We are only steps away from being like our ancestors as they were close to the intimate rhythms of nature. Travel back in your mind just a hundred years, a thousand years, and it's all right there before us: the sound of birdsong cutting through a crystal clear morning, the majesty of a sky full of starlight so bright that you can walk around under its glow, the wind whipping through a terrain of deep silence, the presence of animals in their own home territory. We are not separate from the rest of Creation we have just lost track and that lose of nature has meant losing part of our own soul.
There is a way to begin to heal our fragmentation in the modern world. It requires going into nature to look deep within ourselves, to discover and measure our own growth through the seasons of our lives, taking time out from our "doing" to enter "just being." Spending time alone, seeking purpose and direction, listening for the voice of Spirit, creating ceremony to mark one's changes, and returning to one's people with a story that gives life new meaning --these are some of the elements of the Vision Quest. This practice goes by many names and has roots in many cultures. In calling it the Vision Quest, we acknowledge being inspired by our early ancestors, as well as our own connection to this land called "Turtle Island".
My Grandfather said, “It is time”. In most tribes the vision quest is a boy or girl’s initiation into adulthood. My Grandfather always told me that it should take place when you are ready and he seemed to think I was ready. I had already chosen the place for my vision quest at my favorite spot high in the Sacramento mountains of southeastern New Mexico less than 70 miles as the raven fly, from my home in El Paso, a place were wild animals still live and few people go there.
I have over the years seen Black bear, Mountain lion, Bobcat and the Coyote. I have seen magnificent Elk herds and deer in groups to numerous to count and large herds of porn horn antelope and the majestic mountain sheep. A land, were from sparrows to eagles fly and from which buffalo not so very long ago roamed.
I was to stay on the mountain no more than 4 days, without anyone seeing me, hearing me and without food or drink of any kind. One should be very selective in choosing their spot for a vision quest. Like mine it should be somewhere you love, were you are not likely to be seen or heard, because if you are, you must start over again at some other time. Remember you are to be totally alone, nude no blanket and without a knife or tools of any kind. Your preparation should be well in advance and should include any herb and/or the King of herbs along with all the sage you can carry. For this will be your bed laying from East to west cuddled in between the lips of mothers vulva with your head pointed east in alignment with the opening of mothers outer circle. This is a re-birthing ceremony.
You will enter Mother Earth’s womb from which you will emerge from her and be born again into the new world with new understanding and wisdom. You will know better your future role in life and who you are. You should only be assisted by someone you trust, a teacher, coach, shaman, holy man or woman, an elder with the knowledge and understanding so they can show you the ways of the RedRoad and prepare you by teaching you the proper instruction, ceremonies and rituals involved in the vision quest and sacred beliefs, dances, songs, lessons in expected adult behavior and a visionary spirit helper. The isolation, the sensory deprivation, fasting and ingestion of herb will result in hallucinations. In ancient times here on turtle island there were special places where you could and should do your vision quest, they were natural places such as holy rock formations (vulva form motifs) of Mother’s vulva, later after these sacred places were discovered by outside peoples some tribes would peck or paint Mothers sacred belief that a vision quest can take place only after the age of 12 years has been reached. Many shaman and elders refuse to assist here in the U.S. for fear of the white man’s laws against such a ceremony. Before the entering of Mothers womb there must be seamen spent and to impregnate Mother in order for her to give birth. Not legal here, if the subject is under 18 years old. The vision quest is also to help you find a mystical reality beneath the surface of life. Experiencing a vision is an intensely personal event, a direct encounter with the Great Mystery.
A vision quest can be repeated again and again - as often as an individual feels the need for help from the spirit powers.
My Vision Quest
As I lay in the circle of stones with poles representing the four directions, I looked to the sky and asked the Great Spirit, "Who am I? Where do I come from? Why am I here?" I heard no words, but for a brief moment I could understand and all things here made clear. I felt connected with all around me. The load of the world that I carried on my young shoulders was gone I had fallen from an Eagle in the past but now I was about to get back on and take another look around and I felt like I was now on that eagle flying high in the sky, able to see far and wide. As I looked down on Mother I felt something that words can't describe.
