Recently I was re-reading “The Trail to the Sacred Mountain: A Vision Fast Handbook for Adults” by Stephen Foster & Meredith Little in preparation for the one 9-day vision fast I’ll be guiding this year. On page 18, I came upon a definition of the three classic stages of a rite of passage—the common element in rites of passage ceremonies across cultures:
“Where would my ceremony fit within the three stages of a rite of passage?
a. Do I want to mark a severance (separation, termination, parting, letting go, conclusion)?
b. Do I want to mark a threshold (transition, change, adjustment, shift in role, status, or task; period of extended depression, transformation, renewal)?
c. Do I want to mark an incorporation (return, joining, union, reestablishment of harmony, new responsibilities, new beginnings)?”
Suddenly it struck me. I had done 3 vision fasts of my own in the last 6 years; more or less one every other year. Reading this particular definition of the three stages, it suddenly became very clear to me that each one of my quests had taken the form of each of the three stages.
The first quest, in a red rock canyon on the border of Utah and Colorado in 2007, was part of the Masters’ degree I was earning from Naropa University. I was two years out of a divorce that had broken my heart beyond what I thought I could bear, weeping every day (no exaggeration) for those two years. On that quest, I dimly began to see that the power and skill I was so profoundly attracted to in my former husband was in fact, MY golden shadow—powers and skills I had that I did not recognize, could not recognize in myself. My quest was marking a severance from a love that had swept my away at my very depths and that I had destroyed because I could see no way to stay and continue to grow.
My second quest was and ‘advanced’ trip, with Bill Plotkin and Geneen Haugan of Animas Valley — an “Underworld Journey.” It was on this quest that I was plunged into suffering. I met my ancestors and spoke with the Black Madonna in a red rock site above a canyon creek that hung between a large phallic rock formation and a still larger cave. For three of the four days, I awoke with nausea rocking my body and dragged myself to do ceremony, suffering physically as I rarely have in my life. This quest was a transition, adjustment, alchemical transformation, a visit to the dark side of consciousness.
My last and most recent quest, last September in Death Valley, was a ‘renewal fast’ put on for members of the Wilderness Guides Council by other members of the Guides Council. It was a gift that guides give each other. I felt nervous about what might transpire, remembering all too well the difficulty of the last quest. Surprisingly, this quest was entirely different. I was called to a site between the worlds— a ridge from which I could look south and see the road we came in on and the small sparkle of lights in the distance of some bit of civilization, and look north and see the back-country, the sacred out-of-time place where my fellow questers and base camp lay.
I felt quite calm the entire time. It seemed there were very few demons that visited me.
I stood and wove the two worlds together. I lay on my stomach on a cantilevered rock at the very tippy top of a pile of boulders, facing south, and flew into the world. I was crowned queen, in a magnificent ceremony at sunset of the third day. I crowned myself Queen of my Life. I even ate (ceremonially) a little fruit bar on my fourth day, just because I wanted to. This gentle quest was an incorporation, a union and reestablishment of harmony. It was a new beginning and a marking of coming into ruling my realm and participating in the world, now with new responsibilities and wisdom.
This stuff just happens on vision quests. I didn’t plan any of it. I follow some inner impulse and act out what is being asked.
Frankly, it freaked me out, the instant I recognized this amazing pattern within a pattern. How could it be that without knowing it consciously, I was living out a larger vision quest, with each of my quests marking each stage, in order, of a rite of passage? WHO IS WRITING THIS SCREEN PLAY??
As a pattern-maker and pattern-seer, this recognition delighted me with great wonder. It verifies for me the Truth, Beauty and Goodness inherent in rites of passage, that goes way beyond human reason. I’m not trying to do anything but live fully and follow what I’m pulled toward — which as I’m doing it feels like utter chaos and confusion. But looking backward from a greater perspective, I see the perfection in the pattern and smile.