The "Sisters" Defying Expectations About What Nuns Are

Photo: Shaughn and John
It's not every day you see a woman in a nun's habit lighting up.

But for the Sisters of the Valley, two women living in California's Central Valley, cultivating (and sometimes smoking) pot is perfectly normal.

The "sisters," who aren't affiliated with the Catholic Church or any existing orders of nuns, grow medical marijuana on their land in Merced, CA. The state is one of more than 20 that have legalized weed for medicinal use.

The forms of marijuana Sister Kate and Sister Darcy grow contain large amounts of cannabidiols (CBD), and the duo claims that their products are virtually free of THC, which gives the feeling of being high. The sisters use the plants to create salves and lotions.

Some Catholic nuns aren't pleased with the Sisters of the Valley. Sister Theresa Aletheia Noble, a nun and member of the Daughters of St. Paul, wrote about wanting the "sisters" to "give up their schtick" on Aleteia, a Catholic news website.

Los Angeles-based photographers Shaughn Crawford and John DuBois visited Sister Kate and Sister Darcy, who are not related, to see what the marijuana salve-making process was really like, after seeing a story about them on the news. All of the photos were shot in one day at the sisters' home.

Ahead, Crawford and DuBois' behind-the-scenes portraits of Sister Kate and Sister Darcy at work creating their pot-infused products.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"Some people kind of have expectations about what nuns are — who they are, and what they do, and that kind of thing… I don't think we realized how critical other people are of them, and the expectations on them to be what Catholic nuns are," DuBois told Refinery29. "But they were really candid about it… They didn't see any reason why there was a conflict there, even if other people do."

Caption: "The Sisters [of the Valley] use white sage/holy sage to make smudgesticks used for blessings, for cleansings, and for ceremonies. Many ancient civilizations embraced the burning of white sage as a means of maintaining body and soul health in a household, or at a gathering."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
The sisters believe they meet the requirement for being nuns, even though they aren't affiliated with the church. "We live together, we pray together, we work together, and we make lifetime vows," they told Crawford and Dubois. "We are activists who are on a mission to heal the world."

"They're really committed to the rituals of their spiritual beliefs. And they also have a commitment to helping people," DuBois added.

Caption: The Sisters' products are made with high CBD strains of the cannabis plant, strains developed to have virtually no THC.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"It's not really at all about making money, even though that is part of what they do," DuBois said. "It's about getting people the medicine they need, and finding new ways of helping people get the treatment that they need."

Caption: The Sisters work side-by-side in their kitchen, where they produce their CBD Salve. "The public has been very experimental with this multipurpose topical, and found an amazing number of ways it alleviates suffering and promotes health."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"We just systematically went through the house and made sure we got detailed shots of all the things that told the story and painted a picture of who they are, and what they do," DuBois said.

Caption: Skullcap (Scutellaria Lateriflora) is prepared from fresh, dried, skullcap flowers, and 150-proof grain alcohol. The medicines are set on the new moon. The bottles are turned and saged daily during the moon cycle — bottled on the full moon.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"If there is some way that what they make can help someone's pain, or discomfort, or nausea, they're very much excited about the idea of being able to help people in that way," DuBois said. "And they talk about that a lot."

Caption: Sister Kate straining out cannabis. "The mixture is cooked at very low temperatures, set on the new moon, and bottled under the full moon."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"They have these rituals — they'll do prayer ceremonies, and they'll burn sage and bless the house," he said. "And they'll do all their processes by the cycle of the moon."

Caption: The Sisters' spiritual practices support the process of making medicine. "We respect the breadth and depth of the gifts of Mother Earth, working to bridge the gap between her and her suffering people."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
DuBois said the sisters "talked a lot about social injustice, about the police, and the problems with case corruption, and politics, and the problems with the political system, and their grievances with it."

"They're very outspoken about all these different things that they're really passionate about," he said.

Caption: Bags of cannabis are stored in a refrigerator in the Sisters' garage.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"They do the process of making the salve by the cycles of the moon," DuBois explained. "They have this schedule that lines up with the cycles of the moon, and they stick to that schedule."

Caption: The all-organic/all-natural/food-grade ingredients of this salve include CBD plant, coconut oil, vitamin E oil, lavender oil, calendula oil, and beeswax.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
While the sisters don't have a problem with recreational pot use, they don't consider themselves advocates on the issue, either.

"What they focus on is medical marijuana and using cannabis for healing," DuBois said.

Caption: Cannabis plant is boiled in a Crock-Pot as part of the process of making a salve.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
DuBois told Refinery29 that the image of Sister Darcy smoking was inspired by an old Victorian photo of a woman in a rocking chair holding a drink. "That's definitely one of our favorites," he said.

Caption: Sister Darcy exhales smoke from a joint. "Young women are no longer willing to make a lifetime vow of both celibacy and obedience to a male-dominated and male-run enterprise. We are New Age, anarchist, activist nuns who support ourselves by making and selling healing products."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"They are very spiritual in nature, and when you talk to them, it's very apparent," DuBois said.

Caption: Sister Kate and Sister Darcy. "We have no evangelical word to spread, other than the good word of the healing powers of cannabis."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
DuBois said the sisters "recognize that there's pushback from certain parts of society."

"They're still up against those rules and restrictions," he said.

Caption: Sister Kate pours hot CBD Salve into jars. "There is much unknown about the health benefits of the cannabis plant, as a result of 75 years of prohibition. Now that the researchers are all coming out of the closet to proclaim its benefits, people are joining the greatest experiment in the history of our time together here on planet Earth."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"They're just really sweet, transparent women," he explained. "They're really open about what they do."

Caption: Sister Kate and Sister Darcy tending to their cannabis plants in the garage of their home in Merced, CA. "We are a New Age order of activist Sisters, with a private organization that is 100% women founded and women-run, unaffiliated with contemporary (traditional) religions."
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"I think there's a lot of people out there who have a negative impression of them based on nothing, based on this idea of what they think a nun should be, and why it's important to be associated with the Catholic Church, when, really, the nuns don't draw a distinction there," DuBois added.

Caption: CBD Salve in jars.
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Photo: Shaughn and John
"They're really just women who have decided to live their lives a certain way and follow a certain set of rules. And, along with those rules, they've adopted some of the iconography of what Catholic nuns do," Dubois said. "Really, what they're doing is just living a peaceful life… For people on the outside to be critical of that because it doesn't fall inside their preconceived idea of what a nun is, to me, just seems unfair."

Caption: Sister Kate pours tinctures into bottles to be sold through their online store."We follow ancient traditions in making our products; all the medicines are hand-made by the women."