Sweat lodge ceremony should not be attempted until after your vision quest has been completed. So you will be able to call on all the powers of Father Sky and be able to intone during a sweat the heavens, the little peoples, the star peoples, all the things that fly, all the things that crawl, all the things that swim, and the red and the blue sacred days, all the mountains, all the deserts, all the valleys, all the water, all the trees that stand, all the grasses of our Grandmother, all the sacred people of the universe. Listen all brothers and sisters this will enable you to have the sacred relationship one must have if you invoke the full power of the sweat lodge and live in a holy, and healthful manner. The sweat lodge is always preceded by the vision quest or the purification will not totally take hold. Remember the sweat lodge is potent ceremony in itself. It is the first step, after re-birth which will have a much larger meaning if the vision quest is first and then you will on a regular basis be able to sweat and have visions with meaning and communicate better with the Great Mystery and experience many rebirths.
The sweat lodge should be a beehive dome shape framed of red willow sticks cut not broken and covered and tied together. Buffalo skins or old blankets and quilts should be used to cover the frame. These are placed on top of and around the dome covering it completely making it as air tight as possible. Always leave an opening for the door. Use the same Buffalo, blankets and quilts to cover the door in such away that when they are closed there will be no light inside. The willows they become the ribs of Mother Earth. The dome shape representing pregnant women's belly.
In the center of the dirt floor a hole should be dug big enough to receive a number of hot stones but be careful to leave room for the worshipers. The earth that is removed is sacred and should be placed in front of the Sweat Lodge for the alter. The sacred earth which is to be the alter is placed outside and to the right as you come out of the Sweat Lodge. A lemon tree or lemon branch, called the "Tree Of Life", is placed in the middle of the mount of sacred dirt. Two antlers or forked sticks are placed on either side of the mount with a straight stick laid across them. This becomes the alter to rest the pipes on before the ceremony and to place the gifts and any sacred and special things that one my want blessed on the sacred mound of dirt. We never touch anything on the alter that is not our own. You should only enter from the only door that faces the east and you should be totally nude with only pipe and smoke, drum, medicine pouch, healing rattle and with what ever else you want to share. If approved by the water pourer in advance. We are not there to notice our physical bodies, only to get in touch with our inner selves. Tobacco, sage, sweetgrass, cider, oils and other gifts should all be offered to Father sky and Mother Earth and only gifts of importance to you should also be given to brothers and sisters sharing in the sweat.
You should only move into the sweat clockwise following the one pouring the water. We go in a clockwise direction because this is the way Mother Earth turns. The order should be woman man woman man and so forth. When we enter the Sweat Lodge, we approach the lodge on two legs, as we go through the door we get down on all fours and crawl always being respectful of each other and the holy place we have now entered. Each person should get as close to the back of the lodge as possible. All seating beside each other facing the fire pit. The water pourer should lead by giving a prayer for a good ceremony and blessing on everyone there. Praying that the Spirits join us in the ceremony and guide us in what we do and say. At this time the Sacred Peace Pipe shall be started by the water pourer. With a pinch of tobacco from the alter and offered for each, the one who pours the water will pray to the four directions, Grandfather/ God and Mother Earth. He/she prays for the universe, the four-legged, the winged, the plants, the water spirits and all of mankind. He/she prays for all taking part in the ceremony and their love circles. He/she prays for the strength everyone needs to live each day, for peace in the world for all. He/she then adds a piece of sage into the Pipe bowl and first offers the Pipe to the four directions, Grandfather/God and Mother Earth. It is than time to pass the Pipe clockwise to each. As each one draws from the Sacred Pipe the holy smoke the smoke should first be exhaled towards the stones and then the Pipe holder may pray and share what ever is on their mind. It can be a story, it can be an experience, and it can be a Dream or a vision. Than the Pipe should be passed to the next person. Giving all others amble chance and time to express there interests, all offered up as prays. While you sit naked in the darkness of the sacred lodge. Where outside more rocks, are being heated by the fire tender, a very special and honored and experienced person. The little people (the rocks) are heated outside and passed, one by one into the sweat lodge directed by the water pourer, while all those inside pray, sing, drum, talk, dream and listen to the wind.
