Making Commitment to Ancient Way of Life

Wendy Miller is editor of Ventura County Life

As we nip at the heels of the 21st Century, our daily rituals tend to reflect a secular, contemporary lifestyle. There's morning coffee, the one-hour lunch, the 6 p.m. dinner and the 11 o'clock news.

Oh sure, some of us worship at a church or temple of choice, but our religious observances are generally formal and separate from our more routine daily rituals.

Not so for the 15 men, women and children at the 100-acre enclave off Highway 33 known as Chorro Grande. There, residents are attempting to bring ancient Indian rites and ceremonies to modern-day Ventura County.

"This is not a religion, it's a way of life," Anotka, one of Chorro Grande's leaders, told staff writer Jeff Meyers, who wrote this week's Centerpiece story on the community.

And while there is some controversy around Chorro Grande--which is seen by some in the local Chumash community as a "New Age" retreat--Meyers was, nonetheless, impressed by the commitment and rigor of its residents.

"What really struck me about the tiny society at Chorro Grande was its sincerity and reverence toward Native American rituals," Meyers said.

"Respect was the operative word."

To actually adopt a Native American way of life means to be self-sufficient, which is what the residents of Chorro Grande are attempting, said Meyers.

"It isn't easy in today's world, but they plan to grow their own food, raise goats and use solar-powered generators," he said.

"Unlike the Chumash, however, they have a problem with garbage. While the Chumash used most everything and buried the rest, current residents of Chorro Grande recycle, and hauling the waste down the hill is a major undertaking."

But then living within the constructs of an ancient belief system isn't supposed to be a walk in the park. Instead, there are two day-and-night walks in the woods, known as vision quests; drumming and chanting ceremonies; and Sunday sweat lodges, which are open to the public.

"I've been in a lot of saunas," Meyers said, "but the sweat lodge was so hot my teeth even perspired."

But Meyers said he was moved by the power of the ceremony.

"Although I was a little skeptical when the sweat leader said we'd be energized all week, I did indeed feel sharp mentally and physically," he said. "I might even try another sweat."

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