A Native American Vision Quest


A vision quest is a special, deeply personal, ceremony in which an individual goes off by themselves to try to gain a vision from Wakan Tanka which will tell them how to be a better person in their life, find their own life direction, and gain a better understanding that they are one with and related to all things. It is expected that if a vision comes to the seeker that helpers or spirit guides will come to the seeker to help them make wise decisions in the future.

Maurizio G. Smith in his American Indian Vision Quest says, "In preparing this talk I sought the counsel of Chief Black Brave Eagle of North Dakota, Medicine Chief Roaming Deer of Texas, Chief White Buffalo of North Carolina, and Chief Young Eagle of Eureka, California. All of them agree that crying for a vision in the true sense of the word is seeking the highest in man: the highest level of his physical nature; the highest level of his feeling nature; the highest level of his mind nature; and the highest level of his spiritual nature. These are the four balances, the four directions within each man and woman, the four levels of being and unfolding."

The quest is undertaken mostly by men but some women also feel the need to seek a vision and this practice is perfectly acceptable to the Plains Indian people. Males seek the most difficult, highest places to seek their quest while females use hills or valleys which are more protected than lonely, rugged, dangerous mountain tops. The people are raised from childhood to want to receive visions, acquire spirit protection and power and to understand the sacrifice and difficulty to achieve them.

The individual seeking a vision quest will sometimes go to a holy man or highly honored tribe member and inform them of their desire to do this ceremony. The holy man, if they choose to do so, becomes their guide and determines what procedures the person must follow. These procedures differ depending on the individual and what the guide felt is best for them to do to succeed and learn from the experience after the guide thinks and prays on their knowledge of the individual. Some individuals will not use any one as an intermediary and seek the vision on their own.

Preparations are made to cleanse and purify the body, emotions, and mind of the seeker so that it will be less difficult for Wakan Tanka to provide the seeker with a vision for four days preceding the vision quest. These can include special prayers, purifying themselves in a sweat lodge ceremony, gathering sacred materials like sage or cedar and cloth or tobacco offerings, among other things. Fasting is always done during the "crying for a vision" ceremony.

The ceremony is expected to last for a certain time period, up to four days, so the fasting seeker's mind and body can allow Wakan Tanka to enter. The individual has no food, little or no water, and no shelter during this time. They may have a pipe and robe. Meditation and prayers are made constantly for the duration of the quest.

"A rectangular place, approximately four- to six-feet wide and six- to eight-feet long, is cleared and a pole with tobacco offerings is put at the center. Other smaller poles are placed at the four directions, with offerings and the representative colors of the four directions tied to each of them. Sage is spread near the center pole as a "bed" for the seeker rest on when tired. The seeker will sleep on the bed of sage, with his head at the center pole, but the entire duration of the vision quest he does not eat or drink." Jerry Sikes With Regard to .. Shared Vision

If the vision quest is successful, one or more "helpers" from the four elements of fire, earth, air, and water; birds, insects, and the animal kingdom will show themselves to the vision seeker and become the individuals sacred reflection of Wakan Tanka in the individual. These guardian spirits will remain with the person all their life and protect them as long as the heart remains pure. A symbol of an individuals vision protectors are carried with them and are represented on personal items by carvings, paintings, and bead or quill work designs.

After receiving the vision you return and prepare to share your experience with others after the third day so they too can have knowledge imparted to you. This information may include s special song, a taboo, or medicinal items to protect or treat the people. An individual is not necessarily limited to only having one vision being given to them. Many have had multiple visions over the years.

Not all of the seekers will receive a vision. Perhaps they are not mentally or spiritually ready to receive one or the time for them to receive a vision is not right. It takes a person of high level character, preparation and purity of mind, body and heart to be given the gift of a vision.

If a vision does not happen, individuals are encouraged to keep trying to seek one. This is an excellent story of one young man's not understanding what is required for gaining a vision. The Vision Quest by Lame Deer, an Ancient Wisdom article

Other good resources:

The Sacred Pipe, Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux. recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown. University of Oklahoma Press,1953,1989

Hanjbleceya Crying for a Vision

American Indian Vision Quest

Ceremonies of the Six Directions

Sioux Religion

The Teton Dakota Sioux

Killing of the Children

Down to Earth: did he have a true vision?

Defend Bear Butte: a sacred place noted for its historical importance to the Plains Indian

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