Brant Secunda is an internationally acclaimed shaman, healer, and ceremonial leader in the indigenous Huichol tradition of Mexico. During an intensive 12 year apprenticeship, Brant became the adopted grandson and close companion of Don José Matsuwa, the renowned shaman who passed away in 1990 at the age of 110.
Brant’s initiation into the Huichol tradition began when he was 19 years old, and rights of passage during his apprenticeship included completing a five-day vision quest without food and water in the sacred Cave of Grandmother Growth, capturing and releasing a wild rattlesnake with his bare hands, enduring a 14-month fruit fast to enhance his sensitivity to the natural world, and surviving an extended nine-day vision quest to learn the language of the gods.
For nearly 40 years, he has led conferences, workshops, and retreats around the globe, has been a lecturer at the Mayo Clinic, the American Holistic Medical Association Conferences and a faculty member of the Five Branches Institute of Chinese Medicine. He co-authored the award-winning book Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You, and he is a co-founder of the American Herbalist Guild, the Peace University in Berlin, Dance of the Deer Foundation Center for Shamanic Studies and the Huichol Foundation.
Brant tunes into today’s conversation from his home in Santa Cruz, CA. He introduces us to the practice of Huichol Shamanism, and shares stories of the ways that he learned from Don José—slowly, methodically and almost by osmosis of simply spending time together, completing daily tasks of growing corn, listening to rivers, gathering around the fire and each day deepening his understanding of the earth cycle’s and the language of the plants, animals and natural elements.
A humble man of gentleness and humor, Brant reflects on his friendship with India Supera, founder of the Feathered Pipe Ranch, and Pat Kennedy, a late Cree elder that included Brant in Montana-based Peace Encampments that brought together leaders from various indigenous traditions in the U.S. and Canada. We talk about the importance of laughter medicine, connecting to nature and what it means to “find your life,” a saying in Huichol Shamanism that Brant shares in his workshops.
This conversation flows much like one big prayer or ritual. I invite you to slow down and take this in, not just filtering the words through your mind, but seeing if you can tune into this episode with your entire body, your heart and your spirit. The beauty is in the simplicity, and you may be surprised what transmits.
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Andy Vantrease 00:17
Welcome to The Dandelion Effect podcast a space for organic conversation about the magic of living a connected life. Just like the natural world around us, we are all linked through an intricate web, a never ending ripple that spans across the globe. Here we explore the ideas that our guests carry through the world, remember who and what inspired them along the way, and uncover the seeds that help them blossom into their unique version of this human experience. This podcast is a production of the Feather Pipe Foundation, whose mission is to help people find their direction through access to programs and experiences that support healing, education, community and empowerment.
Andy Vantrease 01:04
Hi, friends. Welcome back to another episode of The Dandelion Effect podcast. I’m your host, Andy Vantrease. And today I’m talking with Brant Secunda. Brant is an internationally acclaimed shaman, healer and ceremonial leader in the indigenous Huichol tradition of Mexico. During an intensive, 12-year apprenticeship, Brant became the adopted grandson and close companion of Don Jose Matsuwa the renowned shaman who passed away in 1990 at the age of 110. Brant’s initiation into the Huichol tradition began when he was just 19 years old. And rites of passage during his apprenticeship included completing a five day vision quest with no food and no water in a sacred cave of grandmother growth, capturing and releasing a wild rattlesnake with his bare hands, and enduring a 14 month fruit fast to enhance his sensitivity to the natural world, and surviving an extended nine day vision quest to learn the language of the gods.
Andy Vantrease 02:02
For nearly 40 years Brant has led conferences, workshops and retreats around the globe, has been a lecturer at the Mayo Clinic, The American Holistic Medical Association and a faculty member of the Five Branches Institute of Chinese Medicine. He co-authored the award winning book Fit Soul, Fit Body: 9 Keys to a Healthier, Happier You, and he is a co-founder of the American Herbalist Guild, the Peace University in Berlin, Dance of the Deer Foundation and the Huichol Foundation.
Andy Vantrease 02:33
Brant tunes into today’s conversation from his home in Santa Cruz, California. He introduces us to the practice of Huichol shamanism and share stories of the ways that he learned from Don Jose–slowly, methodically and almost by osmosis of simply spending so much time together, completing daily tasks like growing corn, listening to rivers, telling their dreams to the fire, and each day deepening his understanding of the earth cycles and the language of the plants, animals and natural elements.
