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Dances With Deer

Brant Secunda and students find a Huichol way of knowledge

By Leyna Krow

'If you are fearful, imagine opening your throat and letting in the light of the world," instructs Brant Secunda. "If you are angry, let the light into your stomach. If you are jealous, let it into your heart."

Secunda is the founder of the Dance of the Deer Foundation Center for Shamanic Studies as well as a shaman and a healer in the tradition of the Huichol Indians of central Mexico.

"I was trained to take people to places of power and to heal," said Secunda at a Feb. 4 lecture on Native American shamanism at the First Congregational Church.

Secunda began his shamanic training in 1970 when, at the age of 18 while traveling through the Sierra Madre, he visited a Huichol Indian village. The village's head shaman Don Jose Matsuwa, who died in 1990 at the age of 110, took a liking to Secunda and offered to train him as an apprentice.

"He put me in a cave without water for five days. He told me, 'If you die, the apprenticeship is over,'" Secunda said. "For the Huichols, laugher is a big part of healing."

After nine years, Secunda returned to the United States and established the Dance of the Deer Foundation, now based in Soquel, in hopes of educating the American public about the healing power of the natural world.

"For the Huichols," said Secunda, "their whole life is about healing. Healing oneself, healing the community, healing all of Mother Earth."

Healing practices in Huichol shamanism take several forms, from simple daily rituals like greeting the sunrise and the sunset to ceremonial drum-beating, rattle-shaking dances. Secunda also leads students through guided meditation and encourages them to be mindful of the natural world around them.

"One simple thing you can do is to walk slowly, and with each step, think of the love of Mother Earth," said Secunda.

Brant and the all-volunteer staff of the Dance of the Deer Foundation hold seminars and retreats throughout the United States, Europe and Japan to inform the curious about Huichol shamanism. The foundation has recently acquired a new center in Crete, Greece, and will be holding multiple events and workshops there throughout the coming year.

The foundation also sells a variety of Huichol artwork such as yarn paintings and beadwork, as well as its own organic shaman chocolate bars. Proceeds from the sale of these crafts and candies go back to the village where Secunda did his apprenticeship.

According to Helena Powell, a volunteer with the foundation, "This helps the Huichols maintain their traditional way of life and continue the healing they've practiced for thousands of years."

Granted, vision quests and drum circles may not be for everyone. But for a few who have chosen to become students of Secunda, Huichol shamanism provides a unique connection to the natural world and to the community.

Donia Alexandra was a student seeking a master's degree in acupuncture in Washington when she became involved with the Dance of the Deer Foundation.

"I went to a weekend workshop and was just blown away by it," said Alexdandra who now works as a volunteer for the foundation. "It's a way of relating to the earth and really caring for the earth. It's a way to be environmental and lovin. All the things I was looking for were there."

The Dance of the Deer Foundation Center For Shamanic Studies will hold a weekend workshop in Santa Cruz titled 'The Healing Medicine of the Shaman' March 31-April 2. For more information, call 831.475.9560 or visit www.shamanism.com.

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From the February 15-22, 2006 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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