Elder’s Meditation of the Day – December 11

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – December 11

“Peace… Comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

–Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) OGLALA SIOUX

If we are to know peace we must look within ourselves. In order to do this, we must learn to be still. We must quiet the mind. We must learn to meditate. Meditation helps us locate and find the center that is within ourselves. The center is where the Great One resides. When we start to look for peace, we need to realize where it is within ourselves. When we experience conflict we need to pause for a moment and ask the Power within ourselves, “How do you want me to handle this? What would you suggest I do in this situation?” By asking the High Power for help we find peace.

Creator, help me to find peace.

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 6

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 6

“Lots of people hardly ever feel real soil under their feet, see plants grow except in flower pots, or get fare enough beyond the street light to catch the enchantment of a night sky studded with stars. When people live far from scenes of the Great Spirit’s making, it’s easy for them to forget His laws.”

–Tatanga Mani (Walking Buffalo), STONEY

Nature is life’s greatest teacher. The natural laws are hidden in nature. Hidden are solutions to everyday problems such as conflict resolution, how to forgive, lessons about differences, how to manage organizations, how to think. Hidden are feelings. You can look at something and you will feel it. At night, have you ever looked at the sky when there are no clouds? As you look at all the stars, your heart will become very joyful. You will walk away feeling joyful and peaceful. We need to visit nature so we can see and feel these things.

My Creator, let me learn nature’s lessons.

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 17

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 17

“Peace… Comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its powers, and when they realize that at the center of the Universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us.”

–Black Elk (Hehaka Sapa) OGLALA SIOUX

If we are to know peace we must look within ourselves. In order to do this, we must learn to be still. We must quiet the mind. We must learn to meditate. Meditation helps us locate and find the center that is within ourselves. The center is where the Great One resides. When we start to look for peace, we need to realize where it is within ourselves. When we experience conflict we need to pause for a moment and ask the Power within ourselves, “How do you want me to handle this? What would you suggest I do in this situation?” By asking the Higher Power for help we find peace.

Creator, help me to find peace.

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 9

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 9

“That spiritual power I wear is much more beautiful and much greater. We call it wisdom, knowledge, power and gift or love. There are these four parts to that spiritual power. So I wear those. When you wear that power it will beautify your mind and spirit. You become beautiful. Everything that Tunkashila creates is beautiful.”

–Wallace Black Elk, LAKOTA

When I was young, I asked my grandfather, “What should I pray for?” He thought for a long time and then he said, “Pray only for wisdom and for the knowledge of love.” This makes a lot of sense. No matter what happens I ask the Creator to show me the lessons I should be learning. I pray for Him to help me learn the lessons. By doing this everyday we become beautiful human beings.

Great Spirit, grant me Your wisdom.

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 7

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – October 7

“We have a biological father and mother, but our real Father is Tunkashila [Creator] and our real Mother is the Earth.”

–Wallace Black Elk, LAKOTA

Who really gives us our life? Who really gives us our food and nurturing? Who really allows us to be born? We are born through our parents who act as the vehicle of life for the Creator and Mother Earth. Our parents take care of us for a little while and when we are ready we must leave them and be faithful to our true Father, the Creator, and our true Mother, the Earth. Then we need to be of service to the Creator and be respectful to Mother Earth.

Great Spirit, thank you for being my Father. Teach me to honor the Earth.

Elder's Meditation of the Day – September 29

Elder’s Meditation of the Day – September 29

“So I prayed, but I had to pray from my heart. All of my concentration and thoughts went from my head to my heart. All of my senses – hearing, smell, taste, and feeling – were connected to my heart.”

–Wallace Black Elk, LAKOTA

The heart is the gateway to the Unseen World, to the Spirit World. It takes real concentration to do this. To connect to our own heart is also a mental state. It starts in the head and transitions to the heart. This mental state is our inner stillness. Be still and know. This place of the heart is very joyous and peaceful. It is this place that we become one with God, our Creator.

Great Spirit, teach me to be a heart warrior.

February 7 – Daily Feast

February 7 – Daily Feast


Always remember that certain circumstances are not ours to alter. We make the most of them and go on. We can only be examples, never controllers of other people’s lives, other peoples children, other people’s circumstances. Some would have us believe we contribute to harsh events by doing nothing. But some of the best work, some of the deepest caring and doing is not physically evident in the beginning. Help of any kind must be wanted and recognized before it can do any good. Too much help where it is not appreciated can make even a good person helpless. We have to be wise in our giving, and particularly wise in what we withhold, because it may be what we withhold helps the most.


