Sacred Journey Mt. Shasta

Effective Tools of Communication

Shamanism offers important and effective tools of communication. Based on animism, the attribution of a soul to all living creatures and the earth, Huichol shamanism is a fully developed system of active participation and interaction with our inner world and the outer environment. In practical terms, I find this adds an element of wonderment and excitement to life.

Shamanic techniques provide an opportunity to understand and embrace specific natural events. Everything from visiting a place of natural beauty, to spotting a whale or bird watching, all have opportunities to brighten one’s spirit. When I see a red tail hawk, I have learned how to embrace and feel its presence. More than this, Huichol shamanism informs me of the specific place and power of that bird in the natural order. In this way, my experiences with red shouldered hawks is very different than that with peregrine falcons or kites.

The same is true for experiences with waterfalls versus great mountains. Each place has its own power, sounds and songs. Huichol shamanism opens a door through which I can connect with the intrinsic power of the world around me. Through this connectedness, I have the opportunity to be in the moment more fully.

There is an intellectual component to Huichol shamanism wherein the significance of each natural occurrence bears an exact meaning. I don’t always pick up on that component of my experience immediately but Huichol shamanism allows some breathing room. Huichol shamanism teaches that memory is sacred. There is no rush and I have a lifetime to reflect on my experiences to learn from them. That said, traditional Huichol practices often allow me to directly access a more powerful and vibrant aspect of my being in the moment. This is an immediate and refreshing experience.

Spring Blossoms of the Soul

The Power of Springtime

In the springtime, the Earth is waking up from her dream and everything bursts forth to grow. Think about the flowers and trees, how they awaken and come back to life in the spring. The rains fertilize Mother Earth and help the process of spring evolve. Water also fertilizes the hearts of humans causing the flower of the heart, the “tutu” to open, so we can become wiser and more beautiful. Our heart is dormant during the winter like everything in nature – resting. This is a good thing. It is being charged up to awaken and arise in the spring; as the earth is waking up, we too, wake up.

Spring brings back the power of light. Light, the relationship of the sun to the earth, is what helps define the seasons. Light has the effect of awakening both the Earth and people. The sun gives light to the earth. Light activates chemicals that promote love. Love is the power of springtime, and as Mother Earth wakes up, she exudes that love. The energy of love is thus reborn in the spring.

It is the same way with humans. The seasons affect us and we go through a major shift with the change of seasons. We are introspective in winter; energy goes inside. In the spring, we experience a rebirth – physically, spiritually, and emotionally – we gain new life.

Springtime affects your spirit; you are affected by Nature and the evolutionary processes that occur. Every spring you have a chance to be regenerated again, reborn from the stillness and quietness of winter. You have a chance to open up, just like everything around us. You can be reborn right here, on this Earth, by opening your heart to the process of regeneration. Feel the aliveness that comes into your own personal spirit, which is rooted in the spirit of nature.

We become part of the process of re-creation occurring during the springtime. We wake up, become more alert, our hearts are more open. It is a time of new beginnings; everything is fresh, clean and striving to grow upward toward the sun. In spring we transition from an introverted state to a state of physical and spiritual blossoming.

The light transforms us. It is a time of fertilizing, watering our spirits, and unfolding the pedals of our hearts. Honor the return of the light. Bring the light into your heart, your being. Look at the light in nature; become attuned to your environment. As we approach the Equinox, it is a time of balance between light and dark. By taking in the light we can achieve greater balance and harmony.

Walking on the earth is a good way to awaken your connection to the natural world. Feel Mother Earth waking up. Tune into nature and feel yourself becoming aware and alert during this season. Be aware of what’s happening around you and realize that same transition within yourself.

