The Vision Quest

The vision quest is a tradition among the Plains people. A man or woman seeking the way on the road of life, or trying to find the answer to a personal problem, and may go on a vision quest for knowledge and enlightenment. This may mean staying on top of a hill or inside a vision pit, alone, without food or water, for as long as four days and nights. It is hard, but if the spirit voices reveal or confer a vision that shapes a person's life, then the quest is worth all the suffering.

The following tale, however, creates the vision quest with less than complete solemnity, with Sioux medicine man Lame Deer's characteristic quirks.

A young man waned to go on a "hanbleceya", or vision seeking, to try for a dream that would give him the power to be a great medicine man.... determined to go four nights he received no visions. He thought he had suffered in vain; and gained no knowledge or power.

All at once, the lighting hit a boulder on the mountainside summit... it came straight for him. He thought, "I have made the spirits angry, this all was for nothing".

"Well, you did find out one thing," said the older of the two elders, who was his uncle. "You went after your vision like a hunter after buffalo, or a warrior after scalps. You were fighting the spirits. You thought they owed you a vision. Suffering alone brings no vision nor does courage, nor does sheer will power. A vision comes as a gift born of humility, of wisdom, and of patience. If from your vision quest you have learned nothing but this, then you have already learned much. Think about it."

-Told by Lame Deer at Winner, Rosebud Indian

Reservation, South Dakota, 1967, and recorded by Richard Erdoes.

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