~ We were contented to let things remain as the Great Spirit made them. ~




‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

August 4 – Daily Feast

August 4 – Daily Feast

Anytime we fall down in doing anything and we get up and have another go at it, count it all progress. It is getting up that makes a warrior, di tli hi, as the Cherokee says it. Getting up doesn’t mean the warrior is fearless or that he is totally self-confident. It does mean that he gains confidence as he persistently keeps trying, and he fully expects strength to come as he needs it. He asks, na quu na? How about now? Everyone is afraid of a challenge, afraid of being down and staying down. But relying on the Great Spirit gives the courage to speak powerful words to bolster the human spirit. So, how about now?

~ I know the Great Spirit is looking down upon me from above, and will hear what I say…. ~


‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler

Elder’s Meditation of the Day July 25

Elder’s Meditation of the Day July 25

“People need to wake up. They can’t hear God’s voice if they’re asleep.”

–Vernon Cooper, LUMBEE

Black Elk, a Sioux, talks about the hoop of many hoops. He says that above the people is a hoop, a conscience, the total belief of the people. If the hoop is sick, meaning dysfunctional, codependent, a lot of alcoholism, family abuse, violence, racism and sexual abuse, the people can get used to this and think this is normal. In other words, the people are asleep. If we have left the spiritual way of life, the people are asleep. If we are giving our power to another entity, the people are asleep. In most tribes, there are Coyote Clans. The job of the Coyote Clan people is to wake the people up. They need to become a nuisance and irritate the people. We must return to the spiritual walk.

Oh Great Spirit, keep me awake today. Let me hear the voices of our ancestors…let me hear the voices of the Grandfathers. Because everybody is doing it doesn’t make things right. Let me hear the truth today and become a coyote for the people. Give me the courage to be willing to be different. Let me walk straight on the Red Road.

Elder’s Meditation of the Day June 7

“If there is a shadow of a doubt someplace, that will cause a weakness.”
–Wallace Black Elk, LAKOTA
In the Spiritual World there is a spiritual Law. The Law says like attracts like. This means whatever mental picture we hold inside our minds we will attract from the Universe. To make this Law work we must maintain a constant picture. If we picture or vision something, and along with this picture we have doubting thoughts, our vision will not happen and we will get EXACTLY what we picture or vision. The Law always works. A doubting vision will not materialize what we want. A vision without doubt will always happen. This is a spiritual Law.
My Maker, today, let my vision become strong.

Elder’s Meditation of the Day June 1

Elder’s Meditation of the Day June 1

“You have to have a lot of patience to hear those old people talk, because when they talk, they talk about motivation, the feeling, the unsound that is around the universe. They explain everything to one understanding. They bring it all together, and when they finish, just one word comes out. Just one word. They might talk all day, and just one word comes out.”

–Wallace Black Elk, LAKOTA

We need to be careful about judging the old ones when we talk. At first they may not make sense to us. Maybe we’ll say they’re old fashioned and don’t understand. But the old ones do understand! When they speak, listen very carefully. Often it will take weeks or maybe even years before we understand what they are really saying. This is the way of Wisdom. We need to listen, listen, listen.

Great Spirit, today, open my ears so I can hear the Elders.


May 22 – Daily Feast

May 22 – Daily Feast

The past is to be respected for its rich store of experience – mistakes and all – believes the Cherokee. In it are all the trials and wisdom of our elders, the timeless suffering and seasoning that came to us with a brave front. But we, with less experience and far less wisdom, question why they did certain things. We have only to look at our own recent history to know that many circumstances come in to dictate some of what happened. We do not relate it to our offspring word for word – why we did something, wise or unwise. It is better they take what we have learned and build on it. The young have a tendency to see themselves far more shrewd and able than their elders. But one day, they too will see and understand the patterns that have been laid down. They will forgive and hope to be forgiven for not being miracle workers. The fact that we are here with a load of experience and wisdom behind us speaks positively of the past.

~ Grandfathers, Great Spirit, you have given me the cup of living water, the sacred bow, the power to make life and to destroy it. ~


‘A Cherokee Feast of Days’, by Joyce Sequichie Hifler


Elder’s Meditation of the Day April 26

Elder’s Meditation of the Day April 26

“If those bad words come, I let them come in one ear and go out the other. I never let them come out of my mouth. If a bad word comes in your ear and then comes out of your mouth, it will go someplace and hurt somebody. If I did that, that hurt would come back twice as hard on me.”