Andy Vantrease 03:05
A humble man of gentleness and humor Brant reflects on his friendship with India Supera, the founder of the Feather Pipe Ranch, and Pat Kennedy, a late Cree elder that included Brant in the Montana-based peace encampments that brought together leaders from various indigenous traditions in the US and Canada. We talk about the importance of laughter, medicine, connecting to nature and what it means to “find your life” as saying in Huichol shamanism that Brant shares in his workshops across the world. This conversation today flows much like one big prayer. I invite you to slow down and take this in, not just filtering the words through your mind like other podcasts, but seeing if you can really tune into this episode with your entire body, your heart, your spirit. The beauty here is really in the simplicity. And you may be surprised what transmits. So without further ado, please enjoy this conversation and help me welcome my friend, Brand Secunda.
Andy Vantrease 04:11
It’s truly an honor to be talking to you. I’ve heard your name for years and years in a lot of my different healing circles and especially through the Feather Pipe Ranch.
Brant Secunda 04:21
Great. Well, now I can tell you my side of the story.
Andy Vantrease 04:25
Yeah, yeah, we’ll fact check everybody’s tales. You’re originally from New Jersey, which is fun, because that’s kind of my neck of the woods…
Brant Secunda 04:34
Right, New York and New Jersey
Andy Vantrease 04:36
New York in New Jersey. And you left there the day after your 18th birthday and essentially went on this quest that landed you in Mexico. I’d love to just hear about where the inspiration for that journey came from and perhaps just kind of backing up a couple steps into your childhood and into you know what inspired you to start seeking at such a young age.
Brant Secunda 05:04
Well, I used to ask Don Jose that. I used to say, “Why me, Grandfather?” And he would kind of shrug and joke around and say, “Well, I guess that was your good luck that you made it here.” Because I always truly, you know, found it amazing also that I was there in Mexico, with the Huichol. And I felt really blessed that I was able to meet Don Jose. I grew up. I was, I guess, fairly normal, as normal as anyone can be in the 60s. And I just felt drawn to leave New York and New Jersey, I felt like I wanted adventure. The 60s was just a wild time. And I wanted to go, I thought, to Mexico to learn how to make potter. You know, there was a big back-to-the-earth movement. I wound up in Ixtlan, which is a town that was made famous eventually by Carlos Castenada in his books about Don Juan. And so they’re an Ixtlan, I met a young Huichol school teacher, and I stayed with him for a while. And he wrote me a letter, which he said, would serve as a passport to travel up into the Huichol Sierra into the Sierra Madre, because it’s not open even today for tourism. And it’s not that they’re mean or anything like that. But they are just in this way trying to preserve their tradition, to not have it open for tourism.
Brant Secunda 06:56
So he gave me this letter and said it was a five day walk up to his family’s village. And I thought, five days. And then I thought again, and I said, “Well, if I could survive growing up in New York and New Jersey, I could survive crossing the Huichol Sierra.” But it was very different. You know, it’s not like here where they have markers, let’s say for so many meters or miles to the next water fountain, and so forth. You know, I was in the wild Sierra Madre Mountains. And I left with two pineapples and a little canteen of water. That’s what I had in my backpack. And you can imagine, Andy, that right away, that was all gone.
Andy Vantrease 07:48
Yeah, I can imagine that did last more than a day, more that half a day.
Brant Secunda 07:54
Right, it didn’t last very long at all. And I remember thinking, “Maybe this wasn’t so cool, after all.” And most of my friends went to the university. And here I was, in the middle of this Sierra Madre Mountains, dehydrated and suffering from sun exposure, maybe heat exhaustion. And I sat down and, you know, I wrote my parents a letter, because I was terrified. And I thought someone who will find this letter and contact my parents because I thought, “Well, they have to at least find out what happened.” So I wind up going unconscious, and I had wild dreams. And you could say visions. And it was an incredible experience. And the next thing I know, native people were standing over me sprinkling water onto my face and kind of nudging me, telling me, “Why was I laying there like a drunkard?” Right, then I should have figured out how much humor is a part of the Huichol culture and tradition. You know, here I am. I almost died. And they’re making jokes about me laying there, like a drunkard. So they woke me up. And they said, two days earlier, the old shaman of their village, whose name as it turned out, was Don Juan, not the same Don Juan that’s in those books. But Don Juan is is a, you might say, a respectful way to say Mr. John in the Spanish language. And so they told me that Don Juan had had this vision of me being there, and they had been sent out to rescue me and bring me back to their village. And so they brought me back to the village where there were a small group of people waiting around the fire in a circle. And Don Juan told me that they would pray for me and give thanks that I survived this journey. And they were just, I could tell right away, so humble. Soon after this, I was taken to another village, which was the village of Don Jose Matsuwa. And he adopted me as his grandson, and he became a teacher put me through a 12 year apprenticeship. And that was how it all started there in Mexico with the Huichol.
