Huichol girl with a ceremonial rattle

Huichol Pilgrimage and Ceremony

How do you celebrate your life? How do you honor this radiantly beautiful Mother Earth that we call home?

For the Huichol Indians — a small tribe of around 15,000 who live in the Sierra Madre Mountains of central-western Mexico, these are easy questions to answer. For them, shamanism is a way of being — the practice of honoring all life and remembering how we relate to the world around us through ceremony, prayer and pilgrimage.

The Huichols go on pilgrimage to sacred places of power in nature. They go to pray and honor the earth, and to honor the spirit of those places of power. As humans, it is our responsibility to pray and make pilgrimages. We can help to heal Mother Earth and ourselves through this ancient tradition of pilgrimage. The Huichols say that we are surrounded by the Ancient Ones, and that it is our responsibility to stay connected with them. All places of power – kakuyari – are dreaming gods, dreaming goddesses. By connecting to the spirit of a mountain or a lake for example, we open ourselves to the power and energy (the kupuri) of that place, bringing unity and harmony into our own lives and that of our communities. And, with our prayer offerings, we in turn give love and respect back to the earth. This reciprocal interaction creates a sacred circle, what the Huichols call a nierikaThis helps us to develop more fully the connection between our hearts and the natural world, and gives our lives meaning filled with strength, healing, and love.

As the Huichols believe it is important for people to go to sacred places of power, I have led many people on spiritual journeys all over the world. Every year we go to Mt. Shasta, one of the most spectacular places of power in North America.
We go to Alaska, where our ceremonial chanting and dancing is answered by the calls of whales and eagles circling. We go to Grandmother Ocean, to various hot springs and other special places. In Europe we travel to Mt. Blanc, the tallest mountain on the European continent, and to Crete, the birthplace of Western civilization, and a place filled with power. While there, we always make ceremonies to honor the spirit of the place and tap into the life force Mother Earth has to offer at each one of these special locations.

Huichol life is a continuous cycle of ritual and ceremony designed to help them stay in touch with the Ancient Ones. In making these ceremonies, they are celebrating their lives and the life of all nature. During ceremony, with their drumming and chanting, the Huichols invite the spirits to come into the circle to be with them. The shamans guide the people through the doorway between the worlds, once again helping to empower them and their families to achieve lives of balance and integrity, and to help the universe stay in balance as well.

The Huichols say that human beings are in the middle, between the earth and the sky, and that we are mirrors of the gods. You don’t necessarily have to make special ceremonies like the Huichol do in order to connect your heart, your spirit with the natural world. But you can celebrate your lives with humbleness; celebrate the life of nature all around you. Remember and honor the sacredness within you, within each living thing. Go out and honor the sunrise and the sunset. Pray to the four directions. Honor each one of the seasons. Doing these things helps us to become one with the spirit. When we open our hearts to the beauty all around us, when we stay aware and present in the moment, we can truly connect to the spirit of all creation; we have the possibility of transforming ourselves.

The return of light. Finding hope and life.

Remembering to Live

Over and over again I have heard in the last months what a difficult winter this has been  for people.  It certainly was for me with the loss of a close loved one and a serious physical injury. At times it felt as if I was holding on by a thread, or drowning in a stormy sea. I got so lost in this turbulent time that I could hardly believe in the change of season, the coming of spring and return of the light.

Upon arriving in Crete the depth of my depletion became startlingly apparent. I realized I had lost consiousness when singing “Wani Wachi Elo”, no longer sure if I really wanted to live. The land and sea were quickly there to love and restore my confidence in life. Tate Hara Mara was my constant companion, comforting me with her ocean sounds. She calmed me, was angry, informative. During my swims she rocked me like a baby, bouying me up in her soothing, saline arms, washing me clean, delivering me fresh to begin again with eyes open, to take in the beauty of Spring blosoming  all around me. Each morning I would go to her and listen with my heart to what she had to share, to take in the colors of sunrise so I could wake up. I would go to the blow hole so that I might hear her breath and recalibrate my breathing to go on. Tate Yurinaka was so present with her loving healing vibration that I could sleep no more than 4–5 hours a night. The land of Crete is definitely still alive!  Leaving this magical place is always hard. During the last few days of our stay, Ecatewari, Goddess of Wind, paid us a strong visit, blowing the winds of change across the waters, stirring things up, like any good eagle mother, booting us out of the nest. I found myself during the bus ride to the airport praying for rain, for Crete’s fertility and  for fertility in my life. As rain drops appear I realize, “Oh Great Spirit I once again want to live!” Thank you for my life! Thank you ancient ones for listening!

