By Joseph Piskorowski originally written for a study program
The person who experiences a vision believes that it is occurring in the outer world, although another person who was with them would not necessarily agree. A vision is an extremely vivid image. It is like being able to see with your eyes closed. Something a few people can accomplish naturally, but others who are trained in “remote viewing” learn to do. Some people develop that ability early in life, while a psychiatrist would diagnosis a person who regularly has visions as a hallucinatory psychotic. People that pray or meditate, people who are under the influence of certain drugs, people deprived of sleep or food, and people who have been in sensory deprivation chambers often experience such visions.
Images that come to awareness spontaneously come from outside a person’s ego consciousness – from one’s inner center, from one’s subconscious, from discharging cells in one’s brain or from other worlds. Many people in our population have experienced drugs or other addicting substances because they anticipate a vision of another world where it would be free of pain and all the discomforts of this world is physicality.
From Biblical times dreams and visions have been regarded as merely having symbolic meaning. Religious and mystical traditions are rich with symbolic images; traditions in which the practitioner seeks to experience the non-visible world. Primitive religions and shamanistic traditions are also veritable symbolic cosmologies. Some are said to entertain earthly spirits others from heavenly ones.
A Teton Sioux expressed the same thought in a different way:
It is the general belief of the Indians that after a man dies, his spirit is somewhere on the Earth or in the sky, we do not know exactly where, but we believe that his spirit still lives. So it is with the Wakan Tanka. We believe that he is everywhere yet he is to us as the spirits of our friends whose voices we cannot hear.”
Teton Sioux Music, Frances Densmore, page 96
Dr. Hurtak, the author of The Keys of Enoch® describes a vision in words that are not very well known by most people. He says a vision can be encoded as a ideographic pictogram. The ancient Hebrew alphabet is considered by our ancestors “the Language of Light.” Key 2-1-4:2 states that out of the emanations of the Divine Mind preceded the light pictures (pictographs) which were combined with the geometries of the creative forms producing the spectrum of all form that came out of the alphabet of creation which is as stated in the last paragraph, the almost forgotten but never lost Hebrew Alphabet.
Verse 12 states: The light pictographs are thought-forms from the higher intelligence projected through the radiations of color to corresponding mental dimensions which perceive knowledge through the vibrations of a coordinated mind-body.
13 The pictographs harmonize color tones into mantra-patterns that can be retained by the spiritual mind.
15 …the pictographs are energized image shapes symbolizing the meeting of ideas which produce pictures and sounds in mental language, and activate the receptor cone of the eye to see objects on the many levels of space in which man coexists.
19 These light pictographs work through ‘Yod’-like pulsations centered in repeating pyramidal patterns extending through all space, time and matter.
The Keys of Enoch®, J.J. Hurtak
In fact, the letters and geometries themselves have been known to activate visions .The Abenaki have a saying:
The Great Spirit is in all things; he is in the air we breathe.”
A “individual” vision quest as sought by the Native Americans by no means is the only route to experience. The First Nation peoples have also sought visions through participation in group ceremonies such as the Sun Dance the great summer ritual of the Plains Indians. And sometimes the visions come unhidden, through the medium of dreams. Several Indian communities put particular emphasis on this pathway to the supernatural, among them the Mohave, who live in Arizona and California, and the Iroquois of New York State, of whom a Jesuit missionary noted 300 years ago:
They consider the dream as the master of their lives. It is the God of the country. It is this that dictates to them their feasts, their hunting, their fishing, their war, their trade with the French, their remedies, their dances, their games, their songs.
The Winged Serpent: American Indian Prose and Poetry,Margot Astrov page 45.
When the time of the quest was approaching, the vision seeker, or else a relative who wished to share in the ordeal, would sometimes agree to have many tiny pieces of flesh cut off his arm. The skin was then put inside a rattle for the quester to take with him to shake as he prayed.
The details of the quest vary from tribe to tribe. Some Sioux visionaries entombed themselves in a pit several feet deep; the opening was then covered with hides and overlaid lightly with earth, to allow air but no light to penetrate to the lonely figure below. More typical was the open-air site with the five wooden poles. Often the prescribed length of time was four days – a sacred number for many Indians but the quest could be shortened if a vision came earlier.
There was no guaranteeing that a vision would come. In such cases, some determined questers even resorted to self-mutilation; to persuade the spirits to take pity on them; they might cut off a finger joint as an offering. In spite of all that, unsuccessful quests were not uncommon. Then, the disappointed vision seeker simply had to try again, persisting until he was rewarded, for as the Ojibwa saying had it, No man begins to be until he has seen his vision.”