Andy Vantrease 10:45
What do you remember feeling? I mean, I’m just picturing this young kid ending up in this situation. Were you on board right away, like, “Okay, I’m gonna do this apprenticeship. And this is the direction I’m going?” Or was there any wishing that you were back home? Or what were your friends doing? I mean, it’s just such a pivotal time in anyone’s life of those, you know, late teen years.
Brant Secunda 11:13
Well, first, you know, when you’re that young, you think, wow, this is cool. Here I am with the native people. But also at the same time, I was a little taken back, first of all, by the food. You know, food is a big part of anyone’s upbringing. And Huichols were just eating beans and tortillas. They have the five colors of corn–red corn, blue corn, yellow corn, white corn, and speckled corn, which they say represent the different races of people, and is such a big part of their culture. And I really had never had a tortilla in my life.
Andy Vantrease 12:00
What did you grow up eating?
Brant Secunda 12:02
Just American food. You know, my parents were fairly cosmopolitan, so I had had an avocado, for example. You know, we thought we ate well, but it was quite different then, Huichol diet. Now I’ve come to love beans and tortillas, and also hot sauce–tomatoes and chili–that also comes from Mexico. And also the people were very different. They dressed in these outrageous native costumes. And they were always laughing. I mean, my family laughed. But that like the Huichols. You know, they were always laughing and teasing. And I was the focus of their laughter. You know, they never seen anybody or been close with anybody in their village, like they were close with me. And they joked around with me. And at first, it was hard for me. You know, I thought maybe they didn’t like me or…So little by little, I got used to being there. And then I learned to love it, as you can imagine. When I first looked at Don Jose, you know, he looked so familiar to me. He had such a kind face. And you know, he was just a wonderful human being. And we became very, very close. we were close companions. You know, we were best friends. And people used to say he waited his whole life for you to show up. So that was something precious for me to hear.
Andy Vantrease 13:49
Did you stay down there for all 12 years?
Brant Secunda 13:52
The first six years I was a quite a bit, but also I would go back and forth, and come up and visit my family for a few weeks, then go back.
Andy Vantrease 14:04
Okay. What were some of the memorable moments, or some of the initiatory processes that you can share just to give an idea of that training?
Brant Secunda 14:16
Well, for one thing, it was living there at the village, being there with Don Jose. And getting up every day and telling your dreams to the fire, and connecting with the light of what the Huichols call “Grandfather Fire.” You know, to go to his cornfield, for example with him, or to go and gather firewood. You know, simple things like this. I remember one story I like to share is he said, “Come on down to my cornfield, Grandson, and I’ll teach you something about shamanism.” And I thought, “Finally!” Because just living there seemed like a very mundane experience at first. So I thought, “Finally, now I’m going to get something deep and profound.” So we went down to the cornfield, and he gave me a machete. He says, “Here, cut the brush down here. And I’m going to plant blue corn here and red corn on this other hillside.” And I started to cut down the brush, you know, but it was difficult for me. I had never cleared a mountain. And I went over finally to him and said, “Grandfather, I have a blister on my hand.” And he acted like he, you know, that really bothered him. And he was joking around, and I put the machete down. And he goes, “Well, you’ve been here now for a few hours, Earth has been talking to you all day. Did you hear anything?” And of course, you know, I said, “No.” And he goes, “Aah!” He picked up the machete, he goes, “Well, you missed your big Sharman lesson. “Back to work.” So that was his way of teaching me. And I see that very clearly now.
Brant Secunda 16:22
And so that was how a lot of my apprenticeship went, just being with Don Jose and living with him, sharing the life. Then he took me on many, what we call pilgrimages, sacred journeys to places of power. What we call ???, dreaming guides or dreaming goddesses, who in ancient times transformed into places of power. And when we go there, we can embrace their power with our love, with our prayers, with our offerings that we might leave. For example, one place would be what we’re all familiar with here is the ocean. Or going to little lakes, little river, springs. Going to where the Mountain where the Sun was born, in the high desert. And it’s not right there where the village was. It was a ways away. And going with Don Jose, to these places, just little by little I see now transformed my life, like a diamond take so long to become a diamond. And he used to say “that our heart was being polished, little by little by little.” And Don Jose used to say, “Grandson, try to learn something each and every day of your life, so that your life becomes like a living ceremony.”
Andy Vantrease 18:00
You know, you’re learning but it’s also just a deepening of a sense of being.
Brant Secunda 18:06
Right. And it wasn’t like one minute to the next, you know.
Andy Vantrease 18:10
Right? Right. A lot of patience.
Brant Secunda 18:13
A slow process. And Don Jose used to tell me, “Oh, you’ll be a healer, and that’ll be your work.” And in those days, there were no shaman healers in our society anyway. And a healer in my family was my grandfather. He was a medical doctor. And, you know, that was a healer. And I didn’t understand when Don Jose said, “You’ll be a healer when you finish your apprenticeship. And that’ll be your work.” And I thought, “Well I don’t know how that could be.”
