7th International Gathering

7th International Gathering of Wilderness Guides  

Hosted by the German-speaking Network in 2017

Location to be determined

Participant comments 6th International Wilderness Guides Gathering, S. Africa, 2014:

As a first timer, I came for connection, mentoring, and guidance. I received all of it and more. I met friends and tribe members. To be in a common field of love in nature. And am filled with deep gratitude for the pioneers and networks. I was deeply touched by witnessing the council process. –Lolla, S. Africa

To feel the big family all over the world give so much holding and trust in this work! And inspire you/all of us that we all can be the changes in the world. –Annette, Germany

It was such a joy to meet with my S. African international “family” amidst the beauty and diversity of their/our ancient Mother Land, and to so deeply share in the spirit of Ubuntu: “I am because we are.” I feel blessed to carry this spirit forward as I return to my home. –Paul Andrade, age 60, USA

The power of connecting together in one circle from all over the world as one community to share our passion for nature-based rites of passage and our overall humanness is huge. I feel deeply rejuvenated. –Alison, Cape Town, S. Africa (originally Vancouver, BC, Canada)

To meet people from all over the world again and again, and now I have a lot of friends connected with the heart. I’m also inspired from the many different way to work with people and with nature – my horizon became bigger and bigger and also more tolerant. To see young African women and men how they became a leader, it is wonderful. –Brigitte, age 58, Switzerland

         WOW – Inspiring – Enrich – Colorful – Energized – Words can’t explain. –Darius, age 23, S. Africa

The International Gatherings are a hugely important opportunity to learn from and with each other. To learn different ways of working, sharing this beautiful work which supports ourselves, each other and between inner and outer worlds. –Jeremy, age 49, United Kingdom

It is balm to my being sharing, living like this. I know what it feels like to belong and feel at home. Tribe ubuntu. –Jess, age 32, S. Africa



Donations may be sent to:

Kinde Nebeker, treasurer
Global Rites of Passage
4717 South Wallace Lane

Salt Lake City, Utah 84117  


6th International Gathering

6th International Gathering
Stanford Valley, S. Africa
October 5 – 12, 2014

A group of 45  people from S. Africa, England, Germany, Switzerland, and the U.S. bonded quickly and deeply on the dramatic landscape of coastal S. Africa, about 2 hours from Cape Town. We missed our Ukrainian friends, who were unable to attend due to the political situation in Ukraine, but over the course of a week, participants folded 1000 paper craines and mailed them to Ukraine as a show of support. A highlight of the Gathering was a transformative, powerful grief ritual that created sacred space for releasing both personal and collective grief. 


2nd International Gathering

2nd International Conference Report

We offer deep gratitude to Valerie Morris, Judy Bekker, and Elaine Millin for hosting this rich event!

The 2nd International Wilderness Guides Conference opened on Monday the 13th of October, 2004.  Its venue was the Okkie Jooste Youth Camp outside of Stellenbosch in the beautiful wine country of South Africa’s Cape Town region.  The Conference started with a powerful opening ceremony that was held outside near the stream that ran through the property.  Representatives from each country present, Austria, Canada, Ireland, Germany, New Zealand, South Africa, Switzerland, the U.K. and the U.S.A, invoked the blessings of their ancestors.  It closed with an invocational blessing ceremony performed by a ungaba from South Africa.

We then moved inside the big lodge to sit in council and share the objects we were asked to bring for a give away that represented either our work, our land, or our gift.  These stayed on the altar throughout the Conference.

The next day we used the Open Space Technology (OST) format to facilitate the opportunity for anyone to lead a discussion about any subject they were most interested in. The next day, six one-hour time slots were made available, with perhaps 5-8 offerings per session.  Notes were taken for most of them, a link to which you will find at the end of this review.

It was clear from the discussions from the day before, that the major areas of interest were women’s/men’s issues, and youth/elders issues.  So we sat in fishbowl councils to be able to witness one another.  The women’s fishbowl council asked the question, “What is up for you in your life?”  The afternoon’s session brought focus on the Youth, with presentations from Educo Africa.  Both leaders and participants took turns in the fishbowl council and shared the impact this work has had on their lives.  The leaders were asked: “What is the work that we do?  What are your achievements? and What are the difficulties that you encounter?”  The youth were asked to speak from wherever they wanted to speak.  That night there was a lively mini-expo to showcase the variety and specialties of our participants.

