I’m a Vision Quest Guide, supporting those who have been called to undertake a vision quest, sometimes known as a wilderness fast. This is nothing like a typical training course.
This is not an easy option for people. It takes strength and courage. They have fears. And they have support. 4 years since my first vision quest, I have experienced what they may be going through and I came through.
We all experience it in our own way. Take weather. When I completed my second one, it had rained continuously beforehand. The ground was like mud and every step to the ‘stone pile’ was literally walking through mud as it came up to mid-calf.
This week they are blessed by hot weather, another heat wave. No need for a tarp for shelter and the joy of being unclothed as they call on spirits to support their quest. Performing ceremonies that they recall from deep ancestral memory.
I arrived on Friday; my tent is down a hill from base camp to allow myself some separation. The time at base camp is hard work for me as well as those on the quest.
I usually work with David Wendl-Berry, who has been leading Vision Quests for over 35 years. The first person to do them in the UK. This time I’ve been with Jen Gold, who has been supporting vision quests for over 15 years. I’m learning as much from her as I do from David.
I’m also finding my own way. My style. Using my knowledge, as a psychologist, my doctoral research, from previous vision quests, and from my deep ancestry.
Three full days at basecamp. We listen to their stories, their intent for being here. We give them tools – earth awareness exercises to drop them into the natural world. We talk about the ceremonies they will undertake – a death lodge on the first night, a purpose circle on the final night. We give them a structure for their four days solo time. They can ignore this if they choose.
They leave with no phone, no watch, no books to read. But they can take a journal and pens and a musical instrument and knife.
And we tell them not to fill their time with doing. This is time for them to consider their gifts and their place in the world; what it is that they can do for their people when they return.
I woke them at dawn on Tuesday, they were blessed as they passed through the threshold circle into the liminal space, having completed the severance stage. They left their buddy at the ‘stone pile’ a place where they would make their mark once a day, an ancient way of checking in.
On Saturday they will return, and pass back through the threshold circle. We will then greet them with hugs and fruit, and they can wash and put on clean clothes.
During this time we are at base camp we hold the space and are ready; sometimes people return, they need some food, more water, or need other support. None of these things are a failure.
We then take them to the nearest town. We need to get them back into the real world. They will eat, and it will seem a bit strange.
In traditional cultures the vision quest was undertaken by adolescent men on their initiation to become a man. They came back when the wild animal was slain. That was a way of addressing their fears. In our modern culture the fear to overcome is hunger from the fasting. Before I did my first vision quest I said I couldn’t go 4 hours without food, never mind 4 days, but I did.
Back at base camp they tell their story. We, as the elders at the circle, listen to their story, and mirror back. Picking out on themes and clues that we can hear. The messages from the birds, the trees. And their actions.
It’s a lot to take in and we give them our notes to refer to later.
And then they leave. They return to their ‘normal life’ and we caution them about sharing their story. They can talk about their time at base camp, but not the 4 days on their vision fast. Their story will unfold over the coming year. If they share, others will comment and it will lose some of its power. They can talk with the others from base camp, the other vision questers, and those of us who held the space.
And one year later they return to the land. A final 24 hours to close the vision quest. From then they can share the experience with others, those who asked the year before. But a year has passed by, and no one asks. But you never forget.