Menstuff® is actively compiling information and resources on
mentors and mentoring. As Michael Meade said, "If we don't initiate
our young men, they will burn down the culture." Photos above - left
icon by Sven
Gillsater and right icon by Carole
Men in Schools - for Boys
He Played the Game
Take this quiz - Then Consider Becoming a
Building a Sweat Lodge
Performing the Sweat Lodge
The Vision Quest
Related Issues: Talking With
Kids About Tough Issues
Books on Mentoring,
Initiation and Ritual
- Vision Quest.
Abiodun Oyewole-The Last Poets
Grenades in their eyes and death is their prize.
Peace will arise and destroy the lies.
There are bombs standing on the corners of the cities, waiting to
explode at the slightest touch.
Baggy shadow street boys stand cocked ready to fire. Their eyes are
grenades and the pin is about to be pulled. BOOM!!!
The brother went off. Pressure pulled the trigger and no one could
figure out how it happened. What went wrong?
He had a chance. Somebody even loved him, even told him that he
was better than most. But he went off. Chains rattled inside his
brain and his sky was filled with clouds that didn't even bring rain
but just the illusion that something was coming. So he became a gun
that he could hide in a jacket and make believe he had an erection
all the time. He could penetrate anything. His tongue was a curse,
his attitude was a bullet and he'd shoot you down without a second
thought. He became G.I. Joe, killing his family, not the enemy. A
human gun made and manufactured in the United States of America.
There are bombs standing on the corners of the cities waiting to
explode at the slightest touch. Baggy shadow street boys stand cocked
ready to fire, their eyes are grenades and death is their prize.
They are warriors looking for a rites of passage. They are young
lions enchanted by the sound of their roar. They are diamonds treated
like worthless stones. They are rivers with nowhere to run. They are
dreams unfulfilled. Desires buried in the remains of an abandoned
soul. They are the beauty of spring blinded by the snow storms of
Soon they will see their beauty, their strength, their love and
like the rivers flow into sea, they will unite as one. Then our voice
will be more powerful than a gun and as we speak we'll get things
Grenades in their eyes and death is their prize. Peace will arise
and destroy the lies.
(It's got to before it's too late.)
Men in Schools - for Boys
Dave Bolduc is a development coordinator, board member, and mentor
for the Boys to Men Mentoring Network of Virginia, Inc. (BTMVA). This
group has been doing Rite of Passage (ROP) programs, Journeymen
groups (for ROP weekend graduates), and group mentoring for boys
since 2010. As a result, BTMVA already has a staff of volunteer,
background-checked men who know how to work with young males. It was
a natural next step for them to look at other ways to serve their
I spoke with Dave because the men of BTMVA have recently completed
a site-based pilot program for boys at the local Tomahawk Creek
Middle School. That pilot program consisted of BTMVA men, and
occasionally Journeymen, being in a support group circle with
selected boys from the school. It ran for an hour each week during
the 2011-12 school years.
I really like the school-based model of supporting boys because it
provides a perfect and regular location, supportive school teachers
and other staff, access to parents, and especially because it solves
the big problem of getting adolescent males all physically located in
In the following interview, I asked Dave about the experience, how
it got started, what did he learn, and most importantly, did it work
for the men and boys involved.
Earl: How did you get connected with the Tomahawk Creek
Dave: My partner just happens to be the Librarian at the
school. She connected me with the Principal, who then put me in touch
with the Assistant Principal who was the coordinator of their
Leadership Development program. They all really liked the idea of a
program that had adult men involved with their boys.
Earl: Once you got those connections, were there any major
bureaucratic hurdles or approvals necessary to proceed?
Dave: Not really. Our own rigorous background checking
process to screen men for our BTMVA program met their security needs.
All of our participating men did fill out the school volunteer forms.
The biggest early challenge was how to fit a group like ours into the
Earl: So what did the pilot program look like and how did
you select the boys?
Dave: We started out utilizing a block of time that was
already allocated to their PACK program. PACK stands for Peers Acting
with Care and Kindness. Its a social skills development
program, so our program was perfect for that slot. Our pilot program
commitment was for the full school year, meeting on average three
Wednesdays a month, from 8-9 AM. That time slot allowed for the men
who could flex their work day to attend the morning sessions.
