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A vision quest is a personal spiritual journey undertaken by someone as a rite of passage. Such quests are especially closely associated with Native American culture, where they are typically used by children and teens to find their way in life, although other cultures have some form of this practice as well. In addition to being used in youth, a vision quest can also be undertaken later in life by someone who feels like he or she is in need of guidance and assistance.
The mechanics of a vision quest vary, depending on the culture in which the rite is performed. Most are done alone, with the seeker choosing to isolate him or herself in a remote place or an enclosed space. The seeker may also choose to fast while on the quest, and in some cultures, people consume various psychoactive substances which are said to open the mind. It is also common for people to play instruments, sing, and meditate to focus their spirituality during this time. Typically, the seeker enters into a trance or dreamlike state as part of the quest.
In some cultures, people must undergo a form of purification before embarking on a vision quest. Such purifications are often led by shamans or other holy men, who may lead the seeker through a series of cleansing rituals in sweat lodges, streams, or other locations. The shaman may also anoint the seeker with markings or substances which are meant to enhance the experience.
The duration of a vision quest varies, with most people remaining at the location they have chosen until they receive a vision or some form of guidance. Many cultures believe that a spirit guide will appear during such a quest, often in the guise of an animal, and that the animal will guide and protect the seeker as he or she experiences a vision. During the vision, the seeker hopes to learn more about his or her path in life.
People who have done vision quests often say that they are powerful, cathartic, and sometimes life-changing experiences. The combination of fasting, deep meditation, and isolation can also help to clear the mind, so even if one doesn't believe in the idea of visions, it can still be used to bring greater focus and clarity to life.
A vision quest should not be undertaken without guidance, not least because it can be dangerous to be alone in an isolated location in nature. It is important to have camping and first aid skills, and it helps to rely on the knowledge of a local when it comes to selecting a spot and preparing for a quest.