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Hanblecheyapi: Native American Tradition of Vision Quest and Transcendent Function.


The intention of this paper is to explore the ancient Native American ceremony of Hanblecheyapi (or vision quest) and examine its potential effectiveness in helping participants to discover and heal autonomous complexes. We begin by investigating the autonomous complex and its possible origin; its dualistic structure and illusive nature; and why it is a troubling aspect of the human psyche. We then look at the archetypes most likely associated with autonomous complexes and theories on how these archetypes are manifested and constellated into the complex. We use elements of Borderline Personality Disorder as an example of a strong autonomous complex presentation.

Next, we present historical descriptions of Hanblecheyapi and its spiritual origins, its use through the ages, and how ancient and modern practitioners have used the ceremony. We also review accounts of Hanblecheyapi to illustrate its potential as a container and catalyst for transcendent function which can heal the autonomous complex.

To understand Hanblecheyapi's connection to transcendent function, we will first explore the archetypes that are associated with and experienced during a vision quest.

We compare the Hanblecheyapi archetypes (and their origins) with the archetypal presentations of the autonomous complex. We will also look at the experience of Hanblecheyapi as compared with a patient's experience in analysis--how are the healing elements such as containment, deep self-analysis, transference, and surrender, providing the transcendent function through the experience of Hanblecheyapi. Finally, if we see enough potential for healing modern ills through this ancient practice, we explore the implications for future research.

Autonomous Complex

Complexes are commonly known as a part or personality presentation that manifests when a person is under stress. Under the influence of a complex, an individual is "not herself or not operating out of her conscious, command center, the ego. Complexes tend to constellate around themes which include belief systems, thoughts, behaviors, and most importantly feelings or affects. Complexes are like a part or a separate personality within a person--not their primary ego personality, but an alter as in Dissociative Identity Disorder but not as extreme as in DID (Jung, 1948/1969a, pp. 96-97).
[P]arts of the psyche detach themselves from consciousness to such an
extent that they not only appear foreign but lead an autonomous life of
their own...Complexes are psychic fragments which have split off owing
to traumatic influences or certain incompatible [to the individual's
environment] tendencies... complexes behave like independent beings, a
fact especially evident in abnormal states of mind, (ibid., p. 121)

Most people in a complex presentation remember what they say, do, or feel in that presentation; they just don't understand later why they said, did, and felt the way they did at the time of the complex.

An Autonomous complex (AC) is a powerful, and quite limiting manifestation of personality. It occurs because the individual cannot accept all her parts and therefore the totality of herself:
This impossibility presupposes a direct split, no matter whether the
conscious mind is aware of it or not. As a rule there is a marked
unconsciousness of any complexes, and this naturally guarantees them
all the more freedom of action. In such cases their powers of
assimilation become especially pronounced, since unconsciousness helps
the complex to assimilate even the ego, the result being a momentary
and unconscious alteration of personality known as identification with
the complex. In the Middle Ages it went by another name: it was called
possession, (ibid. p. 98)

Part of the complex's power lies in the fact that the individual does not understand they are in its grips, and its behavior, belief systems, and feelings are unconscious and therefore quite devious--many times they are rejected by the individual and projected onto others:
The conscious mind is invariably convinced that complexes are something
unseemly and should therefore be eliminated somehow or other... The
fear of complexes is a rooted prejudice... This fear provokes violent
resistance whenever complexes are examined, and considerable
determination is needed to overcome it. Fear and resistance are the
signposts that stand beside the via regia [royal road] to the
unconscious, and it is obvious that what they primarily signify is a
preconceived opinion of the thing they are pointing at. It is only
natural that from the feeling of fear one should infer something
dangerous, and from the feeling of resistance, something repellent,
(ibid, pp. 101-2)

Because of this projection onto others, the experience of both fear and judgment could be used as self-indicators of autonomous complex (Jung, 1958/1969b, p. 70). An individual might see a colleague's behavior as wildly inappropriate, hence judging the other. Because the other is perceived as 'crazy' or 'dangerous', the individual can only see what is 'wrong' or 'unsafe' outside of herself. Her distancing and dismissal of the other sets her up in a dichotomous dynamic of superior and inferior. Adult behavior (discerning and protective) and child behavior (unpredictable, chaotic, or unsafe) is another way to conceptualize this duality. Maintaining the superior position keeps the individual rigid and stuck. Righteous rigidity around one's 'position' is a characteristic of the autonomous complex. The individual is so sure she is right, she doesn't understand that she is stuck in this righteousness and therefore unable to grow. Stuckness is the autonomous nature of the AC--the drive toward uni-polarity is archetypal, powerful, and seemingly unbendable. The polarity of the AC is extremely limiting and keeps the individual blind and incapable of realizing her true potential.