–Wallace Black Elk, LAKOTA

What do we do with temptations when they come? What do we do when we hear gossip? What do we do when we hear bad things? If we hear these things and pass them on we will not only hurt the other person, but we will do harm to ourselves. We must be careful not to hurt others. Whatever we sow we will simultaneously reap for ourselves. We must be accountable for our own actions.

Great Spirit, today, let no words come from my lips that would hurt another.


School of Seasons

School of Seasons


Rome: Portunalia, a festival honoring Portunis, an aspect of the god Janus. Also called the Tiberinalia, or the festival of the
Tiber river, as he is the God of the Tiber. Portunis is also the God of keys, and the opening of locked gates. On this day old
keys were burned in the hearth as a sacrificial offering. Also on this day, Romans celebrated the Festival of Diana, Goddess of
the Moon, the protector of all young girls and chastity, and Goddess of the Hunt. The coincidence of festivals honoring the
God of Keys and the Goddess who protected virginity is apt.

Asatru: Odin’s Ordeal, from August 17-25. Also called Othin, Wotan, and Wodin, he was the Nordic and Germanic all-father.
From the Viking age, Odin survived the Christianization of Europe and is still remembered, despite a period when even
saying his name was banned by the Church. He ruled over the Valkyries and rewarded slain heroes with glorious afterlife in
the Hall of Valhalla, where warrior spirits wait in readiness to defend Asgard against the Jotuns and Frost Giants at the
foretold battle of Ragnarokk. Odin’s symbol is the valknut knot, his animal is the raven, his weapon is a rune-carved spear.
Odin’s story has obvious parallels to the story of Christ: he once pierced himself with his own spear, and hung for 9 days on
the world tree, Yggdrasill, to gain knowledge throughcommunication with the dead.

1950: Native American mystic and medicine man, Nicholas ‘Black Elk,’ died in Manderson, SD. Profiled in the book, “Black Elk
Speaks” by John G. Neihrdt, known for his powers of prophecy and healing, a warrior of the Oglala Sioux tribe. Black Elk was an
adherent of the Ghost Dance, and witnessed the tragic massacre of followers of this Native American spiritual “last stand” at
Wounded Knee, SD, in 1890.


Remember the ancient ways and keep them sacred!

Vision Quest: Seeking the Spirit the Old-Fashioned Way

Vision Quest: Seeking the Spirit the Old-Fashioned Way

Author: Sunny Dawn

A vision quest is a challenge. The verb in Lakota literally means, “to cry out for a vision”. This means you have to suffer in exchange for a gift. The words “cry out” may also refer to songs or chants sung by the person undertaking the suffering. In my first coven, it was highly desirable, if not precisely required, for third-degree initiation, although I did not attempt a vision quest or receive third-degree initiation from my first coven.

A vision quest has little to do with astral travel or guided “journeys”. Anyone who has ever perused the shelves of a pagan bookstore knows there are plenty of books available on astral travel. Any pagan who has ever attended a workshop, retreat, or festival has probably had an opportunity to participate in a guided “journey”.

Vision quests involve a little more advance planning, and a lot more sacrifice. They can also have a high rate of failure. Both are good reasons why the vision quest tends to scare folks away. But the most important reason why vision quests are no longer that popular in terms of pagan spiritual practice is that there isn’t a whole lot of sensible, contemporary advice on how to do one successfully. With this article, I hope to change this perception a little. A vision quest isn’t easy, but it is more accessible than most pagans think.

First, let’s start with the question of what a vision quest is, and what it probably isn’t. A “vision” is something more than a vivid dream that is easily remembered upon waking. It can be hard to describe to someone who hasn’t had one, but a “vision” is usually of profound personal significance to the person who receives it. It is more than a dream that rehashes the person’s recent experiences. It is almost always a foretelling of one’s personal future. It is often accompanied by some sort of supernatural event (however mild) that “marks” the vision as more than a dream.

If this describes the “vision”, then what is the “quest”? Traditionally, the “quest” involved a four-day fast done outdoors without food or water, and without drug use of any kind. Tobacco was offered, but not consumed [see note below]. Deloria uses the term “fast-vigil” as well as the more common “vision quest”. It was undertaken by young people (more often men than women) as a rite of passage, and not just by children or teen-agers who hoped to grow up and become medicine men someday, but by anyone who was serious about their spiritual path [see note below].

