In their traditional system, Ojibwa children are guarded by a spiritual vision they acquire after their births. Their first names are taken from a vision or dream their mothers have during pregnancy, some event of spiritual significance that happens during their early lives or through a medicine person’s intercession with the spirits who seeks a vision and a name on their behalf.
But at adolescence, children are free to search on their own for a vision and a name to serve them through their adult lives. All boys are urged to quest for their names and girls are free to do so as well, though it is not required.
Children are separated from their people for a period of time and left alone upon the land, very often fasting, sometimes journeying, sometimes lying still, but all praying and waiting for a touch from spirit. They seek to learn what dogma cannot tell them, what not even the wisest one among their people can give them: an understanding of their innermost self and an awareness of the greater purpose for which they were born.
Girls may, if they choose, accept the vision of the Earth mother as Guardian Spirit and take their power from her through their capacity to bring forth life. The occasion of their first menstruation would then be an important rite of passage.
Both boys and girls who choose to seek their own visions are isolated from their people, consciously entering the world of the spirits with a willingness to release what they have believed about themselves in the past, while they fast and pray. At the end of three or four days, the elders or medicine people help to translate the visions.
Those who have returned from their fasts very often are named for the Guardian Spirit which revealed itself through their vision, some energy or spirit of nature that is believed to be each person’s personal access to strength and wisdom. The Ojibwa believe that every animal and plant has both a physical and a spiritual purpose in the Earthly ecology. The guardian is often closely associated with purpose, so those whose guardians are involved with healing might become aware of their own healing gifts through the contact.
The name and the vision are shared or kept secret, depending on the nature of the individual vision. But the acquisition of a name from the spirits is a cause for public celebration. Traditionally, this ritual made sure that all adolescents entered adulthood with some vision or purpose to which they were responsible. This was practical psychology, helping to ease the transition period for the young from the dependency of childhood to the responsibility of adult life.
Out of the context of its significance as a specific cultural drama, the ritual of the Vision Quest is a potent reflection of the rite of passage into spiritual maturity that can come at any physiological age.
When we were children, along with the protection and sustenance that we required, we allowed the world to create our contexts and our environments. We were given identities by our parents, our religions and our schools and we tried to match what we had been given. We were rarely encouraged to question or outgrow the visions that had been bequeathed to us, often being rewarded for accepting and staying within the structures, censored for our opposition.
But for many of us these visions just don’t work and we fall into confusion or despair. The moment we begin to grow is the one in which we question the identities we have been given and wonder who we are apart from our relationships with others and the work we do, and what our purpose is for being on the Earth at all.
The first impulse in seeking vision is thus an admission of ignorance. Whenever we release a definition of ourselves which served us for one period of our lives in search of a deeper, more powerful understanding, whenever we question the majority view or leave a group with which we have been an active part, we are beginning a Vision Quest.
With the release of the past and the willingness to leave the people behind and to go on alone, we lose both security and certainty. Fear, depression and confusion are all emotions evoked by the beginning of the quest, symbolized by going alone into the woods and into the night.
~From: A Voice From The Earth
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- Khetani Machangana: Learn To See