Ancient healing in the modern world

Brant Secunda beats on his drum and mumbles incomprehensibly. Now and then I catch the name Wali, which is the name of my son, who is sitting beside me. We both stare at the smoke rising from the little dish of glowing coals on the table before us.

Secunda stands and brushes Wali’s body with a bunch of feathers. Then he places his fist on Wali’s belly. He purses his lips and sucks firmly on the opening formed by his fist. Secunda spits into his hand and scrutinizes the fluid before dripping it onto the coals. It sizzles briefly as he guides the steam and smoke upward with his feathers. Secunda sits back down and continues chanting. 

The entire session, in the hills above Santa Cruz, looking out over the Pacific, has taken maybe 20 minutes when Secunda suddenly stands up with a satisfied smile. He looks at Wali and says, “Kind of strange, huh? It doesn’t matter whether you believe in it. It’ll work anyway.”

On the day of this shamanic healing ritual two years ago, Wali had been suffering from Lyme disease for four years. Lyme disease is a miserable, increasingly common bacterial infection that is extremely difficult to cure. We’d already been through a laundry list of treatments, from mainstream antibiotics to ozone therapy, Chinese herbology to ­vitamin and mineral supplements. We saw some improvement, but not complete recovery. A few weeks after our unusual experience with Brant Secunda, we noticed that Wali was doing better than he had in years, though he was no longer receiving any other treatment. Now, two years later, we say he’s fully ­recovered.

Does this mean that shamans like Secunda can effect real healing through what seem to be extremely primitive methods? Though there are many similar stories of amazing recoveries, the rational mind can barely ­register them as convincing evidence. But there may be an element in the shamanic approach that touches on recent scientific insights into healing.

Studies have shown that the healing process for hospital patients recovering from an operation goes more quickly, with fewer complications, if people elsewhere in the world pray for them. If prayer can have a positive effect on healing, you can imagine that shamanic rituals might, too.

Shamanism is thousands of years old, but it touches on an upcoming new vision of health called energy medicine. Energy medicine posits that at its most elementary level, all substance is made up of frequencies—ultimately, light—and that disease is caused by disruptions in those frequencies. In that context, healing means returning natural processes to their original balance.

In Secunda’s words, “Energy spirals around every healthy person. When someone is sick, we speak of an energy blockage. A blockage looks murky. The shaman tries to remove the blockage by using his hands and feathers—the X-ray machine of the Indians—to create movement in the sick person’s energy field and by actively giving him energy. The shaman tries to give light to the sick person, so that his body can heal itself.”

According to Secunda, shamanism is focused on restoring a person’s harmony with nature; nature ultimately does the healing. “The shaman is the bridge between nature, which heals, and the person who has forgotten he is an inseparable part of that nature,” he says. “The shaman helps people use rituals to reclaim the balance in their lives. The modern world has swallowed us so entirely that we forget we are spiritual beings.” 

Secunda has been asking his patients the same question for years: “Tell me about your best experiences in life.” Almost without exception, people relate experiences with nature. “Apparently we do know what’s good for us, but we lead our daily lives as if we’ve forgotten,” Secunda says. “Why else do we browse through tour guides looking at photos of exquisite natural spots in unspoiled locations? Those are the places where our souls can most easily connect with Mother Earth and where worry, stress and fear disappear.” 

Shamanism is benefiting from alternative medicine’s growing popularity and is on the rise around the world. Introductory courses are being offered in many places, and suddenly the shaman no longer seems the outdated representative of a dying profession. But Brant Secunda is no “workshop shaman.” More than 40 years ago, Secunda chose the path of adventure after graduating from high school. He traveled through Mexico until he met a village schoolteacher who was a member of the Huichol people. The teacher told him about the Huichol and encouraged him to visit the tribe. 

Some 30,000 Huichol Indians live in tiny villages in the remote mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where there are no major roads. The Huichol are considered the last tribe in North America to have been able—through their isolation—to preserve ancient shamanic traditions from before the time of Columbus. Today the Huichol still use largely the same rituals and ceremonial cycles their ancestors used.

Back then—and today—a visit to the Huichol meant a five-day walk from the civilized world. Three days after he began his journey, Secunda ran out of food and water. He realized he was irrevocably lost in the wilderness of the Sierra Madre. He wrote a letter to his parents, began to hallucinate and ultimately passed out along the roadside. He woke to see a pair of Indians bent over him. They told him that the shaman in their village—a two-day walk away—had dreamed they must rescue Secunda.

