Throughout her first decade of participating in ceremonial psychedelic events, Charlotte James—former co-founder of the educational platform The Ancestor Project—remained one of very few people of color in attendance (if not the only). “The question started to rise more and more: why are there not more BIPOC people in this space, especially because a lot of these medicines come from our traditions?” she tells us. The thoughts led James to explore the roots of the industry, how psychedelics can be used as a tool to decolonize the self and how to dismantle ethnocentricity within the burgeoning industry. She’s since shared this knowledge through workshops and free resources and now she’s guiding others in using hallucinogens for decolonization in Psychedelic Liberation Training.
Open for registration on 1 March, the program is a 10-week online course that coaches clinicians and enthusiasts on using sacred plants to uncover biases and work toward collective liberation. Co-led by clinical researcher Sarah Reed, the training is informed by age-old hallucinogenic practices with origins and traditions that are often uncredited in the new wave of interest in the space.
“When we look at all of the clinical research that’s been done since the ’60s, I think it’s something like over 90% of the participants are white. So the information that we have that we’re building the psychedelic space off of is incredibly biased information. We’re starting to bring in those conversations so that more therapists and clinicians and practitioners are equipped with the tools that they need to approach their own practice from decolonized ones,” she continues.
When we don’t take the time to intentionally question how we have arrived in this moment… we are subject to repeating the mistakes of the past
James says, “I feel like a lot of what’s being talked about in this resurgence is seen as something that’s novel or new, when in reality, it comes from a deep lineage of entheogenic shamanic work, ancestral practices and practices that for a very long time were demonized and suppressed by the dominant culture: patriarchy and white supremacy. When we don’t take the time to intentionally question how we have arrived in this moment in history and in time, we are subject to repeating the same mistakes of the past.”
The program puts this history and social activism in context within psychedelics, and while the two may seem independent of each other, the latter has been a useful tool to develop a foundation for collective liberation—a method which James refers to as “sacred activism.” The out-of-body experiences and changes in consciousness garnered from these tools lend themselves to understanding the humanity of all people and beings, thus unlearning systemic misconceptions.
“One of the beautiful things about working with these medicines is that you are able to transcend ego-based consciousness or what it is to be a human in the 3D,” explains James. “It’s really important that we work with these medicines as a way of strengthening our capacity for compassion and our perspective and understanding that everything is interconnected. And from there, understanding that whatever suffering is happening in the world we’re also intrinsically connected to and responsible for. That’s how all these pieces weave together and why it’s important that we’re talking about systems and identity and discrimination and oppression within the psychedelic resurgence.”
James harnesses the power of hallucinogens to decolonize by structuring the course from the ground up. “I wanted it to be a much more collaborative and community-based approach to sharing knowledge,” she explains. “I developed the curriculum, found the folks in my community that I wanted to bring in to teach as well, because I feel like part of teaching about decolonization work is also embodying that in the ways that we approach the work.”
While the course—taught by Shamanic healers, psychotherapists and other experts—helps participants build a practice that supports and accounts for people of color and systemic oppression, it also focuses on psychedelics’ capacity for healing trauma. This is especially true “for BIPOC folk,” says James. “I feel like a lot of the messaging in our world convinces us that we’re not valuable, we’re not worthy, we don’t deserve softness and grace and an opportunity to heal our ancestry, our intergenerational trauma. I feel like one of the greatest benefits [of psychedelics] is coming back to your divinity or coming back to wholeness, recognizing that you are valuable, you are worthy.”
The course includes a ketamine webinar led by Reed that exemplifies the healing potentials of the practice. In the discussion, she details her own experience with ketamine-assisted therapy and how it helped her accept and embrace the self.
“She was able to disassociate or get distance from the experience of Black womanhood in America to be like, ‘I am a sacred being that is worthy and loved and has the capacity for joy,'” says James. “That has been my experience with medicines as well, just really feeling your spirit within your body and recognizing that no one, no system, can take that truth away from you.” At the forefront of the psychedelic space, James’ program (now on its third annual cohort) radically confronts internalized biases and systemic oppression by honoring traditional practices and growing a community of holistic practitioners.
Images courtesy of Charlotte James