In September of 2017, I had the great honor to participate in a vision quest in the Colorado Rockies near Crestone. I had participated in a number of other quests and journeys in other countries and with other cultures, but never with the native people of my own land. I knew immediately it was time when the invitation came. I prepared for my vision quest in the traditional way by making 405 prayer ties on one continuous cotton string.
A Lakota prayer tie is made by taking a pinch of tobacco, a sacred ceremonial plant to many native cultures, and placing it, along with my prayer, onto the middle of a small square of colored cloth and then cinching it up. When finished, it looks a bit like the Halloween ghosts we used to make as children, but in miniature. There are 4 colors for the prayer ties: white, red, yellow, and black. Each of the colors represents a different direction and section of the medicine wheel. These ties contain all of the prayers for your intention as you enter this sacred ceremony called vision quest, which is as big as birth and death in the life of the person undergoing the quest for a vision.
When you are put onto the mountain, deposited on your solitary and isolated piece of land, you carry with you a wool blanket that covers your face from those around you, a sleeping bag, 5 juniper tree boughs adorned with larger prayer flags of colored fabric and tobacco, a knife, a ladle, and a bucket, which contains a small amount of water. My particular spot was in a small hollow, with a tree to the West, where my altar of one juniper bough and prayer flags was planted. The other 4 boughs were then planted into the earth at the four quadrants and the prayer ties unwound around them to create a sacred barrier of sorts that would contain me in my 6×10 foot space for the next 4 days and 3 nights.
The medicine man, or Wičasa Wakan, who facilitated my vision quest drummed and sang a native prayer, which was added to by some of the community and teachers accompanying us. Then they moved on up the mountain, and I was left to remove my blanket covering and look around at what would be my surroundings for the next few days. I took in the tree, whose branches gracefully swayed into my small space. This tree was soon to become the archetype of the Tree of Life for me, for it teemed with busy life whose activity began at sunrise with insects and birds, and ended with sundown, which then awoke the other species of the moon—the bats and night insects who were equally busy and full of life throughout the duration of the moon’s track across the sky.
Having ingested only liquids such as fresh juice and bone broth for the 2-3 days prior to being put out on the mountain for the vision quest, there were no “nature calls” to heed. My digestion and metabolism slowed to a peaceful and surprisingly grateful halt. The community below was encamped and tending the sacred fire, sweating in the sweat lodge daily and praying for those of us who were questing for a vision continuously. These beautiful supporters included one of my daughters and her husband and one of my sons. I could feel their support link to me as I settled in for my quest. Unlooked for was also the support of my three dogs. Settling onto my makeshift bed on the ground, I could feel all three of them nestle around my legs, occasionally licking me with encouragement and devotion. But these flesh and blood beings were not my only support.
The official start of my vision quest was when the sacred fire in the camp was lit. We all offered prayers to the flames as the lava rocks for our sweat lodge heated up. Each quester contributed a rock that represented them.
As soon as our Wičasa Wakan began to drum and sing the native prayers, I felt a vortex of energy swirl around me. As the vortex spun, the colors blurred and “reality” that was interpreted by my physical eyes began to soften. Eventually as the vortex slowed, three spirits began to come into focus. One was half-man and half-buffalo, another was a native man and another a native female. They alerted me they would be with me for the duration of my vision quest. Before entering the sweat lodge, I asked our Wičasa Wakan what the Lakota symbolism was for a half-man and half-buffalo and was told it symbolized the Divine Mother, or Goddess energy.
The Vision Quest begins with two rounds in the sweat lodge, the questers are then covered with a wool blanket so the community does not see their faces and the questers can begin their internal connection. Then the journey of the trek up the mountain begins.
I arrived in my questing spot when the sun was high in the sky. I sat and began to acquaint myself with the rhythms of my surroundings. The temperature was hot, the breeze barely felt, the bees, wasps, and hornets loud, the three kinds of ants near my space very busy. The hummingbirds hovering above my body felt like miniature helicopters as the velocity of their wings moved them through space with controlled power. One landed on my chest and began to curiously check me out. My tree of life was filled with birds of a variety of species and songs.
As the sun dipped onto the horizon the first night, growing rosy gold, I began to meditate, pray, and chant the Gayatri Mantra. Peace descended on my little hollow, and as the sun disappeared, a suspended silence ensued. As the sky began to darken, I spotted the first star in the firmament and the first cricket warmed up its song. I began to think of that cricket as the first chair violinist in an orchestra who tunes the rest of the instruments. Soon after the cricket started, the rest of the nighttime orchestra burst into song, heralding the bats from the trees as they took to the skies.
During my time on the mountain, the moon would peep up over the bluff behind me and then track its path through the sky until it disappeared into the horizon in front of me. The moon was nearly full. It was bright. It was powerful. It was the first moon post “mega eclipse.” In fact, it caused three of us to start our menstrual cycles on the mountain, all of us starting out of sync with our regular cycles. This moon also brought powerful visions.
