This story was part of our Black Joy newsletter highlighting how indigenous traditions empower our lineage and ourselves even after death. Sign up now to receive Black Joy in your inbox weekly!
Veronica Agard’s spiritual journey is one that birthed joy from the depths of sorrow.
11 years ago, Agard was reeling from the grief of losing both her paternal grandmother and an uncle within 66 days of each other. She’d just started her college career in New York. Healing from that grief forged the foundation of what is now Ancestors in Training, a platform challenging folks to view their time on Earth as an ever everlasting legacy that our descendants can tap into beyond the binary of life/death. Veronica accomplishes this mission in multiple ways: On Instagram, Agard posts empowering affirmations like “if trauma can be passed down so can love and joy”, spiritual tips such as the anatomy of an ancestor altar and journal prompts encouraging you to tap your elders now to discover the roots of your family tree.
Ancestors in Training hosts multiple workshops, like the upcoming Community Circle Space on Sunday and December 11, which focuses on how to peel back generational trauma to make room for new traditions fostering joy. Veronica has also curated a syllabus of books, podcasts and other resources for those who collaborate with her on ancestral work. She said both newcomers of spirituality and veterans flock to her platform and all are welcomed.
“My godfather says everybody who has a belly button has an ancestor unless you’re an alien,” Agard laughed. “What happens in any space that we offer, we are especially zooming in on what it means to be an ancestor in training that’s trying to create new traditions. We’re not just talking about the trauma and the harm that’s been caused. But thinking a step ahead and thinking about the joy and the possibilities that can come from when we shift our thinking a little bit. We’re not just talking about what cycles to break, but what cycles we want to start.”
Agard has started the tradition of healing her family lineage. Back when she needed help sorting through the pain of her family members’ passing, Agard co-founded a healing community called Sister Circle Collective.
Before the era of #spirtualtiktok and Instagram, Sister Circle was her space to build her wellness toolkit. She leaned into journaling and connected with the cycles of the moon and nature. Becoming a plant mom reminded her to drink enough water. To get outside her own head, Agard started training in Capoeira, an Afro-Brazilian mixed martial art created by enslaved Africans that combines music, aerobatics, spirituality and dance.
It was in Capoeira that Agard started to make moves in the spiritual space. Her Capoeira master was initiated in Candomblé, another Afro-Brazilian religion that’s a mixture of Ifá and Catholicism. He was the one who sparked Agard’s interest in a practice beyond Christiany, and the experience shifted her life.
Back in August, at 31, Agard finished her Ifá rights of passage. She was given the name Ifáṣadùn, which means “Ifa sprouts joy.” While running Ancestors in Training, Agard draws from multiple African diaspora religions, which include Voodoo, Santeria and Candomblé. While growing the platform, she has seen folks demonize religions built on resistance.
“Our ancestors, who were brought over here against their will, somehow made a way because Black people will make a way when there isn’t a way.” Veronica said. “And one of the ways we did that was by figuring out how to be in relationship with the land. Especially in the South. Especially with herbs. Especially by being the community healers when we weren’t allowed to go to quality doctors. We had to become our own doctors, our own therapists, our own healers.”
Agard chatted with Black Joy journalist Starr Dunigan about how to lean into your own ancestral practice, how her spiritual journey changed her family and why death and indigenous practices can be taboo topics in certain Black communities:
Starr: How has your understanding of grief shaped your view of death?
Veronica: As a student of Ifá, I now understand my grandmother and my uncle are still here. I just can’t see them. I can still talk to them, try to tune in to them, leave them offerings. I can speak their names. I can speak kindly of them in this world because I now know how to do it.
Back when they passed, I didn’t really know [they were still here] because grief was different back then. I was still spiritual. I believed in things on the other side and that type of experience. But I didn’t have the tools back then. Now I have the tools.
Starr: How has your spiritual practice affected your family?
Veronica: As I started to do more wellness and spiritual work for myself and share it with my parents and my living grandmother, that’s when stuff fell out of the closet. Like, my dad can recall having dreams of some of his ancestors that he remembers only from when he was a child, or my grandmother being so intuitive and empathic to the point where she and my mother, like, there’s certain things that they just won’t do because ‘Spirit said we probably shouldn’t do that.’
One time, I went to my mother’s house and my grandmother had this tile I’ve never seen before but apparently had been in the house since I was a kid. It was a tile from Brazil that had on it one of my guardian Orishas, Oya. In Brazil, they call her Iansã. So the tile said Iansã on it, and I was looking around the house like, ‘Um, hello? How long has this been here? Like, I’ve got questions.’ My grandmother was like, ‘Oh somebody went to Brazil and they were talking about me and how I reminded them of this spirit. I’m laughing at how spirits move. Apparently the Orishas been knew me. Like, they were chilling in the house.