When visions did come, they arrived in various forms, sharing little more than a dreamlike quality and a sense of spiritual authority that stamped them indelibly on the dreamer’s mind. Whatever a man saw became his emblem for life. If he dreamed of a specific bird or animal, female relatives might weave it’s paw, a bit of it’s skin, or some of it’s feathers or claws into his possessions. The warrior might also paint a likeness of the creature onto his ritual equipment, such as his pipes and rattles , and even onto his body – just as the Sioux leader Crazy Horse painted himself a flash of lightening on his cheek and patterns of hailstones on his body. The objects seen in a vision also formed the contents of an Indian’s medicine bundle, the portable collection of holy things that he carried to renew his spiritual power.
Among the Sioux, the animal spirit seen in a vision determined a man’s social affiliation. Each of the various Lakota bands had societies of elk dreamers, buffalo dreamers, deer dreamers, and bear dreamers with membership restricted to individuals who had seen the same creature in their dreams. Furthermore, it was only after successfully completing a vision quest that an Indian received his adult name. Names carried power and could not be bestowed on a young man who had not reached spiritual maturity.
Although nearly all male Indians sought visions, some were more strongly attracted to the world of the spirits than others. These men, who might go on several vision quests during their life times, acquired many guardian spirits. The rest of the community respected and feared them for their special power. These people were the Shamans or medicine men. Although the two terms are applied interchangeably, each one of them highlights a different facet of the visionary’s powers; the medicine man stresses the healing role, while the shaman emphasizes mystic attributes.
Sometimes the two roles were combined. The arctic peoples traditionally believed that humans fall ill because they have lost their souls – either to hostile sorcerers or to bad dreams. Indeed, the notion that the soul wandered off during sleep has led some Native Americans to claim that it is possible to kill people by waking them up too suddenly. To affect a cure, shamans would go into states of consciousness in which they set off mentally in search of the missing spirit. At times, the shaman had himself tied up with ropes for fear that he might be physically carried away.
One holy man complained to an outsider: “In our forefathers’ day, the shamans were solitary men, but now they are all priests or doctors, weather prophets or conjurers producing game, or cleaver merchants selling their skills for pay.” Another spoke of the pain and loneliness that one must endure in order to acquire knowledge. “True wisdom,” he said, “is only to be found far away from people, out in the great solitude, and it is not found in play but only through suffering. Solitude and suffering open the human mind, and therefore a shaman seeks his wisdom there.”
The strangest of all Native American medicine men were the contraries or sacred clowns. These were individuals who had been condemned by the nature of their vision to act in a way that ran counter to normal practice. Among the Sioux, they were known as heyoka and their ranks were made up of men who had dreams of thunderstorms. Black Elk has attempted to explain the connection:
When a vision comes from the thunderbeings of the West, it comes with terror like a thunderstorm; but when the storm of the vision has passed, the world is greener and happier. The world, you see, is happier after the terror of the storm.
Black Elk Speaks: Being the Life Story of a Holy
Man of the Oglala Sioux ..Black Elk, John G. Neihardt, page 149
Heyokas swam in icy pools in winter complaining of the heat, pretended to shiver with cold in the hottest days of summer, and faced backwards while riding horses. They carried crooked bows and bent arrows or used bows that were so ridiculously long that they were impossible to shoot. Most spectacular of all, they conducted ceremonies that climaxed with them plunging their arms into cauldrons of boiling water an ordeal that they prepared for by secretly smearing their arms with chewed leaves of the mallow plant.
The Iroquois equivalent of the heyokas was the society of False Faces, named after the grotesque masks they wore for their ceremonies. The False Faces received their vocation as a result of visions or dreams. The origins of the society stretch back to two tribal legends. One story tells of a hideous giant who lived at the rim of the world. One day, the giant challenged the benevolent Iroquois Creator to a contest in which each would show off his power by moving a mountain. The giant succeeded in shifting the mountain a certain distance by magic, but the Creator bettered him by bringing the mountain up so close that when the giant turned around to look, he bent his nose against the slopes; an occurrence the Iroquois commemorate through the twisted masks.
The other tale features strange, semi-human beings that the Iroquois used to encounter in the woods. These troublesome spirits would raid the Iroquois camps, pawing through the ashes of the fires in search of scraps of food and tobacco. Though mischievous, they were not dangerous, and they even had healing powers that they were willing to convey to the Indians in exchange for a gift of tobacco.
