Drum and Harvest Ceremony

Autumn Equinox and the Harvest Ceremony

Happy Equinox! May we manifest the harmony within ourselves to help bring balance to the world around us.

We returned from the Drum and Harvest Ceremony in Mexico earlier this week. The time in the Sierra Madre was beautiful and intense as always. Don Jacinto, the leading shaman in the ceremony, exuded kupuri (life force) as he chanted for hours on end. The intricate songs summoned the spirits from the four directions and the sky realm to bless the people, along with the harvest of corn and squash. The children shook their rattles as mothers cradled the youngest babies.

Drum and Harvest Ceremony Altar

One aspect of the ceremony is to help take the spirits of the children to places of power that they are still too young to visit. While their bodies may not yet be able to make the journey, their spirits fly through the Nierika (spiritual doorway) to connect with the dreaming gods and goddesses of these sacred places. In this way, they are invigorated with the energy of the diverse landscape so that they may live a long and healthy life.

Gathering for the harvest ceremony

Huichol women and children gather for the harvest ceremony.

After starting at sunset last Friday, Don Jacinto chanted late into the night, well past 1:00 a.m. Accompanied by the sound of the drum, the ancient songs echoed up into the mountains. Even the crickets seemed to be in awe, silently listening in a state of trance. After a few hours of rest, corn stalks were cut from the fields, and the altar was built as the sun prepared to make its way over the horizon.


The rattles and God’s Eyes from each child were brought out of the temple hut, and the altar was filled with fresh fruits, corn, squash, and tamales. Nawa (a fermented corn drink) prepared by various families was poured into jugs and gourds. As the rays of sunshine flowed over the distant peaks, the drum and chants commenced once more and continued with only brief breaks until early evening.

Young Huichol girls participate in the ceremony

Young Huichol girls participate in the ceremony

As soon as the ceremony finished for the day, lightning strikes danced atop the mountains all around us. It began to rain as thunder grew closer. Eventually, a heavy downpour lulled us to sleep and kept the village dreaming until around 3 or 4 a.m. when the elders began to gather around the fire once again.

On Sunday morning, the fresh corn and squash were cooked on the fire, and then everyone lined up to take a piece of both. Before feasting, each person placed their small piece of the harvest onto the drum to be blessed by the shaman and then offered a few kernels of corn and a pinch of squash to the fire. The taste of Huichol corn is far heartier than what you find in most stores or farm stands around the world. Each bite contains an earthiness and fullness that is hard to describe. This ancient staple represents the healing of the body for the Huichol, and indeed, you can taste the difference in the food grown on the land that has been stewarded for thousands of years by such a grounded culture.


Before dispersing back to our nearby huts and distant villages, everyone gathered around the ceremonial fire to offer one last prayer. Together, the entire village called out to Tatewari (Grandfather Fire), to give thanks for a successful ceremony and for all those near and far who supported this sacred gathering.


Thank you for being a part of the ceremony from afar. Even if all you did was read this message, you are connected within the concentric circles of community. 

Hopefully the positive effects of the ceremony will continue to ripple out into the world.

We wish you a bountiful and balanced autumn season!

With Love & Gratitude,

Brant Secunda + Nico Secunda

Autumn in the Huichol Sierra

Autumn in the Huichol Sierra

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Don José Matsuwa

Honoring the memory of Don José Matsuwa

Today we remember the passing of Don José Matsuwa. 29 years ago Don José transitioned from this world. His long life, which lasted 110 years, is such an inspiration and his vision continues to guide us at the Dance of the Deer Foundation in all that we do.

Born in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, Don José grew up surrounded by many great shamans and healers; however, it wasn’t until he was a young man that he decided to dedicate his life to the way of the mara-akame (shaman). While his uncle, a respected shaman and ceremonial leader, and other shamans in his village were able to see the spirits and interact with nature in mystical ways, Don José felt blind, unable to see these mysterious energies. So he decided to dedicate his life to learning the ancient ways.

Don José spent 10 years living alone in the forest to learn the language of nature. He then underwent a traditional apprenticeship with a revered shaman, who could transform himself into the spirit of a jaguar during ceremonies. He went on many pilgrimages to sacred places of power and vision quests; his longest being an astonishing 15 days, without food and water.

