Vision Quest

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Vision Quest

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The vision quest is an important aspect of many indigenous religious traditions. Usually a young man undertook such a quest as part of his coming-of-age initiation, but often it became a ritual called upon when someone, usually a medicine person or shaman, needed spiritual guidance.

In many American Indian traditions, a young man would fast alone in the desert, mountains, or woods for four days. Four was considered to be a sacred number. He would pray for the Great Spirit to send him a vision. Perhaps a spirit from the animal powers would talk to him or send a sign. That animal would become the young man's totem, or spirit guide. A feather or claw, depending on the animal spirit, would be carried in the young man's medicine bag for the rest of his life. Perhaps he would even receive a new name as a result of his quest, with the name symbolizing a brand-new life.

When Christian missionaries began to read the Bible to Indian tribes, in many respects the native people had no trouble at all bridging the gap between their world and the world of the white Europeans. They felt right at home when they heard about Moses going up the mountain to talk to God or when they were told Abraham's name was changed after he received a vision from the Divine. Stories like these were very much a part of their tradition.

Often vision quests were undertaken by shamans who sought guidance. Sometimes a vision quest would be enhanced with the aid of hallucinogenic herbs. Other times, a ritualistic dance such as the Sundance would be an integral component. The idea was to place oneself in a receptive frame of mind and in a position conducive to hearing or seeing messages sent from the other side of life—the realm of the spirit.

The Religion Book: Places, Prophets, Saints, and Seers © 2004 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.