Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions by Richard Erdoes and John (Fire) Lame Deer is a great example of Visionary Fiction with the sub-genre autobiography, like the books of Carlos Castaneda.
The Lakota, John Lame Deer, tells key stories of his life and makes fun of the white man’s culture. To put this into perspective, John was born at the end of the 19th century, meaning his parents fought in the American Indian Wars that ended around 1890.
Particularly interesting for Visionary Fiction fans, John details how he sought enlightenment. Enlightenment comes to us in a series of revelations or visions and John was an active seeker.
John had his first vision when he was sixteen. His medicine man took him to a vision pit in the wilderness, where John remained for four days and nights without food and water. The Great Spirit granted him a vision, which earned him his adult name Lame Deer and confirmed his heart’s desire – to become a medicine man.
John had a turbulent life. He worked as a shepherd, a potato picker, a rodeo clown, a square dance caller, a painter, and a medicine man. He joined the army and even went to jail for a while. He reminds me of the prophets of the Old Testament, who were vision seekers too, and, like John, no saints. Abraham disowned his wife, Ham committed incest, Elisha summoned two bears to maul kids that mocked his bald head, David killed Uriah because he wanted to bed Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and Solomon was a fornicator of a thousand women. Still, God granted them visions and accomplished great things with them.
John also sought visions also through hallucinogens – by partaking in the Peyote religion. What follows, is an account of a vision of the oneness of life that John experienced during a Yuwipi ceremony. Quote:
Imagine darkness so intense and so complete that it is almost solid, flowing around you like ink, covering you like a velvet blanket. A blackness which cuts you off from the everyday world, which forces you to withdraw deep into yourself, which makes you see with your heart instead of with your eyes. You can’t see, but your eyes are opened.You are isolated, but you know that you are part of the Great Spirit, united with all living beings. – Page 191
Peyote plays a great role in Carlos Castaneda’s books too, but, as Carlos pointed out, drugs are only a means of inducing a first vision, which establishes the fact that there are other realities. From there on, it is hard enlightenment work. John agrees. Quote:
I mistrust visions come by in the easy way – by swallowing something. The real insight, the great ecstasy does not come from this. … To my thinking that’s part of the white man’s “instant” culture. Peyote is a natural part of the religion of many Indian tribes. At the core of all Indian beliefs are visions gotten in various ways. The Christian and Jewish religion, the great religions of the East, are based on the same thing, only white people have forgotten this. – Page 228
Visions can be had on many levels and some levels are treacherous. The seeker needs to verify visions with enlightenment principles. For the same reason, he needs to go to a medicine man or guru to have his vision dream interpreted. The Ghost Dance is a good example. Quote:
Eighty years ago our people danced the Ghost Dance, singing and dancing until they dropped from exhaustion, swooning, fainting, seeing visions. – Page 124
According to John, many dancers saw the dead coming back to life, the buffalo herds returning, the white men sent back home, and the civilized world rolled up like a dirty old carpet. Nah, that didn’t happen. These visions were astral projections at best, and wishful hallucination at worst.
A true Lakota, John pursued visions the hard way. We’re talking Sun Dance now. Quote:
Staring open-eyed at the blazing sun, the blinding rays burning deep into your skull, filling it with unbearable brightness…
Blowing an eagle-bone whistle clenched between your teeth unto its shrill sound becomes the only sound in the world…
Dancing, dancing, dancing from morning to night without food or water until you are close to dropping in a dead faint…
Pulling, pulling away at a rawhide thong which is fastened to a skewer embedded deeply in your flesh, until your skin stretches and rips apart as you finally break free with blood streaming down your chest…
This is what some of us must endure during the sun dance. – Page 208
Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions, was one of my favorite teenage books. I even found myself a vision pit in the forest, but I didn’t last more than a night. Neither did I have a vision. For that reason, I envied John for being a Native American and having a talent for visions, until I came across vision seekers of my own, white folk.