Around 40, after completing his training, Don José married Doña Josefa Medrano, who later also went on to become a respected Huichol Shaman, healer and ceremonial leader. Together they had 13 children and many grandchildren.

Later in his life, a young white man from New York was found unconscious, after having hiked into the Huichol Sierra in search of the Huichol villages. A shaman from a neighboring village had a dream and sent his sons out to rescue the man, who lay dying in the remote mountains in the heat of the dry season.

Don José had dreamed of this young foreign man as well and summoned for him from the village which had rescued him. Upon meeting, he adopted the young bearded white man as his grandson and put him through a traditional apprenticeship. 12 years later Brant Secunda received the transmission of power ceremony and Don José told him that we would go on to share the ancient wisdom of the Huichol culture with people around the globe.

During the following years, Don José traveled to the United States and Europe approximately 15 times to announce that he was leaving Brant in his place to carry on the Huichol traditions.

Together Brant and Don José founded the Dance of the Deer Foundation in 1979. The mission of the foundation was and remains to share the teachings of Huichol Shamanism around the world and to support the spiritual heritage of the traditions by giving back to the Huichol people.

In 1989, Brant and his wife Barbara gave birth to their son Nico Secunda. Later that year, Brant, Barbara, and Nico traveled to Don José’s village in Mexico, where Don José blessed Nico and gave him his Huichol name, MATSUWA (pulse of life). Nico would go to be the first white person to graduate from the Drum & Harvest Ceremony at 6 years of age and he would follow in his father’s footsteps, dedicating his life to the way of the mara-akame and to supporting the Huichol people.

On November 6, 1990, at the age of 110, Don José passed away.

Before he died, he had a few words for those closest to him. To Brant he had a lengthy message. One of the things he said was, “Tell your people to follow the deer all the way to their heart.”

With sincere gratitude and love, we thank you Don José Matsuwa for your life and for the long journey you walked. Your vision continues to guide us each day.

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Huichol altar at Drum and Harvest Ceremony 2017

Drum & Harvest Ceremony • Autumn 2017

We arrived in the village just before sunset. After eating a light meal of beans and fresh handmade tortillas with salsa, we prepared ourselves for the ceremony. People from various villages had traveled to partake in the harvest ceremony. Elders, men, women, children, and newborn babies all coming together to celebrate, to give thanks, and to pray. Everyone gathered around the fire to offer prayers for a good ceremony. Then the leading elder shaman began to chant quietly, the sound slowly growing as the flames of the fire strengthened.

At one point, a heavy rainstorm had us all taking shelter in huts and under strung-up tarps for a few hours in the middle of the night, as thunder and lightning filled the sky. Once the rain passed, everyone gathered around the fire at the center of the village once again, and the ceremony continued.

At sunrise, an altar was constructed in front of the temple. Corn stalks were tied up, creating a goal post of sorts to set the trajectory of our spirits, as we journeyed to Wirikuta (the Land of the Gods) and Raunasha (The Mountain Where the Sun was Born). Between the goal posts, a god’s eye (Tsikuli) was secured like a target, helping to keep our aim centered and true with the protection of the ancient ones. Then a twisted piece of twine was tied to the god’s eye and stretched tight to an arrow in the earth about 10 meters away. Finally, small balls of cotton were placed along the twine; each one representing a place of power at which we stop during the spiritual journey to Wirikuta.

Once the altar was constructed, freshly picked husks of corn and squash were piled in front of the altar. The mothers laid out dishes with offerings of fresh fruit, blue corn tamales, and small thick tortillas. Beside each plate, arrows with small gods eyes were stuck into the earth. The number of gods eyes on each arrow representing the age of one of the young children in the circle.


As the sun broke free from the clouds and rose higher in the sky, the drumbeat continued to follow the call and return of the shamans’ chanting. The crisp sound of the tree gourd rattles being shaken by children unified the entire circle in focused intention around the dancing flames of the fire. The harmony of the male and female elders singing intricate verses, whispered into their ear by Kauyumari (Elder Brother Deer Spirit), is like the sound of a flowing river, with the stream of chants neither being pulled or pushed, but rather naturally circulating with a clear intention of reaching the ocean of energy within the Nierika (sacred doorway).