The boys for the pilot were recommended by the schools
teachers, counselors, and the Assistant Principal. Some were kids
having behavioral issues or boys who the staff felt would most
benefit from this experience. Twenty-four middle school boys, age
12-16, were initially selected.
Earl: Prior to launch did you have any communication with
the parents of the recommended boys?
Dave: Yes. We put together a one-page overview of the
program, and the Principal put a supportive cover letter on it and
sent it to the parents. In the letter, the boys and parents were told
our school-supervised program would include regular meetings with a
variety of male role models who will, . . . show up
consistently, tell the truth about their struggles as men, ask the
boys what kind of men they want to be, praise them for their unique
gifts, support them when they screw up, and encourage them to become
the good men they all want to be. We explained that, in
addition to the weekly meetings at school, there would also be a
48-hour Rite of Passage Adventure Weekend at the end of the program.
The boys were invited to attend an initial meeting, and 22 out of 24
recommended boys showed up.
Earl: So how did that initial program go over?
Dave: Earl, you know how powerful these circles can be,
especially for young guys who have never experienced honest, open,
caring, and vulnerable men. We did our standard Journeyman Circle
format with men and Journeymen speaking personal truth on topics we
know are big for these kids. That had the boys wide-eyed and sitting
on the edge of their seats.
Almost immediately, many of them began to participate and support
each other. After that first circle, permission slips were handed out
for the boys to take home, and thirteen boys came back the next week.
A couple more showed up a few weeks later after hearing about the
program from their peers.
Earl: How many men do you have anchoring these weekly
Dave: We typically have 4-5 men who show up. Initially,
there were three women counselors from the school, but after the
second session, they (wisely) stepped out and recruited the male band
teacher. He came to 90% of the sessions and added a lot.
Earl: Does each session have a specific content focus /
topic or do you just go with what the young guys bring?
Dave: We do have a series of themes we are prepared to
offer in a program that gradually ramps up the importance of the
topics discussed in the circle. We know the issues these young guys
are living with, like bullying, divorce, grief, drugs, and more, so
we can target these topics if they dont show up naturally.
Its amazing though, how quickly this age group is willing to
go deep. After hearing from men and Journeymen, the personal
vulnerability bar quickly gets set pretty high. Just as beautiful is
how naturally the boys in the circle pick up the ability to be
supportive for each other. In every group there are moments when kids
will offer verbal or other kinds of support for a peer who is
Next year well have returning kids from this years
group, who are comfortable in our circle, and they will have been
through our powerful Rite of Passage weekend too. This will really
help us to set the tone for the new kids. These guys really like
belonging to a tribe where other men and boys can be trusted and have
their back . . . where the really feel safe.
Being part of a support group that shares feelings and understands
yours, having mentors to help you realize that youre
accountable for your actions, having a shoulder from a peer when you
need one and being a shoulder for your friends to lean on...these are
things that have been shown and validated to my son thru Boys To Men.
Hes learned that people do care, its not just a bunch of
talk. He now truly realizes that hes never alone.
Christine B. (Jaireds mom)
Earl: So how about sharing a few of your big lessons after
your first year.
Dave: Well there are several.
At the top for me are how important it is that we did this at all.
Like so much of this work, there have been huge gains for the kids,
the school, families, and considerable impact on the men
Getting enough time from the school to do the program is hard. The
school has a lot of other important things to accomplish. With 15- 20
males in the group, we really needed more than an hour. Were
thinking that next year well move to an evening program at the
school. That way its still school-based, but well have
more time for fun and the important work in the circle. An evening
time frame will also allow the boys going into high school to come
back and continue to be part of the group.
Next time, we are going to put more energy into connecting with
parents early on. Well meet with the parents once the boys are
identified and have expressed interest in joining the group. We may
hold an Open House at the beginning of the year, and then have
additional gatherings during the year to keep the connection with
parents strong. It will also give us another check on the boy's
progress from the parental perspective. Community building is
important in this work, and letting the parents make connections with
other parents is a very good thing. Its interesting to note
that out of 14 boys we had in our group, only 4 of them were in
stable, two parent households. There are a lot of parents who can use
the support of a tribe too.
