Reiki, yoga and crystal healing advertisements are often accompanied by a photo of an affluent-appearing blonde, her face pleasantly relaxed and peaceful. Look into the practices’ origins, however, and you’ll find histories of color. Reiki was started by a Japanese Buddhist. Yoga is a South Asian practice. Sage smudging is a Native American tradition that is used with other herbs as well. Crystal healing has traditionally been used by Native American, Hawaiian and Chinese populations. Folks of color, harnessing social media, are now reclaiming these traditions in a new PoC-owned workspace that is explicitly anti-racist.
These healers understand how much harder self-love is when the rest of the world isn’t giving you love.
“The New Age Revival,” as I like to call it, has been coming back for over a decade, but its presence has surged in the past five years. I have been seeing wealthy, predominantly white areas like my former neighborhood of Greenpoint, Brooklyn, fill with healing centers advertising “advanced crystal healing master class” and “fall equinox scent and sound bath class.” I have seen numerous social media posts encouraging a (mostly) white audience to come in and destress from the anxiety of a Trump presidency. The teacher boards at many of these white-owned yoga, reiki, crystal healing and Shiatsu massage spaces portray one after another white, flower-crowned face gazing serenely into the camera, ready to charge $100 a class for practices started by people of color (PoC).
It’s not that I don’t patronize some of these spaces. But I don’t always feel comfortable in the mostly-white classes led by white teachers, where discussions of summoning love revolve around cishet relationships. It’s not that I don’t love my white friends who do this work. I’ve been on their retreats. I’ve healed with their words. But my strength and my truth come from another place, one that I’m not sure they understand.
My immigrant mother is a Korean herbalist and healer. Our little immediate family of four, adrift in America on our small migrant boat, survived on her life-giving victuals. Her daechu-cha, long-infused Korean jujube tea full of free radical-fighting antioxidants, was not dissimilar from her smile: it took hours of warmth to produce, but its deep sweetness was a dazzling reward. We descend from a long line of healers who have practiced this same medicine. My mother somehow translocated Korea to California, where she planted the same crops and taught me to sun-dry and grind spices, make mushroom tea and ginseng wine, and ferment organic cabbage. She sang and talked to her plants, viewing them as living things that felt vibrations. She bestowed my body with the magical protection of her prayers and murmured blessings on me when I lay feverish in my bed as a child. She balanced the metals on my body, distributing metal bangles evenly on my arms before I left the house, and she spoke prayers of protection for me upon my departure and willed my safety until my return. My umma didn’t know it, but her actions were syncretic: representative of a blending of modern Korean Christianity and ancient Korean shamanism.
As a child, when I told my staid Midwestern friends of her shamanistic actions, they would freak out and call her “weird” — as if turning water into wine and the fact that Jesus is portrayed as white aren’t weird. Shamans, powwows, voodoo: that which white consciousness fears in folks of color has long been our fount of curing.
“White people think that the only way mystical things are okay, is if they do it,” Lauren Van Slyke, a Black crystal healer based in Baltimore, commented. “They are afraid of traditional African religions and voodoo because they do not fall into their column of acceptable practices.”
Kesaine, a Black reiki practitioner and astrologer, illuminates the history of POC healing. “Metaphysical healing has always been a part of our indigenous culture,” she said. “We are healers—we have always been healers.”
The New York-based healer sees the current desire to create and own healing spaces for PoC as “more prevalent now more than ever” and finds that women of color seek out her practice. “Black women have come to me specifically because it's rare to see someone who looks like us working in this field. It's comforting for them to work with someone who looks like them.”
In PoC healing, various practices need not be separate. When Kesaine sits down with a reiki client, she asks them if they are open to the usage of sound bowls, crystals and pendulums in conjunction with reiki. These practices, together, help boost energy flow. She’ll sometimes pull an oracle card “to give any messages their guides may have for them.” At the end of each session, she sums up her impressions garnered, and make recommendations for keeping up energy flow. When she practices divination in her horary astrology, she provides “yes” or “no” answers to questions and allows clients to take the time to process the answers; at the end, she gives spiritual counseling.
