The Ancestor Project: Inciting Liberation Through Community and Ceremony

Iboga, Kambo, and other Sacred Earth Medicines which facilitate consciousness-expanding experiences have long been a part of indigenous medicine around the world. Despite these origins, many Black and Indigenous People of Color are today disconnected from their ancestors’ practices. The Ancestor Project (TAP), led by Charlotte James and Undrea ‘Dre’ Wright, serves to bring BIPOC back to these ancestral practices while reducing harm, expanding consciousness, and inciting collective liberation for all people. The Baltimore-based collective provides virtual and in-person support, guidance, and education to modern journeyers and healers.

“This community was disconnected and disenfranchised to practices that are innate to their culture prior to colonization,” Wright said. “In terms of liberating people from all types of man-made oppressions, I find no more effective tool than giving people the tools to become aware of their oppression and how they are participating in their own oppression, how they are supporting colonization, and these particular systems.”

“We do center BIPOC community,” James added, “but really one of our primary tenets in conversation about decolonization is that all of our ancestors across the globe at one point in time had a connection with Animist traditions and were in a practice in which it was understood that everything we see as a thing is a being and that there is spirit pulsing through all the elements that are around us…That reminder for everyone to come back into intentional relationship, to remember what it means to be a sacred being, and to live life in ceremony is the central aspect of our mission and why we do this work.”

James and Wright practice Shamanism, a 4,000-year-old practice that honors the sacred relationship with all of the beings around us. As part of this practice they guide others through journeys using Sacred Earth Medicines. Those who partake are journeyers, and the experience is referred to as holding ceremony. Prior to ceremony, journeyers are given directions for a private ritual taking a thorough inventory of their mental, physical, spiritual, communal, and environmental well-being. Western society is largely logical which Wright mentions can lead to looping conversations resulting in anxiety. This preparatory inventory leads a journeyer to an introspective state where they can reframe their comfortably contained understanding of existence, breaking down some of that logical foundation they’re used to. James and Wright meet with journeyers following this intake ritual to go over what has been gleaned, discuss questions that may have arisen, and form an intention for the next ceremony which will illuminate patterns of destruction that we are being asked to dismantle.

This detailed preparation process is essential as TAP works with a mostly Western constituency. Without support, Western journeyers can leave ceremony feeling like they had a brilliant experience but feel they can’t talk to anyone about it. TAP holds an integration meeting after ceremony to ensure journeyers don’t feel isolated as they integrate new patterns into Western lifestyles but instead feel supported, “To remind them that they have community, that they moved through this process with others, that they have a collective to come back to,” James explained.

TAP holds free BIPOC integration circles facilitated by James, Wright, and other members of the community to support communal liberation after sitting with the medicine. It is important to note that although these medicines are powerful and can reveal joyous pathways, the learning is challenging, often paired with some discomfort. Wright said, “In our practice, you want to develop a healthy intention but what happens in ceremony is something that we will find out once we’re in ceremony and the expectation is that we’re going to move through this with gentleness and respect. But many times the medicine gives you what you need, not necessarily what you want.”

This openness to getting what you need rather than what you want is not exceptionally prevalent in Western culture, which makes it unsurprising that many Westerners are most comfortable considering Sacred Earth Medicines through the lens of psychedelic medicine. This lens takes a clinical approach, dissecting the individual compounds and idolizing their individual effects without honoring the holistic role each compound is playing in relationship with one another. There is also a compulsion to gamify Sacred Earth Medicines in order to avoid discomfort or incapacitation without assessing whether said discomfort or incapacitation serves a purpose.

These tactics are prominent in the current commodification of psilocybin as states begin to lift laws against possession and open regulations for the study and medicinal distribution of mushrooms. The same tactics can be viewed from the tail end when looking at the legalization and commodification of cannabis in the United States. “It all starts to fall into this very Western approach of being in control of the experience, or being in control of the spirit of the molecule or the medicine, which is very far from what our practice looks like,” said Wright.

James added, “A lot of these medicine traditions that we see being popularized and commodified in the present moment come from Black and Brown and Indigenous communities but we tend to be the ones most disconnected from those traditions because of the patterns of colonization and the ways in which we’ve had to adapt ourselves to survive.” Reconnecting BIPOC with ancestral healing modalities and Sacred Earth Medicines like those used in ceremony at The Ancestor Project can not only bring healing to those spaces, but empower more people who are lineage holders in working with these medicines to preserve those traditions and continue providing access to those who share those cultures. In this work, they will only further the liberation of all people.

BIPOC looking for community to support their integration can sign up for the Integration Circle here. Clinicians, facilitators, and space holders who want to build an intersectional, interconnected movement together are encouraged to sign up for the second cohort of TAP’s 10-week Psychedelic Liberation Training program. The last cohort was fruitful, and both James and Wright hope to build an in-person gathering into the second cohort as gathering together becomes safer. Lastly, allies who would like to support collective liberation are encouraged to donate to the Mutual Ceremony Fund to ensure that cost is never a barrier to healing.


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