With small breaks for folk music and folk dancing, along with time for timeless jokes and laughter, the ceremony continued through the heat of the day. As the sun reached its zenith in the sky, food offerings were shared amongst everyone in the village. Replenished with this fresh nourishment, the chanting and drumming commenced once more as we approached the final stages of the ceremony, in which the shaman summons our spirits back from sky realm, through the Nierika, and into our hearts.

The wind began to wisp up the mountain slopes and through the village, carrying with it a cool breath from the river below. As the refreshing breeze broke through the heat of the day and as the sun starting caressing the lush plateau to the west, the ceremony drew to a close.

Our hearts content and souls empowered with the energy unified from the four directions, the circle slowly dispersed outward to shaded rocks under the carao and calabash trees. The ebb and flow of life in the Huichol village continued as dusk began to wash over the Sierra. With the night settling in, everyone found their place within the village, the fire still burning in the center of it all.

When the flames began to dwindle, someone awoke to add fresh food to the fire. Soon a few of the elders gathered around the fire, and the sound of chuckles gradually grew into laughter as they retold stories from the past and teased one another about things old and new. Eventually, the joy around the fire drew more and more people from the dream world back into the circle.

Eventually, the shaman started to chant, and the drumbeat followed once again. The other shamans chimed in, echoing the songs like sound bouncing through a valley. Then the song changed, indicating it was time to dance. The women and men created two lines, skipping around the fire with the rhythmic beat of the drum. This was the Dance of the Deer.

Honoring the birth of the sun, we danced until the sun burst forth from behind the distant mountain peaks, the golden light warming the village like the smile of a good friend.

Now it was time to bless the freshly harvested corn and squash that had been stacked in front of the altar. Together, all of us – women, children, and men – were given ears of corn and pieces of squash cooked on the fire. One by one, the leading shaman blessed each person and their individual bounty. Once blessed, we offered a small portion of our food to the fire before enjoying it ourselves.

That first bite of crisp corn and soft squash was truly delicious. We had been fasting from corn and squash since the fields were planted in early June, so everyone was especially thankful for this meal.

The shamans gathered for the one final song, to honor Mother Earth and give thanks to the spirits that had joined the ceremony. This marked the close of the ceremony and beginning of another season.

Following the ceremony, the various families gathered together as we dispersed the materials and supplies which we had brought with us on the long journey. With a deep sense of gratitude on both the giving and receiving end, each and every person exchanged positive energy, and through this process, we all became even closer, and even stronger family.

It was time for us to leave, to make the long journey from this home back to another. Before leaving the village, everyone gathered around the fire to make one final prayer to Tatewari (Grandfather Fire). Together we prayed out loud, calling out for ourselves, our loved ones, and all of creation.

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Huichol Girl Laughing in hut window

Journey into the Huichol Sierra

Chronicles of the Spring Ceremony by Nico Secunda

We made it home! After a beautiful and empowering journey to the Huichol in Mexico, we arrived back to our home in Santa Cruz, California last night. My father and I, along with a small group of long-time students, partook in the spring ceremony to honor Tate-Urianaka (Mother Earth) as she awakens from her winter slumber.

Hopefully you received my previous message about the ceremony, which I was able to send out from the road just in the nick of time before losing our link to the modern world through cellular reception. Thank you to all of you, for keeping us in your thoughts and prayers. Your support means a lot and could be felt throughout our journey.

I always look forward to crossing that invisible boundary between the modern world and the ancient Huichol landscape. Watching the bars on the cell phone disappear brings a wonderful feeling. A weight is lifted. The obligations of modern life, which can at times steal our time and distract us from the more meaningful endeavors of the spirit, are switched off.

Crossing that invisible border we enter into the Huichol territory. We continue through rolling hills of mango and papaya trees, then up the incline of switchbacks into the mountains of the Sierra Madre, eventually reaching the end of the road. Here, we must transition from roadway to waterway, in order to press on deeper into the Huichol territory.

We made it home! After a beautiful and empowering journey to the Huichol in Mexico, we arrived back to our home in Santa Cruz, California last night. My fat

One of Don José’s sons is awaiting our arrival at the river. He greets us and along with a few other Huichol men, we load into three boats and push off to make our way upriver. The moist air kisses our cheeks as the boats head against the current.