Approach spring as though it is the first time you ever experienced it – the first time you ever saw a flower, a tree growing, a bird flying. Open your heart to love, to beauty, to clarity. Leave the old behind and be reborn during the season of spring. East is representative of the spring season, the image of the sun peeking through the clouds. You are reborn as the sun is reborn each day. Each spring your spirit will burst out of the darkness of winter. Make your spirit bright like the colors of Nature. Feel the world through your heart. This is a time to leave behind old patterns, old ways of doing things, and embrace the power and beauty of new life.

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.

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.

Impacts of Shamanism - Mark Allen at Zion

Impacts of Shamanism

A short while ago I was asked about my life since I first met Brant about twenty years ago. The question was something innocent like “Has your life changed much because of your studies with Brant?” It took about a half second of thought for the answer. “Studying with Brant has touched every single area of my life!” This is a question I think about nearly every day and am grateful for the answer.

I met Brant at a 10-day workshop he lead in Mexico in 1990. From the first moments, from the first chant that he sang, I felt like I had found something that I had been searching for since I was a young boy. I was always drawn to those images that we have all seen in movies where the wise elders from an ancient tradition cut through the clutter of modern life and come up with a simple nugget of wisdom that puts everything in perspective.

I had been trying to find someone or something in the real world that would connect me to that type of knowledge and clarity since I can remember. Going to college was partly an attempt to gain that deeper understanding about life. The things I did for work were also a search for an experience of doing something that was good for the world beyond just my life. The vacations, travels, trips to places on the earth that were different were again my way of seeking something that I could experience and take into my being to fill my life up with joy and purpose. Yet no matter how hard I tried to experience this ideal of how I felt life should be lived and to feel something that deeply touched my soul, I always fell just a little short. Life had been a search that led me close but not completely to peace and inner happiness…that is until I heard Brant’s chant!

For ten days I had the good fortune to experience what life had been alluding to through all my previous wanderings. I felt a connection to that magical indefinable world of nature that connects one’s soul to all of life and to the part of time that is timeless. I experienced a joy from life that came not from achieving results but that I could feel already inside of me and that then became my jumping off point to go out into the world. I was in the presence of a real human being, not a character in a movie, who had done what it takes to possess that enduring knowledge about all things seen and unseen that we have lost in the modern world, and that remains hidden until we do take the time to step away and allow our hearts to finally open and remember why we are truly here on earth…to live a sacred life connected to all life.

This may sound pretty ethereal, but the practice and tools that create these incredible feelings are so grounded and easy to do that they may sound too simplistic to be profound in their effect. Let me try one out for you. Go watch a sunset! Sounds easy doesn’t it. It is! But what it can do for a human being could take a month to explain. Let me give you an example from my life of using this ancient tool of transformation that Brant has us do in just about every workshop. I think you will probably be able to relate to it.

I had a day recently that was a good one except that it kept being interrupted by some nagging questions that I had been pondering for some time. Of course these questions went unanswered once again. But this particular day was one of the special ones where I could not distract myself from thinking about them. By day’s end I felt worn down from going around and around in the same mental circle, never feeling like I was any closer to a solution. The result was that I just didn’t feel much of that inherent joy I had experienced in Brant’s workshops. I couldn’t seem to shut down the mental chatter that leads to nowhere.

Then sunset came. With the mix of the ocean near my home, the clouds moving in from the west and the low angle of the winter sun, the show was setting up to be spectacular. So off I went, troubles unsolved and not feeling particularly excited about life. Ah, the modern world! But then it happened.

The sun began to set, the sky shifted and a band of pink mixed with orange became framed perfectly by the deepest of ocean blues below and a shimmering silver in the clouds above. Earth and sky seemed to be talking, and I was in the middle taking it all in. I was able to stop thinking, and there it was…a sense of simple pure joy that comes from witnessing amazing moments in time like this one.

The troubles of life drifted away in that slow shifting show of nature. No problems, no needs, only expanse and a sense that everything was just right. How many times does that happen in front of my computer or when I am on the phone? Rarely. When does it happen when I watch at a sunset? Always! Simple yet powerful. As Brant says, “Don’t be tricked by the simplicity of shamanism. It can transform your life forever”. And indeed it has transformed mine!

