M.A. alumna Clare Van Holm graduated with her M.A. in Religious Studies from GSU in 2016. Since then, she has spent time teaching Religious Studies at the university level, giving a special focus to online pedagogy. Most recently, she has established her own metaphysical business, helping people develop their own spiritual practice through workshops and one-on-one sessions. In this interview, we learn more about Clare and all of the amazing things she's been doing.
Please introduce yourself!
Hello! My name is Clare van Holm. I graduated from GSU’s Religious Studies Master's Program in 2016, where I focused mainly on pilgrimage, ritual theory, and digital pedagogy. After graduating, I taught within the department for a handful of years as an online Instructor, offering courses on Religion and Healing, Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and Ethnomedicine and Folk Healing. I also received a teaching award through CETL in 2021 for the research I conducted in the online iterations of the RELS2001 course, in which I evaluated the effects of small synchronistic online discussions (SSODS) in relation to concept clarity, student accountability, and peer connection within online learning environments.
I recently launched a metaphysical business, in which I guide folks in the process of crafting the foundations of spiritual practice through a framework of embodied ritual, healing relationship with the earth, and reconnection to ancestral ways. In addition to one-on-one support sessions, I also offer online classes, in-person workshops, and craft ritual jewelry. Much of my work balances my personal practice of European folk magick and the educational foundations in Religious Studies I received through Georgia State. You can check out my work at www.stillwaterceremonies.com and @stillwaterwitch on Instagram and tiktok!
Beyond my personal practice and business offerings, I’ve recently established a relationship with the nonprofit organization of the Nisenan Tribe, the Indigenous people on whose land I live. The United States government illegally revoked the Nevada City Rancheria’s Tribal recognition in the late 1960s, and their nonprofit California Heritage Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP) functions under the direction of the Nisenan Tribal Council to preserve Nisenan culture, support and advocate for the tribal community, and educate the broader public. In my volunteer work with CHIRP, we are in the beginning stages of producing online educational modules, a “story map” project that details significant cultural sites to the Nisenan people (informed by the work I did with the Religious Sounds Project and the ATLMaps project), as well as brochures for local Airbnbs to highlight Nisenan visibility on their ancestral lands.
Why did you choose to pursue a degree in Religious Studies?
As a daughter of classic California hippies, I spent a lot of my teenage years reading books like Siddhartha by Herman Hesse, watching movies like What the Bleep Do We Know, and attempting to learn to read Tarot or meditate. And while I may cringe a bit now at the fairly problematic New Age material I was consuming in my early years, my interest in all things Metaphysical - whether it be from a personal or academic perspective, was present from a really early age.
Knowing what I do now about my neurodivergence, religion was always a special interest of mine, and it easily translated to my experience in the university setting. The very first course I signed up for at UC Santa Cruz was called Psychology and Religion, and from the first lecture, I was absolutely hooked. From then on, I created an Individual Major and cobbled together courses from the departments of History, Arts and Visual Culture, and Psychology departments to create. I had a really hard time with the social aspects of college, but absolutely thrived from an academic perspective - I loved learning about the culture, mythos, and worldviews of different religious communities. During the spring of my junior year, I walked the Camino de Santiago, a 800-kilometer medieval pilgrimage route across Northern Spain, an experience that became one of the most meaningful of my personal life, but also inspired my undergraduate senior thesis.
After graduating with my bachelor's, I pivoted to teaching (another special interest of mine) and obtained credits in Early Childhood Education, and completed training for a Site Supervisor Permit. After a few years of classroom teaching and administrative experience in preschools, I intended to continue my path in ECE, but fate had different plans, and the program I intended to pursue ended. Thankfully, with the encouragement of my spouse, I explored the Master's degree in Religious Studies at Georgia State. It felt incredibly serendipitous to be able to continue my personal passion for Religious Studies and gain teaching experience at the college level, and one of the faculty - Dr. Bell - even led study abroad trips focused on Pilgrimage. The rest, as they say, is history.
How do you use your degree in your current field? What skills did you take from Religious Studies into the workplace?
It’s difficult to quantify the ways in which my experience at Georgia State informs my current life, simply because the skills and perspectives are so intrinsic to the work I do now. Of course, the easiest one to identify is the content itself - while I was associated with the department, I expressed particular interest in American Metaphysical religion, mainly because I was learning about my specific cultural worldview that, up until that point, had been presented to me as ahistorical and universal.
One of the most influential books I read was Courtney Bender’s The New Metaphysicals in Dr. Bassett’s seminar course my first semester, and I had many interesting conversations with Dr Herman about the particular quirks of the Spiritual-But-Not-Religious community. My exploration into New Age trends went deeper as I researched and prepared content for the Religion and Healing courses I taught as an Instructor. I also cannot understate the influence of BIPOC leaders’ calls to decolonize all aspects of our lives - personal, political, educational, and spiritual - in ensuring that I understood the ways in which these social norms I had inherited were culturally appropriative and continuing to perpetuate violence.
