Some news events stick with you forever: 9/11, Fall of the Berlin Wall, the expansion of Subway’s Sub-of-the-Day to include both six-inch and foot-long options. Me? I’ll never forget where I was when I first heard that shaman, healer and traditional ceremonial leader Brant Secunda would be hosting a nine-day retreat in Juneau.
Ah, I remember it like it was yesterday … actually a week ago, yesterday — right after the Women’s March, in fact. I found myself, as I often do, hanging out with other parents, ignoring our children in favor of our electronics.
The announcement came via someone’s suggested Twitter feeds — that’s what you get for Amazon Priming a kombucha home brewing kit.
“Join shaman Brant Secunda on sacred pilgrimages to honor ancient glaciers and hidden waterfalls,” the promotional material said.
“Our 24th annual Alaska Retreat offers a unique opportunity to experience a profound unity with the natural world,” it continued. “Learn practices to unify your soul… internalize the harmony of this place of power … pray to the four directions …”
You get the gist.
It went on like that for a while, eventually reaching the accommodations section, which promised shamanistic retreat attendees a “luxurious venue” with “exquisite wood and slate floors.” No wonder I’ve failed to discover my true nature as a being connected to all of creation — my house is nothing but drywall and laminate.
The retreat’s price: $1,700 ($1,500 with the early-bird discount). This only covers the spiritual cleansing, visionary journeying, sacred pilgrimages and wisdom teachings (what, no zip-lining?). Lodging is separate and options range from $775 (tent camping; bring your own tent, no joke) to $2,275 for a private shamanic suite. Whale watching costs $90 extra.
I know what you’re thinking: they’ve been holding shamanistic retreats in Juneau for 23 years and we’re only finding out now? You’d think someone would’ve tacked up a notice at Rainbow Foods or something.
Naturally, we followed the link to Brant Secunda’s website, www.shamanism.com. By the way, that’s one tech-savvy shaman, to jump on that domain name before another supernatural intermediary could take it.
Shamanism.com led to the Dance of the Deer Foundation, which, as far as I can tell, is a shaman shell company. See, in addition to running a slate of high-end seminars around the globe, Brant Secunda also markets his own line of Shaman Chocolate as well as a membership-based streaming video service, ShamanismTV. Was ShamanFlix already taken?
Anyway, if 2017 taught us anything, it’s that bald-face hucksterism is always good for laughs; shamanism.com didn’t disappoint. Soon jokes were flying left and right. Some highlights (and I can’t take credit for all of them; everyone was talking at once):
“Brant?! That’s not a shaman’s name. Brant is a high school quarterback, or the mean rich kid from an ‘80s teenie-bopper movie played by James Spader.”
“Do you think he chose Juneau because of Shaman Island?”
“Sha-man? Has the Women’s March taught us nothing? That’s sha-person. Time’s up for the heterosexist hegemony over the New Age spiritual healing industry!”
Then we clicked on Brant Secunda’s bio. Listed among his shamanic qualifications: a five-day vision quest (“I went on five-day vision-quest once — on the fall ‘93 Grateful Dead tour!”); capturing and releasing a wild rattlesnake (“Someone get these **** snakes off this **** cosmic plane!”) and enduring a 14-month fruit fast (“That’s nothing — my mom spent the entire Reagan administration on the grapefruit diet!”).
Man, I haven’t enjoyed a riff session like that in years. And honestly, last Saturday, it really hit the spot.
With our messed up ski season, the family car requiring $5,000 in repairs, the continued subjugation of nearly every vulnerable group on earth, the steady encroachment of grey into my fabulous orange beard and the debasement of the American political system and possibly democracy in general — not to mention frostbitten toes from marching in Crocs — I’ll tell you, a little comic relief was just what the shaman ordered.
Now, if you sense a “but” coming, there is — and it’s substantial (I like big “buts” and I cannot lie).
Turns out, we weren’t the only people in Juneau to catch wind of Brant Secunda’s bull — er, I mean, “plans.” And they didn’t find it nearly as humorous.
Read all about it in the Empire — the story also made several national news outlets — but I’ll put this way: the local indigenous community didn’t exactly say “gunalchéesh” to the commercial appropriation of Native culture, certainly not on its ancestral land (BTW, Brant Secunda is a white guy originally from the New York suburbs; full-disclosure, so am I).
Indeed, in a letter to the Dance of the Deer Foundation, Sealaska Heritage Institute president Rosita Worl called the event “a violation of a most sacred tradition of Native peoples.”
Well, now I feel bad. There’s nothing funny about cultural exploitation, except maybe “Borat,” and even then, the Kazakhstanis weren’t thrilled, either.
The State of Alaska considers me a resident and the City of Juneau taxes me as a property owner, but in the broader sense I’m just a guest here. Most of us are. And like I teach my kids, don’t disrespect your host.
So I, for one, will be skipping the Shamanism Alaska 24th Annual Retreat, although I’m keeping my subscription to ShamanismTV (I hear they may be adding “Game of Thrones”).
For anyone still interested in “receiving the blessings and energy of various places of power,” Brant Secunda will be hosting other shamanic seminars in such exotic locations as Patagonia, New Zealand, Crete and (again, no joke) Cherry Hill, New Jersey. In that one you “dance your prayers into the altar of Mother Earth.”
In Cherry Hill. New Jersey.
• Geoff Kirsch is an award-winning Juneau-based writer and humorist. “Slack Tide” appears every second and fourth Sunday.