Parts of our healing and enlightenment need community – this is the echo that made its way to me through Umsebenzi WeThongo, an African spiritual retreat that was beautifully organised and led by Makhosi Noentla Khumalo who is a medicine woman, ancestral diviner and healer.
I am protective of my spiritual journey and cautious about who I allow to hold space for me through it; but I do have blind spots, there are things I don’t know and I admit that most times I yearn for comfort from other human beings. Whether my independent self likes it or not, I need other people in my journey and sometimes it is those who are completely different from me that will have the remedy and teachings that my life needs. This is the truthful reflection that Umsebenzi WeThongo birthed and settled in me. The retreat was a haven for me to experience the power and safety of communal healing and elevation, kindly banishing the discomforts I held onto about letting other people into my unravelling.
It fittingly took place between the mountain range of Magaliesburg, where nature’s innocence can be experienced vividly. My girl and I were fortunate to arrive early enough to take in the cosy environment long before the retreat began. The temple, artefacts, mountain views, greenery, clear sky and intentional organisation of the space and its structures all ignited a keen will to pour myself out and in. It was clear that we were in the palm of love’s hand, and it whispered a promise to nurture us throughout the weekend.
Everybody that attended the retreat came with the pure intention of receiving the enlightenment and care that Makhosi Noentla courageously offered and gracefully delivered. This is what made the experience even more of a blessing. We all brought warmth and light to the space in different ways and filled each other’s cups; our differences and similarities didn’t matter, it was our hearts that did.
Makhosi Noentla advised us to connect with our ancestors ahead of the retreat to set our personal intentions and ask for their guidance and support. We were also advised to fast so that our bodies would be ready for the work and the eating plan that we would be on during the retreat. It was easy to adjust to the weekend’s clean diet; the meals were delicious, prepared with care outdoors and sufficiently nourishing.
I know that it was the preparations I did and the connections I made with my spirits that made this retreat that much more of a gift. I received everything that I wanted to receive, along with things I didn’t know that I needed. Some of us were fully fledged healers and spiritual workers, others were individuals going through personal awakenings. No matter what anybody’s journey looked like, there was something for everyone to receive. There was space for one to be a teacher and space for one to be a student; space for one to lead and space for one to be guided.
The retreat started off with a warm welcome ceremony to invite and acknowledge the ancestors. Makhosi Noentla summoned and welcomed her own ancestors, and then went on to offer the same respectful courtesy to all of us as individuals and the ancestors that we walk with. After formally welcoming and honouring the spirits, Makhosi gave us an opportunity to introduce ourselves. Stories about who we are and why we came to the retreat flowed around the intimate circle that we had formed in the temple. Our reasons varied, but the common thing was that we had all come to search for, and collect, more of ourselves. The welcome ceremony then turned into a ‘spiritual turn up’ with drumming, whistles, stomping, and singing for the rest of the night – it was beautiful! What we would each journey into for the rest of the weekend was opened with all that honour and loud celebration. A light and love filled intention had been set and grounded, and this was truly the energy that carried us throughout the retreat.
Day two was all about self-work. It started off with a relaxing meditation session to settle and prepare us for the activities of the day which would include storytelling, heart work, a session on mindfulness and perhaps the most eventful activity of them all, the mushroom ceremony. We were gently led through every session and everyone’s story was shown genuine love and respect. It was safe.
The mushroom experience was carefully arranged to ensure that we could handle whatever we would experience. Gogo Nomadlozi, a Sangoma who is well versed on the nutritional fundamentals of healing, led us through the mushroom journey. She patiently counselled and empowered us so that we could healthily navigate anything that the medicine would trigger in the mind, body and soul.
It was my first-time having mushrooms, so I was incredibly anxious about going through with it; but Gogo Nomadlozi’s counselling settled me and I was able to calmly go through every part of the medicine’s trip holding her words. I should also mention that I made time to connect with my guides before the mushroom session so that they would also be involved in carrying me through it. All I will tell you for now is that the mushroom journey has changed my life completely, in the most beautiful way.
My highlight of the third and final day was our hike through a raw forest that took us to the enchanting waterfall that we would cleanse in. We had to be led through the forest by one of the facilitators of the retreat because it is an unmarked piece of land that is not run by a capitalist system, thankfully. The adventurer in me loved experiencing its raw nature and rocky terrains (If you want to make my soul happy, take me to a real forest please!). After a reasonably long and somewhat turbulent walk we arrived at the sacred waters. We honoured the water spirits with offerings and chants before going in; the waterfall was enclosed between the massive mountain, caves and large rocks – it looked like mother nature was intentionally protecting her offspring.
I believe that everything that we had each been through during our time at the retreat is what made the waters even more welcoming of us. Makhosi Noentla kindly asked the Sangomas that were present to assist in leading this sacred bath. It was an honour to work with the other healers in carrying out the cleansing ritual – this was another powerful display of communal healing and it was fulfilling to feel the ancestors approve of what we were all doing together.
While the retreat had a set programme and schedule, there was ample room and freedom for us to have time to ourselves and experience the place and everybody else in our own way. I think that’s an important factor for any spiritual retreat to have – freedom. Even though each session had an order, all of them were free flowing. I didn’t feel like I was in a formal class, which made it easy and comfortable to offer my full attention. This is important for me to highlight because my concentration span is the pits. In this place it was easy, and a pleasure, to be present.
What the current generation calls ‘New Age spirituality’ has gained a controversial reputation and is often subjected to harsh criticism, Umsebenzi WeThongo was graceful evidence that the ‘New Age spirituality’ is medicinal, and what’s great is that it is inclusive and more freely seen. I say this biting my tongue because I’m not sure about this ‘New Age spirituality’ term– we are living out what has always existed using the resources that we have today while navigating the circumstances that we face today. But that’s a story for another day.
I’m grateful to Makhosi Noentla and her beloved ancestors for this experience that literally changed my life and propelled the evolution I was already going through. I’m also grateful to everyone that attended and contributed to the pure love that we were inside of throughout the weekend. Umsebenzi WeThongo was like a guiding star that led me to the full circle of my season. On a personal level I was healed and enlightened. As a healer, I was groomed.