The Bavenda


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Not only the means of obtaining the vision . . . and the events of the vision itself, were standardized over thousands of miles, east and west, and north and south; the sanctions derived from it were as widely formalized. Ceremonial procedure, preeminently, was derived from it, but, almost as widely, healing powers, success in battle, and control of the weather. Even trivial connections have crossed the continent; so that, not only on the Plains, but on Puget Sound and on Chesapeake Bay the person who confers a name upon another chooses some phrase descriptive of something his guardian spirit said or did in his vision. . . .

However it may be in other areas of North America, on the Plains there is no tribe where the vision quest was not a much more general phenomenon than the acquiring of a guardian spirit. Everywhere, even in those tribes where every man was expected to fast once in his life specifically for an individual guardian, the vision was sought also by the same means on continually recurring occasions—that is, in mourning; as an instrument of revenge on one’s enemies; on account of a vow made in sickness or danger for oneself or one’s relative; on initiation into certain societies; and as a preliminary to a war party. On all these occasions, the seeker ordinarily received his power or commands directly, without specifically acquiring a guardian spirit. . . .

The very great diversity of the vision pattern even in one culture area such as the Plains is therefore evident. Not only are the general traits unevenly distributed and even entirely lacking in certain tribes, but local developments of one kind and another have overlaid the common pattern till it is at times hardly recognizable. A blanket classification under some such head as the "acquiring of guardian spirits" leads us nowhere. Correlated with the use or disuse of torture; with the existence of a shaman-istic caste, or the free exercise of supernatural powers by all men; with the conception of visions as savings-bank securities or as contact with the compassion of Wakanda—are and must be psychological attitudes of the utmost diversity which make of Plains "religion" a heterogeneity which defies classification. Animism, magic, manism, mysticism—all the known classifications of religion—jostle each other in this one area; and after all these headings were tabulated, the real diversities would still remain outside. For this reason, topical studies of religion must lack the rich variety of actuality, and imply a false simplicity.1

1Benedict, R.n/an/an/an/an/a, "The Vision in Plains Culture," Amer. Anth., N.S., 24: 1–2.


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Chicago: "The Bavenda," The Bavenda in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. Thomas, William I. (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937), Original Sources, accessed September 24, 2023,

MLA: . "The Bavenda." The Bavenda, Vol. 24, in Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, edited by Thomas, William I., New York, McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, Original Sources. 24 Sep. 2023.

Harvard: , 'The Bavenda' in The Bavenda. cited in 1937, Primitive Behavior: An Introduction to the Social Sciences, ed. , McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., New York. Original Sources, retrieved 24 September 2023, from