Huichol Indian Traditional Corn Ceremony

Dreamers of the Sun Part II: Mother Dove

Ceremonies form a major part of Huichol life. The Huicholes are constantly performing ceremonies: “Our life is sacred,” they say, “and we do ceremonies to please the gods and to obtain life force (kupuri)”.

Many of the ceremonies performed by the Huicholes are corn ceremonies, as corn is now their principal source of food. The Huicholes say that “kukuru”, Mother Dove, is the mother of corn and gave corn (iku) to the Huicholes long ago. Their myth relates that long ago a young boy was hunting when suddenly he saw a dove and was about to shoot it when the dove revealed herself as the mother of corn. The mother dove (kukuru) told the boy that she would give him one of her daughter who would then become corn. For this reason, all ears of corn are seen by the Huicholes as girls or representations of the daughter of kukuru who became corn.

Today, when performing a corn ceremony, the Huicholes leave offerings for “kukuru” (Mother Dove), “Nakawey”, Grandmother Growth, and Tate Urianaka, Goddess of the Earth. These Huichol ceremonies are joyous celebrations of life, bringing all the participants in close contact with the divine. The Huichols say, the gods themselves, arrive and take part in the ceremonies if the proper offerings are left for them in the various gourd bowls, often beautifully decorated.

The Gods arrive traveling through the niarika (sacred tunnel way to the realm of the gods). At all Huichol ceremonies, the Shaman (mara akame) looks into the niarika while chanting as the niarika acts as a “mirror” and reflects sacred knowledge. The shaman himself may also travel through the niarika with hi sally kauyumari (the magical deer) to the realm of the gods in order to bring back kupuri (energy) for his people.

The Huicholes perform ceremonies to insure the growth and purification of their crops. (Also, to please the gods) through this, their whole essence, their roots are connected to the whole cosmic process of the universe. Grandfather Fire (Tate Wari), Grandmother Growth (Nakawey – participant in the original creation of this world) and Tate Urinaka (Goddess of the Earth) all form an integral part of Huichol life that gives meaning and direction to an ancient people who live on mountaintops in order to be near the gods that have given them tradition.

Huichol_Shamanic_Ceremony_642_336

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.

Embracing Spiritual Energy and Life

Sacred Spiritual life

Shamanism is an ancient healing tradition and moreover, a way of life. Huichol shamanism honors all of creation, especially the spirit of nature — the power of the animals, the winged ones, the minerals, and plants. This shamanic tradition involves healing and empowerment through personal transformation and direct experience as well as the healing of our families, communities and our environment. By following the shaman’s path, we can truly learn to inhabit the earth and our being with gentleness and respect.

The Huichol say we are created from the elements of the natural world — fire, air, water and earth. Because of this, each of us is a miniature universe, a mirror of both the natural and the spiritual worlds. All the knowledge and secrets of these two worlds are inside of us and everything is perfectly arranged. Shamanism teaches us to tap into that arrangement, to understand and to live in harmony with the natural and spiritual worlds.

Ceremony, sacred dance and pilgrimages to places of power in nature are all essential aspects of shamanism. Through these techniques, the shamanic circle embraces us unifying our lives with strength, healing and love.

Huichol Indian Boy with Rattle. Learning shamanic traditions from childhood.

Shamanism: The Healing Way of the Heart

For those who are concerned about the growing rift between the human race and the natural world, and the tragedy that results from that rift, shamanism may provide an answer.

Throughout the world, from Tibet to the Southwestern United States, shamans have been involved in healing since the Paleolithic times.

“Perhaps as old as consciousness itself, shamanism is an ancient healing tradition that has reflected the changing cultures of the surrounding world throughout the ages,” according to Brant Secunda, shaman, healer and director of the Dance of the Deer Foundation Center for Shamanic Studies in Santa Cruz, California.