Another aspect of the complex's power is related to field theory. Conforti (1999) suggests that the complex is like a "magnetic epicenter" causing the person to recapitulate a primary (usually traumatic) dynamic from childhood:
The complex creates a type of antenna around individuals tuning them in
and aligning them with the specific frequency of an archetype. This
tuning mechanism of the psyche determines which frequencies can be
accessed and which will be tuned out. I suspect that many of us have
gone through times when the issue we were dealing with was suddenly
manifested in virtually every facet of our lives. This tuning is a
complicated, fascinating, and surprisingly exacting phenomena. It
works by creating alignments and entrainments with only those segments
of life which match the constant of the constellated archetype. In
other words, only those themes and issues which resonate with the
individual's alignment of an archetype will be constellated (p. 1).

The person gripped in the autonomous complex experiences the "thesis and antithesis" of himself without progressing to his true potential, i.e., "synthesis" (Jung, 1944/1993, p. 19). Autonomous complex is an apt illustration of the saying, "you don't know what you don't know."
Civilized life today demands concentrated, directed conscious
functioning, and this entails the risk of a considerable dissociation
from the unconscious. The further we are able to remove ourselves from
the unconscious through directed functioning, the more readily a
powerful counter-position can build up in the unconscious, and when
this breaks out it may have disagreeable consequences. (Jung,
1958/1969b, p. 71)

Potential for growth and healing (toward synthesis) lies in the opposite pole of the AC. This is extremely difficult because the very thing I judge or fear is what I need to incorporate to grow. If I am the responsible one, disdaining my younger, irresponsible (inner) sister, it is adapting aspects of her devil-may-care behavior that may help me to evolve--an idea that my judgmental and fearful mind cannot tolerate.


An autonomous complex constellates around two polarities. These constellations have an archetypal quality, meaning they are grounded in ancient, a priori form or principle. Theory on archetypes has been varied and evolving. Jung's own discussions of archetype borrowed language from different fields of study ranging from philosophy and religion to physics and biology and others. Because of this wide net, Jung's theories of archetype were sometimes contradictory in themselves. Knox (2003) noted that:
Each of these frameworks provided him with a perspective through which
to view the idea of archetype and define its essential natures.
Sometimes he wrote about archetypes as abstract organizing structures
[around which complexes are organized], sometimes as eternal
realities, then again as core meanings; on other occasions, he adopted
a very sophisticated ethological viewpoint, in which he identified
archetypes as manifestations of instinct, a term which he used in a
much more biologically accurate way than Freud, (as cited in Knox,
2004, p. 58)

Modern archetypal theory has evolved to include the developmental/emergent theories which attempt to incorporate biology and development or interaction with the environment as explanations for where archetypes originate. Saunders and Skar (2001) discuss the brain's perinatal and postnatal development during an infant's relationship to its environment. They suggest that the brain is a self-organizing system and that the patterns (archetypes) which emerge are predictable depending on what happens in that initial period. Self-organizing systems are "typically robust" or hard to change, and have a predictable "repertoire of configurations. If the conditions are such that a form which is not the expected one appears, then the alternative will be one of a predictable set. Thus, a self-organizing system has the characteristic properties which we associate with an archetype" (p. 314).

Complexes and their archetypal anchors, therefore, are predictable and take on familiar forms dependent on the infant's experiences. Moreover, the archetypes associated with the complex(es) are also dependent on experience and will influence future complexes:
For example, developmentally, the mother complex is formed before
anima/ animus complexes, which usually begin in adolescence. We
generally speak of a man's early relationship with his mother having
an effect on his later relationships with women, and the women he is
attracted to later in life are thought to embody qualities of his
inner anima, or the contrasexual archetype in the unconscious. It is
easy to see how the nature of the original mother complex will have a
strong effect on the development of the anima complex, (ibid, p. 313)

This is contrary to the suggestion that archetypes are a priori forms existing only at an unconscious level. This model suggests that archetypes are self-organizing systems that arise predictably, dependent on the environment.
[T]he complex will take similar forms in most individuals, even if the
experiences are not exactly the same. We do not have to have precisely
the same sort of mothering as infants and children to develop an
adequate and reasonably well-integrated mother complex. On the other
hand, if there were serious deficiencies in the mothering, or an
extremely 'bad fit' between mother and child, the complex may not
develop normally. In that case, we would expect to observe one of a
fairly restricted repertoire of behavioural outcomes, not a more or
less random deviation from the norm. Moreover, it should be possible
to link the type of complex that is formed to the sort of deprivation
that was experienced (Saunders & Skar, 2001, p.318).