The event changed his life dramatically. “Up to that point, I had never ascribed meaning to dreams,” Secuanda says. “It’s earth-shattering to hear that someone you’ve never met has dreamed about you.” The shaman’s dream made him decide to join the life of the Huichol and to share their destiny. He trained for 12 years with Don Jose Matsuwa and became the first and only non-Huichol to be recognized by the tribe as a shaman. 

To be recognized as a shaman, you must demonstrate that you can heal people. The Huichol pose an additional requirement: Shamans must be able to make it rain in the dry mountain regions, where there is no irrigation for the sparse crops the Huichol grow. Rain ceremonies last for days, and Secunda is convinced they are effective. Proof linking the several-day ceremonies and the rain’s arrival may never be found, but once a shaman has been recognized, his life is no longer his own. “You belong to the community,” Secunda explains, “and you’re expected to use your talent to help those who need it. You never turn anyone away.”

That principle fits Brant Secunda like a glove, and his warm personality makes him an ideal healer. He treats 15 to 20 patients per week and leaves it up to them how much they pay (see his website, danceofthedeer.com). Despite numerous miraculous recoveries, he remains down-to-earth about the success of his treatments. “The Huichol say it’s ultimately up to the gods whether someone gets better. And that’s true. If it’s time for the leaves to fall from the tree, they’ll fall.” He adds with a laugh, “My father always says that’s a good excuse.”

Secunda, whose son Nico is also a shaman, says the Huichol view disease as an opportunity to discover what’s off-kilter in your life and thus what you can improve. This means that attention to health isn’t something confined to periods of illness. “Healing is a way of life,” Secunda says. “It’s a constant search for the balance between man and nature.”

At the end of Wali’s ceremony two years ago, Secunda made a chocolate sacrifice. Acco
rding to the Huichol, chocolate forges the bond between mortals and the gods. If we eat more chocolate, the Huichol believe, we’ll love life and the world more. It’s a simple prescription, but perhaps an effective one—and delicious to believe either way.  

Solution News Source

Ancient healing in the modern world

Brant Secunda beats on his drum and mumbles incomprehensibly. Now and then I catch the name Wali, which is the name of my son, who is sitting beside me. We both stare at the smoke rising from the little dish of glowing coals on the table before us.

Secunda stands and brushes Wali’s body with a bunch of feathers. Then he places his fist on Wali’s belly. He purses his lips and sucks firmly on the opening formed by his fist. Secunda spits into his hand and scrutinizes the fluid before dripping it onto the coals. It sizzles briefly as he guides the steam and smoke upward with his feathers. Secunda sits back down and continues chanting. 

The entire session, in the hills above Santa Cruz, looking out over the Pacific, has taken maybe 20 minutes when Secunda suddenly stands up with a satisfied smile. He looks at Wali and says, “Kind of strange, huh? It doesn’t matter whether you believe in it. It’ll work anyway.”

On the day of this shamanic healing ritual two years ago, Wali had been suffering from Lyme disease for four years. Lyme disease is a miserable, increasingly common bacterial infection that is extremely difficult to cure. We’d already been through a laundry list of treatments, from mainstream antibiotics to ozone therapy, Chinese herbology to ­vitamin and mineral supplements. We saw some improvement, but not complete recovery. A few weeks after our unusual experience with Brant Secunda, we noticed that Wali was doing better than he had in years, though he was no longer receiving any other treatment. Now, two years later, we say he’s fully ­recovered.

Does this mean that shamans like Secunda can effect real healing through what seem to be extremely primitive methods? Though there are many similar stories of amazing recoveries, the rational mind can barely ­register them as convincing evidence. But there may be an element in the shamanic approach that touches on recent scientific insights into healing.

Studies have shown that the healing process for hospital patients recovering from an operation goes more quickly, with fewer complications, if people elsewhere in the world pray for them. If prayer can have a positive effect on healing, you can imagine that shamanic rituals might, too.

Shamanism is thousands of years old, but it touches on an upcoming new vision of health called energy medicine. Energy medicine posits that at its most elementary level, all substance is made up of frequencies—ultimately, light—and that disease is caused by disruptions in those frequencies. In that context, healing means returning natural processes to their original balance.

