the vision quest

2012, oil, 48"h x 30"w

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Life in a precarious world, where one's future was as uncertain as the weather on the northern plains, fortified a belief in unique "helping spirits." Through prayerful entreaty, supernatural powers could be called upon to lend their indomitable might in personal protection and success. Guardian spirits came in many forms and were most often associated with animals, which could confer their powers through a vision dream to those who sought their aid. A young man would be ready to receive a vision dream once he completed a cleansing ritual given by a holy man. The youth would then travel to a secluded location such as a high butte, a lake edge or the foot of a buffalo jump. Alone, without food or water, he would pray for the intercession of all the supernatural powers of the sky, earth and water, and ask them to take pity upon him and grant him a spirit helper. The ordeal could last for days. If he were especially blessed, a spirit would speak to him and impart specific objects and rituals that were sacred such as charms and talismans representing his "sacred helper." These would act to bring about the youth's success and safety. He would become a "keeper of the dream," who strictly followed the rules, rites, and taboos of this wonderful and secret power source.

In Zhuo's interpretation, the man has found a bighorn sheep skull while hunting in the animal's mountain realm. Here, high in the crags, he gives thanks to all the above ones, and to the spirit of the animal who has been his sacred helper throughout his life.