Finally, were going to do a more in-depth application
package. We want more detailed parent contact information to do a
better job of staying in contact with parents. We also want the
permissions necessary from the parents to get more personal data on
their boys from the school. In addition to knowing our young guys
better, we can have approval for counselors to talk to us directly
about their issues. In these ways, well be even better equipped
to give these kids the focused kinds of support they need.
* * *
Im thinking that Dave and other good men like him, showing
up for all our sons in these school-based initiatives,
could represent the vanguard of a powerful movement to change the
trajectory of the lives of boys, families, schools, and our
If you are inspired to get a few men together to do something
similar, send me a note or send Dave Bolduc an email. You never know
what a very large difference this small action by a few men might
You can download a PDF
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Contact: Send Earl a
Take this quiz - Then Think About Becoming a
Name the five wealthiest people in the world.
Name the last five Heisman trophy winners.
Name the last five winners of the Miss America contest.
Name five people who have won the Nobel or Pulitzer prize.
Name the last half dozen Academy Award winners for best actor and
Name the last decade's worth of World Series winners.
How did you do?
The point is, none of us remember the headliners of yesterday.
These are no second-rate achievers. They are the best in their
fields. But the applause dies. Awards tarnish. Achievements are
forgotten. Accolades and certificates are buried with their owners.
Here's another quiz. See how you do on this one:
List a few teachers who aided your journey through school.
Name three friends who have helped you through a difficult
Name five people who have taught you something worthwhile.
Think of a few people who have made you feel appreciated and
Think of five people you enjoy spending time with.
Name half a dozen heroes whose stories have inspired you.
Easier? The lesson. The people who make a difference in your life
are not the ones with the most credentials, the most money, or the
most awards. They are the ones that care. Pass this on to those
people who have made a difference in your life. "Don't worry about
the world coming to an end today. It's already tomorrow in
Australia." Charles Schulz
Become a better father. Become a mentor. Volunteer
where there's no recognition.
For the past 25 years, I have been doing gender equity educational
work in middle and high schools in Arizona. My interest in gender
issues began in graduate school (mid-1970s) when I took a sociology
course on gender. At that time was mostly about women/femininity with
an occasional article on men/masculinity. After graduation I joined a
men's group and also became aware of the small, pro-feminist, men's
movement in the US. These involvements helped me realize both the
political/power dimensions in gender relationships and, specifically,
how men have been restricted and hurt by traditional gender
Some of the beliefs and assumptions I was brought up with as a
young man include: A) men have to be strong (physically and
emotionally) and can't be vulnerable (such as asking for help or
admitting you're scared/uncertain); B) the best way to handle
conflict is by being (at the minimum) assertive, and (if need be)
aggressive or violent; C) the best measure of success for men is
money, power, and material possessions (including an attractive
partner). My interest in your Man-Making website and blog grew out of
a concern adult men may be unconsciously mentoring boys and young men
in ways that perpetuate those views of manhood.
In my student presentations, I emphasize work, careers, and
financial independence for girls/young women (traditional male roles)
and I emphasize parenting and homemaking responsibilities and rewards
for the boys/young men (traditional female roles). For both I
encourage them to consider all the jobs/careers available to them,
rather than restricting themselves to traditional male or female
jobs/careers. I invite all men who are mentoring, or those with boys
in your lives, to do the same. Watch for those subtle sexist messages
in your exchanges with young men. - Tim Wernette
Building a Sweat Lodge
For the purposes of this essay, it will be assumed that the reader
has some knowledge of what to do with a sweat lodge, how to do so,
perhaps some experience in doing so,and a little bit of familiarity
with the cultural and historical aspects of sweat lodge, so those
topics won't be addressed here. Despite the prejudices of the extreme
Christian right, sweat lodge is not demonic, satanic, etc. I know of
no Native American sweat lodge practices which incorporate animal
sacrifice, nor any other negative activities. I shall also assume
that the reader has some basic idea of fire safety and common sense;
if not, I strongly suggest you use someone else's lodge. Presumably
you have selected a site distant from burnable structures, has some
degree of privacy and security, etc. For other considerations, see
- Seasons Building a sweat lodge may be done at any time
of year, but, for obvious reasons, Spring and Summer afford the
best opportunity to obtain the fresh, green, supple saplings
needed for construction. If one must build a lodge during the Fall
or Winter, when saplings are more brittle, it will be necessary to
soak the saplings in water for a day or two to ensure
- Location Locate your fire pit first. The lodge should
be close enough to the pit to readily transport hot rocks by
shovel or pitchfork, but, obviously not so close as to endanger
the lodge from the flames of the fire pit, at full blast. In the
Pacific Northwest, we generally prefer to locate the lodge to the
West of the fire pit, because we like to have the door facing the
rising sun in the East. Follow your own beliefs and judgment.
