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Vision Quests

It isn’t rare that any given culture may have given a specific point or age in a person’s life that would mark their passage from childhood to adulthood. Often they would go as far as to have ceremonies created to do so, some still do in fact, take for example the mitzvah’s of the Jewish faith. The Native Americans also had such an event and it was usually marked through the undertaking of what was known as a vision quest.

The vision quest was performed in many different ways dependending on which tribe would be performing it however it would always be related to connecting with a guardian spirit, usually through isolation, meditation and fasting. Sometimes people would even be put under a trance state in order achieve a connection with the spirits to better guide them through their quest. These states were usually achieved through the burning of natural plants and herbs, usually ones that might give off hallucinogenic or narcotic fumes.

In Native American society it would usually be boys who took part in the vision quest ritual in order to achieve manhood. To start this rite of passage the boy would first take part in a cleansing ceremony and smudging ritual in sweat lodge. This would both refresh the soul and pay respect to all spirits in the universe in preparation for the journey. Then the participant would be bathed in cold water before being led into the wild where he would spend three days fasting alone. During this time he would learn to appreciate his surrounding and all wildlife from flora to fauna, his time alone would allow him to contemplate all things bringing a new enlightenment to him. The fasting was intended both to relieve the body of toxins as well as teach the boy the importance and need of replenishing ones spirit. After the three days the boy would be retrieved and taken to the Medicine Man. Here he would be deemed a man and discuss what he had discovered about himself and his spirit guide. Finally the ritual would end with a great feast to celebrate.

Though this was the most common method of vision quest sometribes also had much more extreme methods for connecting with the spiritualworld. The first of these methods is called ‘crying for a vision’ used mostnotable by the Mandan, Sioux and Pawnee tribes. They would require the participant to undergo some of the same point asbefore however they would also need to partake in rigorous physical challengesalong exposure to extreme and harsh elements. The second and more brutal of thetwo is the ‘sun dance’ which again bore some of the traits of the commonexample only with the addition of voluntary physical torture. On the final dayof this four day ritual they would have parts of their body slashed open, thenthey were hung up by ropes with skewers depicting animal claws. Once the scarshad healed they would serve as a mark of of their undertaking of the ritual. Itwas thought that through their vulnerability and the presence of the unknownthat they would better connect with these spirits that would guide them throughlife.

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