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Vision Quest: Medicine Wheel Brings Otter Wisdom
(Published in Conscious Living Magazine, Copyright 2001, this article was written by Paulina Howfield and cannot be reproduced or quoted from, either wholly or in part, in any way at all, without her permission.)
Under the light of a near full moon, I prepared my medicine wheel. First I placed a stone in the north, to align with the element of earth, and asked for the wisdom and support of the elders. Next I placed a stone in the east, to align with the element of air, and asked for the support of the breath of the universe and the winged creatures who fly within it. I then turned to face the south, to align with the element of water, and placing my third stone on the ground, I asked for assistance and help in balancing my emotions. Turning to face the west, I placed a stone to align with the element of fire, and asked for assistance and guidance from the salamanders, lizards and snakes. Finally I turned back to face the north and reached my hands up to the sky and then down to the earth, to welcome in the energies from above and below. The construction of the medicine wheel was now complete and I sat down in its centre to formulate my request.
I had built the medicine wheel to undertake a ‘Vision Quest’
A vision quest is a ritual of the indigenous people of North America that was traditionally taken as a rite of passage by young men. It involves going into the wilderness, locating a personal power spot, and constructing a medicine wheel. After the medicine wheel is complete, the ‘initiate’ sits in its centre and formulates a question. The question may be about a current problem or situation, a task to be done, a journey to be undertaken or a decision to be made. It may also focus on the initiate’s life journey – their path, their higher purpose, their strengths and weaknesses. Whatever the question is, once formulated, the initiate releases it to the higher realms and then meditates and prays while waiting for insight.
My question for my Vision Quest, related to a sweatlodge I would lead. Three days previously, twenty ‘initiates’ had gone into the wilderness to undertake a vision quest. The sweatlodge ceremony was their closing ritual. Leading it was both an honour and a challenge. To honour the initiate’s experiences I felt I needed to align with their energies and connect with their potential visions. I also felt I needed insight and wisdom about how best to lead it. So I thought about what I wanted and made my request – ‘Great Spirit, guardians of all elements and beings in all realms, I ask for your assistance in helping me gather the insights and wisdom I need to lead the sweatlodge tomorrow night’. After asking my question, I released my attachment to it and concentrated on the energies in my medicine wheel.
The medicine wheel I had made, was the meditation tool, and its ceremonial construction ensured my energies and intentions were aligned with cosmic consciousness, the earth and all living things. Praying and meditating in it, would strengthen my connection to my inner self, soul and higher purpose, and I trusted fully that it would help me find the answer to my question.
I sat for a while and meditated on my question. Then I lay down in my medicine wheel to watch the stars above. I knew everything that happened to me in my time on the quest would be relevant to my question and that the answer may formulate via personal insight and intuition; external prophetic instruction from other worldly beings; dreaming visions; or animal interactions. I did not expect a blazing ‘vision’ or a profoundly life changing insight. I was merely open to whatever the higher realms had to offer. My insights developed via a ‘dream’ state and an animal interaction.
A dream vision began shortly after I lay in my circle and looked up at the Stars
Very quickly I went into a half sleep, and my consciousness was drawn into an alternative reality. In my ‘half sleep’ I journeyed through the cosmos and reconnected with the timeless oneness of all things in the universe. This experience helped me reinforce my belief that all things are connected, and that nothing in this world, or in my life, happens in isolation. The dream vision clarified that my energies were connected to the twenty initiates and I was already part of the potential of their visions, as they too, were a part of mine.
My next insight came when I was drawn out of my reverie by the sound of an animal. It was calling me out of my circle, to the waters edge two feet away. I asked for permission from the higher realms to temporarily leave my circle, and instinctively knew it was given. I stood up and walked to the rocky cliff face of the island. Standing at the edge I looked down to see a family of otter sharing their food. A male otter was holding a fish on the rocks, while three smaller otter took bites. A female otter was watching the scene. So was I. I knew I had been invited and I knew, they knew, I was there. I crouched to sit comfortably on the rocks. The family of otter all looked up at me, then looked back to the fish and continued on. I was mesmerised by this private ceremony to which I had been invited.
I watched the male otter chatter to his offspring as they fed, and heard the offspring respond between their grunts of eating. Then the female moved forward to eat. When she had finished, the male took his share. After they had all eaten, they chattered and sang while they cleaned themselves. Once the grooming was complete, they all looked back up at me and acknowledged my presence, before one by one splashing lightly into the sea.
As I watched them swim off, I was extremely thankful, to the otters, Great Spirit and the moon. By its light I had witnessed something extra-ordinary for which I was truly grateful. These usually shy otters had invited me to share one of their family rituals, and I had been welcomed into the power of their animal medicine. Otter medicine is woman medicine and provides lessons about female energy. It is playful, strong, curious, alert, warm and nurturing. When we embrace such medicine, we feel comfortable to create a space for others to enter without suspicion or preconception, and can anchor it in the understanding that ALL accomplishments are worthwhile for the whole tribe. The otters had just done that with me. They had embraced my presence and created a space for me within their family ritual that was free of suspicion or preconception. My task was to anchor this medicine in my heart and in the sweatlodge.
As I walked back to my medicine wheel, I knew it was important to trust the process of the sweatlodge. That with otter medicine behind me, we would all come together to honour the right of each person to be. My task as the leader, was to stay in the ‘flow’ – the flow of the waters of the universe and the flow of love from Great Spirit to me, from me to others and from others back to me. By being balanced and receptive, playful and in the now, through simply being a woman and letting others be, I would honour the power of woman in myself and others. As I sat back in my medicine wheel, I meditated on this insight, and some time later woke up from another dream sleep.
An initiate instinctively knows when their Quest is complete
As I roused from the dream sleep, I ‘knew’ I could leave my medicine wheel and head back to camp. I also ‘knew’ if I wanted to, that I could stay in my medicine wheel for the rest of the night to continue absorbing the energy of the stars. I chose the latter and stretched my body out to sleep.
The next morning after waking at dawn, I ceremonially dismantled my medicine wheel, offering thanks to the four directions and all beings in all realms. I was grateful for their assistance on my quest and felt more connected to them and myself as a result. Walking back to camp, I felt focused and renewed, peaceful and full of inner strength, ready to lead the sweatlodge.
Later that day I welcomed back the initiates and together we prepared the lodge for the sweat. During the sweatlodge we sang, we sweated, we played, we nurtured and we loved. We honoured the elements and the higher realms and expressed gratitude for their presence in our lives. Aligning with earth and water – the elements of otter medicine – we expressed care and concern for our inner females, for each other, for our birth mothers and for our Mother Earth. And I sent a thought of thanks to the otters and the power of their medicine. The next day, after the ceremony, as we dismantled the turtle and cleansed the site, the family of five otter appeared. They splashed into a small dam next to the sweatlodge, swam across it and paraded before us, walking back and forth along its banks. Woman medicine in all her glory. It was a truly beautiful sight.
(This article was written by Paulina Howfield and cannot be reproduced or quoted from, either wholly or in part, in any way at all, without her permission.)
Published in Conscious Living Magazine, Copyright 2001