- Framework The size of the lodge will dictate how many
saplings and how large, but a practical lodge about 8' in diameter
will hold about 4-6 people. This requires a total of 16-18
saplings, each 4'-6' long with a diameter at the base of 1"-1.5"
with the other end tapering to a point. I prefer willow, quaking
aspen, or poplars, but you may use any flexible sapling. Remove
all leaves and twigs. After collecting your saplings, pick out 8
pieces of very similar length. Lay them out in pairs, with the
pointed ends facing each other, and the large ends outward. Push
them closer together until the pointed ends overlap by 1-2 feet.
Using nylon string (rot resistant) lash them together. You should
now have 4 flexible poles 8'-10' long. Two people should take hold
of a pole, one on each end, and bend the pole into an arch and
place each end into a small hole dug into the earth to keep the
ends from readily slipping out. With at least one person holding
the arch in a vertical position, bend another pole so that it
crosses the first at a 90 degree angle in the middle. Seen from
above, the two arches should form an X. Now lash them together at
the center intersection of the arches. Each end should rest in a
small hole, or small rocks may be temporarily placed in a position
to prevent shifting. Now bend some of the loose saplings into a
ring around the base of the lodge, forming a circle around the X.
These should be flat on the ground, without bends or warps, if
possible. After lashing them together into a base, and the crossed
arches to the base, you should have the crude outline of a lodge.
Tie 2 more pairs of saplings into 8'-10' poles and bend them into
arches, fitting them into the circular base, between the original
arches. Tension should hold them fairly well, while you lash them
into place. You now have 8 vertical uprights, arching up to a
central point and lashed to a circular base at the bottom. About a
1/3 of the way up from the ground, begin lashing saplings into a
horizontal ring around the lodge. Be sure to leave an opening
about 2' wide in this ring, on the side closest to the fire pit.
This will be your doorway. Now make another horizontal ring 2/3 of
the way above ground, all the way around the lodge, without
leaving any openings. Add any other saplings for support and
strength that you desire, but, they shouldn't really be
- Frame Covering The frame cover may be elaborate or
simple. In the Pacific Northwest, we like to take burlap
(obtainable from hop processing warehouses) and tie this to the
frame. If this is not readily available, skip it. We like it for
esthetics. Now cover the frame with a plastic tarp, such as the
blue stuff sold in hardware stores. This is essential for good
heat retention, and all my Native American friends use this in
their lodges. If you have objections, you may skip this, but your
lodge will probably have difficulty retaining heat. Finally, cover
with at least one layer of blankets. We buy ours from thrift shops
for a few dollars apiece. If you are wealthy, you may choose to
add a decorative wool blanket or two on top, that feature Indian
motifs, such as are made by Pendleton Mills, etc. If you are
really flush, you may add a coyote pelt or other fur or animal
- The Door Finally, lash at least one blanket to the top
piece of the doorway. I prefer 2-3 blankets, lying one atop the
other, sewn slightly along the edges to form a thick, heavy door.
In any case, the blanket must be considerably larger than the
doorway, to form a good seal while the lodge is in use. The door
is rolled up and left atop the entrance while the lodge is not
- Hot Rock Pit Dig a small pit about 2' in diameter in
the center of the lodge. The Yakama Indian Nation actually prefer
theirs to the left of the entrance. The pit may be dug before or
after lodge construction, but before is most convenient. The pit
should be lined with stones, or with steel (a cut section of pipe
is ideal) or concrete (but concrete rings are darn heavy). This is
necessary to keep the pit from caving in during use. the pit
should be 6" deep, or so.