Most people who did a vision quest simply expected to live their lives to the fullest with some protection from the spirits. Others sought to obtain powers that would enhance their capabilities, but this imposed additional responsibilities on them. These responsibilities set them apart from the everyday life of their community, so it is probably fair to say that most hoped for the “vision” and not much more.

Deloria reports that the vision quest was nearly universal among Native American tribes. Because it was difficult to determine the validity of a vision, youths would discuss their vision with one or more elders who would help them decide if this vision was the primary one meant to shape some important part of their future [see note below]. Then they would get help “re-enacting” it down to the smallest detail, to demonstrate their intent to make the vision a reality. In the case of Black Elk, his vision involved the whole tribe, so the entire tribe participated in the reenactment (but this was the exception rather than the norm) .

What does a non-Native American “vision quest” look like today?

It is probably fair to say that the seeker is a “youth” on his or her spiritual path (my primary vision came accidentally during my first year on a pagan path) . Three or four days are still the goal, but the fast is from food only. It should be done outside, but it can even be done at a crowded campground if you have no other options, since your dreaming is most likely going to occur at night when things are quiet. Any vivid dreaming which occurs during this time may be considered sacred, but you will have a pretty strong “feeling” about a dream that is actually a vision.

Even a fast from food scares off a lot of folks. Assuming normal health, it shouldn’t. The fast is a very important part of what you’re doing the whole long day. It will get successively harder each day, and it will leave you pretty strung-out on the second and third day. There is often some loss of motor control on the fourth day, depending on the individual. Fasting only from food is popular because it allows the seeker to undertake the three or four day quest without being attended by someone else, assuming adequate advanced preparation.

There is no requirement that you be bored to tears during the long days. You can read, or play an instrument, or take long walks surrounding yourself by nature on the second or even on the third day, or sleep more than usual (a very common phenomenon on a fast) . None of this is “cheating”.

Fasting makes you more aware of your surroundings, particularly on the second day. In the morning, the smell of wood smoke from a neighbor’s tent site permeates everything. A birdcall really does sound as if it is trying to tell you something. You notice the fresh smell of the earth that comes up at the end of the day and washes out the fish odor next to a river. You are more aware of that honeysuckle scent in a shady alcove along the water, or the sudden splash of a fish that cannot be seen.

You will definitely want to set aside some time to observe the sky at night, to see if there is a prominent star whose god or goddess is “governing” your vigil (this can be meaningful even if you have dedicated your fast to deities that have nothing to do with the Greek or Roman gods normally associated with the night sky) . On the night I observed the sky, Mercury was strikingly close to the Earth, and it made everything else look as if it had lost its batteries. This meant that Hermes, the god of merchants and thieves, and the psychopomp who guides the dead to their just rewards, was guiding my fast. After it was over, I was to find out what this meant.

Choosing a tobacco offering is important. Whether or not you smoke is irrelevant, because the tobacco isn’t for you. I considered buying a pipe, but decided that a pipe is very closely associated with the Thunder Beings, the most powerful natural elements on the Plains, and that I did not know enough about these deities to call on them appropriately. So I spent seven bucks on a fancy cigar instead.

Each night I wrapped it up in the small bag that holds my extra tent stakes so it would stay dry, and the next morning I withdrew it, and lit it as the first offering of the morning. A sage bundle is probably an acceptable substitute for those who cannot tolerate tobacco. Those who are concerned about the purity of their tobacco offering will definitely want to stick with loose pipe tobacco.

Fasting without water is not something I can speak to personally. It will be A LOT more painful, both physically and psychologically, particularly if it is your first time going without water. It is also essential to have someone attend the seeker who abstains from water (this may mean arranging for someone to take off time from work and compensating them for lost earnings) . Your attendant doesn’t have to camp right on top of you but you will want them close enough to check on you frequently. This “someone” had better have competent first aid knowledge, as well as knowledge of the various phases of dehydration from the swelling of extremities like fingers or toes all the way up to hallucination, loss of consciousness, and death. It goes without saying that if you have an extensive background in meditation; you are going to be able to slow down the dehydration progression. If you don’t, you may want to rethink this one.

Say I’ve got a posse with enough time and dinero to make a field trip out of this. Any advice?

