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The Corroboree

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The Lakota have a very basic rite that is generally done as a a teen for ones first time. It is called the vision quest. You simply stand for 4 days and 4 nights without food, water, or sleep. I know other cultures have similar ordeals, but this is the one I know first hand. Having done my first vision quest in the early 90's. One typically offers a ceremonial pipe to a spiritual leader/wicasa waken, yuwipi/etc. and asks them to put you up on a vision quest. If this is accepted you then typically have one year to  prepare for your vision quest. It is during this time that you prepare by going to many inipi (sweat lodge) ceremonies. You also make 606 prayer ties for the 6 directions and 6 prayer flags. The colors being black, red, yellow, white, blue, and green. These prayer ties are pieces of 1" cloth that have a pinch of tobacco placed in them. They are then placed in a string or line of red yarn. Those prayer ties will encircle you on your vision quest and are the prayers that will be read by the spirits while you are on your vision quest. You are not to step outside of that square created by those prayer ties and 4 trees planted at the 4 directions. The exception being if you need to defecate or urinate. This typically does not occur very often as one is not eating nor is one moving. The altar is generally a bed of sage or cedar upon which you have two small Y shaped sticks generally made of choke cherry and a single stick going between them to support your personal pipe which you typically are not allowed to smoke until you come down in 4 days. You can however pick up your pipe and pray with it whenever you feel the need. 


I remember going into the sweat lodge ceremony my first time for a vision quest. I did not have the full year that is typical to prepare with this particular spiritual leader. My cousin had married him and introduced me to him. He made an exception for me. I remember going into that sweat lodge ceremony to purify before being placed up on the hill for my vision quest. The rocks were brought in glowing red. The inipi was sealed shut and the water hissed as it hit the the rocks which I was told symbolized the rocks giving their life/spirit/breath to purify us. The temperature quickly became scalding hot and when I thought I could not take anymore an eagle wing fan started to blow the hot air around and at this point it felt as if the skin was being ripped from my body. I was told that if one prays hard enough there is no pain. 4 rounds later, I emerged from this lodge and the steam could be seen rolling off my body. I had learned to kiss the ground as one placed ones mouth to the earth one could draw in a very thin cool layer of air beneath the heat. I had learned the duck and cover as some of the rocks exploded from the water getting between the cracks in the surface and as it expanded small shards of rock exploded and landed on ones back. I proudly carried the scars from that ceremony for many years. 


Back to the ceremony... I was escorted to the top of a hill deep in the forests and my prayer ties were put up around me. My prayer staff was put up. My altar was put up. I was left encircled by a visual representation of my prayers in the six colors representing the 6 directions and the spirits that would hopefully take those offerings of tobacco and read those prayers and offer me a vision. 


As I was left alone night fell and trees groaned. There was a storm and it was too dark to tell anything, but I could tell trees were falling. I was worried for my life, but I was told so long as one did not leave ones altar that no harm could come to you. So, I stayed and I prayed. I think if it were not for that fear I might not have made it that first night. 


The second night came and I could hear a rattling. I dared not move. I knew a rattle snake was at my feet, but I was too scared to move or too scared to even attempt to look. Not that I could see anything it was too dark. So, I stood there another night too scared to give up. I don't think I had the strength to stand their on my own. I really don't. But the fear I had gave me the strength not to move. And as daylight came I could still here the sound of that rattle snake. I had made it another  day.


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I began to turn my head gradually and slowly. I thought, I must be moving about the same speed as the hour hand on a clock. After what seemed like hours had passed I finally glimpsed the menacing rattler at my feet. It was a moth and an ant doing battle on my pipe. Fighting all night long. I remember thinking how I didn’t know if I could simply stand another night. And here this moth and ant were fighting for their life the entire night without a moments break. It was at that moment that I gained a profound respect for both that moth and the ant. I watched for many more hours as the two continued to do battle until finally the ant dragged the moth off and out of my eyesight. I watched as a butterfly landed on one of the trees that had fallen. The butterfly opened and closed its wings a few times and then one of the times the wings should have opened the butterfly revealed itself to be an eye on the tree. Only the tree was no longer a tree, but a wolf. I was very thankful for the hardships and the fears I had to face as without them I am almost certain I would never have made it to this point. Dusk was upon me and I saw flies coming out of who knows where. The flies landed on my prayer ties… all 606 of them. My prayer ties and prayer flags were soon completely covered with flies. I could not stand flies if the truth be told and I secretly cringed inside. I did not move to kill or swat them though as I was told this is not allowed on a vision quest. Instead, I tried to embrace what they were…. By the time darkness had completely fallen I was myself completely covered in flies. Then the flies turned turned into little blue lights that floated about in the night. Millions of little blue lights were everywhere lighting up the night sky.


Skipping ahead. This is how I actually looked after that ordeal. Shoes were put on to come down from the hill. Suffice it to say my soft bottomed feet would not have done well if I had to walk down that hill without them and suffice it to say my feet were already in severe pain from having to stand for 4 days.

Eric-visionquest copy.jpg



Edited by Inyan
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