Interview: Chief Luisah Teish, Iyanifa

An artist guided by the Goddess Oshun, the Yoruba Goddess of Love, Art, and Sensuality.

Interview by  Jenna Farr Ludwig, MA


 

Luisah Teish

Luisah Teish

CJMT: Thank you for agreeing to be profiled in Coreopsis. We have long admired your work. Where can we learn more about what you do?

Thank you for inviting me. People who want to connect to my most recent activities should go to www.yeyeteish.com and sign up for my email list. There you will be notified of the classes and workshops that I’m offering, the conferences and gatherings where I’m presenting, and especially to see the series of video and online classes.

If you are most interested in the schedule of public rituals, go to www.ileorunmilaoshun.com. Here you will find the festivals such as the well-known Festival of the Bones.

CJMT: What do you want the world to know about your work?

That I am very fortunate to have good guidance from my Goddess Oshun, the Yoruba Goddess of Love, Art, and Sensuality as well as the support of my ancestors in doing my work here on Earth. You see we are all presently living in a war zone, with an epidemic, during a natural disaster. That is quite a confluence of difficulties.  And so the only real work we can be about is the work of healing the epidemic, cleansing the pollution of our home planet, and making peace, as much as possible, with those who share this beautiful planet. I, of course, am referring to all of us: the people, the plants, the animals, the land, the elements, and the spirits.

Because my work is inspired and informed by Spirit, presented through the arts, and directed toward understanding and exchange, I sometimes refer to myself as an Eco-Spiritual Culture Diplomat.  But that’s just a fancy way of saying Oshun has me on the case to help us appreciate this beautiful world and each other. That’s all.

CJMT: Who – or, what – do you see as your main influences, both past and present?

I am so fortunate to have been in the presence of powerful and loving people, especially the women. There have been so many that I must begin by expressing love and respect to those named and un-named before I go forward with my litany of gratitude.

In the Yoruba tradition we say “Maferefun” as a way of acknowledging the grace bestowed on us.

Let me say, Maferefun…

To my mother, Mrs. Serena Scott Allen, known as “Irene the Queen,” who gave me life, awakened and supported my mythic imagination as a child through storytelling, taught me to love the art of cooking, and to be proud of my Indigenous mind.

To Ms. Gladys Gibson, my elementary school teacher, who implanted the notion in my head that “you are my beautiful little genius, you are.”

To Ms. Joan Bailey, my high school dance teacher, who invested time and interest in me and showed me that I was a “natural born dancer.”

To Ms. Joyce Combs, my high school Journalism teacher, who taught me the power of words, provided impeccable guidance, and helped me to make wise decisions.

To Dr. Miles Shishido, my Philosophy of World Religions professor, who taught me “The Divine is vast and varied.”

To Madame Katherine Dunham, who presented me to the world of dance and trained my body to open, to let spirit in, and to move with the natural rhythm of the drum.

To Ms. Muthal Naaido, my theater director at the Black Artist Group in St. Louis, whose direction taught me the universal language of Theater.

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Original art copyright Luisah Teish. All rights reserved.

To Shiekh Akhnaten of the Fahamme Temple of Amun-Ra who showed me the true color of Egypt.

To my elders in the Yoruba and African diaspora traditions, Baba Ana-bi Oshun, Iya Oya Niwe, Awo Adebolu Fatunmise, and Moma Lola for restoring me to my ancestral inheritance.To my altar sisters Iya Oshun Iya Oshogbo, Iya Ohene Imene, Iya Oshunkoya, Iya Oyadeji, and Iyalode Ibeji O for the strength that comes from a Sisterhood of Service. Also, to Starhawk and Leilani Birely for sharing their traditions and cultural kinship.

And to all my ancestors and affinity spirits Mam’zelle Marie LaVeau, Iya Fermina Gomez, Freida of the Underground Railroad, Yahi of the Dahomey Amazons, and the long line of ancestors whose blood runs through my veins, whose legacy informs me and by whose strength I am sustained.