With the entrance flap closed and the cold water is silently poured over the little people. In the enveloping steam of amber the worshipers may hear the voice of the spirit and feel its hot and purifying breath. All the time rubbing, yourselves with sage, Almond, and peppermint oil in the most sensitive places.
The Sweat Lodge and Sacred Pipe are used in talking and praying to the Creator.
The Sweat Lodge was given to us thousands of years ago to be used as a tool and a way of life. It is to be used for purification, prayer and healing. The Sweat Lodge in many ways can be related to a church or holy place of worship. The Sweat Lodge represents many things to us. It is also like the womb of Mother Earth, who gives birth to us all. Everything that makes up the Sweat Lodge should came from something that once lived.
The Sacred Pipe is also a tool used to talk with the Creator. The Pipe was given to us to form a direct link between us and the Creator. The red bowl representing the people and the wooden stem representing all the other living things on Earth. Each person that carries a Pipe into the Sweat Lodge will offer up their Pipe to be smoked as their turn comes around. for the Earth Mother. We also use many different herbs as tools in the Sweat Lodge ceremony. The King of herbs and Tobacco is the most sacred of all and was given to us to send our prayers to the Creator as the smoke rises. Sage, cedar and sweetgrass are used for smudging. These are burned in an abalone shell, clay pot or flat stone and the smoke guided by the Feather Fan purifies our minds and bodies. Sage and cedar are used also to send away negative feelings and thoughts and to bring in good influences. I have been told that before a person can be healed or heal another, one must first be cleansed of negative energy. Many elders believe and teach that all ceremonies, tribal or not, must be entered into with love and with a good heart, so that we can pray, sing, walk, dance, smoke, drum and most other things in a most important sacred manner. And in doing this you may enter into the sacred realm of spirit world.
There are many varieties of sage and many can be used in smudging. The botanical word for sage is Salvia and comes from the Latin root salvare, which means to heal. Sage is not only burned in ceremonies to drive out bad spirits, feelings, or negative influences but should also be used to keep bad spirits from entering the area where a ceremony takes place. Many tribes feel in ceremony sage should cover the floor, and participants rub the leaves on each others bodies while in the sweat. Sage is commonly spread on the ground in a lodge or on an altar where the pipe touches the earth. Many wrap their pipes in sage when they are placed in pipe-bundles, or pipe bags, as sage purifies objects wrapped in it. Sage is also used as wreaths and placed around the head and wrists and ankles of dancers.
Sage is a wonderful plant, found on desert hillsides and mountain foothills, usually up to 7,000 feet in elevation.; often found along roadsides. Sage is the traditional plant used for sweat lodge and ritual purification, with the smoke being used to clear the air of bad spirits and influences. From ancient times to the present, Native Americans who gather this plant for use in purification rituals, prepare themselves spiritually first, by prayer and fasting, and gather sage ( and any other medicinal herb) with an attitude of respect and reverence
Sweetgrass is one the most sacred plants of all. Sweetgrass is a tall wild grass with a sweet perfume like fragrance. It can be found growing mainly on the eastern side of the Rockies in Montana and Alberta, Canada. Sweetgrass is often braided together in bunches as a person's hair is braided. It is usually burned by shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the end and waving it around, letting the sacred smoke spread. We were taught that it was good to burn sweetgrass after the sage or cedar had driven out the bad influences. Sweetgrass brings in the good spirits and the good influences. Sweetgrass has many uses. It is used as a purifying medicine in prayer, smudging, and other such ceremonies. When Sweetgrass is burned, (smudging), the smoke of Sweetgrass is meant to cleanse the body and open the mind.
The name itself describes a plant that is a type of grass with a sweet-smelling aroma. When Sweetgrass is burned, it smells good and brings feelings of peace and relaxation. High Hollow Horn says in the "Sacred Pipe" "This smoke from the sweet grass will rise up to you, and will spread throughout the universe: its fragrance will be known by the winged, the four-leggeds, and the two-leggeds, for we understand that we are all relatives: may all our brothers be tame and not fear us!" Sweetgrass is also put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage and cedar to purify and protect sacred objects. Sweetgrass is getting very rare, its territory is being severely cut by developers, cattle-grazing and wheat fields and many tribes are trying to protect the last few remaining wild groves.
