William Walk Sacred
"The first thing a person must do is to pray when beginning an American Vision Quest.. Sometimes we do this for months or a year. I prayed for a year and a half before my Vision Quest to make peace with the beings who had touched me with lightning. One of the most powerful prayers we say is, 'The most important thing is my relationship and my dependence upon the Creator and the spirits. Everything they show me is for my spiritual growth and the peoples' welfare. I know that with the help of the spirits I can do and I will do. Oh, Grandfather, I am so weak and pitiful. Help me for the sake of your people.'
"There are certain items a person needs in order to present themselves to the medicine man properly. The most important is the pipe. If you think of a pipe stem, it is hollow. It's a representation of us being hollow, to allow that breath of God, that vibration, that force, to move through us without any restrictions. Our prayers through the pipe are carried on the wings of the spirit directly to the source, the Great Mystery, to be heard properly. This isn't a pipe you can buy in a pipe store. It is something that you are given or that you make yourself. It is holy and sacred.
"Once you have your pipe, you find a medicine man, the person who is to be connected to you spiritually. This person is responsible for you and your vision quest. Though not in your presence physically, the medicine man will be with you when you are up on the hill. You take your pipe to the medicine man, and you offer it to the four directions. You point it to the north, south, east, and west. Then you direct it to the sky father above and the earth mother below. If the medicine man is willing to accept it, he will extend his hands. Normally, the pipe is presented four times. You present it once, touch his hands, and then bring it back prayerfully. If he accepts it the fourth time, he is accepting the responsibility for your vision quest and going in to talk to these spiritual beings.
"After he accepts the pipe, he will give you specific directions on what needs to be done. Normally a person needs prayer flags, and a piece of flannel cloth for making the altar. Then you have to cut choke cherry. If choke cherry is unavailable, any fruit tree will do. But normally we use choke cherries because they represent the bittersweet nature of life. They are the blood of life, the blood that ties us together and unifies the world family. The cherry itself actually represents the pituitary gland, which allows us to go from the physical into the spiritual world, and back to the physical world, so that we can walk in a good way, so that we can help bring peace into our heart, and help everyone on this planet.
"You also have to prepare tobacco ties on a continuous string using specific colors in a special order for your vision quest. Exact instructions are given to you by the medicine man after the spirits tell him exactly what they want. A lot of people want things, but they don't want to do what they need to do in order to get them. So, it's a very strong commitment. I was asked to make 405 ties, and it took me eight hours to do this.
"You also need an eagle feather, a peace of a conch shell that is cut in a specific fashion, and a blanket. In Native culture, the eagle is the one who carries our prayers and soars to the highest heaven, who can see great distances, and who can communicate between the physical and spiritual worlds. The conch shell represents the ocean, which is the salt of life, our beginnings. The blanket is for your protection. When you go to the hill, all you have is your nakedness and the blanket to protect you. You are presenting yourself before the Great Spirit and saying, 'Here I am. I am pitiful. I am naked.' It's just like when you were born. You are saying, 'Everything I have is yours. I am nothing without you. Without you I have no breath; I don't even exist. Without you, I am nothing but the mere dust of the earth. Now I am coming back to you in a good way, in a humble way. I am not perfect. I am not the best. But I am coming in the best way that I know how. And I am asking for these blessings today in this vision quest .'
"Once you gather all these things that you will need, you go back to the medicine man. Before sunset, they put seven stones in a fire. You gather seven large stones and on each one you make a circle with a special type of clay paint. The circle represents the hoop of life; it has no beginning or end. The circle is the beginning of cellular consciousness. It represents the light that enters into that cell. There are many meanings to the circle. Those stones are placed in the fire, and the fire burns the whole time you're on the hill. It represents all the elements: the earth, fire, water and air.
"When the stones are heated, you go into the purification lodge. This is the beginning of the vision quest. Once inside, you smoke with the medicine man, and everything is good. You go out and come back with your pipe again, but now it is empty, except for a little sage. You always keep a little sage in your pipe so that nothing gets into it, physically or spiritually. The medicine man has the lodge ready, and he has helpers that are going to sit in the lodge with you. Everyone is tied together, moving in one direction. The person going on the vision quest always sits on the west end of the lodge, opposite the medicine man. The west represents the spirits, the thunder beings who control the wind, the rain, the lightning, the thunder. These are being of great power, and especially important in my case because of being hit by lightning. Prayers are said in the lodge. You are there in complete darkness, with the fire, the water, the rocks and the air. All the elements are there so that all the spirits can enter.
"When you come out of the lodge, you do not speak or look at people. The medicine man takes you to the position of power that he is seeking for you so that you can have the vision quest you are looking for. Medicine men have many different sacred spots. He is directly connected to the Great Spirit and he knows what people can handle. Some people can handle 12 volts, others can handle 24. He puts you in a specific area that is strong enough for you as you face the spirits and go naked before God.
"Then you get to the hill. He takes out the prayer flags that you prepared ahead of time, and puts one in each direction. Then he takes the tobacco ties and puts you in the center of these four flags. He starts unwinding these along the ground. It's a protected area. We know that once we are in the center, nothing can come into the center in a bad way. Only good things can come in there. You might see all kinds of horrific things dancing around you, but nothing can come into the center except the good things from the Great Spirit.