Andy Vantrease 18:51
If I were to just ask, what is shamanism? How would you begin to describe that?
Brant Secunda 18:57
Right. Well, first the word “Shaman” comes from Russia, from the Tungas tribe in Siberia. And then anthropologist kind of grabbed on to that term, and it caught on. In the Huichol language, “shaman” is ???. ???. And that means, “deer spirit person,” one who becomes like the deer, one who can speak to the deer and call the deer to the circle for healing. And shamanism essence is to connect with the spiritual world of nature, to connect with the trees and the flowers and the winged ones, and the mountains, and the lakes. These are our ancestors according to Huichol shamanism. And so it’s up to us as “two leggeds,” as human beings to connect with the spiritual world of nature, connecting with the four directions, connecting with the elements. Think of the air. We like to joke around, we’re all breathetarians. Ever, every one of us is a breathetarian. We all breathe that sacred air. And the winged ones bring us that air. And then we have the next element, which is water. And water has the power of beauty. Water makes us beautiful, just by drinking water, or going to a river, going to a lake helps make us more beautiful, even than moments before. Of course, [next] is the Earth, the Earth Mother. And that Earth Mother has the power of love. And so we want to connect with that spirit of love in our everyday life, as we connect with other people, and our family, our friends, our loved ones. And of course, to the Light, the Light of Grandfather Fire. And remembering that that Light is living inside of our own heart, inside of our own self, inside of our own soul, as who we are as people. So that’s what I personally would say shamanism is.
Andy Vantrease 21:42
What were those final years or the final time before the transition of you being an apprentice to now you being able to go out into the world using what you had learned and what you had gathered?
Brant Secunda 21:56
It was a very slow process. You know, the Huichols wait years, and it depends on the person and how ready they feel they are. And I had watched him perform many healings over the years. And other Huichol shamans as well. And little by little, I saw how, how they did it. But I didn’t feel that I was ready at first. And finally, Don Jose said, “Now you’re ready.” And he had done a lot of things for me. Like for example, he put me on a fruit diet for 14 months. Can you imagine? Wow. And that was a long time. When I went to see my family, my father would joke around, “Are you a fruity nut or nutty fruit?” Which gives you an idea that my family had a good sense of humor, too. But that was a little too much for them. You know, with my grandfather, as a doctor, you know, you just couldn’t live like that.
Andy Vantrease 23:05
That was part of a…
Brant Secunda 23:07
Part of my training. Yeah,
Andy Vantrease 23:09
Prepping the body for what…
Brant Secunda 23:10
Yes, yes. And I don’t recommend that to anyone up here because, you know, our climate isn’t set for it. But when you’re down there, you know you can do it. Also, my initiation with Don Jose, he put me into a cave for five days and five nights without food and water, which also I thought was impossible, you know. I was brought up where you can’t go five days without water, anyway. But now we hear all these experiences of people who get caught, you know, in an earthquake area or something like that, and they go many more days even. So, going with Don Jose through the process was very remarkable for me. Because he, he did it slowly and he didn’t make a big deal of it. They don’t make a big deal out of things. They just say that you’ll go through it. And even after an apprenticeship, they have an expression, you know, “How will you turn out? How will you leave the apprenticeship?” Which sometimes is even more important than going through the apprenticeship. How do you act after your apprenticeship? How do you live your life? And are you going to live your life in a kind way, a gentle way. Be a nice person. You know for them that’s just as important as, you know, having wild visions. Just being a kind person. That’s what I noticed about Don Jose he was a very kind human being.
Andy Vantrease 23:47
Who are you learning from now? From where are you drawing lessons, not necessarily who?
Brant Secunda 25:06
I would say from what we call “The Ancient Ones,” you know, from the Mother Earth. And the Fire is one of, is considered to be one of the greatest teachers of all, Grandfather Fire. And you can learn from the Water. And so you go to the ocean or you go to a river, and you learn from these ancient ones about life. And you let them talk to you. You know, if you go to a running river, that sound of the river is so sacred, ???. We call that “Running Water.” And you could just sit there and listen to that sound. And that is a great teachers. as well. That’s a good question. Who are you learning from now? Don Jose, he passed away in 110, in 1990.
Andy Vantrease 25:07
What was his secret? What can he give credit to?
Brant Secunda 26:05
Practicing, Huichol shamanism, the spiritual path of Huichol shamanism. He’s used to say that was his secret. And performing ceremonies and going on pilgrimages. Until he was 108, he still was living a very vibrant life. And he was just such a remarkable human being.