- Fire Pit This should be located outside the lodge, as
mentioned above, and considerably larger than the pit inside the
lodge. You must lay a decent base of firewood on the ground, under
the pile of rocks. Then lay a good amount of fuel around the
Rockville. Failure to do this will result in a fire which burns
around the edges, but is insulated from the center by the rocks
themselves. The results are cold rocks with hot edges. On the
contrary, with a good base, fire is drawn into the Rockville, and
upward, resulting in rocks that are hot all the way through.
Warning!!! Never use shiny, glassy,
or other brittle rocks that may explode when heated. Sandstone
will also explode, as will shale and other types of slab basalt.
Pumice or lava type rocks are usually ideal. They may brake, but
will seldom explode. Neither I, nor anyone else, can monitor you
for safe practices and safety is the number one
- Miscellaneous Considerations Your own sense of
esthetics may lead you to prefer a location where there is a view.
Or a stream may be nearby (excellent!). You may have a shrine or
alter for the lodge area. We have actually built a 32' X 32'
structure around our lodge; open to the sky on 1/4, for the fire
pit, and roofed on the rest, to provide shelter from wind, rain
and snow. Large windows allow a view and ventilation. You may have
music, totems, art and decorations, etc. Accommodations for
toilet, drinking water, etc. may be offered. We like to sprinkle
cool water on the occupants of the lodge during especially hot
sweats if some participants are susceptible to ill effects. We
personally disfavor allowing children participate without their
parents, for legal considerations. We discourage the use of
alcohol, drugs, or illegal activities.
1) Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths To
Healing Ourselves and Our World, by Ed "Eagle Man" McGaa,
HarperCollins Publications, 1990, pages 149-155.
2) Black Elk Speaks, by John G Neihardt, University of
Nebraska Press, 1972
3) Lame Deer: Seeker of visions, by John (Fire) Lame
Deer and Richard Erdoes, Pocket Books, Simon & Schuster,1994
Submitted by Tom Utterback at email@example.com
Performing the Sweat Lodge Ritual
The "Inipi", as the Lakota call it, or Sweat Lodge Ritual, is a
Native American spiritual cleansing practice that dates back to
prehistoric times. It not only has been practiced by nearly all the
American tribes, but there is evidence that some variation may have
been practiced by Celts, Australian aborigines, and others.
Theologians divide religions into two broad categories:
"Earth-centered", or primitive practices based on belief in spirits
that dwell in trees, rocks, animals, etc.; and "Revealed" religions,
which are based on doctrine according to a Prophet. Christianity,
Buddhism, Islam, etc. are all revealed religions. These are of
relatively modern origin; by far the most widespread practice, and
the most ancient, are the Earth religions, of which Sweat Lodge is
The common form of Sweat Lodge does rely on prayers to a single,
over-all Creator, or God. It is believed that the spirit of the
Creator dwells in all things, literally, and thus, all things are
related, we are all brothers. The Lakota use the term, "Mitakuye
Oyasin" to refer to this brotherhood of all creatures, trees, rocks,
air, etc. References are provided below, for further interest.
- Preparations After you have built the Sweat Lodge (see
"Building a Sweat Lodge" at this site), gather a few dozen stones
that are about the size of a soccer ball or less. Do NOT use
shiny, brittle, rocks such as Obsidian or Quartz, etc. as these
will EXPLODE in the fire and constitute an extreme safety hazard.
We prefer volcanic lava-type rocks with lots of holes in them,
such as pumice, or similar basalt forms. The fire must be built
correctly, or the stones will not heat properly. The key is to lay
down a good "base" of kindling, with plenty of small fuel on top
of that. Then the stones are piled in a pyramid on top of the
base, with larger firewood piled around the edges and on top. If
the base is made right, the fire will burn in the middle first,
drawing heat through the center of the pile and heating the stones
all the way through. If the base is not put down, the fire burns
around the edges of the rocks and they insulate the inner part of
the pyramid from the heat. The result is lukewarm rocks that cool
very rapidly when removed from the fire. We use a propane tank and
weed burner to light our fire on several sides. Our local Yakama
Nation medicine man does so, so we feel entitled to do the same.