"Once you are in the center, he finishes the ties, sets up your alter with the choke cherry branch and the red flannel, the conch shell and the eagle feather. The medicine man tells you to remain in the center for one, two, or three days, and sometimes longer, whatever is necessary. In my case, I was told to pray hard for my life on the first night, and to pray for my direction on the second. So, I was up there two days and two nights. This is all done as the sun is starting to set. You are holding your pipe the whole time with all your might because this represents the Great Mystery. You never let it down, never let it come apart. You pray and pray and pray. You pray until it hurts.
"During this period of time, you have no food or water. You have nothing but your nakedness, your blanket, your pipe, and your prayers on this your vision quest . You're down to the nitty gritty of who you are.
"At this time, you will get direction in your life. The spirits will come and talk to you. In my case, they taught me dances, and they taught me ways of communicating with the thunder beings for helping with lightning, for helping with rain, for helping with specific directions. They taught me ghost medicine and gave me specific knowledge because as a doctor, medicine man, sun dancer, pipe carrier, my direction is in healing.
"You cannot go off the path at that point because you are now owned by the spirits. They watch you continuously. There is no hiding. Someone once said to me that people live their lives as if God can't see around corners. God can see around corners. We don't get away with anything, especially once we've made a commitment in our hearts. That's why before going on a vision quest, it's important to pray for months, sometimes a year or longer, to make sure that you're clear in your heart about the direction you're seeking.
"I sat there and I prayed all night and all day. I stood there, and faced the eagle feather and the conch shell on the alter, and I prayed and prayed and prayed, and asked for direction. The spirits came as sparks of light, and they came as beings that I have known before. My father, who had died, came to me at one point. There is no way to know they are coming. But if you pray in a good way, they will come and give you direction. They will tell you what it is you are seeking, and what you need to do to become an active participant in your own life. It is up to you to be able to do that.
"Once the helpers and the medicine man leave the hill, they go back to where the sacred fire is burning, and they pray for you, continually. They are up on the hill with you, so to speak, experiencing everything that you are experiencing. The fire is kept burning the whole time you are up there. Even if your vision quest is for four days, the fire is keep going 24 hours a day. It represents the fire of life that carries your prayers up to heaven.
"After you have been up there for a specific amount of time, the medicine man and the helpers come for you. This is rough. When you are standing there for two, three, or four days, your joints are stiff, and you are feeling pain, hunger, and thirst. You have endured 100 degree weather during the day and freezing cold at night. The experience takes you beyond the physical. It isn't trying to see how much torture you can endure. It takes you to the point of realizing your potential, of seeing what you can do, what you can go through, and still come out in a good way, with your heart and mind clear, and your body still able to function. The power of the experience is difficult to communicate in words.
"As they gather up the tobacco ties, the prayer flags, and the alter, your head remains downcast and you continue to pray because you are still in ceremony. Then you come down the hill and go back to the sacred fire. You re-enter the lodge, where you pray and sing sacred songs. Again, you are sitting opposite the medicine man on the west side with your back to the center. You share the vision that has been revealed to you, and what you share is not allowed to leave the lodge. In my case, I was given gifts of Vision Quests for each person there.
"To conclude, you participate in the wopela, which is a way of saying thank you. This is an honoring time. It is a time of giving things away. You give a gift to the medicine man and to the helpers. You give gifts to the children. There's always play and laughter. Usually, the blanket you've worn is given away to someone who has been a great helper to you. This is a time of great celebration as the Great Spirit has allowed you to come back into this world from your vision quest. There's a big feast where a traditional buffalo soup is made. Unfortunately, the person who has been on the hill can't eat to much. The body is kind of stiff and you have to get used to it. It's like birthing again. You're learning how to reuse the body, and how to assimilate food into your system. It's good to take gentle things into the system, maybe some broth and fluid with a little lemon.
"For a period of time after that, you begin to integrate all this wonderful knowledge that has been given to you on your vision quest. This is a time to be prayerful, to allow all the information to come in, to integrate it, in order to help you on your path. This is also a time to readjust. You are getting used to a whole different vibratory rate, so to speak. You've been in this spiritual way, and all of a sudden you're coming back into the physical world. The medicine man will talk with you and say, 'As you come back into this world, you will see hate and jealousy in people's eyes, and all sorts of things. Remember your commitment. Remember what you have done in your heart. Your mind can trick you into saying anything. But your heart knows the truth. You cannot lie when you go into your heart of hearts. When you're in that center, you will know what is truth. You will look at these people and know that we are all pitiful creature. Just pray for them. When somebody comes at you with anger, hatred, prejudice, and all these things, look at it and say that everything is in control of the spirits. Just as when you were in that center on your vision quest, and nothing of a negative nature could hurt you, you can enter that center again. Know that you are walking in a good way. Whatever the Great Spirit brings you is coming in a good way."
Sometimes going on a vision quest is not as elaborate or detailed in terms of preparation. Still the experience can be a powerful one when the intention for a American Vision is strong. Eagle Man, an Ogallala Sioux, shares what his immersion into nature taught him, although he says the experience is too powerful to fully express in words.
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