A vision quest is a rite of passage in some Native American cultures. The ceremony of the vision quest is one of the most universal and ancient means to find spiritual guidance and purpose. A vision quest can provide deep understanding of one's life purpose.
A traditional Native American vision quest consists of a person spending one to four days and nights secluded in nature. This provides time for deep communion with the fundamental forces and spiritual energies of creation and self-identity. During this time of intense spiritual communication a person can receive profound insight into themselves and the world. This insight, typically in the form of a dream of Vision, relates directly to their purpose and destiny in life.
In many Native American groups the vision quest is a turning point in life taken to find oneself and the intended spiritual and life direction. The vision quest is often used as a Rite of Passage, marking the transition between childhood and full acceptance into society as an adult. A person’s first vision quest is typically done during their transformative teenage years. When an older child is ready, he will go on a personal, spiritual quest alone in the wilderness, often in conjunction with a period of fasting. This usually lasts for a number of days while the child is attuned to the spirit world. Usually, a Guardian animal or force of nature will come in a vision or dream and give guidance for the child's life. A vision quest helps the teenager to access spiritual communication and form complex abstract thoughts. Through this Rite of Passage the child becomes an adult, taking responsibility for themselves and their individual contribution to a healthy society. The child returns to the tribe and once the child has grown he or she will pursue that direction in life. After a vision quest, the child may become an apprentice of an adult in the tribe of the shown direction (Medicine Man, boat-maker and so on).
The vision quest may be said to make the initiated establish contact with a spirit or force. Psychologically, it may have effected hallucinations. When talking to Yellow Wolf, Lucullus Virgil McWhorter came to believe that the person fasts, and stays awake and concentrates on their quest until their mind becomes "comatose." It was then that their Weyekin (Nez Perce word) revealed itself.
Inuit peoples also participated in this tradition. For them the technique may be similar to sensory deprivation methods. It may include long periods of walking in uninhabited, mountainous areas (tundra, inland, mountain); fasting; sleep deprivation; or being closed in a small room (e.g. igloo).
Spotted Eagle Mountain in the southeast corner of Glacier National Park is near the headwaters of Badger Creek. It is an area favored by vision questers.
Lakota Sioux – Crying for a Dream
The Lakota Sioux word for vision quest is Hembleciya (ham-blay-che-ya). The word Hembleciya translates to “Crying for a Dream.” This refers to the “quester” both physically and internally crying for a Vision or Sacred Dream. Sometimes this ceremony is called “going up on the hill,” because people would often go to a nearby mountain or butte to complete their vision quest.
Typically the quest is completed deep in nature, far away from civilization. At times it can be done closer to where people live, but located in a pit dug deep into the ground. The person on the vision quest either chooses or is told the location for their quest. They are also instructed in all preparations and on how many days and nights the quest will last by a Medicine Person (aka Holy Person). This Medicine Person will guide the quester in all aspects of the ceremony and provide spiritual support and guidance.
Before a vision quest is started the quester is purified in a sweat lodge, often over many days. On the day of the quest they start their fast at sunrise. They also forgo sleep and food. They give up all that it takes to live in the physical world and rely on the strength of spirit to sustain them for the duration of the quest.
The quester is purified one last time in a sweat lodge ceremony and then taken to the designated place of the quest. There they will stay without food, water or sleep for one to four nights. During this time the person focuses their heart, mind, body, and spirit on the guidance they are seeking. They must overcome their earthly wants and desires and face their human nature to fully receive the Vision.
Upon completion of the quest they are brought back to a sweat lodge. There, the quester speaks of his or her experience to a Medicine Person who provides spiritual guidance and interpretation of the Vision. The Medicine Person helps the quester understand his or her experience.
The Vision that is received will provide guidance to the person for the rest of their life. Some people are called to do many vision quests over the course of their lifetime.
Hallucinogenic medicines (such as peyote) will sometimes be used to aid in the quest.
- Sensory deprivation
- Lakota people
- Medicine man
- Yellow Wolf: His Own Story, which talks in a general way about the Nez Perce vision quest, starting page 295.
- A Man Among the Helpers
- The Mystic Warrior a movie about a vision quest.
- McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil (1940). Yellow Wolf: His Own Story. Caldwell, ID: Caxton Printers, Ltd. pp. 295–300.
- Merkur, Daniel: Becoming Half Hidden / Shamanism and Initiation among the Inuit. (Series: Acta Universitatis Stockholmiensis / Stockholm Studies in Comparative Religion). Almqvist & Wiksell, Stockholm, 1985.
- Holterman, Jack: Place Names of Glacier National Park / Riverbend Publishing, Helena, 2006, p 189.