Purists can use a match.
- Beginning Prayers While the fire is burning, one may
choose to perform Medicine Pipe rituals, Drumming, etc. These
customs vary from tribe to tribe, with the Lakota probably being
the most formalized in their practices. We usually just sit around
and socialize. When the rocks are glowing red hot, use a pitchfork
to remove the firewood, and lift the rocks, one by one, out of the
fire and into the pit within the sweat lodge, being careful to
observe fire safety rules. Have water available very near by for
any mishaps. Use a fir bough, rolled up newspaper, or whatever, to
brush off embers from the stones as they are put in (they smoke!).
After about 6-8 rocks have been placed in the pit, put a container
of water inside the lodge, where the "Water Pourer" will sit.
Remove all your clothes, and wet yourself from a garden hose,
nearby stream or pond, bathtub, whatever. Enter the sweat lodge on
all fours, and take a seat on the place furthest from the door,
allowing others to follow you in. The Water Pourer may well desire
to light some sage, cedar or other aromatic at this point and
"smudge" the lodge. Some tribes also "smudge" the participants
before they enter the lodge with smoke from burning sage. I
personally prefer this, it adds to the ritualism and bonding of
the participants. While some lodges allow both genders to Sweat
together, most tribes frown on this practice. I discourage this,
myself, since it tends to distract from the spirituality. Make
your own choice. Once all are seated and smudging is finished, the
one seated closest to the door will close the flap when directed
to do so by the Water Pourer. That individual will pour some water
on the hot stones and make an opening prayer and greeting to the
Creator. How much water is turned to steam and how fast is
determined by the Water Pourer. This involves a responsibility to
determine how much the occupants can tolerate and consideration
must be given to children, if present, and newcomers, who are not
used to the heat. I personally discourage macho sadism because it
violates the spirit of the practice. Save the real "Montana"
sweats for experienced members. After the Water Pourer has said
his initial prayers he calls on each individual in turn, starting
with the one closest to the door and working around the lodge. As
each person's name is called, the Water Pourer adds a little water
to the stones. When each person has finished his prayer he should
say, "done", or an equivalent. After the last of the prayers, the
Water Pourer should conclude with a ritual prayer or song. I
personally always end a "Door" (or round) with an appeal to the
Creator that when we open the door and let the steam out, I ask
that it be carried to the ends of the Earth by the Four
Directions, and that the Creator hear our prayers. Then we give a
coyote howl in unison, and I say "Out", at which time the person
sitting closest to the door will exit the lodge, and as each
leaves, they should say "All my relations", or "Mitakuye Oyasin",
or the equivalent in local dialect.
- Subsequent Prayers Generally, participants complete a
total of 3 or 4 Doors (rounds), depending on local tradition and
practice. In some locales, the first Door is reserved primarily
for prayers for the world in general, the second for prayers for
specific individuals (with water being poured as each name is
mentioned, the third is for one's own self, and the fourth for
anything. Songs may be sung, stories may be told, etc. throughout
the practice. The Water Pourer holds an important position, and
should be experienced. Often, he or she may be the Spiritual
Advisor, Medicine Man, or other Mentor, but this is not
necessarily mandatory. The more wisdom and experience the Water
Pourer can muster, however, the better the experience for the
participants. Between rounds participants may sit and cool off,
douse themselves, and chat. Peace pipe, drumming, smudging, etc.
may take place. Upon completion, put the fire out, unless the
other gender is following immediately after.
- Important Considerations Prayers should ALWAYS begin
with thanks to the Creator for the blessings we have. If you
cannot think of any, the fault lies within yourself, as the great
Tecumseh once said. At the least, give thanks for another day of
life, another day of breath. Often, in the first round, I will say
a prayer for the children, the future of our people, as well as
for those who are ill, confused, lost and lonely, sick of heart
and spirit. I use the term "those of the outside, looking in, let
them find there way here". I pray for travelers, and those who
could not be with us today.
