Brant Secunda with Don José Matsuwa and Doña Josefa Medrano

Journey into Healing

In 1970 at 18 years old, intrigued by a book of Carlos Castenada. I left my hometown in New Jersey and set out on a journey to Ixtlan as a spiritual tourist in search of Don Juan. En route, I met a Huichol schoolteacher, who gave me the name of his family’s village – a five day walk away.

Soon, I found myself hiking through the Sierra Madre Mountains, in search of the mysterious Huichol Indians. With the sun blazing down on me, I followed a narrow deer trail hoping I was still heading in the right direction. The Mexican towns, along with the rest of the modern world quickly faded behind me.

The Brazil Trees and the thick underbrush enveloped me, as I continued deeper into the Sierra. After three days and no sign of any village, I found myself hopelessly lost. I had drunk my last sip of water and tried to calm the panic rising inside of me. Pressing on in hope of finding the village, dehydration and sun exposure overtook me. The trees around me began spinning. I collapsed, sinking into unconsciousness, as feelings of disgust, anger and finally fear overtook me.

As I lay dying on the parched earth, I dreamt of circles full of light spinning in front of me. Visions of deer and an old indigenous man appeared. Suddenly, cold water hit my face. Startled into consciousness, my beautiful dreams and visions faded. Slowly opening my eyes, above me loomed the dark faces of three Indians. They told me in Spanish of an old shaman in their Huichol village who had dreamt I was dying at this spot and sent them to save me two days earlier.

Still weak, I was led through the mountains to a clearing with mud and stick huts, the smell of tortillas cooking and sounds of children playing. Amazed at this scene and that I was alive; I was taken to their shaman Don Juan (of the same name, but not the one of Castenada fame). I remained there for two weeks. The people told me of another shaman, Don José Matsuwa, in a nearby village who had also dreamt of me: He summoned me to his rancho. The same three Indians who had originally saved me led me to his hut.

Shortly after meeting Don José I was put in a cave for five days and five nights with no food or water. I was told this was my initiation. If I lived, I would continue as an apprentice to this renowned shaman and healer.

12 years later I completed my apprenticeship. I had been adopted as Don José’s grandson. He had taught me the ancient wisdom of healing and ceremony and we had become close companions on the path of the shaman. Following my training, I was sent back to the modern world, to help share the secrets of the Huichol, to heal those in need and to conduct ceremonies to bring balance to the Earth.

Since that time I have been traveling the world, striving to fulfill the vision of my teacher. Thousands of people have come to me for healing. From every corner of the globe and from all walks of life. Many of them have tried everything western medicine has to offer before finally resorting to shamanic healing. It seems to me that people today are more in need of healing than ever before.

Personal Stories of Healing • from Marilyn Del Duca

I was diagnosed with Lyme’s disease, and antibiotics were not helping.
I went to Brant to ask for help.  He did a series of healings for me that
healed the Lyme’s with no residual effects.  Years later when I suffered a
bad fall and tore my MCL, his healings made it possible for me to avoid
surgery.  These are just two of the ways his healings have  helped me over
the years.

Another time, my niece was trying to get pregnant.  I told her not to worry – if she wasn’t pregnant by the following June, I would take her to meet Brant at the Summer Solstice, as I knew he had good luck with women’s issues.  He did a fertility healing for her, and she was pregnant within a month.  Her first baby was born the following April, and she had a second baby 20 months later, blessing me with two beautiful great-nieces.

Shamanic healing searches out the root of illness. Often a person’s ailment stems from something much deeper than what is felt on the surface. This is common with psychological and spiritual trauma, but also with physical ailments. The shaman strives to find the source of the illness and to extract it from the individual.

For many, shamanic healing may seem far-fetched or simply archaic; however, I have witnessed time and again its relevance for those very people who don’t even believe in it. I have had numerous people come to me after trying “everything else” and searching desperately for healing. One such man came to my office in Santa Cruz, California for a healing over 15 years ago. As soon as I met him, he asked if he needed to believe in the shamanic healing I was about to conduct. I said “no” and he replied, “Good, because I don’t.” His doctors had given him two weeks to live with his pancreatic cancer. He ended up in remission and lived another ten years.

I am so grateful for my journey to the Huichol. I am thankful for the countless healings I witnessed while studying with Don José, which allowed me to believe. I remember one of the first things he told me. He said, “Until you learn to believe, you will never really learn.”

You can be told the earth is sacred or that shamans can dream of the future or heal terrible diseases, but until you experience it yourself, you can never fully believe. Experience is one of our greatest teachers.

