Editor's note: When New York native Brant Secunda was 18 years old, he had a powerful dream about a Huichol medicine man. The dream compelled him to set out solo by bus and then on foot into the Sierra Madre mountains in Mexico to find the indigenous tribe. A few days into his trek he ran out of food and water, became dehydrated and thought he was going to die. He awoke to a group of Huichol people pouring water over him and laughing, who told him the medicine man from his dream was coming to retrieve him.
The Huichol people of Mexico are an indigenous tribe living in the Sierra Madre Mountains in Mexico. They're also the last North American tribe to maintain their pre-Columbian traditions. The Huichol continue to live as their ancestors did for thousands of years, in small huts among closely-knit farming villages, relying on their natural surroundings for the majority of their needs. To this day there are no roads that lead to the Huichol tribe, and the only way to reach them is on foot and by canoe.
American Brant Secunda was only 18-years-old when he set out on foot to discover the tribe for himself after a vivid dream. He was taken in by Don Jose Matsuwa, a highly respected shaman and the man who had appeared in his dream. He was adopted by Matsuwa as his grandson, and spent the next 12 years completing a shamanic apprenticeship with him. Secunda is the only American (aside from his son Nico) that has been trained by the Huichol in their traditional form of shamanism. He has dedicated his life to Huichol shamanism ever since.
Though he splits his time between the Huichol and his home in Santa Cruz, Calif., he still works to help the tribe preserve their culture, land, language and customs. I recently met with Secunda to find out more about the Huichol and to learn about the life of a shaman.
Secunda explained that shamanism is also a way to connect with nature and all of creation, and this power can be harnessed for healing and longevity. The word shaman comes from the Tungus tribe in Siberia and anthropologists began using the word shamanism to refer to the spiritual practices of indigenous cultures worldwide.
Shamanism may be a widely-known ancient healing tradition, but Secunda will attest that there is so much more to it than that. It is a way of life.
The Huichol are known as a nation of shamans. Much of the population practices shamanism for everyday healing and balancing of the forces of nature around them. Their lives are deeply rooted in ceremony and tradition. The Huichol are quite physically active, living well past the age of 100. They farm, carry large loads and take long pilgrimages involving several days of mountain trekking.
So I asked Secunda, "What is their secret to longevity?"