Andy Vantrease 26:32
Was community a big part of the nurturing? I’m thinking of how indigenous communities and villages are set up to where the young ones have such support from elders like Don Jose, and his wife, and others from that generation that’s different from yours. And there’s kind of these circles of people that are supporting each other. What was your experience with that coming from our American culture?
Brant Secunda 27:05
Our culture used to really respect the elders as well. You know, it’s fairly recently that we changed, or we’ll put people away into nursing homes and forget the elders. But it never used to be like that anyway, in our culture. But for the Huichols, community is such an important part. I’m glad you, you brought that up. Andy. You know, the Huichols when they see healing, they see it as healing from different perspectives. For instance, there is healing ourself–personally healing, the individual healing every human being. And then the second part is healing the community–the family, the village, and all the people there. And the third part of healing for the Huichols is then healing everything on Mother Earth–all of the two leggeds, or the four leggeds, or the trees and the flowers and the winged ones above. The Huichol try to really make an effort to heal all that lives. Of course, community is such a big part. So I’m really glad you brought that up. Because people forget sometimes that each and every one of us is part of a community of some sort. And we shouldn’t forget that. And so they make ceremonies all year round, for healing the community, for healing the people. And then every day, when they do ceremony to, for instance, tell their dreams to the fire, which, you know, I’ll teach people that at the Feather Pipe when I come up. And then we’ll send the light from the, from the fire all over the earth, just to their loved ones, their family, but then all over the earth to try to make the earth a better place. And that’s why the Huichols refer to themselves as “The Healing People,” because the Huichol believe that we’re all trying to help heal the earth, together as one heart, there’s one spirit. And so that’s important.
Andy Vantrease 29:35
Part of the things that I think about a lot as I’m in different community circles and intentional spaces, it’s just apparent that our culture is not specifically set up in that way. And so I, you know, have found myself the last few years seeking out these spaces where I can be with elders and learn and just ask questions. Like I’m doing this six week, “Women Awake” series. And last week, we had six or seven women who had crossed over into menopause. And were elders of sorts, the Crone. And they just spoke about what this phase of life was like, what their experience was, like, what their journey has been like, as a woman, these later years. And then all of us who are younger, listened. And it was just this amazing experience, because it’s like, unless you have grandparents who are still living, or you happen to grow up in a community where there are different generations living together, you don’t really get that cross generational interaction. And I think about that with your experience with Don Jose, the richness of that wisdom that is being passed down, even like through osmosis, almost just being with him, like you say.
Brant Secunda 31:00
Andy Vantrease 31:00
You know, how that aids in bringing up the younger generations and the ones who need guidance.
Brant Secunda 31:08
Right, well I, you know, like in, in the village, Don Jose’s wife was also a shaman, and also a healer, and a wise one. And he used to joke around. He said, his wife was the real boss. And, and then, you know, you’d ask the women, “Well, who’s the boss?” You know, these were questions that, you know, I had as a Westerner. The women would say, “Well, we’re the boss.” And I would say, “Well, the men, they, they might say, they’re the boss.” And they go, “We just let the men think they’re the boss.” Very interesting. But Don Jose???, was also, Don Jose wife, she was my spiritual grandmother. And I was also very, very close to her. She helped run the village, in a sense, you know,. She was in charge. And it depends, you know, on each family sharing in the traditions. And it was very powerful for me to see. When I finished my apprenticeship, you know, I brought Don Jose up to America quite a few times, including the Feathered Pipe Ranch. And he announced that he was leaving me in his place to help carry on the Huichol tradition, of shamanism and healing. And I feel very fortunate that he did that. At the time, I thought, well, why is he doing this? But he said, you’ll be happy. Don’t worry. At first, you know, I went back up once to America, and came back a few weeks later. And he said, “Well, are you practicing? You know, leading ceremonies, doing healings?” And I said, “No, not yet.” Because I was kind of [a] shy person, and didn’t want to go out and start teaching. Like I said, a long time ago, you didn’t have healers, like you have now. And so he got upset. And he goes, “Didn’t I tell you? Now’s your time.” And then he didn’t talk to me for a few days, which was very unusual, because we were so close. And then I came back up and felt like I was ready.
Andy Vantrease 33:40
What did your work begin to look like after that? What did it mean for you to be ready and to be a healer? How did that progress?
Brant Secunda 33:49
Well, it was just little by little by little. Even when he would come up with me. And he would do healings, and then he’d say, that I would do the healings for this day. And I said to him, “You know, Grandfather, no one’s gonna want me to do healings when you’re right here.” But little by little people came to me, you know, because it’s all your reputation. You know, your healings either work or they don’t. And doesn’t matter how many visions you might have had or apprenticeship. Do your healings work or not? That’s how you get ready, by your reputation, and people coming to you, and wanting you to work on them. So even now, after all these years, you know, I’m always a little cautious, you might say, because you never know if your healings will work or not. We say it’s always up to the Creator. Don Jose is to say that even when he was an old man. You do a healing on someone and he said, “Well, let’s see what the gods want.” It’s always up to them. It’s always up to the Great Spirit as to what happens. And I find that amazing even today.