Tradition holds that the wood of the cedar tree holds powerful protective spirits for the people. Many carry a small piece of cedar wood in their medicine bags worn around the neck. It is tossed into the fire pit in sweat lodges ceremony to spark the visions. It is also placed above the entrances to the sweat lodge and homes to protect against the entry of evil spirits. A traditional drum and flute would be made from cedar wood.
Medicine bags hold ancient cures for the modern world. The 1st people of turtle Island believed that all things have a spirit, or life force and that all these forces are interconnected. Each place has a unique spirit which influences all life around it. To use medicine is to use the forces of nature to influence and guide your path in life. Every animal and plant has a set of influences, just as the stars are thought to influence our lives. To assemble a medicine bag means that the individual wishes to assert control over their life and to choose a certain path. You may choose to add other items to your medicine bag, items which have special meanings to you, items you gather in the course of your life, keep your medicine bag with you and it will keep you firmly on your true path. Let this leather medicine bag hung from your neck during a sweat. But no jewelry or metal as it can burn you.
The Stones used must be lava rocks that come from the center of Mother Earth. We call them little people as they are our oldest living relatives. The oldest and wisest of all things. They represent the sperm which impregnates Mother Earth, giving life to us all. They can absorb sickness, negativity and impurities in the same way they absorb heat from the fire. The number of stone people used depend on the number of people there and the size of the sweat. There should be at least one stone for each person present at the sweat.
The Hopi people say there was the cycle of the mineral, the rock. There was the cycle of the plant. And now we are in the cycle of the animal coming to the end of that and beginning the cycle of the human being. When we get into the cycle of the human being, the highest and greatest powers that we have will be released to us. They will be released from that light or soul that we carry to the mind. But right now we're coming to the end of the animal cycle and we have investigated ourselves and learned what it is to be like an animal on this earth.
Woman on their moons (menstrual cycle)should stay away from the Sweat Lodge for two days before her moon time and two days after her moon time. This is because she is purifying at this time and her body is preparing for a possible new life to begin. During the sweat some may blow an eagle whistle to call the Eagle Spirit to join us. Others may take a drum in and the beat of the drum represents Mothers heart beat and still others may bring a healing rattle. In native traditions, it is believed that the drum is a living thing. The spirit of the animal and the tree of which the drum is made both live on in the drum. When a drum finds its partner, it is a lifelong relationship.
These beliefs are further validated in practical application. The more you rub, handle and play your drum, the more your natural body oils penetrate the hide, thus lengthening its life and enriching it. For this reason, it is not traditional to play another person's drum.
. Each person should fast the day of the sweat and only pure lemon juice can be drank during the ceremony.
The chosen one the Fire Tender holds a great honor and must be one in balance and harmony. There are many things the Fire tender must do to prepare for the ceremony. For him/her the day begins early and ends late. Many say the first to arrive and the last to leave is the Fire tender. The fire Tender and who ever is ask to help, chops the wood and the kindling that was brought by the Fire Tender for the fire. The fire pit may need to be dug. Four long logs are laid side by side going in the same direction. Four more long logs are placed on top of these going the opposite direction, representing the four directions. Next, the Stone People are placed on top the crossed logs. After the Stone people are placed on the logs the kindling and wood are placed under and around them. At this point, the one pouring the water will offer prayers and tobacco to the four directions, the Stone People and the Fire Spirits. No sweat Lodge can commence before the water pourer sees a RAVEN. The water pourer must see a RAVEN sometime during the same day as the sweat.
Each person will be lead to the door of the Sweat Lodge by the Water Tender. The water Tender also keeps everyone's belongings in a safe place and watches over them and is responsible for there safe keeping. While the Stone People are heating, the Fire Tender looks after the fire and the Stone People. He/she often has help from other people and those in training to become fire tenders. The one tending the fire will also bring the Stone People into the Sweat Lodge and tend to the person pouring the water's needs during the ceremony.
