The Vision Quest Ceremony is a way of communicating with the Great Spirit. There are many misconceptions about this fascinating rite. One misconception is that a vision is obtained by reaching a delirious state of exhaustion through fasting. This is untrue, visions are obtained because specific Spirits are called and sent to the person requesting a vision.
The magic of the ritual is dependent on many things. Mostly they depend upon an ancient lineage of Spirit Helpers that have been handed down within the tradition. Also a very important factor is that people pray in support from a distance. The supporters maintain a specially prepared sacred fire without letting it go out. Another important part of the vision quest are the prayer ties. Participant tie 405 tiny bundles of tobacco to a single string. This string will encircle the quester forming the Hocoka or center. This is done so that only certain spirits can enter. The tobacco each contain a prayer, the spirits then read each prayer as they arrive.
The vision quest is known as a hanbleceya, or “to cry for a vision”. Like many ceremonies it begins with a sweat lodge. Within the sweat lodge the person questing is handed a sacred canupa (sacred pipe). The quester is covered with a star quilt and led to a specific secluded place. The medicine man or woman prays and sings calling the spirits. The quester is left alone to pray all the while holding faithfully the sacred canupa and not letting it go.
When this ceremony is properly performed the person praying for a vision should not experience undue thirst or hunger. Also they will experience a communion with the Divine. Depending on the circumstance, that may include teleportation, a soul journey, a visitation, or a simple message.
Experiencing a vision quest is a very fulfilling event. It is an initiatory rite of passage as well as a way of gaining answers from the Great Spirit. One may gain a connection with an ancestral guide or an animal spirit helper. Many misconceptions what is popularly known as a totem animal. One’s totem animal for instance may be a man or a tree but even this is misleading. A totem is a spiritual friend or power known as sicun. A bear totem for example may be the soul of a bear or the part of the Great Spirit (God) after which all bears were modeled.
A vision quest is usually a 24 hour experience. In our Lakota tradition the quest can last up to 4 days (and 3 nights). The amount of time depends upon the purpose of the ceremony and the individual. One does not necessarily have a more profound experience by questing for a long time. It is a magical rite depending upon the Spirits intervention and the prayers involved. The songs, the medicine man or woman, the supporters, the fire, the canupa, the tobacco prayer ties, the offerings, and the sweat lodge all work together to create a doorway for the person vision questing.
This ritual ends the way it began. The person is ceremoniously brought back to the sweat lodge where the accounts of the experience are shared and interpreted. The sacred canupa is lighted and finally smoked. Water and sometimes corn, meat, and fruit are shared to break the fast as well as to bless and strengthen everyone in a sacred way. after blessing oneself with the sacred pipe (canupa) and drinking water the ceremony comes to a close. The purpose of a vision quest is to commune with the divine. Vision Quest is a prerequisite of the Sundance and the annual obligation of the medicine man\woman.
To experience a Vision Quest with us first support at our Vision Quest camp. Check our events calendar. We usually hold Vision Quest in late Spring and then again in early Fall.
Vision Quest Preparations
To do the vision quest one would need to make the tobacco prayer ties. The 405 prayer ties are offerings for the 405 spirits of the Earth (Wasicun pi). The spirits that come will inspect each one ( they may not all come ). The ties are also a protective device, in that only the 405 spirit may enter. Usually we use just basic cotton fabric. Normally the 405 ties are red but colors can vary depending on the situation. Be sure and contact us about this important detail. The fabric is cut into 2 inch squares.
The string to use may be yarn, kite string, or sinew (waxed nylon). A tiny pinch of tobacco is placed into a cloth square, using two slip knots, the bundle is tied without cutting the string. Keep the prayer ties an inch apart. You should only be praying while you do this, nothing else. It is nice to smudge the prayer ties each time you sit down to work on them. The ties should be rolled onto a small wad of sage as you go along, sort of like rolling a ball of yarn. They can be made in stages or all at once. Be sure the string will be long enough, pieces of string cannot be tied together. So make sure you wind up with one continuous line of 405 prayer ties 1 inch apart.
You will also need to make prayer flags, also known as robes. You will need 1/4 yard of red, yellow, black, gray, blue, green, brown, orange, and lavender. These should be new basic cotton. Also you will need 1/4 yard of red felt of any kind. A small hand full of tobacco is placed into the corner of the fabric and tied into a bundle with string. Each flag will be separate but make sure you leave about 7 inches of string on either side of the bundle to tie these to sticks later.