The developmental/emergent models also theorize that archetypal form is a result of the interaction between a baby or neonate and their environment. Jean Knox (2004) explains that recent research in the fields of cognitive science and developmental psychology have provided a framework for understanding that "archetypes [are] emergent structures resulting from a developmental interaction between genes and environment that is unique for each person. Archetypes are not "hard-wired" collections of universal imagery waiting to be released by the right environmental trigger" (p. 69). Developmental research further suggests that the infant mind uses "image schemas" to organize recognizable patterns it then seeks in the environment. Image schema is "a mental Gestalt which develops out of bodily experience and forms the basis for abstract meanings, both in the physical and in the world of imagination and metaphor" (ibid, p. 69). Knox suggests that image schema which arise from developmental experience are the basis for "archetypal" experience because "[t]he metaphorical extensions of the image schema can provide a rich source of imagery and fantasy. The character of this imagery derives from the underlying image schema" (ibid, p. 70). In other words, archetypes in the developmental model are not innate mental content, but rather early products of mental development. Our "archetypal" experiences are within our own minds, and related to our own internal relationship patterning which seeded during early childhood development.

Often, the attachment interactions perceived by the still-infant brain make a significant developmental imprint on the child's psyche. Pre-verbal mind-brain structures build image schemas based on subjective experience and its consequent affect. Strong affect impacts the image schema and its power or influence. Due to that impact, the psyche continues to seek out and protect the individual from any negative triggers like those experienced in infancy. Merchant (2009) suggests that archetypes and their associated complex constellations occur in tandem with strong affect:
[A]ffectivity activates archetypal imagery because of its ability to
lower the threshold of consciousness (which is Jung's point when
developing his theory of synchronicity) and set up a resonance with a
pre-existing image schema. Affectivity arises in people from their
personal life experience and this means in an emergent/developmental
model, archetypal imagery is always constellated through personal
experience with the operative cause being emotionality. This is
because the schema (archetype) on which the imagery is based has been
developmentally produced in the first place from out of the intense
affectivity of preverbal infant experience and the current affectivity
in adult life is activating it. (p 344)

An example might be the baby whose mother put her in the crib whenever she started to cry to get a need met. Because the baby might feel desperate and fearful that she won't be taken care of and will die, an archetype might constellate negatively (into an autonomous complex) the polarities of which might have the qualities of the avoidant mother and the needy child.

If we were to follow the developmental/emergent model of understanding archetypes, we would see that the autonomous complex arises from a time before conscious awareness and conscious memory is laid down (neo-natal to 18 months old). The "image schemas" that develop at that time are therefore unconscious. This explains why complexes appear to be autonomous.
We only have to assume that when some resonating 'now' affect occurs,
the pre-existing template is activated. But since it resides in the
implicit/unconscious layer of the psyche, it will be experienced as if
alien, 'spontaneous' and probably 'innate' and as if unconnected to
anything which we can consciously understand. (Merchant, 2009, p. 345)

It follows that the archetypes or image schemas and their future constellated complexes will be associated with the infant's early environment and somewhat predictable. They may, however, appear fantastical or take the form of mythic personas when the image schema were formed in response to trauma:
[M]ythological motifs derived from the broader culture may be the best
way for the unconscious to articulate deep and early trauma (as if it
is coming from another world) .... [I]t would appear that the
unconscious is using a metaphorical mythic image because it is
endeavouring to express deep early problems from a time when the
psyche operated in such primary process images, (ibid, p. 348)

Regardless of their presentation, the core of these archetypes is likely to be based in the infant's experiences with her caregivers--her mother, her father, any other close caregivers, and with the infant's immediate environment or from her perspective--the infant's world. It is possible then, that an infant's "world view" limited as it is at that age, will be projected forward into her autonomous complex's beliefs about the world. Archetypes of the autonomous complex then are generally going to be anchored in schemas developed from interactions with the mother, the father, or the world. However, when an infant is little, especially in the womb, her world is her mother. So, it might be possible to limit the primary archetype/schemas of the autonomous complex to iterations of mother and father and what they provide the infant. Variations are many, but examples include many forms of negative mother: the smothering mother, the absent mother, the judging mother, the needy, narcissistic mother, the absent father, the scary dangerous father, the narcissistic father, the lecherous father, the raging alcoholic father, etc. etc. Illustrative aspects of these early image schemas could also include themes around containment or safely.

Alho (2006) describes image schemas that create "mother complexes" as those that relate to nurturing and the emotional life:
The ability to relate to, and govern, emotional and social development
is associated with the experiences of maternal care, the mother
complex.... Experiences of maternal care include, in addition to the
relationship with the mother, experiences of other meaningful
caretakers and relatives, such as the father, siblings, grandparents,
as well as other members of the family and society. Nature, with its
animals and plants, as well as man-made surroundings also has its
contribution, (p. 662)

Conversely, Alho describes the masculine traits of "father complexes":
[S]piritual and logical maturity is influenced by the paternal aspects
of life.... the archetypically paternal consists of experiences that
separate the individual from the undifferentiated and unconscious
state of subjectivity. In other words, the paternal engages us in
objective knowledge of the surrounding world and understanding of
abstract concepts, comprising the spiritual and intellectual in both
men and women, (ibid, p. 662)

It is important to remember that whatever form of archaic "parent" constellates the autonomous complex, it has an equal opposite "child". So, if one of my AC poles is the judgmental and absent mother, the other might present as the bad or needy child. With some people, I might occupy the absent mother, for instance, with people I don't care for. With those I like such as a partner or a friend, I might occupy the other pole, feeling needy and like they never give me enough attention or time.