In Secunda’s words, “Energy spirals around every healthy person. When someone is sick, we speak of an energy blockage. A blockage looks murky. The shaman tries to remove the blockage by using his hands and feathers—the X-ray machine of the Indians—to create movement in the sick person’s energy field and by actively giving him energy. The shaman tries to give light to the sick person, so that his body can heal itself.”

According to Secunda, shamanism is focused on restoring a person’s harmony with nature; nature ultimately does the healing. “The shaman is the bridge between nature, which heals, and the person who has forgotten he is an inseparable part of that nature,” he says. “The shaman helps people use rituals to reclaim the balance in their lives. The modern world has swallowed us so entirely that we forget we are spiritual beings.” 

Secunda has been asking his patients the same question for years: “Tell me about your best experiences in life.” Almost without exception, people relate experiences with nature. “Apparently we do know what’s good for us, but we lead our daily lives as if we’ve forgotten,” Secunda says. “Why else do we browse through tour guides looking at photos of exquisite natural spots in unspoiled locations? Those are the places where our souls can most easily connect with Mother Earth and where worry, stress and fear disappear.” 

Shamanism is benefiting from alternative medicine’s growing popularity and is on the rise around the world. Introductory courses are being offered in many places, and suddenly the shaman no longer seems the outdated representative of a dying profession. But Brant Secunda is no “workshop shaman.” More than 40 years ago, Secunda chose the path of adventure after graduating from high school. He traveled through Mexico until he met a village schoolteacher who was a member of the Huichol people. The teacher told him about the Huichol and encouraged him to visit the tribe. 

Some 30,000 Huichol Indians live in tiny villages in the remote mountains of the Sierra Madre Occidental, where there are no major roads. The Huichol are considered the last tribe in North America to have been able—through their isolation—to preserve ancient shamanic traditions from before the time of Columbus. Today the Huichol still use largely the same rituals and ceremonial cycles their ancestors used.

Back then—and today—a visit to the Huichol meant a five-day walk from the civilized world. Three days after he began his journey, Secunda ran out of food and water. He realized he was irrevocably lost in the wilderness of the Sierra Madre. He wrote a letter to his parents, began to hallucinate and ultimately passed out along the roadside. He woke to see a pair of Indians bent over him. They told him that the shaman in their village—a two-day walk away—had dreamed they must rescue Secunda.

The event changed his life dramatically. “Up to that point, I had never ascribed meaning to dreams,” Secuanda says. “It’s earth-shattering to hear that someone you’ve never met has dreamed about you.” The shaman’s dream made him decide to join the life of the Huichol and to share their destiny. He trained for 12 years with Don Jose Matsuwa and became the first and only non-Huichol to be recognized by the tribe as a shaman. 

To be recognized as a shaman, you must demonstrate that you can heal people. The Huichol pose an additional requirement: Shamans must be able to make it rain in the dry mountain regions, where there is no irrigation for the sparse crops the Huichol grow. Rain ceremonies last for days, and Secunda is convinced they are effective. Proof linking the several-day ceremonies and the rain’s arrival may never be found, but once a shaman has been recognized, his life is no longer his own. “You belong to the community,” Secunda explains, “and you’re expected to use your talent to help those who need it. You never turn anyone away.”

That principle fits Brant Secunda like a glove, and his warm personality makes him an ideal healer. He treats 15 to 20 patients per week and leaves it up to them how much they pay (see his website, danceofthedeer.com). Despite numerous miraculous recoveries, he remains down-to-earth about the success of his treatments. “The Huichol say it’s ultimately up to the gods whether someone gets better. And that’s true. If it’s time for the leaves to fall from the tree, they’ll fall.” He adds with a laugh, “My father always says that’s a good excuse.”

Secunda, whose son Nico is also a shaman, says the Huichol view disease as an opportunity to discover what’s off-kilter in your life and thus what you can improve. This means that attention to health isn’t something confined to periods of illness. “Healing is a way of life,” Secunda says. “It’s a constant search for the balance between man and nature.”

At the end of Wali’s ceremony two years ago, Secunda made a chocolate sacrifice. Acco
rding to the Huichol, chocolate forges the bond between mortals and the gods. If we eat more chocolate, the Huichol believe, we’ll love life and the world more. It’s a simple prescription, but perhaps an effective one—and delicious to believe either way.  

Solution News Source

SIGN UP

TO GET A Free DAILY DOSE OF OPTIMISM


We respect your privacy and take protecting it seriously. Privacy Policy