Learning To Live From Spirit
Cristina Maria RojasFernandez’s journey to modern day medicine woman
By Hannah Chenoweth
Guatemala in 2012, right at the height of the Mayan calendar predictions, was a place brimming with an eclectic mix of magic. The Guatemalans didn’t believe the world was ending, but rather that it was the age of enlightenment from dark to light. People from a vibrant mélange of traditions all over the world flocked to the country to enjoy the land, pray on it, and welcome forth this new era.
Born-and-raised Jersey girl Cristina Maria RojasFernandez was one of those people who felt an irresistible pull to the sacred celebrations. After 15 years in social work, something deep inside was screaming for more. She set off a journey through Central America guided entirely by Spirit, and returned to America with a different perspective that greatly informed the incredible work she does now as a modern-day medicine woman.
That Samhain Feeling
It’s two days before Halloween, 2017, and Spirit Guides is catching up with Cristina Maria via Skype as a torrential downpour outside provides a relaxing soundtrack.
Despite an Internet connection that is wonky at times, I can’t help but realize how perfect the timing is. I’ve just caught her after two weeks of travel for ceremonies throughout the Northeast. Having met the lively, animated medicine woman in person, it’s amusing to see her expressive speech, peppered with bits of fluent Spanish, slightly distorted from the lagging Internet connection. Bad Wifi is no match for her high-voltage presence.
“You know, I’m coming back from two very strong medicine weeks,” Cristina Maria says. “I feel the presence of Spirit so close and everywhere; outside, in the air, with friends, in decisions. I’m seeing even more vividly after experiencing the increased intuition and connection to the ground and land that was holding us.”
She mentions the Christmas music playing on her drive home the other day, remarking to her medicine sister that it felt like Samhain (the original word for Halloween) already came and went. The next morning, she awoke to an eeriness in the air, a real bone-chilling sense of connection—like when two levers click in place and lock. “We haven’t gone anywhere. You haven’t even celebrated us yet!”
If you are able to be guided by your Spirit, you’re free of fear.
This deep sense of connection—and unabashed honoring of Spirit—is a vein that pulses through Cristina Maria’s entire life. Growing up in a tight-knit, first-generation Cuban family, Cristina Maria was always a deeply social creature who felt pulled to help people. She comes from a strong lineage and also has five sisters and one brother—“her tribe.” A true people-person, her early childhood memories are colored by a strong awareness of the feelings of those around her.
It was this desire to help people that led to 15 years working in various areas under the social work umbrella in New York and New Jersey, from crisis management to therapy. Although Cristina Maria loved the work, priding herself on being able to navigate some extremely challenging situations, the limitations of the system started to weigh on her.
“I was moving further away from my soul in this time, therefore definitely far from my Spirit,” she says. “I was really out of touch with parts that were naturally in me all the time.”
It was around this time that Cristina Maria, usually the excited force behind organizing family celebrations, found herself missing a cousin’s wedding due to an unusual illness. Wrapped in a drowsy fog made hazier by medicine, Cristina Maria experienced a lucid dream like never before.
“I’m laying down, feverish and sweating, and hear these sounds and this soft weight on top of me. I couldn’t talk but I was awake; all I was able to move was my finger. And then I was tapped out and woke up and was like ‘Okay, I’m leaving social work.’”
Cristina Maria knew better than to accept feeling tired and jaded as an unavoidable sentence served by adults. She honored her Spirit’s request for a sabbatical, venturing from the concrete jungle to the Amazonian jungle in 2012, with no real idea of what was next.
A Unique Sabbatical
Following her Spirit’s call led her to Cuba, Guatemala, Peru, and beyond in Central America—she found herself in a new world where she was gaining tools she’d never imagined. Her trek gave her the time to just be; to experience her time with the world differently.
She emphasized that she wasn’t always in a remote village; much of her stay took place in urban areas.
“The reason I mention this is because I didn’t necessarily leave what I was already surrounded by, but moving let me see a different way of life where they didn’t put forth this idea of capitalism and always living to expand, the way we live in US,” she says. “Because they had so little, they appreciated what they had.”
This joyous way of life lent itself naturally to a deeper sense of connection. Adding to the magic in the air was the fact that Cristina Maria was in Guatemala at the height of the Mayan calendar predictions, surrounded by a sea of people from varying backgrounds enjoying diverse rituals and jubilant ceremonies.
“Granted, some people would think we are in darkness. But there, it was the end of an era—to be there in this time was so sacred,” she said.
Despite the magic pulsing through the city, the real enchantment unfolded for Cristina Maria in the quiet moments she was alone in the presence of nature. In the Mayan jungle, Spirit began to talk to her in a way she could understand for the first time: You’re on the path—we’ve been waiting for you. She was also hearing the word shaman.
