I was raised in the suburbs of Cleveland, Ohio. From a fairly early age, I felt the suburbs were an artificial environment–with ‘prettified’ aspects of nature that seemed somehow wrong to me. I was fortunate that my maternal Grandfather–Charles Sugerman–boarded horses and eventually bought a farm of his own. At an early age, I was riding horses, grooming them, cleaning stalls, and later working at a full-scale farm with beef cattle, chickens, pigs, and fields of oats and hay.
After my Grandfather passed, I got caught up in studies and trying to start a career. I graduated from high school, headed off to college, worked in Washington, D.C. on Capitol Hill, did a stint in the Peace Corps in Sri Lanka, and eventually went on to study international relations and then undertake doctoral work in education. I had a kind of restlessness that kept me moving. The best part of this whole time was meeting Jessica–the wonderful woman who would be my wife. Probably a good test of the strength of our relationship was that we both began working on our doctorates at the same time. (The only thing worse than a graduate student in a household is more than one!)
It was Jessica who urged us to look for something to balance out the extreme intellectual focus of our studies. That led to Transcendental Meditation. Once we started meditating, it opened the door to a whole range of alternative practices: Chi Gong, yoga, channeling, etc. Along the way, we heard about a man named Eliot Cowan, who healed using the spirits of plants. Coincidentally (!), Eliot had just moved to Santa Barbara, CA–where we were graduate students. One day, he was offering a free public talk at the Santa Barbara Environmental Center.
That talk changed the trajectory of our lives. Eliot was nothing like we imagined: Balding, bespeckled, and rather soft-spoken. But when he started speaking, the words were like arrows to the heart. He talked about the profound imbalance in the modern way of life and we were hooked. I signed up that day to start receiving Plant Spirit Medicine treatments.
It was sometimes hard to pinpoint what that medicine was doing, but I knew I did not wish to finish my dissertation, get a job, and lose my connection to spirit and natural healing. After a year or so of treatment, I decided to sign up for the next Plant Spirit Medicine class.
Before the class even began, I started having a strange series of vivid dreams unlike anything I had encountered before. Discussing them with Eliot, I discovered I had a calling to follow him on the Huichol (Wirarika) medicine path. The very same session I told Eliot about my dreams, I met his friend David Wiley. I soon learned of David’s ability as an Axihuatakame or ‘God Speaker Man’ who could bring forth the voice of Grandfather Fire or Tatewarí as He is known in the Wirarika tradition.
After Plant Spirit Medicine classes, Eliot would often have us sit by the fire. This led students like myself in several locations to begin holding open community fires in between our classes. Over the years, many of us–my wife Jessica and me included–were trained and initiated to become FireKeepers and hold this ritual space in a good way. That led eventually to Sacred Fire–the non-profit that would support FireKeeping, share Grandfather Fire’s wisdom (Fire Speaks), and offer programs to support a wiser way of living (LifeWays). Eventually, I served as a Co-Director, Director and (currently) Speaker of Sacred Fire.
As I do Grandfather’s work, I am blessed to travel across the U.S. and also to locations in Mexico, Canada, and the U.K. Wherever I am, if I am sitting by the fire, I feel like I am home. I am honored to be offering healing and traditional wisdom to people around the world at a time of great challenge. Following in the footsteps of the ancestors (who sadly claimed my first mentor, Eliot Cowan, back in 2022) and by the grace of Grandfather Fire and the other gods, I have seen people’s lives transformed. In the process, I see a new way–actually a very old way––forward for us individually and collectively. Playing my part in this effort is my greatest joy!