By the time the sun began to set on that third day of the vision quest, the veil between the physical and spiritual planes had become very thin. My body’s functions had slowed to such a state that every movement seemed to be made as if it was in a gelatinous substance. As the moon came up that night, I felt on high alert. I could see I would not be getting any sleep. My senses were set to the highest frequency and every molecule seemed to vibrate faster than normal.
When the moon was nearly peaked in the sky, I could hear drumming from the encampment below. Clouds had moved in and the temperature had finally dropped that evening. Thunder signaled a growing storm front. I could feel electricity around me in the still air. Suddenly I saw a lightning bolt nearby and I was surrounded by a clap of thunder. My skin erupted in goose bumps as the hair on my arms stood on end. Something was happening, but I wasn’t yet sure what it was. Time seemed to stand still as my eyes scanned the horizon for the vision I thought was about to appear.
Just then my hair began to dance on my head. I looked up just as a bolt of lightning shot down from the heavens toward me. I felt all go dark feeling like I had been thrown at high force against a cement wall. My next view was from above my tree of life, my vision taking in the sight of my still body and smoldering camp site. I looked at the tree, realizing that if another strike occurred, the tree would fall and crush the body that laid beneath it. This didn’t seem to matter. I looked around, seeing the community and the fire below. I could see all of the spirits that were with the questers, giving them guidance. Again, all of this was taken in without emotion or thought. I realized I should re-enter my body if my vision quest was to continue.
The re-entry process of my spirit into my body seemed to be much like the re-entry of the burning space shuttle into Earth’s atmosphere; it was bumpy, it was painful, and it was searing hot. As I tried to re-start my heart, I could not bear the heat and pain and drifted back up to my bird’s-eye position of planet earth. I knew that the longer I stayed out of my body, the more likely I was to make it a permanent separation.
I looked above me and saw the glittering firmament beckoning to me. I was pulled gradually higher and higher toward the welcoming brilliant light. As I moved farther away from my still body, the lights began to take on the form of a geometric design that I recognized as the Flower of Life. Each of the lines in this sacred geometrical grid was a bar of light. Each of the bars of light had a different frequency and brilliance. I was shown that each bar of light represented a different human. Those lines that were dim were people who did not want to be living. Those that shone brilliantly represented people who were in their potential and sharing their unique gifts with the rest of the world. I suddenly understood with stark clarity how important life really is. I felt the responsibility of achieving my purpose in life renew and my desire to re-inhabit my body take over. I began to make my way back to the body lying on the smoldering ground. Without any hesitation I re-entered and re-started my heart, gritting my teeth through the pain and digging my fingers into the dirt beneath me to ground my energy and anchor myself. I felt my hair; it was standing on end and frizzy. I felt my legs and my arms; they were intact but hot. I knew I was going to be okay.
The vision quest ends with another two rounds of sweat lodge, the blanket is lifted and the Wičasa Wakan aids in sorting the visions when sorting is needed. I was told that I was a “contrarian” or Heyoka. I had never heard this term before. He explained that most Heyoka are powerful healers, intuitives, visionaries, and run contrary to what elements of society who begin to take themselves too seriously want from them. They are the mythic tricksters, cosmic clowns, and like the boy in the story, proclaim aloud when the emperor has no clothes on.
The Lakota Heyoka often have teepees covered with polka dots he told me. In the Andes of Peru, the Heyoka will be wearing devil masks. Their role is to provide a cosmic mirror so that others might see their own shadows, or demons, reflected back and be able to transform and evolve their consciousness. They are often born breech, look younger than their years, break electronics, run watches backwards, set off car alarms, and make connections others are slow to make. They are also prone to lightning strikes and have been visited by the “Thunderbirds” of the West. The Thunderbirds look much like Chinese dragons and have horns. They used to frighten me as a child and adolescent when they showed up without explanation in my waking and sleeping dreams.
This explained so much. These beings were not evil, they were guides. They were trying to tell me I had a little different cosmic make up. My inability to keep a computer running, my constant need for IT was not due to mistakes I was making; my energy just runs contrary to what electronics like. It also explained why some people really react strongly in a negative way to me and why other love my fiercely. The Heyoka is a mirror, and any person who enters their presence will see what they are to work on for themselves as a projection. They will judge the Heyoka as judgmental if they need to work on judging for themselves. They will see the Heyoka as compassionate if they need to work on self-compassion. They will see the Heyoka as smug if they need to work on humility.
I felt free after this vision quest. There is nothing like being struck by lightning to rewire your brain, heart, and perspective on life. I felt free to just live my purpose. I felt free of the need for approval from anyone outside of myself. I felt as though yet another line of communication between the spirit world and I had been opened. I also knew that it was finally time to begin teaching about Mystic Medicine. It was time to call the empaths, the intuitives, the healers, the visionaries to their own healing. It is time that those who have been chronically or acutely ill, traumatized, hurt, abused, rejected, ridiculed, judged, ostracized, and betrayed know that all of it has been part of a larger plan for them. I knew it was time to teach these beautiful souls how to see God in all of it because our society is in need of some Heyoka cosmic mirror mystic trickster wisdom. It is time that we as a culture engage in our Shero’s journey and emerge as oracles to set what is wrong to right. It is time for the alchemy of science and the sacred. Only then will there be complete healing.