To all these, I say Praise and Thanks!  Praise and Thanks!  Praise and Thanks!

CJMT: Much of what you do addresses spirit and how we connect through ritual, movement/dance, and story. Where do you think that comes from?

Again I am blessed to come from New Orleans, a place of celebration. New Orleans has always had a tradition of celebration of spirit through Voudou, through Native American influences and, because it is a major seaport for the Caribbean, a diversity of spiritual influences that makes it unique.

Storytelling, my mother’s gift; dance, Madame Dunham’s gift; and theater, Ms Naaido’s gift, all taught me that the great gift we have all inherited is the ability to let Spirit in through the arts.

When we open to the arts we connect with the most primal of human impulses. There are no people on the face of the earth who do not have myth and lore, music and movement, vestments and celebration. When we engage our bodies and minds in the arts, we tap into the vibrations of heaven and earth and are better able to recognize the spirit in each other.

I mean, can you hear the rhythm of bush cows stampeding across the plain? Have you not heard the song of birds calling to each other? Felt the movement of the dolphins in the water? Marveled at the different colors, shapes, and sizes of the plants? I often marvel at the beauty of the many people on this planet, the colors of our skins, the shape of our eyes, the variety of our body types, and the many ways we respond to the environment.

Mother has given us all this beauty, and we are overwhelmed by Her gifts sometimes and just don’t know how to take it all in. But I feel that every time I hold a public ritual and people come out to share their humanity in sacred space, there and then I am doing Oshun’s work, which is what I came to earth to do.

CJMT: How would you describe your personal view of spirituality, what you refer to as ‘spiritual soup’?

The spiritual soup is simply an opportunity for each person, each culture to recognize that they have a gift, a talent, a point of view, a portion of energy that is both unique and Universal. So I imagine (and I’ve done this in workshops worldwide) a large pot of the Earth’s water heated by fire, (the sun’s energy) and it’s boiling.

Each person steps to the center of this circle and drops something in the pot that is the gift of their people, their culture, their life. The Native American might offer the gift of Earth Reverence, the African descendant offers Ancestor Reverence, the Asian offers the Contemplative Practices, and the European offers Sacred Mythology. What goes in the pot is determined by who is in the room and what they choose to bring. But as the concoction simmers and the aroma enchants us we begin to share each other’s stories, music, movement, food, clothing, knowledge, experience, and wisdom. Then we can serve up a bowl of broth that is savory and sweet, that fills us and satisfies our every human need.

Original art copyright Luisah Teish. All rights reserved.

Original art copyright Luisah Teish. All rights reserved.

One of the great problems we have is the war zone. Human beings don’t realize that we were put here together for a purpose. That purpose is to express the vastness of Heaven through the manifestation of life on Earth. If we could get that straight it would be a different world.

CJMT: What did you learn from working in theatre and dance?

I learned that Spirit is moving through everyone, seeking expression everywhere, all the time. We just have to tune our minds and hearts to the rhythms of Nature and then our bodies will rejoice as our hands do the work to heal the epidemic and clean up after and prevent future disasters. You know the word dis-aster means to be out of alignment with the stars. We are all under one Heaven, supported by one Earth. My work is an invitation to tune in and participate in the Great Dance of Life.

What would you like to say to other artists (of any genre)?

We have so much work to do that we can’t afford to be shy or lazy. Bringing forth the wisdom and the beauty that is flowing through you, that’s your gig. Addressing the demand of our times, calling out corruption, clarifying the confusion, expressing the vision of a more balanced existence, that’s your gig.

Right now the Universe is calling upon artists to give expression to the many medicines we need to heal. We are up late at night writing. We are on the dance floor twisting and turning. We are at the drawing table. Always wondering, “What is this that has just come through me?”

I say let it in, first, and then critique it. Realize that it comes through you and it’s for the community.