Andy Vantrease 35:15
So there’s some sense of events surrender?
Brant Secunda 35:18
Right, that it’s not up to you.
Andy Vantrease 35:21
Brant Secunda 35:22
You know, it’s maybe part of your good luck and the patient’s good luck. But you always hope that your healing work. It’s the same, you know, if you go to surgery in our world. You know, they don’t guarantee anything will work, really.
Andy Vantrease 35:39
Yeah, you typically have to sign a bunch of waivers to make sure that…
Brant Secunda 35:45
Right. So you don’t get upset.
Andy Vantrease 35:48
Have you found it challenging to work this way? In a world that seems to reward that certainty, that guaranteed, the linear way of being or the linear mindset?
Brant Secunda 36:04
Yeah, it’s tricky. You might say. You just hope for the best. And in the modern road, we joke around everybody’s a healer, whether they’re an artist, or whatever it is. And we just have to hope for the best, I guess, is the way the Huichols say it.
Andy Vantrease 36:29
I want to switch gears a bit, Brant, to talk about the Feather Pipe. You met India In India, correct?
Brant Secunda 36:36
I did. I was never really kind, you know, to say, “Oh, I want to do a workshop.” We just met, and we had a good connection. And then there was a man named Whit Hubbert, he has a big ranch out there, near the Feather Pipe. I think it’s 1000s of acres. And he somehow came to one of my programs down here in California and went back up and told India that she should definitely invite me to come. And so that’s how it happened. And then there weren’t cell phones in those days. But I think she wrote me a letter. And I wound up bringing Don Jose, up there where I mentioned [that] he announced that he was leaving me in his place.
Andy Vantrease 37:25
There’s a story of you bringing Don Jose to the Ranch, and him experiencing snow.
Brant Secunda 37:32
Right. That was the first time, the first year, well the only time I brought Don Jose up to the Ranch was the year they had a big snowstorm. It was in the beginning of September. So that was technically still the summertime. And just to walk with him outside was very hard. I had to hold him up on his arm and walk with him. And I said, “You want a pair of shoes? I’ll get you a pair of shoes, Grandfather.” He goes, “No.” He goes, “If I put shoes on I fall down right away.”
Andy Vantrease 38:08
Did he always go barefoot or in sandals?
Brant Secunda 38:11
He was sandals. Okay? So I would kind of hold him, you know, very carefully under the arm, because he was my responsibility. And I couldn’t go back to the village with him and say, “Oh, he hurt himself. He fell down. In the snow.” There was no excuse that, no really, was acceptable.
Andy Vantrease 38:31
I know that you also became friends with Pat Kennedy, who was a Cree elder that India was very close to, and through stories I have heard that you cross paths at the Feather Pipe Ranch and then also work together for the peace encampments that Pat Kennedy in India organized. What comes up for you when you reflect on that relationship with him and what it meant to share space and to weave each other’s traditions into sharing with people who came to the Ranch?
Brant Secunda 39:04
I became friends with Pat Kennedy. And I tried to bring him into the circle as much as possible. And we we lead ceremonies together. You know, I would sing some of the sacred songs, and then I’d ask him to sing. So little by little, Pat and I became close friends. You know, he said his uncle’s who had heard him had told him, you know, we’re all living in a sacred way together. Yes, I felt very fortunate to have Pat. He was very humble with me. You know, he was an elder already. And here I was a young whippersnappers, you could say. I think it was the next year that this man had a brain aneurism right in the middle of our ceremony, in one of our opening circles, I thought, “Oh, no, is gonna die right in the middle of my workshop.” And this one lady, she was a nurse, you know, neurological nurse, and she goes, “Call a doctor. Call an ambulance. I know what this is.” And he was having a seizure in front of Pat and I. So I looked at Pat. He looked at me. You know, he had never been that much around, you know, white people before at that point. And he looked at me, and then he goes, “Well, it’s your workshop.”
Andy Vantrease 40:04
Oh my God!
Brant Secunda 40:19
“You do the healing.” Luckily, I did the healing. And he survived. And he, he used to send me a gift every year Christmas for like, 20 years.
Andy Vantrease 40:54
Brant Secunda 40:56
Yeah. But Pat was funny, because he thought if somebody dies, you know, he would get a lot of flack for that as well, if someone died while he’s coming to visit a workshop.
Andy Vantrease 41:08
Yeah, I can’t imagine. That’s really good luck.