“The shamanic tradition involves healing through personal transformation as well as healing our family, community and environment, he says. “Central to this healing tradition is the belief that we must heal and honor our mother the earth, who is viewed as a living conscious organism. Shamans say this sacred female Goddess, the earth, who nourishes our very existence, must also be nourished with our prayers and ceremonies.”

Secunda is a shaman and ceremonial leader in the Huichol Indian tradition of Mexico. He completed a 12-year apprenticeship with Don José Matsuwa, a renowned shaman who passed away in 1990 at the age of 110. Secunda is the adopted grandson of Don José, and was chosen by his grandfather to take his place in helping to carry on Huichol Shamanism.

“The Huichols of Mexico are said to be the last tribe of North America to have maintained their pre-Columbian traditions, little disturbed by colonization and Christianization until very recently,” Secunda says.

“The Huichols taught me that healing is a way of life, a way of being that permeates our very existence. Healing is something to be practiced constantly, not just when we are ill,” he says. “Moreover, the shamanic tradition of healing does not limit itself to healing of the physical body, but rather involves the maintenance of the harmony and balance of the universe. We must constantly make contact with all life; see our life in all things, so that life and health are embedded within our hearts.

According to the shamanic tradition, all life is interrelated and sacred. Plants, animals, and even rocks have personal identities with whom the shaman develops a personal relationship.

“When a shaman prays, he prays not only for himself but also for his sacred relatives: our mother the earth, our father the sun, our grandfather and giver of light: the fire; our grandmothers, the eagle and the winged ones,” Secunda says. “Don José often told me never to forget that my relatives are the earth, sky, rivers, birds, animals, stones, gems, mountains, caves, springs, and lakes.”

According to various shamanic mythologies there was a time when paradise existed and all life was one. For example, fire communicated freely with people. Now this is lost and for that reason the shaman acts as a bridge, drawing upon lost lines of communication with all life that surrounds him both visibly and invisibly.

In this way, shamans act as intermediaries between people and other life forms. Shamans also have their power to transform themselves into spirit entities and to link others to the spirit world.

As a healing art, shamanism seeks to maintain and/or restore balance, both for individual entities and for the entire planet. All life is ultimately one, according to shamanic belief, and the forces of balance, harmony and intuition must be brought into resonance with one another.

“If we celebrate our life as one with our environment, then our environment will give thanks to us with the proper amount of sunlight and rainfall,” Secunda says.

“Embedded within the traditions of shamanism and healing are techniques of achieving ecstasy. Ecstasy is sought by shamans to experience unity with all things. Ceremonial celebration for the attainment of ecstasy utilizes ancient forms of ceremony and ritual.

The ‘Dance of the Deer’ is an intense sacred dance of the Huichols in which the participants enter into a trance state of joy and ecstasy. The shaman and his assistant chant ancient songs as the others dance about them. “All enter together as one heart into a sacred doorway known to the Huichols as ‘Nierika,’ face of the divine, or link to other realms of consciousness and being.”

At ceremonies the Huichol shaman calls upon his ally or spirit helper, Kauyumari, the magical deer spirit person, to assist him in the task of transporting the ceremonial participants through the Nierika into the realm of ecstatic joy and harmony. “The dancers also assist the shaman as they, like the deer, become messengers of the gods. Through ceremony, participants allow themselves to be transformed, renewed. Life force itself is transmitter in sacred manner.”

Secunda recalls the teachings of Don Jose: “You are an educated person who knows and understands your world,” he says his grandfather told him. “Now you will know our world too and use the two so that modern people may once again know what we have tried never to forget. There is a balance between our two worlds, grandson: that’s the way it is.”

“Is your heart happy?” Don José often asked the children at this rancho in the Mexican Sierra. “Dance with all your heart. We are following the example of the gods and the way they have taught us. This is our life.”

Originally printed in the Sonoran News • written by Gail Dudley