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Observations placeholder

Leonard Crow Dog - Native American Indians - The Vision pit



Type of Spiritual Experience


Number of hallucinations: 1


Compare this with the observation for Lame Deer 000585.

The first stage involves a certain amount of Humiliation, as he had to strip naked. 

He was a child and it is clear that he experienced  Overwhelming fear and terror. 

He was cold, one blanket is hardly enough to keep anyone warm and the blanket was a symbol rather than a help, thus he was suffering from  cold induced  Hypothermia

The vision pit itself was equivalent to a cave thus the technique being used is Visiting caves, mines barrows or vaults.   So tiny and low was the pit that the little lad  probably suffered from claustrophobia increasing the high emotion. 

And he was given a pipe, which would mean he would have been suffering from smoke inhalation.  Over the time he was  there he may also have started to use up the oxygen in the place and thus be suffering from hypoxia

He had to sit up, he couldn’t lie down but had to sleep – if he could sleep with the cold – sitting up.  Thus we also have Sleep deprivation and the use of Exhaustion and total fatigue.

Finally, we can see that he was made to fast – thus another mechanism is nutrional deprivation.  He also had no water thus we have dehydration

The design of the vision pit is such that he would have also been using the technique   Being in total darkness or staring at a uniform colour.

He prayed a lot .  His guru had also introduced an element of ritual and ceremony into the process, to invoke both the necessary reverence for what he was about to do and help use his emotional state to fuel the process.


A description of the experience

Richard Erdoes – Leonard Crow Dog

Good Lance also gave me a medicine bundle with a stone in it and some tobacco ties.  My father gave me an eagle-bone whistle.

"When things get rough," he advised, "you blow on it."

There was nothing more to be done but go up that hill.

My father and an uncle of mine, Joe Yellow Wolf, took me up. The Crow Dogs' fasting place, their holy spot, is on Grass Mountain, a steep hill with a good view of our house, the river, the valley, a whole chain of hills on the other side. Part of that hill is a wide plateau where stray cattle sometimes roam.

The plateau narrows toward the end and becomes heavily wooded. The grass and herbs come halfway up your legs. There, among the pine trees, is our vision pit, an L-shaped hole dug into the ground, first straight down and then a short horizontal passage deep under the roots of the trees. You sit at the end of that passage and do your fasting.

A grown-up man fasts anywhere from one to four days. A medicine man who needs a big vision always fasts four days. I know one healer, Pete Catches, who has fasted even longer. His wife went on a long fast, too. In my case, it was decided I should stay up there alone without food or water for two days and two nights. I was only a boy, so four days would be too much. On the other hand, I wanted to be a medicine man, so it should be more than just one day.

"Hokshila, son, do you think you can stand it that long?"

I said, "Yes" with my heart in my mouth.  They put prayer flags - red, black, yellow, and white - at four points around the fasting hole. They put a string of 105 tobacco bundles in a square around it. They put the buffalo skull right at the entrance. Then it was time for me to strip and go down into the hole. My father and uncle crawled in with me, though there was really no room for them. They wrapped me in a star quilt and tied me up in it with a deer hide thong. That was symbolic of the fact that it was hoped I would one day be a yuwipi wichasha, a kind of medicine man who conducts his ceremonies wrapped and tied up in a blanket like a mummy. Well, they patted me on the back, mumbled some encouragements, and left me there, my heart pounding, a very scared little bundle.

The first hours were the hardest. It was pitch dark and deathly still. I sat there without moving. My arms and legs went asleep.  I could neither hear nor see nor feel. I became almost disembodied, a thing with a heart and wild thoughts but no flesh or bones.  Would I ever be able to see and hear again? I kept my fingers clamped around the little pipe, fingered the bundle with my sister's flesh in it. I found that it did give me a little courage. I don't know how long I sat there. All sense of time had left me long ago.  I didn't know whether it was day or night, had not even a way to find out. I prayed and prayed, tears streaming down my cheeks.

I wanted water but kept praying. Toward evening of the second day - and this time is only a wild guess - I saw wheels before my eyes forming up into one fiery hoop and then separating again into bright, many-coloured circles, dancing before my eyes and again contracting into one big circle, a circle with a mouth and two eyes.

Suddenly, I heard a voice. It seemed to come from within the bundle that was me, a voice from the dark. It was hard to tell exactly where it came from. It was not a human voice; it sounded like a bird speaking like a man. My hackles rose; the tiny hairs on my back stood up. My flesh crawled; I had goose pimples. I tried to understand the voice, grasping the sacred pipe hard enough to break it.

 "Remember the hoop," said the voice that was not like a human's. "This night we will teach you." And I heard many feet walking around in my small vision pit.

The source of the experience

Native American Indians

Concepts, symbols and science items

Science Items

Activities and commonsteps