The Lakota considered the Black Hills the sacred center of their world, and Native Americans still use the Black Hills extensively when they want to do a vision quest. So do quite a few non-Native Americans as well. On the western end of South Dakota, just north of the motorcycle stomping ground of Sturgis, is a popular spot called Bear Butte (a.k.a. Bear Butt) . It won’t be private, and you will see tourists walking by you on most days, but folks tend to be respectful because this mountain does get a lot of spiritual use. It also has a nice campground adjacent to the mountain that your group can use as a set-up base.

I can’t speak for Harney’s Peak, although I suspect it will be crowded due to its proximity to Rapid City, SD. As the highest peak in the Black Hills, it is very important to Native American spirituality. “Women Killer” General Harney made a sport of killing non-combatants, so the reader may imagine what most Indians think of having their sacred peak named after this dude. “Would you name the highest peak in New York after Hitler or Goebbels? Didn’t think so, ” one remarked to me.

Just over the state line in eastern Wyoming, Inyan Kara Mtn. is said to be less accessible than the other two peaks and therefore more heavily associated with spiritual use.

What is an “accidental” vision?

According to Deloria, visions that simply “came” were a transition between relying on dreams and actively seeking a vision during a traditional experience of four or more days of ceremony. As a young pagan, this is actually what happened to me. With a minimum of fuss, I did a simple ritual, and asked for a “vision”. At the time, I wouldn’t have even known how to go about a traditional vision quest. A few nights later, I got my wish.

Marshall relates that the teen-age Crazy Horse at first did not trust his vision, which was also “accidental”, because he had not pursued it the traditional way (through pain) . Visions that came without sacrifice were distrusted. Still, with his father’s encouragement, his people accepted the first vision.

The vision I received was a “culminating” vision, a fairly common category among visions. It showed me an unavoidable personal disaster, dealt with events that happen to me in old age, and showed me my descendents who are not yet born. Within the vision, it seemed to me that there were also tantalizing glimpses of things that could not be seen. It is of little surprise to me that many people wish to undertake a second vision quest at some point in the future after their original one, in hopes of potentially exploring these tempting gaps.

It can take a very long time to get confirmation of the events one sees in a vision (the first of my descendents was born to a sibling six years later) . A “culminating” vision was considered a special gift because it showed the seeker that he or she would live into relative old age, a precious blessing among traditional communities with high adult mortality. The other side of this is waiting a long time without “knowing” if any part of it will come true. This is rather ironic considering that “knowing” is the whole point of seeking a vision.

Seekers who get a lucky “accident” sometimes wonder whether they should attempt a second vision under traditional circumstances. Unfortunately, I can’t answer this with certainty, since my second attempt failed. The literature relates that Black Elk would say that the biggest mistake he ever made was attempting a second vision in hopes of supplanting the meaning of his original one. Crazy Horse did attempt a second vision some twenty years or so after the first, but his descendents said that no vision came to him.

Seriously, what’s it like going three days without food?

Honestly, somewhere between “no big deal” and “WTF am I doing this, where am I, and why am I in this hand-basket?” You are feeling pretty hungry during the second day, but it still fits the “not that bad” category. If you get hunger headaches, you need to decide whether or not you will permit yourself aspirin (I decided to “work around” my headache, but I don’t see anything wrong with aspirin if it helps.)

You also need to wear more layers at night than you normally would if you were camping outdoors on a reasonably warm night, because your body will be more sensitive to cool temperatures while fasting (I found that I needed four layers on my chest to feel comfortable, in addition to the blankets I was sleeping under.)

It is also important to pay attention to signs in the environment at the beginning of your fast, because these will give you clues to the outcome. As I was setting up my campsite, a pair of scissors I was using broke. One of the handles simply cracked off. My experience has been that when something out of the ordinary like this occurs right at the beginning of spiritual work, it is usually a sign that nothing will come of it. Then it is up to you to decide whether or not to continue, or call it off.

Initially, I thought I would do a four day fast. After this happened, a three day fast seemed more appropriate, because I suspected this would be a purification rite, which is pretty much what you end up with when a “vision quest” fails.

The third day is tough, but the thought that there is only one day left keeps a lot of people going. On the morning of the fourth day, I had trouble buttoning my jeans, and quite a bit of trouble tying the laces on my hiking boots. Having someone attend me if I had wanted to do another full day would have been wise. I broke the fast early the fourth day. You get nearly instant strength from eating, enough to dissemble a campsite. It takes an hour or so to see an improvement in motor control, however, and a strung-out feeling may persist for several hours (although caffeine helps – stash a Coke for the end of your fast) .

