The Blue Deer Center – a home for ancestral traditions and teachings

MARGARETSVILLE, N.Y. – The Blue Deer Center, a nonprofit retreat, was founded in 2005 by Eliot Cowan, a Huichol Indian shaman, teacher and master of acupuncture.

Cowan has spent many years studying, traveling and practicing natural medicine and healing with the Huichol people’s of Mexico, including the late healer, Don Guadalupe Gonzales Rios. Involved with Plant Spirit Medicine for the past 23 years, Cowan now teaches others how to use the healing properties derived from plants to support human healing. Programs offered at the Blue Deer Center focus on healing, ritual and balanced relationships with the natural world and how to integrate them with modern society and living.

According to Safia Johnson, co-executive officer of the center, it takes students two to four years to complete certification allowing them to legally practice Plant Spirit Medicine. In the past four years, more than 500 students have completed the program.


Photo courtesy Blue Deer Center A yert used as a training room at the Blue Deer Center.

Aime McCrory, the center’s publicity and promotions specialist, said the program connects people with the medicines of plants and flowers to bring about healing of the mind, body and spirit. “Its basis comes from acupuncture, but it also has an element from nature as well – that nature is whole and traditional drugs are derived from plants. The Plant Spirit Medicine Seminary is a place people go to become advanced teachers in the field.”

The center also attracts teachers, artists, leaders and healers from around the world who come to share their wisdom and vision for the future. Visitors are invited to share the teachings of cultures from regions such as the South Pacific, Africa and Central America.

The center is nestled under the Catskill mountain range on 90 acres in a tranquil environment which was once where indigenous peoples of the Mohawk and Oneida nations gathered to hunt, heal, reconcile and find peace. Near the center are the flowing waters of the Plattekill River.

“What sustained our ancestors will sustain us,” Cowan said. “The way forward is the way back – back to hearing the world we are part of. Back to knowing that everything is alive, and that life is sacred; back to the possibility of a future for humanity.

“How do we get back? The ancestral teachings and practices need a home where they will be nourished, kept strong, and made available. To provide this home is the mission of the Blue Deer Center.” According to Cowan, we all have an “indigenous soul,” which responds and resonates to indigenous wisdom and teachings.

The center accommodates 50 overnight guests and holds an unlimited number of people for events and retreats. Community fires are held the third Friday of the month and are open to the public free of charge. Depending on the season and other events, attendance ranges from 20 to 200 people with a potluck dinner following the fire.

Dan Sprinkles and Annie Eagan, resident shamans, are initiated fire keepers of the Sacred Fire Community. The purpose of the Sacred Fire Community, according to the Web site, is to “rekindle our relationship to each other and the world through the universal and sacred spirit of fire.” Men’s and women’s fires are also hosted frequently by Sprinkles and Eagan.

When people gather around a fire they share stories and a connection to each other through the fire. Cowan says community fires can promote healing and be thought provoking experiences. Workshops and retreats are also offered at the center and the facilities can be rented for weddings and personal retreats.

“One of our missions is to make people aware of and educate them in the importance of Native traditions for an empowered lifestyle,” McCrory said.

The Blue Deer Center also houses the Huichol Art Project, creating markets in the U.S. for Huichol Indian artwork. Many of the staff and faculty members at the center travel to northern Mexico to study, while there they purchase art to help support the villagers. The handmade art is brought back to the center and placed on display. The nonprofit Art Project helps Huichol families remain in their homeland rather than migrating to the lowlands to work in factories and tobacco plantations. For information about the Art Project, or to obtain art for sale in your area, e-mail Meike Cyr, Art Project coordinator, at huicholartproject@bluedeer.org.

McCrory said speakers hosted by the center often come directly from their tribes and provide a great opportunity for people to experience different cultures, teachings and wisdom without having to travel to another country.

Upcoming events include an “Evening Around the Fire” Oct. 30 with John Lockley, an African sangoma of the Xhosa tradition. Lockley offers a firsthand look at the Xhosa way of viewing life, experiences and exploring personal life paths.

Lockley will also host an Ubuntu Workshop Oct. 31. The workshop will use song, rhythms, trance dancing, storytelling, prayer, dream work and a blessing ceremony as a bridge between peoples and cultures. Lockley will show participants how to connect with their ancestors, spirit guides, nature, the Great Spirit, themselves and others. He will also be available for individual sessions Nov. 1.

Cowan’s book “Plant Spirit Medicine” is available in local bookstores or online through sites such as Amazon.com or by calling the Blue Deer Center.

“Without doing battle, without making the disease the enemy, the spirits of nature have offered to bring us out of the dream of strife into the dream of wholeness,” said Cowan.

For more information about Cowan, the center and scheduled events and retreats, visit the center Web site or call (845) 586-3225.