Brant Secunda 41:12
Yeah. And it was a lot of pressure, you know, just on the both of us there. So there were a lot of great stories like that at Feather Pipe. And so I personally feel a special connection to that land. I feel so lucky to be able to come back this summer.
Andy Vantrease 41:32
How long has it been since you’ve been there?
Brant Secunda 41:35
I think about 10 years or so.
Andy Vantrease 41:39
So it’ll be a real homecoming for you of sorts.
Brant Secunda 41:41
Yeah, because we used to come up and we would do the peace encampments with Pat. He always asked me to lead a deer dance at these encampments. And then when he passed away, we had a few encampments still in Canada, up where he was from, and also one was up on the reservation there. But it’s been a while now since I’ve taught a program at the Ranch, itself.
Andy Vantrease 42:12
Can you say any more about what those peace encampments were? Because as far as I know, it’s such an interesting mix of different leaders coming together. And just you being there, and you holding this tradition of Huichol shamanism and working with Pat, who’s a Cree elder and then having other leaders and elders from different tribes and traditions. That’s not something that seems very common.
Brant Secunda 42:45
No, I was always surprised myself that Pat…who invited me. But you know, it was mostly Cree elders, some Blackfeet elders would also come down. And I just felt so honored that he would have me lead a Huichol deer dance, at these peace encampments. And they would always set up a teepee for me to stay in every summer. And I felt really blessed and lucky.
Brant Secunda 43:17
What was the purpose of holding those?
Andy Vantrease 43:20
Just for world peace? To do ceremonies for the land, from Mother Earth. It was Pat and India’s idea originally. They used to joke around with me because, you know, they’d be picking the dates out, you know, a year in advance. And I would say, “Oh, excuse me,” to some of the elders, because I knew I had a workshop that weekend. And they go, “You have a workshop scheduled for a year out?” And they always found that amazing. And I would say, “I’m sorry,” you know, because I felt here, I was not even part of their culture.
Andy Vantrease 44:04
And you were saying, Oh, I can’t do that date.
Brant Secunda 44:06
Yeah, I can’t do that date.
Andy Vantrease 44:09
I’ve often heard it explained as a shaman, being somebody who can walk between worlds almost and really understand how to communicate with the spirit world and bring those messages back to the material or the earthly.
Brant Secunda 44:28
Andy Vantrease 44:29
I’m curious of any visions or messages that feel particularly pertinent to what the world is going through right now. What you have learned in your lifetime, is there any insight from your end on what we’re experiencing?
Brant Secunda 44:49
We say that a shaman is a bridge, a bridge between this world and a hidden universe, you might say. And the Huichols have the expression, “You go into the doorway, from your heart to the spirit world and bring back energy.” The Huichols, just like we would in our culture now, you know, they have different practices, you know, by giving away fear giving away, anger, giving away jealousy. And these are things that, you know, effect us now today in the modern world, just as they’ve affected people for many, many, many years, for millennia. The Huichols work with letting go of fear, because a lot of people now have a lot of fear and anxiety, dealing with things that are happening now. And Huichols always try to face their fear in the best way possible. And they always say, “Things that come before us aren’t necessarily good or bad. But how do we react to them? How do we face our fears? That’s what makes it important for us.” The Huichols practices of healing have to do with letting these things go, letting things go so that we can live our life in a good way as as well as possible. The Dance of the Deer Foundation, Center for Shamanic Studies, is our foundation which helps to teach shamanism. You know, here in America and all over the world, for people to learn to live a better life, to heal themselves, to heal their bodies, hearts and spirit, so that they become truly integrated. They find their true nature. They find their real self. They’ve learned to complete themselves as a human being. And then part of the proceeds go back to help the Huichols as much as we can. We have clothing banks, you know, where we bring clothes down for the people. And we try to support their ceremonies and pilgrimages as much as possible.
Andy Vantrease 47:18
Is this something that any individual can get involved with?
Brant Secunda 47:22
Yes, and Don Jose used to say, “Anyone can learn the path of shamanism.” And it’s open for anyone to embrace the spirit, to embrace the gods and goddesses. And it’s open for anyone with the true heart, with an open heart, with their honest heart.
Andy Vantrease 47:42
It really seems like this life and this work shows you in a sense of everything that’s happened in your life, very serendipitous things that led you on this path. And so, in just thinking about what Don Jose has passed on to you and teaching your son, Nico, does it feel like a responsibility to you to carry this on? Or a joy, duty? Like what does that feel like, as far as preserving the culture of this spiritual practice?