Patiently walking over a fallen log over a river.

Letting Go of the Now

It seems to me that, as Americans, we want everything NOW. Shamanism, however, has taught me patience and the investment in learning is paying off with big returns. True, I knew that from the start my path in Shamanism would be that of slow and steady growth. I had to get accustomed to the gradual process of learning but I genuinely appreciate both the grounding and visionary aspects of the steady growth. Brant has taught me to go up with my energy; to the upper world. The steady process of growth — with my heart guiding me upwards — has made me a happier and wiser man. I don’t think wisdom comes easily, no doubt, there is work involved. It has occurred to me that it would be nice and lazy-like to simply enjoy the comforts of material wealth and the fruits of modern society without seeking higher learning. Sure, I wouldn’t need to make an effort… but I’m not sure if I would feel fulfilled as an individual. More than that, sheer intellectual curiosity drives me towards the answers to questions about the nature of this world and the upper world.

Maybe one of the greatest rewards of Shamanism is clarity. Modern life allows us financial, practical, psychological, physiological, theological, phenomenological, epistemological, and other philosophical perspectives on our lives. Yet, Shamanism provides its own way of viewing and living reality — one that I find is the most primordial and presuppositionless of any that I have found. The old Shaman in the Huichol villages have such incredible depth and mental clarity…. the nonverbal communication is incredible. Brant has shown me this world and opened the doors to levels of understanding I would not have otherwise had access to.

Reflections of a Journey In - Woman healing her depression

Reflections of a Journey Within

I woke up gasping for breath my heart pounding.  A heavy weight sitting on my chest.  These words ringing in my ears, “Get Brant!”  This dream as real as the surroundings of my bedroom.  It is February 17, 2008.  What I remember before being startled awake was the end of a dream in which three rectangular black shapes move through the air toward me.  One, closer than the others begins to form into the shape of an anvil and I know it will land on my chest and sink into me.

I have studied dreams for over twenty years and do not take them lightly.  I thought I might be in actual physical danger including the possibility of a heart attack.  Brant Secunda was also in the dream.  The fear of the black anvil started in the dream and continued upon awaking.  I could not stop this thing from coming into me.

That morning on my way to work I called Dance of the Deer Foundation.  I have been attending workshops offered by Brant Secunda, a Huichol shaman, for several years.  I especially appreciated Brant as my teacher, the Huichols honoring of dreams, and all of the work that the foundation does to support the wonderful Huichol tradition. Brant responded that it was not a heart attack but rather a spiritual crisis.  There were some very specific suggestions about what would help at that moment.   Of course, I did them.

Three months later I found I was eating everything in sight, especially sugar, sitting on my couch watching TV with no energy or enthusiasm, only going to work and home again.  A friend of mine, who is a teacher and a counselor, thought it might be depression and suggested I make an appointment with my medical doctor. I did.  Her diagnosis: severe depression.  Her solution: medication.

I suddenly saw years of moving in and out of depression and how unbelievably tired of it all I was.  I truly did want out.  I finally recognized the toll that this pattern had taken on my physical, psychological and spiritual body.  I understood that I had been spending over half of my life trying to pull myself out of the depression and negativity that surrounded me.  Like living in an unbelievably thick fog bank.

I called Dance of the Deer again, fearing that the only way out would be drugs, which I had never taken and did not want to take now.  It would be three weeks until the upcoming Dance of Deer retreat in Alaska and I was asked if I could wait until after that retreat before taking any medication. I vowed to hold out until then. For the first time I remembered the dream from February and the spiritual crisis.  Was this what the dream was trying to get to my attention? How could I, by myself, change?  I was too depressed and exhausted to even think about it.

Then the magical wild world of the Alaska retreat came.  As soon as I set foot on that land I began to sink into it.  Then the quiet, peace, calm, and beautiful practice of the Huichol traditions began.  The whale, eagle, and even raven songs floating around me. The beautiful and loving Dance of the Deer community and especially for me, the children.  Slowly, I began to breathe again.  It felt as if I had been holding my breath for months or maybe even a lifetime. I returned home much better.  As the days and images began to fade, I wondered, had a shift actually happened?  Doubts returned.  I was thankful that the time for the Dance of the Deer Mt. Shasta retreat would be coming up soon.