The polarities of this AC example resemble the extreme attitudes of the borderline personality disorder. Classic borderline presentation is personal or interpersonal dynamic dysfunction which can change without warning, making the personality unstable and unpredictable. One of these dysfunctional dynamics focuses on the polarities of attraction and repulsion: "I love you" and "you're the best", or "I hate you" and "you're the worst". The borderline personality is seeking love which she feels she can never receive or which cannot last. Although all people tend to experience autonomous complex, the borderline personality appears to be consumed by it, flipping between the poles and creating drama and insecurity in her environment (Akin, Cetin, & Kose, 2017, pp. 66-67; APA, 2013, pp. 663-6). Other archetypal personalities also resemble the features of autonomous complex in that they all point to a disturbance in the relationship between the infant and her primary caregiver or primary environment. For instance, Ducey highlights the phenomenon of Siberian shamanism among the Yakut tribe as related to dissociation and psychosis that results from the significant abuse and neglect of children because women (and hence mothers) are considered worthless in their culture.
Bluntly, Siberian shamans suffer from 'hysterical psychosis'. Ducey
proposed a standard aetiology for this situation, severe emotional
trauma in early infancy, either through actual death of parents or
other causes of substantial oral frustration which have ruptured the
'good enough' mother-infant bond, (as cited in Merchant, 2006, p. 134)

Drama, chaos and or psychosis, whether created by personality disorders or by autonomous complex, creates painful and seemingly insurmountable relationship dynamics. The AC is formed during an extremely early part of the individual's life, and is therefore immature in its ability to resolve challenges. The AC wants resolution while at the same time remaining stuck in its righteous, unchangeable, sometimes maddening attitude. The only clear path out of being stuck is to adopt the opposite attitude--a choice which feels impossible. Healing from this stuck and limiting place requires a novel approach, a new and unapparent way of being.


Vision quest could be an intentional ceremony to achieve this healing. The vision quest is a ceremony to help a person or people going through a major transition. There are many versions throughout the world in various cultures and spiritual traditions. The gist of the ceremony is that the quester journeys isolated into nature for an extended period, forgoing food, water, and any other distractions. In this state of emptiness, and facing the natural elements without shelter or physical nourishment, the quester prays or meditates and comes to terms with her Self or soul and may also receive messages from a spiritual source. Perhaps the most widely known accounts of vision quests are those of great spiritual leaders whose quests resulted in the spread of ceremonial or religious practices: Jesus' 40 days and nights in the desert, Siddhartha underneath the Bodhi tree, Moses on the mountain, etc. "To enact a vision quest is to clear a space... to honor a fallow time in our spiritual lives, an emptiness into which something utterly new and generative might enter. It is to create an open vessel capable of being filled to overflowing by the sacred Other... It is a place into which mysteries are invited (Plotkin, 2003, p. 202).

Because vision quest has many forms both ancient and modern, we will simplify by looking at an ancient version from the North American continent, the Lakota rite of Hanblecheyapi. Lakota tradition holds that vision quest was gifted to their people during a time of famine and strife. A beautiful woman wearing a white buffalo calf dress appeared before two hunters. She was one of the Wakan--a divine being, one of the creative universal forces. One hunter lusted for her and his flesh was disintegrated in mist. She tells the other, who has a pure heart, to ready his people for her appearance. He returns to tell his chief, and the people erect a great council tipi to welcome her. When she arrives, Ptehincalaskawin (White Buffalo Calf Woman) gives the chief a sacred bundle with a pipe they are to smoke and pray with in times of need. She tells them the pipe smoke will "carry their prayers upward" to the Wakan Tanka.

Ptehincalaskawin instructs the Lakota in "Wicoh'an Wakan Sakowin (Seven Sacred Rites), the basis of Lakota spirituality. Ptehincalaskawin pledges to watch over the people and to return someday. Upon leaving, she walked a short way off and lay down in the grass. When she stood again she had turned into a white buffalo calf, and walked over the hill, out of sight" (Brown, 1953/1989, pp. 3-9; Powers, Garrett, & Martin, 2005, p. 5296). The sacred pipe is still carried by elders of today's Lakota community. Lakota spiritual ceremony is made up of these Seven Sacred Rites (1) as well as other rituals given to the people by Wakan Tanka.