On Thursday, we opened with a fishbowl council for the men who shared their answers to the questions, “What is it to be a man in the world? and What are the challenges that you face?”  In the afternoon, there were three sessions of 2 hour workshops or an optional hike.

Friday, there was a very moving presentation on the outreach Educo is doing with HIV/AIDS.  That evening we celebrated with a special dinner (and dessert!), dancing the night away to a fantastaic native band.  There were 5 members: 3 men and 2 women.  They played the finger marimbas, jdembes, kudu horns! and danced.  You couldn’t NOT dance to that beat!

The final ceremony was a large council where we each took something from the altar.  We shared why we were taking that object and what our intention was to carry this work forward.  It is mysterious and exciting to see some objects return to the altar that were there in Titisee Germany and continue to link new hearts and homelands.

Click here to download the OST Summaries. (PDF file)

What is a Wilderness Rite of Passage?

Entry from Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature
Taylor, B. Ed., Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature , pp 1150-1. London: Thoemmes Continuum International.

Wilderness Rites Of Passage

Across time and in countless ways, people of many cultures have gone into the wilderness to mark life transitions and seek guidance. They sought closeness with God, the Mystery, or a higher self. They found a time alone, exposure to the elements in an unfamiliar place, a radical shift in self and world, a trial and a gift, and a ritual death and rebirth. The core of the form was clear: leaving the ordinary world, crossing a threshold, and returning with a gift and a task. It was an initiation, a rite of passage, a new birth in the womb of the natural world.

Modern cultures seem to have forgotten most of what our ancestors knew about the importance of initiatory rites for sustaining individuals and their communities. Instead, we find ourselves strangers in our own lives, unsure of our status and value, and hungry for a connection with the abiding rhythms of the earth and an enduring spirit.

Yet, the roots of this search remain alive. Recently, a growing number of people have created wilderness-based rites of passage for a modern context. Steven Foster and Meredith Little, authors of The Book of the Vision Quest and The Four Shields of Human Nature , are among those most influential in developing and articulating a form appropriate to our time and place, the vision fast. Since the 1960s, they have trained vision fast guides through their School of Lost Borders and spearheaded the development of professional groups such as the Wilderness Guides Council. Recent developments in this field include greater collaboration among those doing such work in North America, Europe, Africa, and Australia and the development of programs and training in academic settings.

In general, people seek wilderness rites of passage in times of significant life transition or to complete life transitions begun earlier but not completed. The transition from adolescence to adulthood is an important time for initiation. Adolescents need the chance to confirm their fitness and willingness to step toward adulthood. Mid-life, marriage, divorce, loss, or simply a time of confusion and disillusionment are also common calls to a wilderness rite of passage.

These practices facilitate ego-transcendence and an opening to spirit. In doing so, they also bring healing and renewed connections with lost or abandoned capacities for guidance, vitality, and joy. Their goals include bringing back to one’s people and place something of value: personal power, stability, energy, wisdom, or a maturity that is expressed in service to others and to the earth.

Structure of a Typical Wilderness Passage Rite

While there are many specific forms these quests can take, they all express a common deep structure. The anthropologist, van Gennep, used this deep structure to describe traditional rites of passage, and Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell use it as the basis for the archetype of the Hero’s Journey. Despite variations in surface structures, this pattern is broadly cross-cultural. Here, I will describe a form currently being used by many wilderness rites of passage guides. It is built around a one- or two-week wilderness trip.


This is a time for participants to identify their reasons, inner resources, and commitment for this undertaking. More mundane issues of logistics, equipment, and safety are equally important.


We travel to a wilderness setting and set up a basecamp where we become accustomed to living close to the land, opening our senses to the features of that place, and tuning in to the rhythms of the earth. Wilderness is a relative term, and many vision fast groups without ready access to wilderness have found that more cultivated lands can support this work. Processes for life review are helpful here. We use council-style group discussions and simple earth-centered ceremonies along with walks, journaling, and contemplative practices such as meditation and sensory awareness.