She returned to sight and hearing differently, more clearly than ever before. Though she returned to the US without a plan, a year of beautiful learning and experiences ensued, including joining the New York Shamanic Circle and being initiated through medicine teachers Kate Anjahlia Loye, Irma StarSpirit Turtle Woman (who gave her the medicine name “Humming Bird Medicine”), and Robin Rose Bennett.
A Big, Beautiful Cauldron
Witchery, a term historically used in a negative way, is embraced by Cristina Maria for its full connotation: alchemy with the Earth and Spirits. Seeing the results of her work has been a beautiful experience. Helping humans actualize, to be and see and live every part of themselves by connecting to the ancient wisdom inside, has felt like the greatest gift she could give.
The biggest misconception of her work, she shared, is that the medicine is to be feared.
“The way I understand it, there is everything: day and night. If you are able to be guided by Spirit, then you really are free of fear. You’re able to be curious and understand instead of the blaming and shaming of oneself that humans do,” she says.
In a society of polarities, there’s such a large gravitational pull towards a mainstream concept that pushes an agenda or ideology, making it easy to have this “good guy, bad guy” idea of opposites.
“That’s why one of the beautiful things about the medicine work is about breaking the polarities and looking into oneness with everything,” she says.
When I inquire about the difference between shamans and witches, she explained that though they’re not the same thing, they share many commonalities.
One of the beautiful things about the medicine work is about breaking the polarities.
Cristina Maria rattled them off easily for me: “Working with the herbs, the sun, moon, and seasons, conspiring with the spirits and elementals, speaking to the wind and helping it bring air when they need it, bringing together nature with humans and helping them see the value of living in harmony and peace, how they help humans attain their own ability to heal.”
She paused before concluding, “Their ability to work magic through different avenues but always for the greater good, that really excites me. Both know that our ultimate goal is to live in harmony.”
Personally, she views her role as a medicine woman more so as a conduit to healing rather than the label of a healer.
“All of these things (witch, shaman, curandera) have really started to blur and become quite a beautiful cauldron of all the medicine…from travelling the dimensions which is very much a shamanic way, the ethers, portals, and realms of existence, to attain healing and guidance, and then to bring it into this plane, and to talk to and hear the wind give the messages of Spirit,” she said.
After experiencing so much frustration from the limitations of the social work system, Cristina Maria now treasures the opportunity to truly help humans reach their full potential.
The Soul As A Bridge To Spirit
It’s been almost six years now that she’s been on this path, and three that she’s shared her medicine. She offers a variety of sessions, circles, and ceremonies to help her clients’ natural order—body, mind, and soul—find harmony. The Spirit, she said, already knows what to do—it’s simply waiting for the rest to follow suit.
“Harmony is kinda my new word,” she laughs.
She elaborates this idea of Spirit to me further, drawing it out like I’m back in biology differentiating an amoeba from protozoa. There’s the obvious physical part; body, flesh, bones, DNA. Although Cristina Maria’s former career prepared her to come from the perspective of the mind, her new understanding is of the body’s deep experience of its own, at the cellular level. Guidance that would otherwise be blocked from your thoughts truly comes through in the body.
Then, there’s your soul, mind, and Spirit.
“Our Spirit is perfect,” she said, with particularly peaceful resolution. “Perfect. Like, everything is great. It’s pure light, it travels in a way that’s free and flowing, just ethereal.”
For some, the fact that Spirit takes you out of your body—and is definitely not flesh and bone—can seem scary.
“The soul is that bridge that brings you back to your Spirit when it’s out,” Cristina Maria said. “Sometimes your soul is responding to something—and ailments and chronic issues arise. My Spirit doesn’t really have access to me yet, fully. Its waiting for me to get all those things together. It’s saying, ‘I’m like here, hanging out, waiting for y’all to get it together and your soul do what it needs to do.’”
However, beautiful things happen when your soul is in working order.
“It helps you have a clear pathway to your Spirit, therefore you’re able to access parts of your soul that maybe have been lost and are asking to be fully resolved. My Spirit can really do its work with me, whatever its special gifts are in this human capacity,” she says.
Thankfully, Cristina Maria has some advice for how we can tune in, open up to guidance, and access this wealth of knowing potential.
Everyday, accessible ways to give your soul an opportunity to come through include sitting in silence, drinking a glass of water, meditating, taking long baths. She also mentioned the power of sitting and talking to whatever it is you call divine; she calls it prayer. When you do, memories, feelings, dreams, and deja vu may start to come through—connecting you with parts of yourself that may have been dormant.
The Medicine That Keeps Giving
An indescribably sacred element of Cristina Maria’s journey has been sitting with and now serving Ayahuasca in various ceremonies..