Deloria has an interesting point about fasting. He feels that the four days of fasting was not a determining factor. He notes that many Indians had fasted far longer than four days when on a hunt, so four days was not a challenge. Also, some people received messages on the first or second day of their ritual, before any real physical deprivation of their body began to alter perceptions of the environment. It was the intent to do a four day fast that mattered (and still, many would simply report a bird or insect came before them, signaling that their efforts had not been wasted, but there would be no profound communication or interaction) .

What about “failure”?

It can be really disappointing if you have not experienced a vision, and have doubts that you ever will. The powers designate their recipients themselves. Your earnest effort may not move them.

On the other hand, no sincere effort is really a failure. If you successfully complete three days of fasting, and never thought you could do something like that, the sense of empowerment is palpable. Also, pay attention during the days after your fast is completed. The gods have their ways of acknowledging you privately even if they don’t “gift” you with a vision.

What are some other common types of visions?

Seeing an animal was fairly common. In one of Deloria’s examples, a man called Le Bornge saw a graceful peace spirit, the antelope. He did not see a war spirit, like a wolf or grizzly bear. This meant he was to guide his people by counsels, and protect them from the evil of their own feuds and dissensions. He would not gain renown by fighting.

Seeing an animal would be meaningless for a lot of modern folks today. A vision usually comes in a context that the recipient can at least partially understand. You may not feel the need to “reenact” it to demonstrate intent the way traditional practitioners did. But it is a good idea to talk the vision over with someone on your spiritual path whose experience and wisdom you respect, if you have access to such a person.

In my case, I was able to talk about it with the high priestess of my first coven. The first thing she told me was not to “read too much into it”. This was actually wise counsel. Feeling filled with certainty about something as exceptional as a vision is a swell recipe for a big head.

She also helped me distinguish what made the vision “real”. After I described it, she told me flat out it sounded like a dream, not a vision. I felt differently. So I described it again. This time I realized it was important to tell her how I came awake after the first part of the vision, and heard the sound of drumming that seemed as if it was right outside my house. I described how I badly wanted to go downstairs and find the source of that drumming, but ended up going back to sleep and having the final portion of my vision.

When I awoke again, I could see gray morning light coming through the skylight, and the sound of drumming was still there. By the time I got downstairs it was gone.

My priestess gave me an intent look, and said she felt I had in fact had “something more than a dream”. The whole process of defending it to her made me recall it from various angles so I could see myself if it really was valid.

Why do a vision quest at all?

There are a few different answers to this question. Some of them come straight from the journal I kept during my recent vision quest.

On the first day I wrote:

“When a vision comes to you without asking, as it did for me many years ago, you have no idea what it is like to actually ask for one. What will the boredom be like? What will be the hunger be like on the second or third day? Will I do it a fourth day? You come out here to ‘know’ into the future, but there is so much not ‘knowing’.”

On the second night I wrote:

“My stomach is hurting. So is my head. Best thing to do is to stay in the present. If it teaches you anything, a fast teaches you to stay only in the present moment. Don’t worry about the next day of the fast. Just deal with what you are dealing with right now.”

Others expressed different reasons. These range from the pragmatic, to a hard-wired yearning for the future, to a profound respect for the best that an “alien” culture had to offer.

Deloria excerpts the vision of a young man called Siya’ka:

“I was not exactly singing, but more nearly lamenting, like a child asking for something. In the crying or lamenting of a young man seeking a vision two things are especially desired: First, that he may have long life, and second, that he may succeed in taking horses from the enemy.”

The second reason he gives is interesting. It implies he was facing a problem of scarce resources. Some of the warrior chiefs were facing far worse than this.

Dee Brown writes of Crazy Horse:

“Since the time of his youth, Crazy Horse had known that the world men lived in was only a shadow of the real world. To get into the real world, he had to dream….In this real world his horse danced as if it were wild or crazy, and this was why he called himself Crazy Horse. He had learned that if he dreamed himself into the real world before going into a fight, he could endure anything [see note below].”