Not all visions have proved accurate so discernment is required. The most widespread of all the prophetic movements was originated in 1869 by a Paiute medicine man named Wadziwob. He had a vision that the transcontinental railroad, which had just been completed, would bring recently deceased tribesmen back from the dead, a miracle that would be the sign for general revival in the fortunes of the Native American peoples. In the meantime, the Paiute were to prepare themselves by reviving a traditional Round Dance that symbolically repeated the sun’s journey across the sky. Wodziwob’s vision attracted a great deal of attention, but it lost support when the hoped for train failed to arrive. Instead, a drought came to further deplete the Paiute’s dwindling resources and destroy Wodziwob’s credibility.
An Indian named Wovoka, who lived in the Mason Valley of western Nevada, had an apocalyptic message. The existing world was coming to an end. It would be destroyed by a great flood. The spirits of Indians both dead and alive would then inhabit a new world to which they could f1y through the air with the aid of magical feathers. There they would live as they had before the coming of the white man. To prepare themselves for the great day, Indians must live correctly and above all must gather regularly to practice the Ghost Dance.
Words of the new prophet – described by some whites as the “Indian who impersonated Christ” – raced like wildfire through the dispirited Native American Communities of the West. Soon Indian groups from southern California to Oklahoma and the Dakotas were practicing the dance. Forming in a great circle, the participants moved clockwise in the direction of the sun with slow, shuffling steps around a central fire. All the whi1e, they sang special Ghost Dance songs. In the emotionally charged atmosphere of the dance, it was common for individual dancers to suddenly collapse in a trance. On awakening, they would recount the visions they had seen and spontaneously compose songs about them to add to the Ghost Dance repertoire.
Although many of the Indian ceremonies vary they typically involve dancing to the chanting of sacred songs, the shaking of rattles, the blowing of whistles and the hypnotic rhythms of the drums.
The Ogallala holy man Black Elk once explained the drums symbolic importance:
It’s round form represents the universe, and it’s steady strong beat is the pulse, the heart, throbbing at the center of the universe. As the voice of the Wakan Tanka, it stirs and helps us to understand the mystery and the power of things.
One feature notable by its scarcity in Native American ceremonial life is the notion of sacrifice. Although many tribes killed enemy prisoners as a matter of course, there is nothing to compare with the practices of the ancient Aztecs of Central America who, in their prime, may have performed as many as 10,000 human sacrifices a year.
One of the authenticated examples of human sacrifice in North America is the Morning Star Ceremony of the Pawnee of Nebraska, which was practiced well into the 19th Century. In years when Mars rose in the East, the tribe would sometimes sacrifice a girl snatched expressly for that purpose from a neighboring village. The aim was to propitiate the planet, which would appear in human form to a tribesman in a vision, directing him to find a suitable victim.
Black Elk stressed the mystic significance of these ordeals:
As we thus break loose,” he said, “it is as if we were being freed from the bonds of the flesh.
What we covered in this report were some of the activities that have taken place during the Native American Indian ceremonies leading into the main subject which is the Vision Quest.
In a special feature of ‘Time Life’ it mentions Black Elk who had a vision that sounds similar to what Dr. Hurtak mentions. In a plate called The Wonders in a Dream
While riding along the Little Bighorn River one day around l835 a nine-year old Ogallala boy later named Black Elk collapsed from a mysterious illness that would leave him unconscious for 12 days. While he lay inert in a tipi, he had a vision: Two cloud borne men came before him singing, “All over the sky a sacred voice is calling you.” Heeding their summons, he followed them up into the heavens, wondrous things there to behold. Long after the boy had become a great holy man of his tribe, Black Elk recounted the vision that transformed his life. In it he was shown the great beauty and harmony that pervade the universe, and from the spiritual beings who summoned him, he learned of the sacred symbols and objects that gave the power to heal sickness and quell strife, a gift that would serve his people well in the troubled years ahead. Near the end of his vision, Black Elk found himself carried East astride his horse, accompanied by the riders of the four quarters until he was standing on the highest of all mountains, while beneath him stretched the “whole hoop of the world.” In a painting done by his lifelong friend, Standing Bear, Black Elk is shown at the center of the Earth with a spotted eagle one of his guides – on his shoulder, a sacred flowering stick, and a peace pipe offering smoke to the heavens.”
Visions provide access to power, the current of supernatural force that courses beneath the surface of every aspect of Indian life. They too can provide us with wisdom if we take the time for the move into the message and the experience.