Strong, bitter, malty, and molasse-y—Ayahuasca isn’t something you take with a lemon and salt to wash down. Also regarded as the Grandmother, it’s real medicine, and tastes as such. Speaking about the way it’s viewed in society today makes her a little emotional—and she is very open about the medicine changing her life in a hugely positive way.
“The Grandmother opens up our mind and activates our inside DNA, and it give us beautiful insight to ourselves and all the realms that we are. And I’m saying that in the most generalist way because it can do so many things. An insight can look like shadow, light, visions, your body speaking,” she explains.
Cristina Maria’s first experience with Ayahuasca was in 2012, a few months before her sabbatical, and also when it was a much more quiet phenomenon. Back then, there were only ‘whispers’ of Ayahuasca in the States where she and friends participated in an all-night ceremony.
This introductory experience was a beautiful and life-changing one…and very much an affirmation (“I didn’t know what I was doing, but my soul was being called from the ancestors”). From Cristina Maria’s crystal-clear recollection and deep sense of reverence, I immediately feel transported to the crackling fire, where 30-plus people gathered from about 11:30 p.m. until the sun came up at 6 a.m. During this time, the sky opened up to Cristina Maria for one of the most faithful, grounded, free-spirited experiences of her life. Light yet anchored in the group, a luminescent energy opened up the realms for her.
“It was like, ‘hey, we’ve been waiting for you.’ And sounds, dialects were coming through that I didn’t understand at the time, I heard birds and chirps and started to talk like a bird. That’s now my name, Humming Bird Medicine,” she reminisces. She humorously imitates her longtime friend’s reaction: “She’s like yup, now she’s talking to the birds; known her for 20 years, never seen that one!”
Cristina Maria also experienced purging in the form of crying, as this major energetic wound healing took place.
And then, the music. A beautiful symphony of icaros (songs, sounds and guided messages channeled during Medicine work), high notes, loud pitches, drums, rattles, animals, guitar, and Medicine energy swirled around around the fire.
Since her initial experience, Cristina Maria has sat with the Grandmother Medicine perhaps 50 times. She sees the rising trendiness of Ayahuasca as many things—mentioning that trendy has the ability to bring something out quicker than people are maybe ready for, and to get into hands of people who don’t really understand it. Right now, Ayahuasca tends to sway from either the limelight or a demonized place. Although there’s now much more movement around the process of making it a safe outlet, it’s a sad experience for her to not be able to freely share about it in a way where it’s seen as a medicine versus a drug.
“We all reincarnated here as humans, and come from this precious land that’s gifted us with life, abundance, and nourishment. Ayahuasca has come to teach us how to be humans and stewards of this land while maintaining our connection to these faraway planets we come from; what a gift that is,” she says.
Though it may sound convoluted to some, she views this gift as truly practical and tangible. In her personal experience, it was like opening up a well of outpouring water as Ayahuasca helped her remember and return to parts of herself that were far away, not necessarily impacting her emotionally, yet very active.
“It’s like the medicine that keeps giving, that beautiful tree of life: A real experience you can live and work through and have in you to use every day.”
Cristina Maria likes to think about the Medicine coming into our society the way the indigenous people see it: as something very modest that opens you up and expands your heart from all sides, helping you proportionally evolve at your pace.
A Vision For The Future
Now that Cristina Maria is back in the States, her days look a little different from her Central America adventure—but are still incredibly guided by Spirit; each day is really planned around what it’s telling her.
As for her vision for the future, it’s centered around a compassionate world where people live in full harmony and love, from a space of freedom to express all aspects of themselves freely.
When I asked her to envision herself at 80 years old, a little lady, she took my question seriously, closing her eyes to truly reflect. A few moments later, a poetic outpouring; unsurprisingly, her answer is still focused on humanity at large.
“I’d hope that by 80, we’d all be living from our Spirit from the moment we locked eyes—it’d be instant. I want to help people live from love always, and to only emanate that out—and kindness and generosity—whether in bliss or the really deep lows, to help people feel golden, like the golden light that our Spirit is,” she said.
Her vision continues with the ability for people to sit with pain, both collectively and individually, and fully express it. In an ideal future, everyone can be seen for their truth, their essence, and be honored for it—all of our aspects, the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“If I can help people move through, discover, and love this unresolved pain, then I’ve lived a good life,” she says. “I pray I can help them love themselves throughout the process and be full of gratitude for this experience that caused the pain so they can discover the teachings that help us evolve and live from our Spirit, that infinite, everlasting part of us.”
About The Author
Hannah Chenoweth is a New York-based writer and editor. She loves reading, yoga, nature, travel, and will always be a proud Mountaineer and lover of all things WVU. You can follow her on Twitter at @hannahchen2.
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