The Women’s Wilderness Quest has been an important resource for women for over 15 years. See Scout Tomyris’ and Linda Sartor’s article below for an in-depth description of this program. As of 2018, Scout and Linda have both retired from guiding.
Note: We called these programs “Vision Quest” until changing the name in 2019 to “Wilderness Quest.”
Women’s Vision Quest
by Scout Tomyris (with assistance from Linda Sartor)
I have been co-guiding vision quest trips for women for a number of years. I also guide coed trips and once even co-led a men’s trip. However, the women’s vision quest trips feed me in a way that is unique and beautiful.
We live in a world where we are blessed to have both anima and animus, yin and yang, the essence of female and male energy, both outside and within our own psyches. Regrettably, the outside world has been distinctly male-dominated, patriarchal, for thousands of years. Only fragments of a once matriarchal culture have been preserved in the history we are taught. Only a scant few cultures still exist in the world that are matrilineal. Although some are more egalitarian than others, the world’s major religions reinforce the concept that men rule. The governance of most countries is primarily or entirely male. Laws preserve the imbalance. Male dominance is codified and assumed.
It is no surprise to me that most of the gals who come on our women-only vision quests are looking forward to spending a week in the company of only women. Some of them think of themselves as feminists, many do not. It isn’t about the politics of patriarchy. It’s about the heart and soul of women honoring each other.
If you look at the vision quest ceremony as a series of stages designed to bring a person to their edge so that they may go beyond, recognize their gifts and bring them back to their people, then it is pretty much the same whether the participants are women, men, adolescents or adults. I teach the same tarp tying knots to everyone. The rituals are essentially the same. Everyone chooses to fast (or not), to solo (or not) and to be exposed to the Earth (to some degree). At a fundamental level we are all more human than we are a particular gender, age, race, sexual orientation, physical/mental ability, or other label.
While this is true, it is also true that women are different from men. We don’t look the same, we don’t react to the world around us the same, we don’t relate to other people in the same way. In general, we make an effort to be friendly and we watch everyone, especially men, out of the corner of our eye – just in case. We choose not to walk in the city alone, particularly at night when the predators and creeps are most likely to be on the stalk. We talk ourselves into believing that this is just prudent behavior. It hurts too much to acknowledge that our freedom of movement in the world is restricted by men.
OK, so I admit to having been a feminist for the last 40 years. There is never only one side to a story however. I adore the men who choose to quest and the men who are guides. I just moved and so I am currently aware that I love men when they exert their physical strength to move my furniture.
Whether our individual experience within a men’s world has so far been challenging, damaging or empowering, on a women-only vision quest, we leave it all behind.
We drive out to our base camp in a wilderness or semi-wilderness location and leave our familiar world behind. We take everything we need with us. For the next week, we are on our own and away from all the usual distractions of our everyday lives.
We let down our guard and simply become ourselves. Sitting in circle, sharing our intentions and fears with each other before the solo time, each woman experiences for herself the complete freedom to say whatever she wants without fear of judgment or reprisal. Wives/mothers can speak honestly about their families, their lives – sometimes for the first time since they married. Single women are similarly freed to examine their relationships and desires.
We are all free to speak openly about issues like menstruation and menopause, sex and sexual preference or the variety of ways for a woman to pee standing up. It is empowering to speak of such things without embarrassment or fear. It can be a time for powerful sharing of women’s wisdom creating a strong bond between women. My experience is that women go deeper when they are in women’s-only groups than men or women do in mixed-gender groups.
One of the loveliest attributes of women is their ability to bond quickly to the family community that is created by virtue of our being on a wilderness trip together. We guides have our roles which include leading ceremony and the teaching of skills. We are also steeped in the arts of Deep Listening and Reflection (often called Mirroring). I find myself both amazed and grateful as I interact with women releasing barriers to trust and forgiveness that some have held since early childhood.
As a guide, my job (if you can call it that) is to prepare each woman for the days and nights of their solo, to hold a container for them in base camp while they are out, to receive them and their story upon their return, to mirror their story, and to prepare them to hold on to the insights (the vision) they received once they return to the larger world. I am only a guide however. We do not make the vision quest, we simply facilitate the opportunity for it to happen.
The real Teacher is Mother Earth.
All beings have a relationship to Mother Earth. It has been widely recognized since ancient times and in cultures worldwide, that the energy of the Earth is feminine and that of the Sky is masculine. I don’t know why.
What I do know is that when I spend time alone on the Earth, She feels like my true Mother. I lay on the ground and I am caressed and cradled to her Breast. I inhale deeply the scent of the sagebrush and I am Breathed by Her. I am fed by a view of the landscape and so She nourishes me in return. I hear birds cawing and singing, twigs breaking, a mole digging underground and I know that I am hearing Mother Earth speak to me. I watch ants, explore the depths of the Universe in a rock and ponder at fresh scat (who left this here?).
Mother Earth teaches me that everything is connected. She is the penultimate guide as far as I am concerned. I am a mere human, albeit one who does her best to listen to Earth’s guidance. I feel blessed that at least once a year I am called to venture forth and lead a small troupe of women on their quest for vision. Empowerment, resourcefulness, humility and freedom are just some of the rewards that we all experience. Women deserve this.
Testimonial from a participant in the June, 2008 Women’s Vision Quest:
I wanted to thank Rites of Passage, for allowing me the opportunity to participate in a vision quest. Having been aware of the vision quest concept for many years, I never felt as if this was something I could do on my own. Thanks to this wonderful organization, someone like me (not a big naturalist) can partake in this life transforming ritual, in the company of highly trained and very gifted guides. I attended the Women’s Vision Quest June 2008, with Linda Sartor, Scout Tomyris and Eilish Nagle. I am truly grateful for each of these women, and the special gifts they each brought to the quest. Although I had a very deep and profound calling to go to the mountain, I still experienced a lot of inner fear as well. I felt very supported each and every step of my journey, not only by the guides, but also by the other women who attended the quest. The three phases of the quest, as well as the Medicine Wheel teachings, created the perfect space for each of our unique transformations. As more is being revealed to me, I am realizing a major shift, and I do feel a new awareness and peace in myself. I can feel the difference in every aspect of my life. This vision quest has enhanced a spiritual awakening in my heart and soul. I will be forever grateful for this gift.
With much love, Terri Monson