- Never, Ever Charge Month for Sweat Lodge. May Your Lodge
Burn Down if You Do! Donations of wood, sage, tobacco,
blankets, etc. should be encouraged by those who use the lodge. It
is traditional to bring a little tobacco, sage,or whatever. If
participants do not donate enough wood to the lodge, it simply
does not get used until someone does. Our lodge is usually
overstocked and I don't have to ask for a dime. Native Americans
NEVER evangelize. The assumption is that if a person shows up at
the sweat lodge it is because the Creator has brought him here.
Thus, no one is ever rejected, either. Lead by example.
God be with you. Tom Utterback
1. Mother Earth Spirituality-Native American Paths to Healing
Ourselves and Our World, by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, HarperCollins
2. Rainbow Tribe-0rdinary People Journeying on the Red
Road, by Ed McGaa, Eagle Man, HarperCollins Pubs, 1992
Submitted by Tom Utterback at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Vision Quest, or "Hanblecheyapi" as the Lakota (Sioux) call it,
has been a timeless ritual of identity seeking, participated in by
Native American youth for countless ages. It requires nothing more
than a place of solitude and one's own discipline. NOTE: The author
is a middle-aged, white man. The intention of this piece is to
provide preliminary information only. The author makes no claims to
expertise, other than his own experience. Many more authoritative
works are available in print, and on the Internet. See references
- Location Any place of relative solitude will do. It
should be especially noted that one need not necessarily travel
far from home to find solitude. Often one may find quite a bit of
solitude on public lands, merely be traveling a short distance
cross-country off the main trails and away from the main places of
interest. The Western United States abounds in such geography, as
do certain areas of the South. Although the Eastern seaboard tends
to be denser in population, many areas of peace and quiet may be
found within sight of major metropolitan areas. I prefer
mountains, near water and sky.
- Time of Year The more moderate seasons, Spring
and Fall, are safest, although Vision Questing can be done any
time of year with sufficient preparation and care. Be careful of
extremes of temperature.
- Preparations One should participate in a cleansing
ceremony, such as Sweat Lodge, before beginning a Quest, and
afterwards to give thanks. One should bring sufficient water to
last throughout the Quest, and food, so that the participant may
recover strength at the end of the Quest, in order to return home
safely. Sufficient clothing and sleeping bags should be provided
to protect from the elements, although traditionally the youth was
often naked and exposed. Again, safety dictates protection from
hypothermia or heatstroke.
- Procedure Contrary to common misperception, drugs and
alcohol do NOT facilitate the Vision Quest experience. These
substances cloud your vision, and impose their own artificial
communication barrier between you and the Creator.
The plan is to travel to your area of solitude and remain there
for a period of days, usually 3-4, and wait for a vision or dream
of significance to the participant. The participant does this
while fasting entirely. In past days, the Native Americans have
done this without partaking of water, either. This is extremely
dangerous, however, and risks kidney failure and death.
Consequently, most people bring water with them and do not eat any
food. I recommend this highly, it does not detract from the
Also in the past, Native Americans have often had an elder,
spiritual advisor, etc. who followed the participant and observed
the participant at a distance, as a safety measure. Not only was
dehydration and kidney failure less likely to occur, but the
hazards of snakebite, falls, landslides and burns, etc. were
ameliorated. If you can arrange for such assistance, fine, but if
not, do not let it dissuade you. You can take a cell phone to use
In my own Vision Quest, I found it extremely useful to reflect
upon my entire past history and to speculate upon the meaning and
significance of my life and those who have been in it. I also
prayed a great deal and meditated. I asked that the Creator send
The Lakota usually sought contact with their animal spirit as
well. If you seek an animal totem it is ideal to do so during this
time. Keep in mind that medicine men have always been skeptical of
claims that Bear, Eagle, Wolf and other powerful totems have
visited the participant. Your totem is just as likely to be an
insect, or small mammal or other humble spirit. Such is nothing to
be ashamed of; all can be instructive. My own experience led me to
connect with Raccoon and Crow.
