Black Elk, a Native American visionary and Lakota Sioux medicine man chronicled by John Neihardt in Black Elk Speaks, believed a coherent vision to be central to a people’s well-being. Black Elk prophetic message was clear—“Without vision, the people perish.” A vision encompasses not only the values and goals a people strive to honor but creates a mythology of who we are, what we stand for and how our vision fits into the cosmic order. Out of this mythology comes its symbolism of meaning that functions in maintaining the moral integrity and stability of the community as a whole, while assisting the individuals as part of the whole through the stages of life, supporting them through crises by grounding them in their vision. Vision permeates what Jung calls the self, “…the organizing principle of the personality”, through the archetypal symbolism we embody tied to the collective unconscious. According to Jung, the self is the archetype of order, organization and most importantly, unification, which harmonizes all other archetypes and their manifestation. The visionary connected self carries us through crises that occur during the course of our individual lives and the history of a people.
Joseph Campbell, a professor and lecturer on comparative mythology and author of The Hero with a Thousand Faces, found that danger exists when the social order requirements of social institutions such as religion and political interpretations “…press on people mythological structures that no longer match their human experience”. Furthermore, the symbol or metaphor which expresses the societal mythology must possess a “spiritual aura” signifying a living spiritual core of awakening. If mythological symbols are “…reduced to the concrete goals of a particular political system of socialization”, they lack the “connotative meaning of metaphoric imagery” that leads to a realization of transcendence. This type of concrete symbol merely denotes a localized ethnic meaning caught in a static historical context devoid of universal spiritual significance.