Brant Secunda 48:18
It’s my responsibility to help the people, to heal the people. And all the Huichols, it’s their responsibility to make ceremonies for the different seasons, like now, I mentioned to you I’ve just returned from Mexico for the, where we had this Spring Equinox ceremony. And where we had a beautiful all night, deer dance ceremony, And the Huichols say, “This is our responsibility.” This is our responsibility, that each one of us has to nourish the earth, to care for the earth, to think good thoughts about the earth and our environment, planetary healing, taking care of our planet, and also at the same time, then, healing ourself, healing our body, heart in spirit. And he also said, “If you know how to heal, use that art of healing, and help the people as much as you can. Help the people to find their life and to be more spiritual.” And so I’ve tried to do that with my own family, with my son, and with all the people that come to me to try to help them live a more balanced life, a life of harmony, because this earth is pretty special, and we’re lucky to be a part of it. This physicist friend of mine, he invited me to hear this man who won a Nobel Prize for Medicine. We went up to the university here. The man said that NASA had donated $300 million for him to find water in another place besides the earth, because water is so sacred and so special, as we know. And we have rain coming from above, and lakes and rivers and oceans all over. So I went up to him joking around, I said, “Wow, NASA offered you 300 million. I’ll help you and only ask for half.”
Andy Vantrease 50:38
Brant Secunda 50:38
I joking around, but I’m not so sure he knew I was joking or not. “We’ll spit it,” that’s what I told him.
Andy Vantrease 50:48
Yeah. You know, I feel like with some of these things, people think that they have to go down to the Amazon or go far away to the jungle for however long. I mean, I know that in your initiation and apprenticeship, you did a lot of vision quests. And you really did these pilgrimages, like you said, but I do think that these tools and practices can be learned and then taken back to everyday life where people can connect with the elements wherever they live…
Brant Secunda 51:21
Andy Vantrease 51:22
Knowing that all of those elements exist within them, no matter if they’re in an urban setting, or rural setting. It doesn’t really matter. They’re always accessible.
Brant Secunda 51:35
Right. I always say, “Transformation starts with you. Transformation starts with you. Begin to transform yourself, to practice, as the Huichols say, “the spiritual power of love,” which we say is the power of the Earth Mother. That’s what we’ll be doing at the Ranch, developing a connection, to love, developing a connection to beauty, and to the Air. And of course, connecting with the Light of Creation. And what’s so special about being at the Ranch, because it’s out there in nature, is to have people practice different techniques so that they can develop a relationship with Nature and then use these techniques or practices to take home with them, when they go home from the Ranch. You know, in our society, we teach our children right away, their name, their address, their phone number. And there in Mexico with the Huichols, they teach their children, “Where does the sunrise every day? Where does this sunset, each and every day?” And so people get orientated to that reality. You know, where sunrise? Where’s sunset? And I’ll teach people that. So that when they go home, they’ll know where sunrise is in their house, or where sunset is on the land in which they live, connecting with the four directions, East, South, West and North, and our center, and use it in their everyday life.
Andy Vantrease 53:29
What is keeping your internal fire lit these days? What is exciting to you? What is inspiring?
Brant Secunda 53:38
Well, we say just by waking up every day is such a gift. Being able to open your eyes and start a new day is such a gift of the Ancient Ones, is such a gift. And that’s what keeps me going as well. To keep going, to live my life in the best way possible. And to have fun. You know the Huichols always say, “Have a smile.” Or I tell people, “Keep a smile on your face, every day of your life. Laugh and tease yourself and your loved ones.” And that’s what keeps me going, and I hope can keep you and everyone else going is to smile be a part of life.
Andy Vantrease 54:37
Brant Secunda, a humble man of patience, deep reverence, and earth based wisdom. I’m floating out of this conversation, heading straight for the wilderness to find some trees and rivers to learn from and listen to. Brant’s way of being reminded me just how sacred this life is, how precious our time on earth is, and also how simple spirituality can be. Go outside. Put your feet in the grass. Visit the ocean. Visit the streams. Listen to the water. Notice where the sun rises and sets, and ultimately just pay attention to the non-human life that is birthing and dying all around you all the time.
Andy Vantrease 55:24
For more information about Brant and his work, visit shamanism.com, where you’ll find information on his upcoming Summer Solstice retreat at the Feather Pipe Ranch, Dance of the Deer Foundation events, and more about the Huichol people and his relationship with Don Jose.
A special thank you to Matthew Marsolek and the Drum Brothers, whose music you hear at the beginning and end of this podcast, as well as Dr. Jean Shinoda Bolen, who first turned us on to the phenomenon of the Dandelion Effect and how ideas move through the world.
This podcast is a production of the Feathered Pipe Foundation, a 501c3 dedicated to healing, education, community and empowerment. If you’d like to help support this project, please visit FeatheredPipe.com/gratitude or leave a review on Apple podcasts and share with your friends. Be sure to tune in to our next episode in two weeks. We cannot wait to share another amazing conversation with you. Until then, have a beautiful day.