Two of the Seven Sacred Rites are related to vision quest. The first is the Inipi or "sweat lodge" where a round structure is created out of bent saplings and is covered by hides or tarps to emulate the womb or the universe. The elder pours water over heated rocks in the middle of the lodge, eliciting steam and the voices of the ancient stones. Prayers and songs are sung during the ritual while the people in the lodge sweat out impurities (Brown, 1953/1989, pp. 31-43; Neihardt, 1932/2014, p. 112). Inipi is used in preparation for many of the other sacred rites, including Hanblecheyapi /vision quest.

The second Sacred Rite is the Hanblecheyapi itself. It was traditionally a coming of age ritual for adolescent boys, and then used again before any great endeavor. It was also a ritual that could be used by women, but the literature does not give significant accounts of Lakota women and Hanblecheyapi as spiritual matters were generally located with the masculine pole. The quester presents himself with very little in terms of clothing, not eating or drinking, alone in nature and crying or "lamenting" for a connection to the wakan.
All these outward signs--nakedness, unbraided [unkempt] hair, tears
--were symbols of humility. The vision seeker made himself pitiable so
that the wakan beings would be moved to hear his prayers, that is, to
acknowledge their relationship to him. Frequently the vision seeker
stood on a bed of sage, a plant sacred to the wakan beings, whose
fragrance repelled the evil wakan. At the four directions poles might
be erected with offering cloths representing the quarters of the
world. Within this circle of sacred space the vision seeker held fast
to his pipe and cried aloud for a revelation. (DeMallie, 1987, pp.

Hanblecheyapi and Autonomous Complex

The desperate state of the vision seeker lamenting for a revelation may be familiar or informative for the individual trapped in the unconscious cycle of their autonomous complex. Autonomous complex is an unconscious correction of an early negative perception (or misperception), an attempt at compensation which tends to cause continuing strife in the interpersonal dynamics of the individual.
Repetition of a pattern appears to maintain equilibrium by restricting
the degree of freedom and novelty allowed to influence growth. On one
level there is a movement toward stability, while on an unconscious
level, an individual's continued repetition of a painful pattern will
cause a considerable amount of discomfort in the unconscious and
create a degree of disequilibrium. (Conforti, 1999, p. 4)

Hanblecheyapi is an intentional rite, including guidance, support, long and careful ceremonial preparations. It is therefore a conscious, deliberate entry into the unknown (unconscious), a practice whose intent is to meet the divine. Because of its structure and deliberate nature, Hanblecheyapi may be one way for the individual suffering with an autonomous complex to identify and heal it.

Several elements of Hanblecheyapi resemble the archetypal elements that create and recapitulate through autonomous complex. Because these elements are deliberate, conscious, and structural, the experience of Hanblecheyapi and its "archetypes" can be curative for autonomous complex.

Previously, we explored the image schemas most likely to seed the autonomous complex: the child's relationship with Mother and Father and the world. Hanblecheyapi builds in the archetypes of Mother and Father: six months prior to the vision quest, the seeker begins to pray and prepare himself. He creates a circle of prayer flags colored like the four directions, White--North, Yellow--East, Red--South, and Black--West. Daily prayer, intention setting, and connection to spirit is considered masculine and therefore a connection to "Father". The sacred prayers are tied with the colors of the four directions and filled with the sacred plant tobacco. Before going out to lament, the seeker identifies an elder who will administer the ceremony and who provides spiritual support and protection (also a Father archetype).

Before Hanblecheyapi begins, the seeker offers her Elder a gift of tobacco (as in the pipe ceremony). This sacred plant is often given to medicine men, shamans, and tribal elders, to signify the sacredness of their role and ceremony. Tobacco
serves as permission to appeal to the medicine ways... it's also my
[the medicine man's] protection...when a medicine person is presented
with tobacco and asked for help... his knowledge and training are
activated--he shifts from being just an ordinary human being to an
instrument through which the Great Power flows.... "a donation of some
kind is made. We never used to call this payment, we called it
"exchange for medicine ways."... Medicine by itself may not work
unless the patient or his family gives something in exchange for the
medicine and what it took for the medicine person to acquire that
knowledge. (Heart & Larkin, 1996, p. 90)

The elder administers Inipi to the seeker, the dome of the structure representing a sacred womb where all is cleansed. On exiting the Inipi, the quester is reborn pure, empty and ready to be filled. Some traditions hold that the Inipi continues throughout the Hanblecheyapi, and the quester is spiritually held within the Inipi matrix during their entire quest. Either way, the matrix womb is maternal and represents not only creation but also containment and hence safety. "The Gestalt of containment is simple but it can give rise to a wealth of meaning as it is expressed in the richness of physical intimacy and the parent's understanding and containment of her child's needs and emotions" (Knox, 2004, p. 69).

