Katy Koontz: You grew up in a
Pentecostal church. How did you find
Iyanla Vanzant: I was in a bookstore
in New York City, and I got hit in the
head with This Thing Called You by
KK: It just fell off the shelf?
IV: Yes, so I began to investigate. I
read Spiritual Economics by Unity
minister Eric Butterworth and went
to his lectures at Avery Fisher Hall
in New York, where I learned about
Charles Fillmore and other teachers.
I vibrated more toward Unity than
Religious Science at first because it
had more references to the Bible.
KK: If you came from a Pentecostal
background, how did this attract you?
IV: Yoruba (an ethnic group mostly
in Nigeria) is my matriarchal lineage,
so I was raised understanding my
relationship to the Creator. The
grandmother I grew up with, my
father’s mother who took me to
the Pentecostal church, was Native
American. She never let her culture
go but she hid it because it wasn’t
acceptable in the church to talk about
Father/Mother God or to recognize
Mother Earth or nature spirits. It
certainly wasn’t acceptable to do
As soon as I turned 16 or 17, and
no one could force me to go to church
anymore, I stopped going. I always
knew that wasn’t how I wanted to
engage with God. African culture and
Native American culture don’t think
in terms of religion. Their spirituality
is incorporated into everyday living.
When I bumped into New Thought,
those teachings aligned with what
I knew as a Native American and
felt as an African. I found in Unity a
philosophy that made sense to me as
opposed to being taught I was going
to hell for everything, even for eating
chicken the wrong way.
KK: You were already a Yoruba
priestess by the time you became a
New Thought minister, right?
IV: Right. When you’re raised Yoruba,
the elder council speaks into your life,
into your soul, and into your spirit. It
was always known that I would be a
healer. So I went to nursing school …
for one day.
KK: One day?
IV: I saw a fetal pig in a jar and asked,
“Is there going to come a time when
me and that pig have to be introduced
to one another?” They told me yes,
and I never went back. Dissecting
a frog was bad enough. I could not
dissect a pig.
KK: Iyanla means “great mother.” Was
that chosen for you?
IV: Yes. Both traditional African and
Native American cultures believe that
your name is your nature—it speaks
to the mission, purpose, or energy
of your spirit. So people are named
to highlight, call forward, support,
and encourage their soul’s purpose
and mission. When I was initiated as
a Yoruba priestess 35 years ago, they
changed my name. Mothers are the
first teachers we have, and mothers
nurture, beautify, support, and affirm.
From a broader perspective that’s
exactly what I do in my work.
KK: I’ve read that you are clairaudient
but I haven’t heard you talk about
it much. Have you always been
IV: Yes, as a young child, I would
speak what I heard clairaudiently—I
could hear what was not said but
was thought or felt—and it got me
in a lot of trouble. I also had very
vivid dreams and told everybody
about them. Whatever I dreamt
would happen within days. My
grandmother decided I was evil, I
was the devil.
KK: The same grandmother who was
IV: Yes, because I would speak about
those things to anybody, and rather
than teach me how to monitor that
gift and set appropriate boundaries
for it, she decided it was better to
dismiss it altogether. I eventually
learned how to present it and how
to monitor it, and now I use it in my
work. It’s part of who I am.
KK: In your latest book, Get Over It!,
you say that when we learn to change
our dominant negative thought
patterns, we change our lives. No
matter how tempting it may be to feel
victimized, blaming other people or
circumstances, all we really have to do
is shift our perspective.
IV: Absolutely. If it’s in your
world, it’s there either by conscious,
unconscious, or energetic invitation.
Conscious invitation means that you
actually thought it and called it in.
Unconscious invitation means that
you’re thinking it but you don’t know
you’re thinking it. And energetic
invitation means that what you
think and how you think creates a
vibrational energy around you that
calls things to you. So many of us
are totally unaware of our dominant
negative thought patterns because
they are unconscious. We don’t realize
what we’re inviting to us.