This phase usually comprises three or four days of solitude and fasting from food (with water, a buddy system, and other safeguards). Participants may engage in awareness practices and self-generated ceremonies, but aside from safety considerations, there are few rules. The threshold is the doorway into sacred time and space and the edge between the old, which is no longer, and the new, which is not yet. In many ways, the threshold time represents a symbolic death and facilitates an ego-death.

The wilderness (or wilder) setting is an important part of the threshold phase, providing both challenge and support for the inner work of disidentifying from old psychic structures, creating deeper integration both within one’s psyche and with the world, and discovering deeper sources of relating to the world.


The return, or reincorporation, phase is a symbolic rebirth. This begins upon the return to basecamp with quiet celebration and reflection and continues as we rejoin our communities. Sharing stories and reflecting on them, participants begin to integrate their insights and visions. The goal is to help participants discover their own meaning in their experiences and apply their own belief systems, not to impose meaning.  


After the wilderness trip, we support participants in bringing their experiences into their lives more fully. However, it is necessary that the work of this phase belongs to each participant. This is the phase in which the gifts of the initiation are shared. Essentially it is the rest on one’s life.

Elements of Wilderness Passage Rites

Key elements of these trips are the stages of the rites of passage model, a ritual or ceremonial attitude, and the wilderness environment. Underlying them is exposure. Participants are exposed to new terrain, weather, and wildlife, large and small. They are exposed to their own vulnerability, boredom, frustration, strength, contentment, delight, and curiosity – all the states that can emerge from being alone in a living place with an authentic intention of openness. The patterns and meanings of personal history, self-concepts, ideals, and shadows are exposed as well.

Changes in sensory and cognitive input from living closer to nature lead to changes in ego structures. Familiar ego structures are no longer supported, leading to changes in self-images and less fixated conceptual structures. The natural world mirrors, evokes, and develops those inner qualities usually assigned to the realm of religion and spirituality – unconditional love, joy, power, peace, support, grace, and guidance.

Making intimate contact with the wild world brings us into contact with our “wild selves,” the parts of us that have not been conditioned by familial and cultural forces. Wild places are those not under our control and not subject to our wills, walls, or arbitrary boundaries. On wilderness rites of passage, as in all forms of deep psychological or spiritual work, we are going into wild places. We are entering realms where the artificial structures and demands of the ego and society have not restricted or walled off our innate guidance, aliveness, generosity, or fascination with the world. At the same time, wilderness rites of passage cultivate and refine those qualities necessary for living in the world in a full and engaged way, knowing our own hearts and minds, tolerating ambiguity and discomfort, being autonomous, searching deeply, and staying open to new answers.

Sometimes, the “visions” of a vision fast resemble shamanic experiences with unusual sensory or psychospiritual manifestations. More often, however, the most transforming and longest lasting changes are prompted by subtle, more ordinary experiences. It is the totality of the rite rather than a specific experience that usually carries the deepest impact.

In most modern wilderness rites of passage trips, participants discover a renewed relationship with the natural world, a sacred relationship. To the detriment of this relationship, participants can idealize and romanticize wild nature and the ceremony, causing a split between the wild and their familiar worlds. Such a split tends to foster dissatisfaction and depression as well as rejection of the needs of one’s home community and its natural setting. One of the goals of wilderness rites of passage is to support participants in returning home with a new or renewed commitment to living in a more sustainable way and caring for the earth as well as a new sense of self.

Such responsible environmental action arises not from a sense of imposed obligation or coercion, but from the deep psycho-emotional bond arising from spending such ceremonial time alone in nature. Environmental action, whatever form it takes, becomes an expression of love, joy, and caring rather than a product of shame, guilt, or fear. The world becomes less a collection of commodities to be used or exploited, and more the embodiments of an alive, enchanted, sacred world. Many of these trips conclude with specific practices, often ritualized to deepen their meaning, which support participants in articulating and accepting a sacred task related to environmental responsibility. A lesson of modern wilderness rites of passage is that living authentically means living here and how, in this place, embodied, and part of the environment. Sacred (“heaven”) and profane (“earth”) are not divorced.