After Inipi, the seeker is led to his spot on the mountain, a small space enclosed by the string of prayer ties and delineated by the four directions. This enclosure can represent Mother's containment--the protected sanctum of the womb. It can also be seen as a medicine wheel--colored flags for all four directions, Mother Earth below, Father Sky above, and the seeker at the center point. The place high on a mountain can represent the Father's place of objectivity and observation, also a place to connect with spirit.

Neidhart provides a transcription of Black Elk's lamenting to the four directions:
Standing in the center of the sacred place and facing the sunset, 1
began to cry, and while crying I had to say: "O Great Spirit, accept
my offerings! O make me understand!"

And as 1 was crying and saying this, there soared a spotted eagle from
the west and whistled shrill and sat upon a pine tree east of me.

I walked backwards to the center, and from there approached the north,
crying and saying: "O Great Spirit, accept my offerings and make me
understand!" Then a chicken hawk came hovering and stopped upon a bush
towards the south.

I walked backwards to the center once again and from there approached
the east, crying and asking the Great Spirit to help me understand,
and there came a black swallow flying all around me, singing, and
stopped upon a bush not far away.

Walking backwards to the center, 1 advanced upon the south. Until now
I had only been trying to weep, but now I really wept, and the tears
ran down my face; for as 1 looked yonder towards the place whence come
the life of things... I thought of the days when my relatives, now
dead, were living and young, and of Crazy Horse who was our strength
and would never come back to help us anymore.

I cried very hard, and I thought it might be better if my crying would
kill me.... And while 1 was crying, something was coming from the
south. It looked like dust far off, but when it came closer, I saw it
was a cloud of beautiful butterflies of all colors. They swarmed
around me so thick that I could see nothing else. (Neihardt,1932/2014,
p. 113)

Black Elk goes on to describe the visions and messages the animal spirits brought to him: a healing ceremony that he could perform to help his people (ibid, pp. 113-5). After the vision, night began to fall and he encountered the annihilating archetype of the "Dark Mother":
[A]S I saw, the vision went out, and the storm was close upon me,
terrible to see and roaring...I cried harder than ever now, for 1 was
much afraid. The night was black about me and terrible with swift fire
and the sending of great voices and the roaring of the hail.
(Neihardt, 1932/2014, p. 114)

In addition to the vast night sky, "Dark Mother" is invoked by the emptiness and vastness of internal space created by the practice of fasting during the quest. Space created by fasting makes room for the messages or visions to come through. Creek Medicine Man Bear Heart discuses fasting as an integral part of his training to become a medicine man: "The medicine people of our tribe received their medicine through fasting and asking for guidance and help from Above. That's where a great deal of our medicine ways came from--during that time of fasting the Creator might reveal a chant or where to find a particular herb and give instruction on how to use it for treating different types of illness" (Heart & Larkin, 1996, pp. 41-42). Bear Heart's teacher, elder Dave Lewis, told him this about fasting: "You're going to go through many, many fasts because you can only retain when you're not full. When you're full, distraction comes. You must be a clear channel in order to learn the songs and the chants" (ibid, p. 49, emphasis in original).

Suffering, starvation, and the possibility of death from starvation are specters that can arise during a prolonged fast. These experiences could be associated with the "absence of mother who provides nourishment", thus possibly triggering an autonomous complex around absent mother/abandoned or needy child.

Being out in nature for a prolonged, isolated period provides projective archetypes that can trigger the autonomous complex: the Earth in all its forms (nourishing and sustaining, beautiful, harsh, hard and unforgiving) is our Mother. Our physical bodies are made from her elements and return therein after we pass. The sky and what it brings (heat, cold, burning sun, weather of all sorts, spirit) is our Father. In this way, much like the analyst in analysis, wilderness during Hanblecheyapi becomes the projective of the transference relationship--transference dynamics become the seeker's experience, and the silent, prolonged observation and connection to nature allows her to develop her inner observer (Father) and fully grasp the tenor of her complex(es). The "analyst" relationship is the sitter's dynamic with nature. Because the constellated archetypes as autonomous complex are a steady system, their observation, once achieved, will provide a path toward healing: "the steady state of a system often reveals both its past, and occasionally even its potential future state" (Conforti, 1999, p. 3).