Brant Secunda blessing with macaw fan

SHAMANISM: The Healing Journey of the Heart

Shamans throughout the world, from Tibet and Mongolia to the Americas, have been involved in healing for thousands of years, dating back to Paleolithic times. An integral part of this healing tradition are its perspectives, both personal and at the same time planetary.

Shamanism, perhaps as old as consciousness itself, is an ancient healing tradition that has, throughout the ages, reflected the changing cultures of the surrounding world.

The shamanic tradition involves healing through personal transformation as well as healing our family, community and environment. 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. This sacred female Goddess, the earth, who nourishes our very existence, must also nourished with such prayers and ceremonies, say shamans.

I have studied and practiced shamanism for over 40 years, completing a lengthy apprenticeship with Don José Rios (Matsuwa), a 110 year old Huichol Indian shaman-healer. The Huichol of Mexico are said to be the last tribe of

North America to have maintained their pre-Columbian traditions, little disturbed by colonialization and Christianization until very recently. I feel fortunate for having been able to study with such an amazing group of people.

As I was taught by the Huichol, 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. 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 consciously make contact with all life, see our life in all things, so that life and health are embedded within our hearts that so need to be nourished and cared for.

Shamanism focuses on all life as being majestically and mysteriously interrelated and sacred. Plants, rocks, two- and four-legged creatures all have personal identities with whom the shaman develop a personal relationship. When the 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. 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. Upon our first meeting Don José spoke of our mother the earth, who nourishes and speaks to our heart. The shaman learns to listen with his heart as well as his ears, and thus shamanism, as a healing art, makes a person whole and complete, a whole system integrated fully to the surrounding environment.

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 this reason the shaman acts as a bridge, drawing upon lost lines of communication with all life that surrounds him both visibly and invisibly.

Shamanism as a healing art seeks to maintain or restore balance, both for the individual and for the planet. All life is ultimately one, and the responsibility of a shaman is to bring the forces of balance, harmony and intuition into resonance with one another. One can say if we celebrate our life as one with our environment, our environment will thus give thanks to us with the proper amount of sunlight and rainfall. Shamans themselves act as intermediaries between people and all other life forms, the gods and goddesses and all creatures who co-inhabit the earth. Shamans also have the ability to transform themselves into a spirit entity almost as if they had the key to the process of metamorphosis. Thus the role of a shaman has been vital to the community in which he lives, as he acts as a vital link to the surrounding world.

Embedded within the tradition of shamanism and healing is the technique of achieving ecstasy. Ecstasy is sought by shamans in order to experience unity with all things. The forum used for the attainment of ecstasy is ceremonial celebration, which utilizes ancient forms of ceremony and ritual. The Huichol perform ceremonies throughout the year to maintain the delicate balance of our environment, of our universe, so that one may know their heart and feel the ecstatic joy that emanates from our very being. The “Dance Of The Deer”, a most beautiful and intense sacred dance, of the Huichol, is employed so that the participants of the ceremonies may enter into a trance state of joy and ecstasy. The shaman and his assistants chant the ancient songs as the others dance about them. All enter together as one heart into a sacred doorway, known to the Huichol 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 thorough the nierika (doorway), into the realm of ecstatic joy and harmony. The dancers also assist the shaman as they too, like the deer, become messengers of the gods.

Through ceremony, participants allow themselves to be transformed, renewed and life force itself is transmitted in a sacred manner. The shaman and participants in the ceremony are provided a medium for reaching the realm on the gods and the heart source of life itself.

At the same, shamanism involves what is often seen as the more mundane and down-to-earth aspects of the shaman’s day- to-day life. Students of shamanism must endure many hardships and show much strength, both inner and outer. Pilgrimages to “places of power”, (caves, springs, oceans, mountain tops), form an important aspect of shamanic healing, as pilgrims are said to receive power, (including power to dream) and many blessings for having arrived at such places. Many Huichol shamans, as well as many shamans from other cultures, are farmers and, working daily with the earth, they develop a special relationship with the earth, which they believe to be their mother.

The wisdom of ceremonial celebration, pilgrimages to sacred spots and proper daily living to achieve balance among ourselves as human beings and our environment has been lost to many people of the modern world. For this reason Don José, an incredible 103-year-old master of shamanism adopted me as his grandson and trained me in the ancient art of shamanism and healing. “You are an educated person who knows and understands your world”, he told me. “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 asks the children at his rancho in the Mexican Sierra. “Dance with all your heart. We are following the example of the gods and the way they have taught to us. This is our life.”