Starr: In your opinion, why do some Black people have an aversion to talking about ancestral work and grieving?
Veronica: Mainly fear in a lot of ideas that people have prescribed via Christianity, unfortunately. Especially in the South, when people talk about the ancestors or anything like that, they’re like, ‘Oh, that’s not that voodoo stuff, is it?’ Like there wasn’t somebody who knew how to work some herbs or probably was the person they called when somebody got sick cause they couldn’t go to the doctor. Especially in the Deep South, there were granny midwives who had herbs in their pockets. They got that knowledge from their ancestors who got it from their ancestors.
The Haint blue that they use in the Carolinas? That’s Gullah Geechee culture. Even throughout the South houses get painted that color because apparently they were trying to ward off evil spirits. So there’s things that we do, that are within the African diasporic traditions. But folks get in this space where they can be fearful like, ‘Oh, I don’t do that Hoodoo stuff.’ Which is wild because for me, I’m like, ‘Yo, you should want to be tapped into the energy of what Haitians did to liberate themselves not only with brute force, but also through ancestral veneration. The only counter to that is to create opportunities for people to unpack some of their misconceptions about ancestral veneration.
Starr: How do you think those misconceptions came to be?
Veronica: Oh, White folks. A lot of that has to do with some of the things we internalized from slavery that we did to survive. We became Christians of many denominations because we didn’t have a choice. White folks had us denounce and made it illegal for us to practice our traditions.
Obviously, people did it in secret in order for us to even be able to talk about it, and there’s a rich history in that resistance. So some of the rhetoric of where it became demonic is a holdover from slavery. It’s a holdover from whiteness. It’s a holdover from how white folks tried to justify slavery via certain parts of the Bible.
Starr: For our spiritual newbies, how can they start honoring their ancestors?
Veronica: Build an altar and be careful: You want to call on your benevolent ancestors. The same way you don’t want to just invite anybody into your house and you don’t want to invite just any ancestor to your altar because not every spirit, ancestor or both that comes down is going to be in your favor.
Find a community: Whether that community is like the people you subscribe to in the Ancestors in Training ecosystem, including myself or fellow folks who are just now starting their relationship. Don’t be alone when you’re learning new things or unlearning, depending on where you fall on. I think we learn better in community as opposed to isolation.
Starr: Since Sunday’s Community Circle is about alleviating generational grief, can you tell us about how we can start healing our lineage?
Veronica: Start with yourself. Because doing the work for yourself, is a form of healing for your ancestors who could not afford that luxury. Some of our ancestors could not think about their own self care, rest, pleasure or joy because of how the world was set up at the time.
You’re not healing yourself as a means to fix yourself, but you’re arriving to a place of understanding that you were already whole to begin with and the world took that away from you with capitalism, all the ‘isms,’ So a part of our journey in this lifetime is to get back to wholeness within ourselves, for ourselves. Then you can start to understand what you know want your legacy to do, and that becomes generational healing for those who come after you.
Sometimes people think generational healing is only going backwards. And I’m like, ‘Yes, but also start with you so that you can go forward and that becomes the inheritance, that becomes your legacy. And then that becomes a tool of generational healing.
Starr: What advice do you have for those who are starting their own spiritual journey but rely on #spiritualtiktok or Instagram?
Veronica: Practice discernment, please. Because this is an era of scammers and people making fake pages. Somebody who offers spiritual readings isn’t gonna DM you talking about, ‘Oh, I have a message from the ancestors.’ That’s not how this works. You who is seeking the reading has to go to the practitioner. The practitioner will not come to you. If they do, check the page. Make sure that everything is spelled correctly. Tap on the three dots (on Instagram) to make sure you can see their about section and where they are located.
Number two, still do your research in spite of whatever anybody says, including me. Use what people say as a launching pad or stepping stool. Especially if they offer resources, follow up on resources. Also, see who people are in relationship with. Who are they learning from? Who are they following?
Some people do this, but I don’t do this. If you see an altar on my social media, that is a community altar, but it’s not my altar. It’s not my ancestral one or any of my other ones. In this moment that just passed with Dia de los Muertos and Fèt Gede, which is Haitian Day of the Dead, and with the age of the internet, we’re seeing a lot of things that, in my opinion, we’re not meant to see unless we were there at the event. I think there are some things that should stay off the internet, especially ceremonies and people’s altars. If somebody really knows how to try and cause me harm, I gave them the information to do that.