Finally, the beings who appear to the seeker before, during, and after the Hanblecheyapi also carry an archetypal tone. All creatures are considered wakan (holy) and relatives to the seeker. As in Black Elk's vision, messages are often revealed through these relatives as they will sometimes call the seeker to vision quest as well as being the messengers during the quest. Message may take shape as metaphor:
[T]he spotted eagle on the pine tree spoke and said: "Behold these
[the swarm of butterflies]! They are your people. They are in great
difficulty and you shall help them." Then I could hear all the
butterflies that were swarming over me, and they were all making a
pitiful, whimpering noise as though they too were weeping. (Neihardt,
1932/2014, p. 113)

Bear Heart emphasizes the importance of observing animals for the wisdom they bring to us. He discusses their brilliance through several observations including his father's clan totem the bear:
A bear can come into a camp and then waddle off, just a few steps and
it's gone. Where did it go? It's almost as though it knows how to
become invisible... The companies that make solar panels, for example,
are now studying the fur of the polar bear because it is the best
example of solar heating there is.... Every hair is a hollow tube that
retains the heat of the sun. That's why the polar bear is able to
survive in subzero weather--it has a solar heating system in its fur.
Just when we think we have reached the end of our knowledge in some
particular field, something like this always comes up, so it stands to
reason that there is much yet to be learned from nature. (1996, pp.

The word animal comes from the Latin anima or "breath". Humans are animal too, closely related to all other breathing beings on the planet. Jung used the terms anima and animus to describe the feminine and masculine sides of the human soul. Being solitary in nature, the seeker will meet wild animals--a possible archetype for their own soul. Bear Heart, who serves as elder for many visions quests, discusses his interpretation of animal visitors:
If a bird or animal comes to you on your quest, learn something about
it. This is where your powers of observation come into play. What are
some of the qualities of that bird or four-legged being. How can you
appropriate those qualities for your own life? That animal is a helper
designated to assist you, so learn all that you can about it. (Heart &
Larkin, 1996, p. 237)

Transcendent Function of Hanblecheyapi

The potential archetypes of Hanblecheyapi provide ample projectives so that the autonomous complex may appear. The landscape, the animals, the weather, the sun and the night, all become projectives for the seeker's inner world. Pain is amplified by aspects of the negative mother archetypes related to hunger, thirst, perhaps lack of sleep, and to the negative father archetype: fear of the unknown and potential danger. Isolated and empty, facing the elements and whatever else may come, the vision seeker's unconscious projections can amplify to the point where he may come face to face with the paradox of his complex. Once the complex presents itself, the seeker must sit with his conundrum. He has nowhere to go--he is "contained" in his spot by space and time. Suffering and lamenting, crying and praying also amplify the seeker's analysis of himself. He can pray and cry for an answer, hoping that the Wakan Tanka will take pity on him, hoping that they will remember he is their relative and they have an obligation to aid him.

The struggle and inherent problem of the autonomous complex is the stubborn dichotomy of its poles. If I am firmly rooted in one pole, my opinion toward the other position is pejorative--I reject it, and therefore cannot use or take it up as a potential for healing or growth. Jung elucidates the danger of this point:
The present day shows with appalling clarity how little able people
are to let the other man's argument count, although this capacity is a
fundamental and indispensable condition for any human community.
Everyone who proposes to come to terms with himself must reckon with
this basic problem. For to the degree that he does not admit the
validity of the other person, he denies the "other" within himself the
right to exist and vice-versa. The capacity for inner dialogue is a
touchstone for outer objectivity. (Jung, 1916/1969, p. 89)

Jung (1943/1972a) believed "that analysis, in so far as it is reduction and nothing more, must necessarily be followed by synthesis" (p. 81). This synthesis is a putting together of all the parts of the self so that one is completely himself, a process that Jung called "individuation".
Individuation... is a process by which a man becomes the definite,
unique being he in fact is... The aim of individuation is nothing less
than to divest the self of the false wrappings of the persona [the
false self that the individual is conscious of] on one hand, and of
the suggestive power of primordial images on the other [the
unconscious false selves that appeal to the collective]. (Jung,
1928/1972b, p. 174)

Autonomous complex in its stubborn stuckness interferes with self-knowledge and therefore individuation. However, from the seeker's struggle with their polarity, a new message, a new way may arise. This third way, coming from neither pole of the complex, is like Jung's transcendent function--a new and elegant solution to a seemingly impossible problem. The transcendent function is essentially a union of opposites so that a new, third option arises from this union. The opposites are the contents of the unconscious and consciousness (Jung, 1958/1969b, pp. 67-91).

The appearance of the transcendent function during Hanblecheyapi is aided by the archetype of "containment" set up by the elders. Layers of containment are many: six months of prayer and preparation by making the string of prayer flags, the many supporters who keep the fire and the Inipi and who eat for the questers while they are out, the ongoing Inipi as a womb holding the questers through their "rebirth", the Elders administering the ceremony and the lineage of ancestors before them, and finally, the four directions which are symbolized by the string of prayer flags, and the other two directions, Father Sky (spirit) and Mother Earth (nature).

The directions are symbolized by the medicine wheel, and it is this wheel that provides the best opportunity for the transcendent function. Although seemingly stuck in the pole of the autonomous complex, the brain (unconscious and conscious mind) is like the medicine wheel--all points around the sphere are accessible to all other points always. The soul exists in the transcendent function between past and future, and out of time (Evans, 2016, p. 327).

