Black Joy

Black, Spiritual and Free: A conversation with Cherise Morris

This story is part of our Black RE:SET project. Click here to read more about how you can incorporate more wellness and spirituality into your life.

The first time I witnessed a Black woman dance out of her hat at church, moving to the rhythm of the drums, I looked up at my grandma who was smiling and clapping, seemingly unfazed by the commotion and asked, “what’s wrong with her?”

My grandmother shushed me, before whispering, “she just got happy, that’s all.”

That’s what my grandma and great aunts called it when folks caught the Spirit, “getting happy,” and that’s what I call it to this day.

Later, I would learn that so much of what makes Black churches what they are is deeply rooted in our African ancestry. But these roots show up, not only in church, but also in the cultural norms and superstitions we carry, like not sweeping someone’s feet or eating black-eyed peas on New Year’s Day. Cue in my late great-aunt forcing a spoon full of black-eyed peas into my mouth (cause little me hated black-eyed peas), “You need to have at least a little bit for good luck, baby.”

Whether we know it or not, our ancestor’s legacies are present in all that we do.

My curiosity about Black spiritual traditions was born out of my disconnect from my Christian upbringing. When I came to terms with the fact that I never felt affirmed in church, unless I was singing, it took me down a tunnel of confusion and despair. But somehow ancestral veneration and hoodoo found me, even as I resisted it.

The summer of 2017, I attended a Black writing workshop in Philly, where I met Cherise Morris, a self-proclaimed Black witch. It was the first time I could openly discuss and ask questions about ancestors, spiritual altars and other non-Christian topics. I was both infatuated and relieved at her openness. My curious nature had always been met with shame, but I could let it flow with ease for once.

Following our meeting, we stayed in touch as friends and spiritual comrades.

Embarking on this Black Joy RE:SET issue, I knew I had to talk with Cherise. We discussed her upbringing in Virginia, her journey into Black spirituality, and how reclaiming our ancestral traditions can liberate us, especially in 2023.

What was your introduction into Black spiritual traditions?

Well, I grew up in Virginia with a very devoutly spiritual family, though by the time I came along, no one in my household – my grandparents, my mother, – they didn’t really go to church. But there was always this implicit understanding that things are always happening behind the veil. And even though they were all explicitly Christian and phrased their understanding of spirituality within that, they also understood and very much believed in conjure, and [it] having real implications on people’s lives.

And so, I always had that understanding. And then as I got older, in college I would say that spirit and my ancestors really just took the door that was cracked open, and just kicked it wide open in a lot of important ways.

How would you describe your practice?

Most of my work is grounded in ancestral connection [and] veneration. . . I also understand that my ancestors came from a wide range of beliefs and traditions. So, I don’t operate within one specific framework. I do educate myself within various diasporic traditions. I [also] firmly think of myself as a conjure worker, as someone who works with the root in the idea of connecting my spiritual work with the Earth [and] through those ancestral understandings of self and nature. And I still identify as a bad b**** witch. I just think of it in a way more expansive way than I did before.

Can you talk a bit about your project, Visions of Evolution? I know, it’s a healing ritual and a series you’ve been working on for a few years. What is the intention behind it?

Most of my work [is] operating from the perspective that our individual healing is not only important to us, but [also] in our ability to create a better world for the collective . . . So, Visions of Evolution is really like the culmination of all those ideas that create actual physical spaces where people come together. And even though it’s not tied to any religious practice . . .

I think of it in a way where it’s kinda like a church, which means it’s just a space of communion, for us to come, center ourselves in our own healing in community with other people and open ourselves to transcendent spiritual experiences . . .between whatever spiritual presences want to be in the room with us. And then take that energy and carry it forward into the world.

Why do you think the reclamation of Black-centered spiritual traditions is important for Black folks, especially in 2023?

The construction of Blackness happened as a as a category of oppression, alongside the physical oppression, and the mental oppression of enslavement, the thing that opened the door to all that violence, was spiritual violence, it literally reduced Black people and all people who were not from the European world to a position of non-human. So, I think [reclaiming Black spiritual traditions] is an important part of the healing process, specifically in this era.

This is the seventh generation from enslavement of Black people living in the United States. And when we think about the number seven and the connotation that holds throughout, not only diasporic spiritual understandings, but throughout spiritual understandings of the world, including Christianity. . . seven is a powerful number of healing and reckoning.

In my work, [ I think about] Audre Lorde’s idea that “the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house,” [and] I understand that when we talk about liberation through a means of revolution, that doesn’t mean the same thing as it did in the past [during] the Haitian Revolution or [slave revolts]. It doesn’t mean we pick up guns [and] swords, and we fight to the death because we live in a time of technology . . .we cannot operate within those same frameworks of violence that put us in this place in the first place. So, the only other thing that seems like a pathway forward, a revolutionary means of acquiring liberation, to me, is returning to that spiritual connection.

We’re at a time when our ancestors are very directly telling us that returning to and reconnecting with their spiritual wisdoms, tools and ways of understanding will be our pathway into liberation [and] into liberated ideas of self and into enacting that in the world around us.

If you enjoyed this conversation, stay tuned for all the magical stories to come this week for our 2023 Black Joy RE:SET.

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham

Danielle Buckingham (she/her), affectionately known as Dani Bee, is Reckon’s Black Joy Reporter, and a Chicago-born, Mississippi-raised writer based in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2021 Lambda Literary fellow, her work has been published in MadameNoire, Midnight & Indigo Literary Magazine, Raising Mothers, and elsewhere.

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