The water pourer may ask those who wish to make prayer ties to do so. The prayer ties are little squares of cloth, tobacco and red string. The tobacco is prayed with and put into the little squares and tied together with the red string. The one pouring the water will also make some large tobacco ties called waluttas which will hung in the four directions on the tree of life. Waluttas hold prayers for the universe, everyone and everything. The one who pours asks the fire tender to bring the stones as the water pourer requests. The one pouring the water asks the fire tender for the bucket of water and a gourd dipper. Water is a very sacred commodity. It is the life blood of Mother Earth and gives life to her children. Some will bring Eagle feathers and others will bring Raven feathers or feather fans to smudge with.
I was now lying in my Mothers womb, laying on and covered by mother's earthly sage. No man or animal can see or small me here in this wonderfully warm place. I see all of the star people. I was fearful and wanted to endure what ever Mother had in store for me. I was looking for my vision. If I got my vision I would no longer be a boy, I Would no longer need my boy name. Blackness was now all around me. I could sense and feel some sort of a protective wall between me in Mothers womb and the outside world of things you can only hear at night in a silent Forrest now was feeling even detached from myself and from my own body. I was drafting off in a kind of sleep, no more like I was entering deeper into myself starting to hear voices from within. I thought of my wonderful mother, my father, my Grandmother, my Granddad and I thought of my brothers and sisters and of my forefathers, who I could sense and feel them there with me, who had been here before me and were now trying to talk with me and I now was starting to listen.
Grandfather told me about dreams. He told me that a dream was a vision while you sleep and a vision is but a dream while you are awake. He said to always listen to the wind and to always follow your dreams. In your dreams are messages that guide you though life. If you hear, you will see, and hear what you need to know for the moment and for the future. I was told these dreams are knowledge and that is where wisdom comes from as well as all talent. It comes in riding the light and it is always present. A vision quest only helps you to see it and hear it, so you can start listening to it. Great men and women have learned to listen and see it all the time and they are able to go places others who are not listening cannot go.
I suddenly was aware of my surroundings again and realized it was the darkest before the dawn and I was just starting to sense that sacred glow of night just before dawn that time between light and dark and now Mother was putting on the most colorful display of colors I had ever seen, there were bountiful grays, browns, greens, reds and many colors I had not seen before but that took my breath away and the sun burst forward with a light that I saw for the very first time. It was a warming glow and silent but with music and his waking creatures starting to sing in celebration of the day ahead, in appreciation of the day ahead. And there lays the message I was beginning to listen and to see.
I become aware of a shadow in the morning sky; it was a raven squeaking as if it wanted my attention. It started to circle and circled lower and lower and seemed to hover right in front of me looking into my eyes and was looking into my soul and I started looking into his eyes where I could see the letters AKKEEIA. At that moment I was cut off from the world I knew I was no longer a boy, but I was now a man. It was my grown-up name, my Early-Man name. As I received it, it was providing me with my protector from the spirit world. The Raven was now my Animal-Medicine. To understand I needed more medicine but first I needed to understand what was really meant by this medicine. This is early-man medicine, it will improve one's connection to the Great Mystery, show you the way in life, it brings personal power, it brings healing to you, and others, and fellow creatures and to Earth Mother. For it teaches you how to walk on Mother's back softly and in harmony and balance. I was told that all these forces are interconnected. Each place has a unique spirit, which influences all life around it. To use medicine is to use the forces of nature to influence and guide your path in life. Every animal and plant has a set of influences, just as the stars are thought to influence our lives. My Raven is now my protector from the spirit world. I will now be able to call on this Raven power whenever I need it. Now, where, ever I walk their is close by somewhere in the sky or in a tree or on the ground, will be my Raven protector. He will relay my prayers to the Great Mystery and return with knowledge that I will need. Raven magic is a most powerful medicine that will always give you courage. The Raven is the messenger of magic. The Raven will be at my side until the edge of time. The Raven holds all the power of the unknown energy of the Great Mystery. The Raven is healing energy and the messenger of smoke. I was learning that life is a mystical adventure and at that moment Grandfather Spirit told me that the Great Mystery power is without beginning or end. The Mystery Power is manifested in the wind.