Just before vision quest we will take a short hike to gather fresh sage and five forked sticks either chokecherry or juniper. The prayer flags will be tied to these just before the sweat lodge. The sage will be laid out upon the ground within the Hocoka.
For the red felt prayer flag (waluta) you will also need a shell button, a medicine wheel disc decorated with porcupine quills, and a special feather. These will be tied to the bundle in that order. Please contact us if you cannot find some of these supplies.
A metal bucket with a dipper and a plain knife will be needed. An extra quarter yard of red basic cotton fabric will be used to wrap all of these things with sage. All of the items used in the vision quest must be new and unused. You will need a new star quilt or a Pendleton blanket or a buffalo hide. Everything that has been mentioned so far will be given away afterwards, except the sage, which can be used throughout the year as smudge incense. An extra blanket should be brought. This can be a used blanket of any kind that you will not give away.
The most important item for the vision quest is the sacred canupa or sacred pipe. Those people who carry a canupa will use their own. We will provide a pipe (on loan) to those who do not have one. Like the bucket, dipper, and knife, their handles will be wrapped in sage with the extra red fabric.
During the Vision Quest, if you need to use the “bathroom” you will place your sweetgrass braid over the prayer tie string. You will step over the braid outside of the hocoka use the “bathroom” and step back over the sweetgrass braid into the hocoka and remove the sweetgrass braid from the prayer tie string. To avoid all this one should fast from solid foods one or two days before going up on the hill.
In the event of the menses unexpectedly occurring while questing, a woman then is led away from the sequestered area and will be taken to the Moon Lodge. The ceremony ends for her then and can resume at a later date.( We will know if the Moontime begins ).
Appropriate attire for this event for men is a pair of shorts or underwear. Ladies wear a simple cotton dress. We have sweat dresses and all of the necessary ceremonial equipment available.
Anyone participating in the vision quest would be responsible for providing a feast for all of the supporters. In some cases one would give gifts to all of the supporters as well. Contact us for more details in regards to this. Some of the foods for this are specific and would have to be prepared during the Ceremony. A few groceries to feed some of the supporters are necessary as well (they will participate in a light fast).
Vision Quest Supporters
If you would like to be a supporter for the vision quest we would need help tending the fire and in the kitchen. The fire is attended to constantly so we would have to do it in shifts. We will be singing songs and praying. Supporters would be involved in the sweat lodges and in the actual bringing the quest-er to and from the Hocoka. Women are to wear skirts or dresses while on the premise. If a woman happens to have her moon time (menses) then we have a Moon Lodge for her to offer prayers from that space. This insures that her energy does not conflict with the Ceremony.
Supporting for a ceremony like this can be very empowering and profound. It is an opportunity to learn more about these ways. If you want to support someone who is doing the vision quest and you are unable to attend, you can do so at home. Some find it helpful to keep a candle lit to remember that people are out there and to connect with the sweat lodge fire. Food and water may be put out for the spirits as well as fasting yourself. Supporting a Hanbleceya is not complete without singing!!!
Singing during vision Quest is very important. The gift of song, like all animals , is what we have been given to call out to the powers of the universe in a time of need! Naturally one would not want to sing closing songs . There are a whole variety of songs you would not want to sing which is just common sense. Each person has particular affiliations and powers that guide them, so in your heart you know what you need to call in.
Any songs appropriate to you is good. keep in mind you have a limited time to receive a message so don’t waste you time singing “Jack and Jill went up the hill”. So many people decide to do a vision quest and wind up twiddling their thumbs, pining away the hours waiting for it to be over. Hanbleceya is not the time and place to be daydreaming of food and talking to your self in the same endless chatter that occupies your daily life. It is a time to stand and address the Sky, Earth, Moon, Stars and all the rest of nature. As it says in a prominent Hanbleceya song, “With difficulty I am standing”.
Know that most all Spiritual Lakota songs have come through a vision or dream, mostly from Hanbleceya. Everyone has a song, a prayer, and a message to receive from the spirits. a song from the spirits is a gift of power. Do not take it lightly when you hear a song during vision quest or even an ordinary dream. Songs are doorways, corridors for the spiritual forces to use to help you. Do not idly sing them in the shower. it is said that some of the spirits may have to travel long distances and may take extreme risks to find you. Be sure you are not calling things unnecessarily. When on Vision Quest, SING!