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A vision quest is the active seeking of a vision or other sign from spiritual forces. Vision quests are especially associated with the aboriginal cultures of the Americas and are frequently tied to initiation rites and to shamanism. The most widespread initiatory ritual is the puberty rite, in which the individual becomes an adult member of the community.
Vision quests are regularly preceded by fasts, purifying sweats, and other ritual preparations, which are believed to open the mind to visions. The distinction between a vision and a dream is often difficult to draw (see visions and dreams). One thing is clear: Some aspect of visions make them similar, in some way, to dreams.
For example, in the puberty rite vision quest of the Lakota shaman Lame Deer, Lame Deer’s own vision begins during a moment of full wakefulness. Thinking back to his experience, however, he recalls that he worried. “What if I failed, if I had no vision? Or if I dreamed of the Thunder Beings …?” (p. 13—see Sources). He was worried that he might have a vision of beings who, as his guardian spirits, would direct him to undertake a vocation as a sacred clown. However, rather than using the term vision, he refers to this alternative possibility as “dreamed,” a change that indicates he regarded visions and dreams as being on par with each other.