I was told about the Sacred peace Pipe, that it is to be held aloft in prayer, that it forms a link between man and the Great Mystery and expresses the unity between that supreme deity and Grandmother Earth. I was told there should be no ceremony without the smoking of a pipe. And what is especially revered are pipe bowls made from the sacred red pipestone and those should be used in great and important ceremony by the tribe as a whole.
For they say with this sacred pipe you will walk upon the Earth. For this earth is our Mother and it is sacred. And with each step you take upon her it should be as a prayer.
The bowl of this sacred bloodstone is from Her. Carved in this Red stone and facing the user is the sacred white Buffalo, who represents all the four-leggeds who live upon Her. All these people and all things of the universe are joined to you who smoke this sacred calumet pipe. All can send their voices to the havens to be heard by the Great Spirit. When you pray with this pipe you pray for your hearts desire. All of this is sacred so do not forget. With every dawn as it comes is a holy event and every day is holy. For it is a miracle. For it all comes from the Father.
As the dawn broke I for the first time was starting to see. Now I was being told like in the sound of thunder, that I was to carve the sacred blood stone into a pipe bowls and that I would be shown how in a dream. This would bring to others great pleasure and wisdom. In so doing that I should bring spiritual inspiration to the work. I was told that nothing else one can possess has the importance of the Sacred Rites Peace Pipe. That I should counsel with many elders of many tribes for their advice and for their wisdom. That I should bring a realistic and simple look and feel to these peace pipe creations. That I am to select only the best available materials to work with, and should only be selected from Mother Earth's shells, stones, bones, wood, and clay. And should only be gathered these earthy treasures in a most sacred way. I was told that I should draw inspiration from the rich, cultural contribution of my ancestral Comanche tribes- people who called the Peace Pipe "Calumet" and I should draw inspiration from the higher plane, from which all true art comes. I was shown to faithfully reproduce pre-historic, as well as historical Indian pipes, and in so doing, I would be able to create unique original pipes with prehistoric and tribal influences. The vision now in my head indicated the peace pipe is both a portable alter and a passport. The mystery of the pipe shall be respected. These pipes are the Gods of peace and friendship-the arbitrators of life and death. Calumets are to be smoked before, during and after Kiva and during sweat lodge ceremonials. Always to be passed clockwise for that is the way the earth rotates around the sun. No participant should break the smoking chain circle. I am to bring a presence and power to each piece.
I saw on the center pole these words "One summer a long time ago, the seven sacred council fires of the Lakota Sioux came together and camped. The sun was strong and the people were starving for there was no game. Two young men went out to hunt. Along the way, the two men met a beautiful young women dressed in white who floated as she walked. One man had desires for the woman and tried to touch her, but was consumed by a cloud and turned into a pile of bones. The woman spoke to the second young man and said, 'Return to your people and tell them I am coming".
This holy woman brought a wrapped bundle to the people. She unwrapped the bundle, giving to the people a sacred pipe and teaching them how to use it to pray. "With this holy pipe, you will walk like a living prayer" she said. The holy woman told the Sioux about the value of the buffalo, the woman and the children. "You are from MOTHER earth," she told the women. "What you are doing is as great as what the warriors do."
Before she left, she told the people she would return. As she walked away, she rolled over four times, turning into a white female buffalo calf. It is said after that day the Lakota honored their pipe, and the buffalo were plentiful" (This I believe this is from JOHN LAME DEER’S telling in 1967).
Many believe that the white buffalo calf, Miracle, born August 20, 1994, symbolizes the return coming together of all of mankind on to the red road together in oneness of the rebirth of the sacred peace pipe, so as to bring back balance and harmony to Mother by smoking in prayer of one heart, one mind and one spirit. That was my vision...
"I take great effort to bring authenticity, quality, and a spiritual inspiration to my work. Nothing else the Indian possessed had the symbolic importance of the "Indian Sacred Rites Peace Pipe". Akkeeia Comanche 1944 -.
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by Michael Webster. White Buffalo Cover Painting By Michael J. Lavery. Cover Design by Mark Lowe