The Vision Quest is a very old tradition. Nearly every American Indian tribe observed it in their own fashion.
While some specific details varied from tribe to tribe, historical accounts as well as oral tradition tell us there were certain basic elements that were common in American Indian Vision Quests.
Before getting to those common elements, it's important to understand what the Vision Quest represented. Understanding the Quest helps us to understand the reason for the elements of the Quest.
The Vision Quest was a time of being set apart; a prayer time alone with Creator. It represented a return to the womb, and completing the Quest represented rebirth. (Among a few tribes a person leaving on Quest was considered dead, and welcomed back as a new person when they returned.)
The common elements included:
Being alone in a secluded place
Having no weapons, tools, clothing, or food.
Spending one's time in prayer and meditation.
(Some tribes were more stringent or less stringent in their requirements. For example, some did not allow water or sleep, some lasted a week or more, some required the questor to remain silent, most allowed water and a blanket for warmth, some had an unseen warrior nearby for safety, etc.)
A Quest could last a couple of days, or several. If the questor was seeking an answer to a specific question, his Quest might be shorter than the Quest of a boy who was seeking a direction in life, a totem animal, etc. as part of becoming a man.
Long before the Quest is complete, nearly every questor goes through periods of boredom, fear and depression. Most struggle with the urge to quit.
Often during a Quest, the questor will literally have a vision or visions. Sometimes they are visited by animals, or have vivid dreams. Sometimes they are visited by beings who look human but may suddenly appear or disappear, or do other things not normally possible.
American Indians were not the only culture to make use of Vision Quests. It might surprise you to know that just before His public ministry, Jesus Christ went on a 40 day Vision Quest!
Read Mark Chapter 1, verses 9-13:
9 And it happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.
10 And immediately coming up out of the water, He saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.
11 And there came a voice from Heaven, saying, You are My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.
12 And immediately the Spirit drove Him into the wilderness.
13 And He was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild beasts, and the angels ministered to Him.
(Mathew 4:1-2 tells us He fasted the whole time)
The Vision Quest isn't just a thing of the past. There has been a resurgence of teens taking Vision Quests on some of the reservations as a way of giving them a sense of direction and avoiding pitfalls such as alcoholism, drug abuse etc.
Usually a Vision Quest is undertaken to help you with a problem or decision. It is not easy, but can be very powerful. Talk with or write Chief Man Many Trees if you think you would like to go through one.
Wild Pretty Bird found the legend below. It is described as a legend, but describes well some aspects of a Vision Quest. (The fear in the night, the perceived loneliness, etc.)
The author is unknown, and we don't know where the information came from, so it is unclear what Cherokee groups may have used this particular 'ceremony'.
Do you know the legend of the Cherokee Indian youth's rite of passage?
His father takes him into the forest, blindfolds him and leaves him alone.
He is required to sit on a stump the whole night and not remove the blindfold until the rays of the morning sun shine through it.
He cannot cry out for help to anyone. Once he survives the night, he is a MAN.
He cannot tell the other boys of this experience because each lad must come into manhood on his own.
The boy is naturally terrified. He can hear all kinds of noises. Wild beasts must surely be all around him. Maybe even some human might do him harm. The wind blew the grass and earth and shook his stump, but he sat stoically, never removing the blindfold. It would be the only way he could become a man!
Finally, after a horrific night the sun appeared and he removed his blindfold. It was then that he discovered his father sitting on the stump next to him. He had been at watch the entire night, protecting his son from harm.
We, too, are never alone. Even when we don't know it, our Heavenly Father is watching over us, sitting on the stump beside us. When trouble comes, all we have to do is reach out to Him.