shown work in exhibitions at the Brooklyn Museum, Bronx Museum, Dallas Contemporary, Momenta Art, C24 Gallery, Changjiang Museum China, Dodge Gallery and Aljira Center for Contemporary Art. She has published critical writing in ART PAPERS, White Hot, Posture, Brooklyn Rail, Hysteria, Bitch Magazine, Utne Reader and N.Paradoxa. As co-leader of the radical, queer, transnational feminist collective Go! Push Pops, Cercone spearheaded a 400-women strong takeover of the Whitney Museum in 2014 known as “The Clitney Perennial,” and was awarded the Culture Push Fellowship for Utopian Practice the same year. In 2015 she was a distinguished National Endowment for the Arts Fellow for the U.S.-Japan Exchange Program in Tokyo (JUSFC). Her work has been featured in Dazed, MILK, Interview, Japan Times, Huffington Post, ART 21, Hyperallergic, PAPER, Art Fag City, Washington Post, and Art Net TV among others.  Cercone is adjunct faculty at the School of Visual Arts where she teaches GENDER TROUBLE in the Visual & Critical Studies Department. 

Learn more at KatieCercone.com

Follow her on Instagram @0r__nah_spiriturlgangsta

Trauma Resources on Instagram: 

Nedra

Trauma and Co.

Seerut

Kelly also recommends Stacy Hoch & Gogo Ekhaya’s 

NOTES

  1. Robin M. Boylorn, “How to Say No and When to Say Yes” The Crunk Feminist Collection Brittney C. Cooper, Susana M. Morris & Robin M. Boylorn, eds. New York City: Feminist Press, 2017
  2. Rufus C. Camphausen, The Yoni: Sacred Symbol of Female Creative Power Vermont: Inner Traditions, 1996
  3. Diana L. Eck, INDIA: A Sacred Geography New York: Three Rivers Press, 2012
  4. Padma and Anaiya Aon Prakasha, Womb Wisdom: Awakening the Creative and Forgotten Powers of the Feminine Destiny Books, 2011
  5. Ida Craddock, Wikipedia
  6. Ida Craddock, Psychic Wedlock, Chapter 1, online
  7. Gil Troy, “Meet the Turn-of-the-Century Sex Worshipper Who ‘Married’ an Angel” The Daily Beast, April 22, 2018
  8. Brenda Dixon Gottschild, The Black Dancing Body: A geography from Coon to Cool England: PALGRAVE, 2003
  9. According to the CDC, the number of suicides and hospitalizations for self-inflicted injuries in the United States in 2020 amounts to 526,173. According to Google stats collected from Wikipedia and The New York Times, the number of deaths by COVID-19 in 2020 amount to 176,113.
  10. Barbara Ehrenreich, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy New York: Metropolitan Books, 2006
  11. Greg Tate, ed. Everything But the Burden: What White People Are Taking From Black Culture  New York: Harlem Moon, 2003
  12. E. Patrick Johnson, Appropriating Blackness: Performance and the Politics of Authenticity London: Duke University Press, 2003
  13. Kevin Allred, AIN’T I A DIVA?: Beyonce and the Power of Pop Culture Pedagogy  New York City: Feminist Press, 2019
  14. Dodai Stewart, “On Miley Cyrus, Ratchet Culture and Accessorizing with Black People” Jezebel, June 20, 2013