John Mason Brown writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1886, observed:

“It cannot be denied that whites, who consort much with the ruder tribes of Indians, imbibe to a considerable degree, their veneration of medicine. The old trappers and voyageurs are, almost without exception, observers of omens and dreamers of dreams. They claim that medicine is a faculty which can in some degree be cultivated, and aspire to its possession as eagerly as do the Indians.”

A Few Personal Observations

Quests involving peyote or other shamanic plants are a different animal from the vision quest that involves no drug use. The former is “easier” to do, and certainly more popular in certain quarters. But every account I have read suggests that the seeker is more likely to receive general wisdom than a specific vision of their personal future. This does not mean that drugs could not be used to obtain a personal vision of one’s future with the spirits’ blessings. But it is worth considering how much of the vision is actually yours when it comes from a drug, and ends as soon as the drug is metabolized. When seekers aren’t hallucinating from the drug (or from thirst) , they have little doubt where their vision is coming from.

Why the emphasis on determining the “primary” vision? It is important to remember that the average layperson (non-medicine man) relied on many different types of omens from the natural environment, or visions for their divination needs. This meant they would do more frequent vision quests for mundane needs, such as determining the best time and place for finding buffalo, or the best way to raid the neighbor’s horses without catching an arrow or losing their scalp. It was important to acknowledge the more sacred nature of a “primary” vision, as well as its longer lasting impact.

Physical toughness combined with meditation skills acquired through bow-and-arrow hunting may explain in part why Native American youth could successfully handle a four day fast without water. Marshall relates that Crazy Horse learned his bow-and-arrow skills by shooting grasshoppers in high grass before he was old enough to join real hunts. Think about this for a minute. It requires incredible precision to hit a creature as small and quick as a grasshopper. He would have had to slow his breathing, and achieve incredible stillness before and during each shot, and he would have had to practice this over and over again to get it right. Hand me a hand-made bow and arrow, and I’d be lucky to hit the broad side of my cat at fifteen yards, let alone a grasshopper at that distance. Today’s adults no longer possess the meditation skills that Native Americans used to learn as kids.

Dee Brown was trying to explain why Crazy Horse “dreamed”, and his words resonate on an intuitive level. But Marshall relates that Crazy Horse took the name from his father, who gave up his own name because he sensed that his son would need its power. The father of Crazy Horse was then called by a weaker name, so that all power would flow toward his warrior son.


Brown, Dee. Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West, Henry Holt and Co., New York, NY, 1970.

Only a couple of references are made regarding the vision quest, so I won’t describe this book in detail. This book is considered the primary 20th century history of the Native American struggle to survive a holocaust.

Deloria Jr., Vine. The World We Used to Live In: Remembering the Powers of the Medicine Men, Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO, 2006.

This fascinating survey should be mandatory reading for any pagan who has even attempted a sweat lodge, let alone a spiritual quest. In the first chapter titled, “Dreams – The Approach of the Sacred”, the author writes about visions, shared dreams, and sacred intrusions, including many examples of both men’s and women’s visions. Remaining chapters don’t deal specifically with the vision quest, but they all seem to relate some wisdom that someone seeking a vision may somehow find useful. The author was best known for his 1970’s tongue-in-cheek classic, Custer Died For Your Sins. This final work was published a year after his death in 2005.

Marshall, Joseph III. The Journey of Crazy Horse: A Lakota Story, Penguin (Non-classics) , 2004.

This biography of the Lakota leader who was murdered when he was 35 years old was written by a tribal member who interviewed the descendents of Crazy Horse’s relatives. The author’s view of the great warrior’s legacy, and what it means to his people, is different from the way Crazy Horse is remembered by most whites. Crazy Horse’s vision is central to this story; the author alternates the words used to describe his vision with impressionistic glimpses of Crazy Horse’s surrender right before he was killed. Don’t miss the final chapter called A Story: The Lightening Bow, a moving look at the gift of sacrifice that a leader makes on behalf of his tribe, and what happens when the people don’t even understand how much that is worth.

Neihardt, John G. Black Elk Speaks: New Edition, Bison Books, 2004.

It has been so long since I read this book that I hesitate to review it, but I do want to recommend it because Niehardt goes into elaborate detail on Black Elk’s original vision of the slaughter of his people, and his subsequent “false” vision of the Ghost Dance as a possible means of saving his tribe. Black Elk relates that his primary vision was so bitter that he could not bear it, but his subsequent vision was mere wishful thinking because he could not accept the truth. For anyone in search of a subsequent vision, this is wisdom worth pondering.