As the sun sets behind us, we reach a familiar bend in the river and finally the village comes into view. This is a sight I have seen countless times and once again I am filled with a sense of returning home. I grew up coming here time after time and have a deep gratitude for the connection to this place that is now strongly rooted within me. The boats scrape onto the banks and the young Huichol men on the bow jump onto the moist soil to tie up to large rocks half submerged in the water. One by one, we all step ashore.

Now, the last leg of the journey to reach the village. In single file, we follow the steep winding trail to the uppermost plateau perched on the hillside overlooking the river and rugged peaks that reach skyward in the distance. “Keiaku!” (Hello) and “Buenas Tardes,” young children greet us as they run down the trail to help carry our mountain of bags filled with gifts. When we reach the upper village, we walk through the gate at the village entrance and see the fire in the center burning like a beacon to which we have been summoned.

We make our way around the fire, greeting our Huichol family and the elder shaman who, at over ninety years old, will be leading the ceremony. People from numerous villages have come to take part. The firewood has been gathered. The food offerings are prepared. Candles in the temple are lit, and the altar in front of the fire laid out. Chairs are placed for the shamans, and now we are ready for the ceremony to begin… (end of part 1 – check back soon for the second installment of this chronicle)

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Huichol Woman Cooking Tortilla

The Best Tortillas in the World!

When asked what the Huichols eat, Brant will reply, “ beans and tortillas, tortillas and beans, and a little hot sauce.”

I have been lucky to have been down to the Huichol village in Mexico with Brant for ceremony with many times. We usually arrive around sunset. Soon after settling in, we are called over to eat by Virginia, one of Don José’s and Doña Josefa’s daughters and a very good friend of Brant’s, as well as a friend to all of us “gringos” who come down to visit. She feeds us several times a day and makes sure we have what we need. Waiting for us by the outdoor kitchen fire when we arrive is a big bowl of fresh, hot, thick papayari (corn tortillas), bowls of beans, and maybe some fideo, soup made with very tiny noodles, and, of course, a dish of kukuri (spicy salsa). Muy chiloso! Too hot for me to have more than a tiny taste, but I can’t help going back for more.

I wish I could accurately describe those tortillas.The Huichols grow 5 colors of corn – white, yellow, red, blue/black, and mixed (representing the 5 colors of people). The tortillas we get are usually white or yellow, occasionally the blue. The Huichol women soak and grind the corn, roll and pat them by hand, then flatten them in a well used tortilla press. They use the top of an old metal barrel to cook them over the fire.

Ohhh! That first bite of the first tortilla of the visit! So deeply satisfying; so deeply nourishing. From a pure nutritional perspective, their corn has a massively higher percentage of protein from ours so that is part of the satisfaction. As a cook, I know that using such fresh ingredients is part of the satisfaction. What I also know is that they are made with deep love, lots of laughter, and great care.

From the beginning to the  end, the corn is treated delicately and sacredly. It is blessed and prayed over every step of the way from seed to tortillas. The whole village prays and dances in the Spring ceremony for the blessing of the seeds and the coming crop. The seeds are stored in a special way in the community temple. Prayers are said for a good corn crop, and the men are honored and blessed before the planting. The seeds are planted and the crops are tended in centuries old traditions. When the corn is ready to be harvested, again the whole village prays and makes ceremony. The first corn is blessed and shared. When dried and ready, the crop carefully picked. Nothing is wasted. The women share the tradition of soaking and grinding the corn, teaching their daughters the way they themselves were taught. They make tortillas together, sharing them with love. Everyone participates and everyone gets fed. These are the things that make these tortillas so good!

You can taste the love. You can taste the tradition and the history. You can taste the Gods.

In the course of eating, Virginia asks several times, “ Quien quiere mas?” Who wants more? Because of how nourishing the tortillas are, it might only take a few bites to fill me up or I might want to keep eating just because they taste so good and we all need that deep Soul nourishment that comes from those bites. Who wants more? I do. I wait throughout  the year until the next visit for that beautiful gift from Mother Earth, from the Corn Goddess, from Virginia and the rest of my Huichol family. It’s a good way to learn the power of food – the nutrition, the nourishment, the love and the joy of community and family. I’ve gotten pretty good at taking that feeling home. We can honor our food and ourselves in similar ways – blessing the food’s journey from seed to belly and back to the earth. We can let our souls be nourished by food created with love and thoughtful care. We can make sure we all have enough.

Quien quiere mas?

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