This is not easy work, nor does it promise a quick fix. However, wilderness rites of passage and earth-centered initiatory practices do develop confidence, trust, wholeness, a sense of enchantment and home in the wilder parts of our selves, and a natural impulse to contribute to our world. These are the foundations for maturity, inner freedom, and service.

John Davis, Naropa University

Further Reading

Foster, Steven, and Meredith Little. (1988). The book of the vision quest: Personal transformation in the wilderness . New York: Prentice Hall Press.

Foster, Steven, and Meredith Little. (1989). The roaring of the sacred river: The wilderness quest for vision and self-healing . Big Pine, CA: Lost Borders Press.

Foster, Steven, and Meredith Little. (1998). The four shields: The initiatory seasons of human nature . Big Pine, CA: Lost Borders Press.

Greenway, Robert. (1995). The wilderness effect and ecopsychology. In Roszak, T., Gomes, M., and Kanner, A. Ecopsychology: Restoring the earth, Healing the mind . San Francisco: Sierra Club Books.

Mahdi, L., Christopher, N., and Meade, M. (1996). Crossroads: The quest for contemporary rites of passage . Chicago: Open Court Publishing Company.

See also: Ecopsychology; Ecotherapy ; Naropa University; Transpersonal Psychology.



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Chiricahua Mountains Gallery

The Chiricahua Mountains Gallery are images taken by members of the Gathering Committee.  The majority of these photographs were taken in April over the past two years.

From this gallery, following each photograph, you are taken from the outskirts of the Chiricahua Mountains to the portal of the Cave Creek Canyon, and then deeper, into the Heart and Soul of the these great mountains; which are the site of…..







What you need to know and bring



You will be camping and walk between the campground and the gathering site. The weather can be cool, even rain, or warm. So come prepared with your camping gear to be comfortable in any weather. The temperature range can be from lows around 32°F/0°C to highs around 80°F/27°C


  • Layers appropriate for warm to cold temperatures (32°F/0°C to highs around 80°F/27°C )
  • Full rain gear
  • Hiking boots, clothes, and gear for an all-day walk on the land
  • Sandals or other lightweight shoes good for walking around camp and gathering site
  • Brimmed hat for the sun

Special Items to Bring

  • Stone for the community circle (one that fits in your closed fist)
  • Musical instruments
  • Costumes, masks and accessories (for yourself and to share)


Please make sure you “label” all your belongings so you can identify them.
You will be responsible for cleaning your own dishes.

  • Dishes: plate and/or bowl
  • Utensils: spoon, fork, knife
  • Towel or bandana to dry them
  • Cloth napkins
  • Insulated mug for hot beverages
  • A bag to keep them all in
  • Reusable water bottle

Food Storage

We abide by all U. S. Forest Service campground regulations for the 2 campgrounds we will be using:
We discourage you from keeping food in the campground because this is bear country.
If you must store food there, you have to use a bear-proof container. The same goes for all strong smelling personal items.
If you have a bear-proof canister, please bring it.
If you have additional bear-proof canisters to share, please bring them.
Coolers must have a latch or other closure so that they cannot be opened by animals. We have observed a skunk and a ring-tailed cat attempting to get our food.


In addition to the outhouses and toilets on site, there will be portable toilets.


There is one wheelchair accessible shower.
There are showers for 4 women and 4 men at a time.
All showers have hot water.
Please bring biodegradable soap and shampoo.
You must provide your own towels.


Poison Ivy is a common plant growing in the Chiricahua Mountains where we are gathering. Touching poison ivy can cause a skin rash. If you get it on your clothing or boots and touch them later, you can also get a rash because you are transferring the oils to your skin at that point. The rash can last up to 2 weeks and can cause weeping blisters that itch relentlessly. We will have some pictures of the plant, close up and some so that you can see how it looks in the landscape. Because the shiny, pointed leaves grow in clumps of 3 all over this bushy plant, you will hear the saying “leaves of three, leave it be!”. When you learn how to avoid touching this plant, which is easy, you discover that you can enjoy the whole forest, especially near the creek. Please bring some ointments to treat it, in case you touch it.

poison ivy