The education I received through Georgia State informed me of the socio-historical, cultural, economic, and political contexts I needed to better understand our world, but it also profoundly affected my personal practice. It may sound a bit dramatic, but the deconstruction of my worldview (that needed to happen, but also was likely not the explicit intent of the department) profoundly affected my up-until-that-point unexamined spiritual worldview. It took years for me to pause, re-evaluate, and better understand my practices and how to move forward. And now I teach other folks from my experience - both in how to engage in a more decolonized practice, one that comes from their own ancestors and cultural lineage (rather than appropriating or borrowing from other cultures) and one that offers meaning-making through ritual embodiment and connection to the earth.
In my current work, I continue to first and foremost identify as an educator. While my special interest in pedagogy (the method and practice of how we teach) existed before entering the Master's Program in Religious Studies, the skills I learned during my experience through GRA work, Writing Across the Curriculum consulting, GTA teaching experience, and the “Mastering Online Teaching” certification deeply influence how I engage and present the content with which I currently engage. Because of the quality of teaching that I continue to engage in, I feel as though I am “of it, but not in it” - I’m just teaching to a metaphysical audience, rather than a secular college classroom.
And of course, this approach extends the educational work I’m beginning with CHIRP and the Nisenan tribe. Because of the skills and approaches I honed at Georgia State, I’ll be able to assist and amplify the visibility and message of the Nisenan people, to students across California, to government agencies, to other non-profit organizations, and to community members interested in educating themselves and entering into a more reciprocal relationship with the Indigenous peoples of this land.
From a more applied perspective, the technological skills and digital competency I received through my education at Georgia State have been incredibly valuable in running my business.
I want to note that, during my graduate career, Dr. Bassett, Dr. McClymond, and Dr. Barzegar all made significant efforts to ensure that every course (or GRA assignments) integrated applied skills within our academic work and theoretical discussions. I graduated with skills that I use nearly every day, including knowledge on how to create websites, navigate LMS (learning management systems) platforms, write content and copyedit for multiple mediums, conduct qualitative and oral history interviews, create map layers within GoogleWorld, and the list goes on. Again, it’s difficult to quantify just how helpful my experience within the department has been, simply because those skills are so interwoven with the work I continue to engage in.
Do you have any advice for current or future students who are thinking of majoring in Religious Studies?
While the department and faculty will provide you with solid foundations in your master's education, much of the program will be what you make it. I feel as though I had an incredibly successful experience as a graduate student, but I also hustled and sought out as many opportunities as I possibly could. I gained skills through multiple GRA and GTA opportunities, worked as a Writing Across the Curriculum consultant, sought assistantships with other departments and CETL, and generally volunteered or inserted myself in interesting and exciting projects across the university.
These extracurriculars both improved my financial situation, supported my networking within Religious Studies and across university departments, and allowed me access to really interesting and satisfying projects. Yes, following a traditional route and taking the minimum courses will still result in proficiency and a satisfactory experience, but the more effort you take over your educational experience, the more profound an experience you’ll have. (I also had the privilege of financial stability and few outside demands on my time, so take these statements with a large grain of salt).
I also strongly suggest that you slow down and take advantage of being back in school! I consider myself a lifelong learner, and some of the best years of my life have been centered around university life. If you have the privilege to attend graduate school full-time, especially if you have funding through a scholarship at GRA/GTA assignments, take as many classes as you can. When I was a student, I felt an internal rush to complete the required coursework so that I could focus on my thesis topic (Alternate Rituals on the Camino De Santiago pilgrimage route). Reflecting back, I wish I had taken more course offerings. Even now, I wish I could enroll in university simply because I enjoy the content. I feel a sense of regret knowing that I had the opportunity to learn more but rushed through it just because I could.
What are some of your other interests or hobbies? What are you reading, watching, and listening to?
The lovely thing about running a witchy business is that I get to explore my passions and share them with others - which is incredibly satisfying work. The current workshops I’m curating focus on the topics of “Seasons and Cycles: Attuning to the Rhythms of the Earth”; “Boundaries and Energetic Hygiene”; “Folk Magick: The Spirituality of Day to Day Living”; and “Hearth Magick: Enchanting Your Home”.
I’ve also spent the last few years healing my relationship to the earth. During the early stages of the pandemic (while I was still living in New Orleans), I befriended the neighborhood witches, who were also local elementary school garden teachers. They taught me how to keep chickens, inspired me to more fully invest in my vegetable and flower garden, and recommended a number of resources on urban homesteading (Urban Homestead: Heirloom Skills for Sustainable Living by Kaplan and Blume, as well as Farming While Black: SoulFire Farm’s Practical Guide to Liberation on the Land by Leah Penniman are both excellent texts). Now that I’m located back in my hometown of Sacramento, California, I’ve been cultivating a beautiful garden and working towards planting more native and pollinator-friendly plants. My partner and I are also exploring a 5-year plan to move into a community living on the land, which has been an exciting potential development for our family.
Aside from more magickal topics, I’ve been focused on exploring Neurodivergency in adults, particularly in late-diagnosed women and AFAB folks. In the past year, I have come to terms with my own neurodivergence, and learning more about how my brain works has been profoundly meaningful and affirming. I’m currently reading Unmasking Autism by Dr. Devon Price and continuing to examine and contextualize the particular brain-body-emotional experiences I’ve managed my whole life, but never quite understood. Somatic-based practices and polyvagal theory have also been a related special-interest, and have been profoundly healing in my journey of befriending my body and nervous system over the past two years.