Yeah we are a little crazy, because we are inspired, in-spired. So take a deep breath and write, dance, paint, sing, sew, carve, plant, cook, weave whatever your particular genius, use it to help us cool the anger of war, heal the ills, and restore our home planet.

CJMT: Would you discuss your philosophy that knowing our purpose leads to “collective liberation”?

It is my belief that every person born comes with a gift, a particular kind of genius, endowed by the ancestors, deposited in consciousness, and with a responsibility to use that gift for the good of the whole. Separation, fragmentation, and alienation are the ingredients of “soul sickness.” These lead us to notions of superiority, to exploitation, to depression, insanity, and stupidity. When we accept responsibility for our assets and our liabilities, we can begin to heal from the inside out, join with others in the healing, share our sorrows and our triumphs, and liberate ourselves from the mess that we have created collectively. Nobody is ever sitting on this planet alone. Everybody is influenced by the energy of everybody else. And whether we like it or not we are all interconnected in the Great Web of Life.

Original art copyright Luisah Teish. All rights reserved.

Original art copyright Luisah Teish. All rights reserved.

Once a commitment is made to liberate yourself from an internalized “ism” (racism, sexism, classism, etc.), your energy field is broadened and you attract others who are also healing. When that healing is shared, the effect multiplies exponentially and flows out into the community and around the globe. This is the clearest path to security.

CJMT: Would you discuss your view of “ancestral inheritance and responsibilities and the ways in which they shape our purpose”?

I think we all have inherited both some ancestral shame and some ancestral pride. Our families and cultures affect the individual, and the society is made up of these individuals. We have been oppressed and oppressors in varying degrees, and that awareness lives in the cells of our bodies, in the thoughts we hold, and the feelings in our hearts. The quality of these ancestral inheritances informs our decisions and guides our actions. So, I’m big on facilitating “ancestral healing.”

If you come from a human group that has been severely oppressed, you carry that oppression in your cells. You have a right to learn about it, to stand up to it, and to do the work to come out from under it, especially if that oppression is still strong in the culture.

If you are descended from a human group that has severely oppressed others, you carry that guilt and shame in your cells. It is your responsibility to find out what you have inherited and to understand its impact on you and others. Through a loving but critical self-assessment you can overcome the shame and move from guilt to taking positive actions, to restore balance, and find authentic kinship.

Would you expound somewhat on the process of “locating and ritually releasing ancestral wounds, limiting beliefs, and personal/collective trauma”?

The work is deep and vast. My best offering at this time is my “At the Crossroads: Finding Your Life Purpose” video series. The series was created specifically to address this question. In the videos I provide information and exercises, a monthly online class with Q&A, and an online forum where participants can share and experience collective healing. It’s a wonderful project.

Check it out here: http://www.balade.black/at-the-crossroads-finding-your-purpose-chief-luisah-teish

CJMT: Any final words?

I would just say that right now we are under a configuration of stars, and a confluence of concerns that threaten life on our home planet. I challenge us all, especially the artists, to commit to the work of healing, repairing, rebuilding. Open up, buckle down, manifest the work, and share the joy.

Thank you for your time and your attention.


 

See the full galllery of Luisah Teish’s artwork >>

 


 

Jenna LudwigJenna Ludwig is a speaker and freelance writer with a Master’s Degree in Transpersonal Studies from Atlantic University, Virginia Beach, VA. She presented at the International Association for the Study of Dreams 2014 Conference, Berkeley, and has an upcoming book, “Synchronicity Journaling: Working with Dreams, Visions, and Meaningful Coincidence.” She is a talented dreamworker with a lively, engaging teaching style. Visit Jenna’s blog at synchronicityjournaling.com.

 


 

2 Responses to “Interview: Chief Luisah Teish, Iyanifa

  • Judy Gaar
    2 years ago

    Thank you for presenting Luisah Teish here. She deserves to be read by everyone who loves this planet and its inhabitants.

  • Thanks for commenting, Judy! I agree 100 percent. It was a thrill to interview her…

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