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.

Don José Matsuwa with Brant Secunda during a Huichol ceremony.

Dreamers of the sun: Huichol Shamanism

In 1970 at 18 years old, intrigued by the books of Carlos Castaneda , I set out an overland trip to Ixtlan as a tourist in search of Don Juan. Enroute, I met a Huichol school teacher, who gave me the name of his family village – a 5 day walk away. Early the next morning, with the sun blazing down on me in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Central Mexico, I set out on a narrow deer trail leading toward the village. My night’s lodging quickly disappeared form view, my feet tracing deer foot prints up the steep path.

The oak and brazil trees and the thick under bush soon closed in behind me, no human habitation in sight as I hurried along. After a 3 day trek, I found myself hopelessly lost. I had drank my last sip of water and tried to calm the panic rising inside of me. Pressing on in hope of finding the village, dehydration and sun exposure overtook me. The trees around me began spinning. I collapsed, sinking into unconsciousness, miles from my start.

As I lay dying on the parched earth, I dreamt of circles full of light spinning in front of me. Visions of deer and an old Indian man appeared. Suddenly, cold water hit my face. Startled into consciousness my beautiful dreams and visions faded. Slowly opening my eyes, above me loomed the dark faces of three Indians. They told me in Spanish of an old shaman in their Huichol village who had dreamt I was dying at this spot and sent them to save me.

Still weak, I was led down a narrow path to a clearing with mud and stick huts, the smell of tortillas cooking and sounds of children playing. Amazed at this scene and that I was alive, I was taken to their shaman Don Jose, in a nearby village who had also dreamt of me. He summoned me to his hacienda . The same three Indians who had originally saved me led me through the thick woods to his hut.

I became Don Jose’s apprentice, eventually completing a 12 year apprenticeship and being adopted as his grandson. Over these amazing years, he trained me in the mysteries of the world of Huichol shamanism.

“The dream world brings together the past, present and future. It helps us to remember who we are now, who we were, and who we will always be. This is the power of dreams.”
– Don Jose Matsuwa

One of the aspects of this cosmology, is their belief in “dreaming reality into existence”. In ancient times, the gods dreamed themselves into existence at the birthplace of Grandmother Ocean. Form emerged from formlessness as they dreamed, spinning visions into physical matter.

The gods dreamed they should make a pilgrimage to the east to Mt. Raunasha, “The Lord of Dreams”. The Magical Deer Spirit dreamed the gods in their way to the sacred mountain. When they arrived at the ancient volcano, the Magical Deer Spirit dreamt they should throw a young girl form the top of the mountain in to the molten fire below.

All the gods were there: Grandmother Eagle, Grandfather Fire, Mother Earth and the Deer. The Deer took the terrified young girl to the top. At the edge of the volcano, he pushed her into the flaming cavity. But the molten fire flung her back out, intact, into the sky.

The young girl could not fly. Her mother, Grandmother Eagle, swooped down and caught her daughter pushing her higher and higher in the sky. As she rose above the earth, the young girl transformed into a man, then gradually beginning to shine brighter and brighter until condensed into a burning ball, the sun. The sun is man who retained the heart of a young girl.

Every year, the Huichols return to the sacred Raunasha in pilgrimage retracing this original path of the ancients re-dreaming the birth of the sun.

During my twelve year apprenticeship, dreaming was emphasized daily. The Huichols put me in the hut of an old woman. Every morning, before the sun rose, she woke me and sent me to Grandfather Fire to tell my dreams to him. I worked with my dreams every night. I learned to remember a dream by staring at a part of the body of a god or goddess, animal or human to become conscious in the dream. In this way, the gods began to speak to me in my dreaming.

I was on a fourteen month fruit fast during my apprenticeship. This fast increased the intensity of my dreams. The Huichols also took me places of power – caves, lakes, mountains, and rock formations in the cave of Grandmother Growth. I went five days with no food or water, dreaming the dreams of her cave. At the other caves, we spent a night in each one again to dream the dream of the “Kaukuyari” or places of power. For in ancient times the gods and goddesses transformed into new forms and became these lakes, caves, mountains and rock formations. Through pilgrimage and dreaming, the ancient ones can be remembered and can teach us their mysteries and wisdom.

After my apprenticeship with Don Jose, I returned to the United States. The Dance of the Deer Foundation — Center for Shamanic Studies — was founded to support the Huichol Indians in keeping their shamanic traditions alive and to bring the power of joy of this ancient wisdom into our modern lives. The Foundation is located in the Santa Cruz Mountains of California.