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Call it what you want—energy healing, folk magic, shamanism—Richael Faithful will meet you where you are.
The 33-year-old performs a range of these healing arts, but acknowledges that the field of energy work “might be at the edge of words.”
“I don’t expect us all to have one language to describe everything,” Faithful says. “I think wherever I am invited and there’s openness, I can work.” For Faithful, much of that work includes clearing homes and land for new owners, making a spiritual and physical space for them in a place where others have lived before.
Some people ask for these rituals (or cleansings, or acknowledgments) because they “know about energy work and are making sure things are good before we move here.” But others, Faithful says, are “folks who are skeptical—the house is for them, it’s perfect and the timing is right, but something feels off. They don’t know how to understand it or explain it. So they find someone like me.”
The cultural fascination with, and commodification of, energy work—using plants, herbs, crystals, or other implements with the goal of bringing spiritual harmony to a particular space—has increased significantly in recent years. Stores like West Elm and Sephora sell “ritual kits” that contain items like rose quartz, lavender, and essential oil. Luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton reportedly employs a Brazilian shaman to keep the rain away from outdoor fashion shows.
The newly opened K Street NW boutique hotel, Eaton House, has an in-home shaman on speed dial. And millennial-focused websites like Refinery29 and Apartment Therapy post blog after blog about how to clear unwanted spirits from the home and give new spaces “fresh” energy. (Last month, a crew from PBS reached out to Faithful on behalf of Michael Moore, who is working on a political docu-series. The crew wanted Faithful to perform a cleansing of the Democratic National Committee headquarters before the midterm elections. “For the integrity of the medicine, I just can’t do it. I think the joke about the DNC is funny, but not if it’s a joke about the medicine,” Faithful says.)
Much of what popular culture has ingested, like the burning of white sage, is a riff on centuries-old indigenous traditions that have been taken out of context. Faithful, for their part, believes that burning sage is cultural appropriation. Other modern practices steal (or borrow, if you want to be generous) from a combination of spiritual and religious traditions, like the Yoruba religion, Afro-Cuban santería, or pagan witchcraft. Faithful’s work is centered around the traditions of folk medicine practiced by black Americans with generations of ancestors on the continent.
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While Faithful typically receives specific requests to perform home cleansings and land rituals roughly a dozen times per year, that number has been increasing lately, they say, a fact they attribute to increased awareness about land politics and displacement.
Faithful emphasizes that in popular culture this “energy” is often portrayed as nebulous bad juju or a malevolent poltergeist jingling cabinets in the night, rather than an imprint of the very real people who once inhabited a home or piece of land, and who could very likely have left under tragic circumstances. Faithful says that because the change that occurs in a home when people move isn’t ever neutral—especially in the District, a city with scars from slavery, rapid urbanization, and displacement—it’s important to acknowledge that local history before moving into a new space.
Moving into a new home “is an extension of these cycles of gentrification, in terms of history, of displacement. They tend to be violent events, even if they’re not visible, and even if it’s not how we think of violence. As people are displaced, that’s usually within the context of a lot of pain,” Faithful says. “Whether people are forced out because of rising housing prices, trapped in a structurally coercive loan … whatever the reason folks are being displaced naturally, there’s a lot of grief and despair and loss that people experience within this structure of a home, and on this land that they’re lived. I believe that exists, and I don’t believe that goes away because a person goes away.”
Faithful performs cleansings, in part, so that someone can bear witness to the past, to “acknowledge the loss for the sake of those who have been displaced in particular,” and also to encourage new home or land owners to “be more responsible stewards of the home.”
But these ceremonies, which healers say can range from a succinct 15 minutes to multiple hour-long sessions, aren’t just for new occupants of a home. Renata Maniaci, a local body and energy worker who holds a master’s degree in public health from Columbia, says they perform energy clearings if one of a home’s occupants moves out or dies.
The rituals change depending on the person, place, and energy of the space, but Faithful’s ceremony tends to center around a few key items. They use myrrh, a fragrant resin that’s cited in the Bible as one of the gifts presented to Jesus at birth, as well as salt and hyssop, a minty plant with historical uses as a purification tool. The latter has a particular significance in the tradition of black folk medicine, Faithful says.
Other local energy healers, like Abby Dobbs, who used to own Kali Yoga Studio on 14th Street NW, and Maniaci, say they often use crystals or palo santo wood to clear a space, along with positive intentions or prayer.
While the ceremony varies, Faithful says more broadly that they “acknowledge [the former inhabitants], make them real, and ask the people, the new owners to participate to the degree they’re able. Some people are into energy and understand it the way I do. I’ll ask them to do a ritual or keep something in memorial or meditate and pray on what’s been brought forward.”
The healers City Paper spoke with say they don’t solicit a standard fee for the rituals. Many don’t advertise the service perform cleansings only for family and friends. Faithful and others accept trades, like handmade goods, or whatever the client can afford. One person gave Faithful a family heirloom.
“It’s deep, right? There’s so much history. Even apart from this era of displacement, there’s a long, long history. Not even to mention all the indigenous history,” Faithful says. “It’s a long-term process [for] real deep, violent history on the land or in the structure … Spaces even make requests of us. My sense is, a place might take a long time, maybe as long as it’s existed, to make it whole again.”