The Vision Quest
The Vision Quest is common to many primal traditions throughout the world. It is a primary means for an individual to gain access to spiritual power that will ensure greater success in activities such as hunting, warfare, and curing the ill. Both men and women experience this quest, though men do so more frequently. The vision quest is carried out under the supervision of a medicine man or woman, a spiritual leader who issue specific instructions beforehand, and interprets the content of the vision afterward. Before setting out on the quest, the participant undergoes a ritual of purification in the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge is used on numerous occasions, and is a common element among Plains Indian and Native American traditions in general. It is a dark and airtight hut made of sapling and covered with animal skins. The structure of the lodge is intended to represent the universe. Heated stones are placed in the center, and water is sprinkled over them by the medicine man. The resulting hot steam causes the participant to sweat profusely, leading to both physical and spiritual purification. Once purified in this fashion, the vision quester goes off alone to a place far from the camp, usually to a hilltop. There he or she endures the elements for a set number of days, without food or water. Depending on the medicine man’s instructions, the person might perform certain rituals, carefully structured around a central spot. A vision comes to the quester eventually, usually near the end of the stay. It arrives in the form of an animal or some other object For many Native American tribes, spiritual and physical purification in a sweat lodge is part of the preparation for setting out on a vision quest.
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