As I arrived at Mt. Shasta I saw the mountain outlined in blue smoke and the air filled with left over haze from a huge forest fire that had recently been in that area.  I felt a deep sadness, not to see much of Shasta or the beautiful snow.  An inner shadow reflecting my own darkness and a fear that the depression might not be completely gone.

And then once again; prayer, song, dancing and the beautiful Dance of the Deer community arising.  I settled into the depth of the land, the Huichol tradition and the majesty of that healing mountain.  Brant’s teachings, the daily exercise, healthy food, the kind and loving people touched me deeply.  With each breath I began to relax and let go.  I knew I was better but should I stay longer and if so why?

Soon this shorter introductory time would end and another longer time would start.  What should I do?  We were sent out by Brant to sit, be still and just be with the mountain.  This is one of my favorites among many of the wonderful exercises that Brant teaches us.   I knew as I connected with Shasta that I was better, but I also got a sense that there was something more, something not quite finished yet. I decided to stay for the longer session.  It was a pivotal decision.

The next ten days would take me back to the mountain twice more.  The second time for an extended stay.  What a rare opportunity.  As I sat there on the mountain with my back against a large boulder, a creek running near by, the peak directly in front of me, I felt different, a sense of wholeness that I had never experienced before.  I watched the sun, clouds, light, and wind change and flow in front of me.  I felt Brant’s presence and the years of the many gatherings on this mountain.  I remembered all of the ancient ones who had been there before and Brant’s words to not forget the power and gifts of this mountain.  I felt as if I was on holy ground.

I know that staying for the longer group grounded and rooted the seeds of healing from depression, which had begun in Alaska and the beginning group time of Mt. Shasta. That in this process of staying I had been given the gift of a loving and caring community, something I desperately needed.  I had been given the strength and courage to change my life in small yet powerful ways.  I had been given the support of laughter, encouragement, and honesty so that I could actually believe my life could be different.

I am so thankful to everyone, but especially, to Brant, my teacher for his kindness, patience, wisdom and ability to hold onto his commitment to bring these teachings of the Huichol traditions into our Western world.  To the Dance of the Deer community who work so hard to show us what a Western Huichol community looks and feels like.

Each morning when I pray I give thanks for my life.  Such a simple thing and yet each time it brings me to deep humility and tears.  Brant, Nico, Barbara, Dance of the Deer, Huichols, Mt. Shasta, Alaska — I thank you for my life.

Coming together at Mount Shasta to build a long lasting powerful spiritual community.

Building a Spiritual Community

Brant takes people to Mount Shasta annually to do ceremony, learn the traditions of the Huichols, and to go on pilgrimage to the sacred and magnificent mountain, Mount Shasta.  All the participants build a spiritual community for the duration of our visit at the base of the mountain.  We sit in circle in a pristine meadow, we learn the ancient exercises and practices that help us feel the powers of the four directions, experience the truth in the fire, water, earth and air, we celebrate life in the circle when we dance the Huichol Deer Dance and pray for our lives and the lives of all living things.  What is unique about Brant Secunda’s seminars is that you are in nature experiencing genuine Huichol Indian traditions as they have existed for thousands of years.  I feel deeply grateful that I am able to bring my children to the Dance of the Deer’s spiritual retreats, and they can learn and feel and see and dance in the circle of the Huichol traditions.  There is nothing more fulfilling for them to connect with nature and learn how to honor life in this way.  I look forward to sharing this beautiful path with my family for many years to come.


Ceremonial Traditions

The Huichol way of life is rich with ceremonial practices. There are specific ceremonies for the four seasons, which are intended to bring balance and harmony to each individual, the community and all of life. The ceremonies are a time for the people to come together and focus on the spirit world, this normally hidden universe that runs parallel to our world. The shamans work to bridge these two worlds in order to bring “kupuri” or life force into the bodies and souls of the people. The Huichol say that this in turn imparts good health and good luck to all.

One of the most important of the Huichol ceremonies is the “Dance of the Deer.” This ceremony offers the chance for people to dance their prayers into the altar of Mother Earth. It is also a way to connect with the Deer Spirit, probably the most important of the Huichol animal powers. The deer is seen as an elder brother, a guide, which the shamans use to navigate the spirit realm and also for healing. In the Huichol mythology, the gods and goddesses taught the deer in ancient times. He was the first student of shamanism, the first to learn the secrets of the original shaman, Grandfather Fire. It I because of this that the deer is so revered and such an integral part of Huichol ceremonial practice.