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Caleb Fountaine

Tina Katsanos
LBST 2102-13350
5 April 2016
Sioux Indian Vision Quest
The indigenous Native American Indian people were all very engrossed in their culture,
especially in terms of tradition, religion, and rituals. Like most indigenous people across the
world, Native (North) American culture is centered almost entirely around religion. The
significance of nearly everything they do whether it be for pleasure, fashion, or utility, is
attributed to religion. Although there are dozens of rituals, the vision quest is perhaps the most
commonly known ritual by the Sioux tribe. As most much of their identity stems from religious
endeavors already, this ritual is particularly important to them.
The Sioux tribe is mainly known for the two famous chiefs, Sitting Bull and Crazy horse.
As one of the largest tribes in North America (they have 7 different sub-tribes, or sects, as there
are some religious variances) they had great influence on universal Indian tradition. Although
there are rituals similar to the vision quest in other tribes, this is specific to the Lakota sect of the
Sioux tribe. The vision quest is the second of seven rites of passage in their culture (Esposito).
The rites of passage were the most important rituals mostly related to becoming assimilated and
earning their place in their tribe, however some were for the purpose of purification or
meditation. Although they are grouped together, this is not a tiered or chronologically related
system of events, as two of them are gender specific. The vision quest was typically the first of
these which a boy was able to experience.
The vision quest is essentially the ritual of becoming a man. Frequently this process
begins at the age of 12, however it could occur as early as 10 or as late as 14. In regards to timing

and purpose, this is often compared to the Bar-Mitzvah. The purpose of the vision quest is to find
a personal spirit in order to protect the seeker. It is traditionally called, Hanbleceyopi, which
translated from Siouan literally means, crying for a vision. Theoretically, anyone can cry for a
vision, the vision quest is an esoteric experience reserved for young males and represents a
transition from adolescence to manhood. Although this rite of passage is particularly noted for
and generally identified with its solitary nature, the quests preparation typically involves several
other people. Every quest begins with the assistance of a holy man. The Sioux holy man was
also known as a, medicine man. Their identifying characteristics being their ability to heal the
sick, recall those whose souls had drifted, as well as trip much easier and more readily than an
ordinary person, making them a main source of communication and interpretation in the spirit
world to the rest of the tribe. The holy man was essentially the Indian version of a Shaman,
which are an integral part of many indigenous religions. Accompanying the holy man on the
seekers vision quest were several assistants to aid in ritual setup. Once the actual vision quest
began the holy man and his associates left, leaving the seeker alone in peace (Crying for a
vision).
The vision quests location was crucial to its success. The holy man and his assistants
aided the seeker in finding a location not only suitable for meditation, but also a place far enough
away in order to instill a level of withdrawnness within the seeker from his tribe and comfort
zone. The tops of mountains and the like were commonly selected places. Once a general area
was decided on, a rectangular area usually 4-6 feet in width and 6-8 feet in length was marked
off. The holy man and his assistants provided a bed of basil for the seeker to rest on within this
space but the seeker was expected to spend the majority of his time in meditation or prayer. In
the center was placed an altar pole filled with tobacco also surrounded with four similar poles

with markings related to each respective orientation (north, south, etc). Additionally, the Sacred
White Buffalo Calf Pipe also filled with tobacco was made available to the seeker (The Wild
West).
Tobacco was a particularly important part of this ritual as with the culture as a whole.
Through oral tradition, it is believed that the spirit of Wenebojo gifted the Sioux people with
tobacco on a mountain top and therefore considered as an appropriate offering. Contrary to
common misconception, the tobacco was not laced with anything in order to aid in a
hallucinogenic state. Any altered state of mind in order to communicate more readily with the
spirit world was obtained by natural means, which were extreme hunger, thirst, and solidarity.
These purpose of these circumstances was to create a feeling of hopelessness and misery in order
to instill complete dependence and desperation for their guardian spirit.
In conclusion, the vision quest is one of many examples we have of an indigenous
initiation ritual. This event shows just how important both tradition and religion were to the
Sioux people and to what lengths they would go for them. Although the Sioux Vision Quest has
not been practiced in many years its principles remain a key part of the values that these natives
still hold true today.

Works Cited
"Akta Lakota Museum & Cultural Center." Hableeya - Crying for a Vision. Web. 06
Apr. 2016.
Esposito. Indigenous Religions. Print.
"Native American Religion - Lakota Indian: Vision Quest." The Wild West. Web. 06 Apr.
2016.