Because much of the AC is fueled by unconscious contents, Hanblecheyapi and its many possibilities for encounters with the unconscious may provide opportunity for the transcendent function. The transcendent function arises when contents of the conscious mind and the unconscious are in contention. Being stuck in the polarity of a complex sets up this contentious nature. Through the process of suffering, lamenting, and finally surrender, more and more unconscious material gets shifted into conscious awareness. This surrender is the prayer to Wakan Tanka, and their answer is the transcendent function.

This is illustrated in a part of Black Elk's vision quest that we have already visited: right after he sees his vision (which takes the form of a ritual), he is in the terrible darkness of a storm.
I cried harder than ever now, for I was much afraid. The night was
black about me and terrible with a swift fire and the sending of great
voices and the roaring of the hail. And as I cried, 1 begged the
Grandfathers to pity me and spare me and told them that I knew now
what they wanted me to do on earth, and 1 would do it if I could. All
at once I was not afraid anymore... as I slept I saw my people sitting
sad and troubled all around a sacred teepee, and there were many who
were sick. And as I looked on them and wept, a strange light leaped
upward from the ground close by--a light of many colors, sparkling,
with rays that touched the heavens. Then it was gone, and in the place
from whence it sprang a herb was growing and I saw the leaves it had.
And as I was looking at the herb so that I might not forget it, there
was a voice that 'woke me, and it said: "Make haste! Your people need
you!" (Neihardt, 2014, pp. 114-5)

Black Elk's transcendent function, the eruption of his unconscious into consciousness, was concretized by the rituals as well as the medicine given to him in his visions. The spiritual gift from the Wakan Tanka was his "transcendent function" connecting his conscious awareness to the wisdom of the collective unconscious. Perhaps the strongest medicine and best example of how Black Elk's transcendent function aided his process of individuation was his resolve to continue administering medicine and ritual to his people as well as the inspiration to work with Westerners so that the traditions and spiritual practices of his people could be recorded.

Bear Heart underlines the potential for transformation during vision quest. He gives practical suggestions for entering the vision quest with an intention: three specific questions so that the seeker may experience a process of self-knowledge:
In my tribe, the process of self-knowledge involves asking yourself
three questions. The first question is: Who am I?... To find the
answer you have to search within. You can never satisfy an internal
longing with external means. You have to meet it on its own ground
within. You may think you know who you are, but perhaps all you are
going by is what you do in life... You may think that's who you are,
but it's not necessarily who you really are inside... Then, after you
get that settled, you go on to the next question: What have 1 become
with the who that I am?... [W]hat kind of role are you playing in
life?... Is this the right road for you, or is it a springboard to
greater things yet to come'?... Then that leads us to the third
question: Why am I here?... There's a reason why you're here, but have
you tried to find out what that reason is? Have you fulfilled all of
your potential? What motivates you to be what you are?... When you've
settled those things for yourself, you more or less know what
direction you're headed for in life and will feel more confident. That
doesn't mean your path is going to be easy, but it's going to be
worthwhile. (Heart & Larkin, 1996, pp. 235-7)


Regardless of how they are formed, autonomous complexes are difficult, limiting, and many times destructive forces of the unconscious mind. Identifying them includes a process of first making them conscious, and then working to incorporate those parts of ourselves which we have rejected or split off. Reclaiming parts is a matter of bringing what was once unconscious, now into conscious awareness. The process of bringing these opposing forces together is the transcendent function--the two sides or attitudes held in tension suddenly become one and take on a new, third way of being that works as a way forward. When the transcendent function occurs, a person "individuates", becoming her true self.

Identifying autonomous complex in its dual nature offers the possibility for transcendent function and therefore individuation. The structure and archetypes of the Hanblecheyapi provide ample projection and transference fodder for the amplification of autonomous complex. Once amplified, the seeker, through desperation, lamenting, and surrendering to spirit, may be able to birth her transcendent function, thus allowing the wisdom of who she really is, how she is to live on this earth, and what she is here for.

Given Hanblecheyapi's significant potential for transformation, it would be important to research this practice as a more widely used proscriptive for modern ailments. It may be interesting to explore how this practice can aid the Western mind, as well as how it may be healing the great Native American Nations whose people were taken to the brink of destruction when Western people moved into their lands.


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Jenny Frank-Doggett, LMHC (*)

(*) in Redmond, Washington

(1) Black Elk reported that the sweat lodge and vision quest rites were known to his people before the appearance of White Buffalo Calf Woman. Her instruction, however, added the ceremony of the sacred pipe to both of these rites (Brown, 1953/1989, p. 7).
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Author:Frank-Doggett, Jenny
Publication:Journal of Heart Centered Therapies
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Date:Sep 22, 2017
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