One can also expect to be given one's true name, more significant
than that which our parents, and other members of society have
given us. Presumably this comes from spirit, and reflects one's
true identity. Again, you need not expect dramatic visions. I
dreamed the rock I was sleeping next to spoke to me. It need not
be a burning bush in the desert, like Moses.
Focus on your Spirituality, the Creator and yourself. Pray to your
ancestors, and consider yourself in relation to them in your
meditations. What do all those generations mean to you? Think of
all those ancestral campfires, the eons of storytelling around
them, the challenges that came and went. What do your ancestors'
sacrifices and struggles mean to you now?
- Afterwards It must be understood that visions are not
always seen, especially on one's first attempt. Also, it is very
possible that one may have a dream weeks or months after the
experience that is of significance. This happened to me; my Native
American spiritual advisor told me that it was planted during my
Quest, but my mind had not been receptive until subsequent Sweat
Lodge participation made it available.
If your Quest was not obviously successful, remember that at least
you took time out. This is an extremely important concept: taking
time out to reflect and exist. Be open to subsequent insight, and
plan to try again. Even successful Vision Quests benefit from
repeat trips in future years. Spiritual insight is an ongoing
Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and
Our World, by Ed "Eagle Man" McGaa, HarperCollins Pubs.
Submitted by Tom Utterback at email@example.com
See also Books,
* * *
If we don't mentor our young men, they will burn down the culture.
- Michael Meade from Men
and the Water of Life.
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He Played the Game
His e-mail was filled with the quiet despair of a man who never had
learned how to ask for help.
He was, he related, a man of my generation. A man who had been a
husband, a father, a businessman. A man who had played the game by
the rules as he, and most men of our generation, understood them. And
now, he says, "I have lost."
His wife died more than a dozen years ago. His kids are grown. He
no longer works. He has lost contact with his friends and
"I can't help but have the feeling that all my life I have worked
to further myself for the benefit of my family, but now they are
gone. So what does it matter? I have played the game by
the rules and I have lost."
He has considered, he wrote, all the standard answers. None of
them has helped.
"I have stopped my volunteer work, nor do I attend church
anymore. I do not exercise, play sports, entertain friends nor
family, travel or do anything in which I once found so much
"Some people have said I should talk to someone, go see a doctor,
do something. I find that easier said than done. I have always been
the strong one, the leader, the quiet influence behind the scene.
"So whom do I talk to? My children? They call me
for support when they think of who can help them. My
doctor? He will think I'm some whiny old guy crying sour
grapes. I'm sorry, but I have always been from that generation that
said: If you have a problem, you fix it. My problem is that
I have this problem, and for the first time in my life, I don't
know how to fix it."
I have neither the credentials nor the temperament to deal with
the problems of others. I have a low tolerance for self-pity. An
impatience with whiny old guys. My approach to my problems, and to
the problems of others, has been pretty much the same as his. Pretty
much the same as for most men of our generation. If you have a
problem, you fix it. We were the generation of men who never asked
for help. And we took pride in that.
But if age does snot automatically give you wisdom, it sometimes
helps you find empathy. And, if I do not have answers for the man who
is asking "now what?" at least I understand what he is saying.
My guess is that there are a lot of men in our generation who are,
or soon will be, asking "now what?" Men wondering if they
have lost. Men raised to play the game by the rules who now have
discovered that the rules have changed and the scoreboard has lied.
That the things that were supposed to be important turned out not to
There are, I'm sure, plenty of women with the same unanswered
questions. Women whose husbands have died and whose children have
gone and who wonder "now what?" But they seem better at coping when
the rules of the game change. More likely to have a circle of
friends. Less likely to worry that a doctor will consider them old
and whiny if they ask for help.
As a man who also as raised to believe that if you have a problem,
you fix it, I have no answers for the e-mail writer.
Maybe the best I can do is to let him know that he is not alone.
That one man's quiet despair might just be the echo of an entire
generation of men.
Source: Tribune Media Services. D. L. Stewart (59) is a
columnist for the Dayton Daily News. Write to him c/o Tribune Media
Services, 435 N Michigan Ave, Suite 1400, Chicago, IL 60611.
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