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Don José Matsuwa

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Renowned shaman, ceremonial leader and respected elder of the Huichol people, Don Jose Matsuwa dedicated his whole life to the sacred path of the shaman and it is his life and vision that are the inspirations for the Dance of the Deer Foundation, founded by both Don Jose Matsuwa and Brant Secunda.

This interview explores Brant’s experience and memories with his adopted grandfather and mentor.

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Brant Secunda

Brant Secunda

Shaman & Healer

Brant Secunda is a shaman, healer, and ceremonial leader in the Huichol Indian tradition of Mexico. He completed a 12-year apprenticeship with Don José Matsuwa, the renowned shaman who passed away in 1990 at the age of 110. Brant Secunda is the adopted grandson of Don José and was chosen by Don José to take his place to help carry on Huichol Shamanism. He is the co-founder of the American Herbalist Guild, and the founder of the Huichol Foundation. Since 1979 Brant Secunda has been the Director of the Dance of the Deer Foundation Center for Shamanic Studies and leads seminars and pilgrimages worldwide. His work has been documented on television, radio, and in articles and books throughout the USA, Europe and Japan. He is the co-author of the award-winning book Fit Soul Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You.

Supporting

  • Mark Allen

    Mark Allen

Transcript

Mark Allen Tell us about your grandfather, Don José.
Brant Secunda Don José was a very unique and incredible shaman but also an incredible individual and a unique person on every level. He lived to be 110 years old, which is incredible. He died in 1990. He was a very renowned and revered shaman, ceremonial leader, healer. He loved life. He lived life to the fullest. He really loved to be a part of life. First, if you asked him, "Well, who are you? What are you?" he would say, "I'm a farmer." He would never come out and say, "Oh, I'm a shaman," but he was an incredibly great shaman and revered shaman and someone I feel so lucky to have studied with.

I asked him one time, "Why me, Grandfather? How did I wind up your grandson? Why am I the one that you've taught?" He shrugged and he goes, "Well, I guess that was just your good luck." He loved to laugh. He loved to joke around. We teased each other all the time and we had a lot of fun together, but besides that he was just a remarkable, remarkable shaman. People would come to him from all the Sierra for healings or if he would go to town, he'd be stuck there a long time because people would find out he was there and he would be doing a lot of healings. He was a very compassionate and loving and kind human being. He wasn't jealous of anyone, which was one of his greatest qualities, and he was a incredibly strong, physically strong person. Even though he was little, he could still carry 100 pounds of fire wood or corn on his back straight up a mountain. That's a little about who was Don José.
Mark Allen What were some of the things that made him such a great shaman?
Brant Secunda I think because he dedicated his life to the way of the shaman. It wasn't something he just did on Mondays or Tuesdays, but he did it every day. Even with his work that he did, like in the cornfield, he dedicated that work to the great spirit. If he was gathering firewood, he dedicated that to the great spirit. That's what made him the person he was.
Mark Allen He lived, obviously, in the Huichol village, in the Huichol culture and so people might think, "Well, it must have been easy for him to stay so focused," but was it?
Brant Secunda I don't think so. He used to say that he had to work every day to be in touch with the creator. He always said, "You have to learn every day. When you stop learning, you die."
Mark Allen It's unusual in most cultures, I think, to pass on so much of that richness to somebody who maybe wasn't born in that culture. He adopted you as his grandson and taught you, sent you through a 12 year apprenticeship.
Brant Secunda I was lucky, he said. That was my good luck, but we were so close. We were close companions. We would do everything for each other. I really loved a lot. The other Huichols could really see that and they, even till this day, talk about that special connection we had as grandfather, as grandson, as student and teacher, and just close companions.
Mark Allen That's pretty special.
Brant Secunda That was very special for me. I still think about it each and every day.
Mark Allen Did he know you were coming before?
Brant Secunda Yeah, he had a dream about me. He said he dreamed about me coming there.
Mark Allen Wow. I never met him personally. I've only seen photos and seen him in videos and he always has a smoke on his face.
Brant Secunda Yeah, I tried to get him laughing before I took the pictures. He could be serious, as well, but he also was always, as you saw from the photos, he always had a smile. He loved to laugh. He loved to tease. He loved just to be happy. He used to tell everyone, "Don't worry, be happy," and that was before that song came out.
Mark Allen He was predicting the future.
Brant Secunda It looks like it.
Mark Allen How was his life with his wife, Doña Josefa?
Brant Secunda Beautiful. They had 13 children and they were very dedicated to each other. She was probably one of the ... I would say she was the closest person to him and maybe I was right behind that.
Mark Allen Wow. Did he embrace you right away?
Brant Secunda Yes. Immediately.
Mark Allen I'm sure there had to be tests along the way also.
Brant Secunda Many tests.
Mark Allen That's beautiful. Thank you.
Brant Secunda You're welcome.