Native Visionary Experience

After shifting my interests around many different ideas, many of which dealt with native health and healing, I gradually felt more disconnected from the subject matter.  I could not narrow my research to any focused component of native health.  Somewhat worried and confused, I went to bed Friday night hoping for a new direction to come my way.  The next morning, I finally formulated and idea.

During our experiences at Pine Ridge, conversations with Celinda, and interactions with the Lakota people, many people referred to a sense of final truth, sacred reality, or “Great Mystery.”  Personally, I have felt an energy during my experiences and learning in this course that very well may connect to these notions of transcendent wisdom.  In native culture, visionary experience, frequent prayer, and ceremony bring people into harmony with this ultimate reality.  I chose to focus on how visionary episodes in people’s lives have illuminated this sacred mystery.

Wanting to incorporate a visually stimulating art piece into the project, I searched for a simple, wooden block to decorate.  Doing so was not easy, and I finally found what I was looking for in a pile of scrap wood behind a wood working art studio.

While doing research, I encountered many different native accounts of visions.  Each was unique in its own way, but four distinct themes consistently came into play.  I chose four separate accounts which reflect these themes, and glued certain passages to the four sides of the wooden block.  A brief description of each account follows:

1. -A Plains healer named Pompona speaking based on her visions and continual communication with spirits.

-Theme: The ever present dimension of grandmother/grandfather spirits

-Components: cyclic time, relating to the circle of the self (mind, body, emotions, soul) and circle of Mother Nature

-Unified connection of consciousness of all beings (‘all my relations’) (Turner’s notion of plural reflexivity comes into play)

2. -Miki Maaso of the Yoeme tribe speaking based on his vision at Pitayu Pueblo and continual communication with spirits

-Theme: Once one is in tune with sacred understanding, spiritual essence stays with him or her throughout life

-Components: spirits are friendly guardians /companions throughout life (ex. Mike Jr.’s relationship with Stone Boy)

-Human emotions/tendencies (fear, over-rationalization) can inhibit visionary experience (ex. Celinda writes about her over-excitement during ceremony bringing her away from meditation)

-Maaso uses terms like “wilderness world”and “flower person” to metaphorically connect to sacred reality.  Geertz would explain this tendency as the human act of creating models for reality

3. -Good Lifeways Woman of the Lakota tribe recounts her vision quest on Bear Butte, South Dakota.

-Theme: A more explicit view of the interconnectedness of all living things

-Components: facing north, the place of the white giant, she sees a gigantic owl

-The owl turns into a man, who draws a circle in the dirt encompassing an owl face and an eagle face (bond between man and animal)(spiritual unity in existence, circle of self, and circle of nature)

4. Stan Cuthand translating for Emil Piapot, a member of the Cree tribe.  He describes a vision he experienced during his dreams, and how he went to sleep feeling sick, but woke up feeling healthy.

Theme: The healing power of Sacred Reality

Components: A grandfather tells him to use the plants and herbs of the earth as medicine (return to nature for healing)(herbs like cedar, sage, and tobacco used in ceremony)

Knowledge comes from the grandfathers (spiritual companion helping man return to health) (calls to mind the fact that prayer and ceremony helped Charlie overcome his addictions) (Mike Jr.: ‘It’s all positive’)

The grandfather turns into a grandmother (unity of spirit in the man/woman duality)


After pasting the most impactful passages of each account on the the sides of the block, I wanted to connect their ideas and themes together in the center to sybolize the unity of this ultimate reality.  I painted each side the color corresponding to its respective direction.  I let Good Lifeways Woman’s writings to be the northern direction, as she was facing north at the time of her vision.  North is white, west is black, south is yellow, and east is red.  Each color comes from the sides and meets at a simple drawing at the center.  In the middle, a small green turtle joins the themes of each account.  It connects to the term “Turtle Island,” a native understanding of North America.  We are all embodied, physically and spiritually, in this one shell, this one existence.  Ultimate understanding of sacred reality, often obtained through visionary experience, unites all living things in one essence.  We are all related.

By Kyle Lutz

Works Cited

Evers, Larry and Felipe S. Molina.  “Collaboration and Ethnopoetics.”  Native American Oral Traditions: Collaboration and Interpretation.  Eds. Larry Evers and Barre Toelken.  Utah: Utah State University Press, 2001.  15-57.  Print.

Marin, Joel W.  Native American Religion.  New York:  Oxford University Press, 1999.  Print.

No Author.  “Cree Seminar.”  Native Religious Traditions: Joint International Symposium of Elders and Scholars.  Eds. Earle H. Waugh and K. Dan Prithipaul.  Edmonton: Canadian Corporation for Studies in Religion, 1979.  25-34.  Print.

Young, David E., et. al.  “A Hermeneutic Exposition of a Plains Healer’s Concept of ‘The Grandfathers.’”  Anthropos Bd. 92, H. 1/3 (1997): 115-28.  JSTOR.  Web.  18 November 2011.

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