Like music’s blue-eyed soul singers, white New Age healers often find professional and financial mobility easier. I’ve found it important to support fellow practitioners of color like Kesaine not only for that reason, but because I find that PoC healers are more able to empathize with my unique problems while taking the daily exhaustion of systemic racism into account. In other words, these healers understand how much harder self-love is when the rest of the world isn’t giving you love.
When it comes to self-love, Van Slyke believes that New Age techniques can indeed combat a climate of pervasive racism. For those skeptical of these powers, she asserts that “at the bare, non-woo woo minimum, practicing putting your intentions into crystals, and smudging your home helps you focus your mind and is an act of self care.”
It’s funny to see all these social media declarations pop up that urge clients to seek New Age Revival healing post-Trump. Personally, I am not impressed by white folks’ Trump woes. These politics are nothing new. “The division, racism and hatred we are seeing by and large in the United States is an outcome of the sentiments that have always existed,” says Age of Eleven astrologer mizChartreuse. “The European yurugu spirit of confusion has been a scourge on the planet since time immemorial, so Trump and 'em ain’t really doing anything that hasn't been happening for centuries.”
Oppression of Black and brown people through authoritarian structures such as police are, of course, nothing new. The waves of police brutality currently washing over America are particularly dehumanizing, but Kesaine knows that PoC are fighting a long battle, and not a short one. “The major issues I see impacting PoC these days are police brutality and systematic racism,” she says. “These issues have been brought to the forefront of media attention even more since the rise of Trump, but historically we've been dealing with this for quite some time. Whatever issues clients bring to me as PoC, they are compounded by the society we live in and generational oppression.”
Instead of panicking over current events, mizChartreuse urges her clients to focus on resilience over a lifetime. “Systematic whiteness will continue to do what it does, but my power comes from knowing my own inborn sovereignty simply by existing. The more I know myself and walk in my power, the less impacted I am by others operating in fear, ignorance and hatred, and the less likely I am to magnetize lower vibrations into my realm of influence.”
The Chicago-based healer helps women decolonize their minds and bodies through astrology and yoni eggs. The eggs are made with a variety of crystals safe for internal usage, and mizChartreuse trains women using them to strengthen their pelvic floors, which increases sensitivity and sensuality. She has created a book entitled The Yoni Egg Shadow Integration Workbook: Your 28-day Astrological Guide through the Womb Wellness Journey, which provides prompts for womb healing meditations, daily dream journaling, chakra check-ins, and decoding of the reader’s astrological birth chart over the 28-day cycle.
“As humans, we store our trauma in the body, and [female-assigned-at-birth] bodies in particular hold a lot of energy in the womb center,” she said. “it is imperative to do the inner work and clear out and integrate our subconscious blockages in order to move through life productively and with clarity.”
With this summer’s healing workshops like Third Root’s Breathwork for Queer, Trans and Non-Binary Folks in New York and Blue Jaguar’s Personal Living Mythologies for queer folks of color in Los Angeles, metaphysical exploration is evolving.
“I predict that we will continue to do the deep healing work that was passed down from our ancestors, and we'll do it in environment that is more accepting of these practices,” Kesaine said optimistically. “More and more PoC will create, own, and run healing spaces for our community and the world at large.”
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A Black woman with bleach-tipped locs is smiling in front of a blue city-building-print background, wearing a blue sweater and a blue scarf around her head. She's wearing gold earrings with cowrie shells on them.
A Black woman with full, long, curly hair is wearing a grey long-sleeved v-neck shirt. She is smiling at the camera for a radiant selfie.
Several items are shown on a wood table, including crystal eggs in various colors, a vibrant salad, and two books: Crystal Power, Crystal Healing and Age of Eleven.