THE SACRED NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE CEREMONY
The “Inipi Wakan,” in Lakota “Sioux,” is one of the oldest rituals in North America
1. THE NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE CEREMONY IS:
- A purification and balance of body, mind, spirit and emotions
- A prayer circle
- A healing circle
- A transformation of the Old Self into the New Self
2. WHAT HAPPENS DURING THE CEREMONY?
The Sweat Lodge is a round, domed structure about 10 feet in diameter and made with flexiblewillow branches.It is covered with blankets and canvas. In the center is a shallow pit for lava stones. These are heated in a fire and brought into the lodge by the helper or fire keeper.
When you enter the Lodge, you will sit in a circle around the rock pit. The leader of the ceremony pours water on the heated stones, making steam. Cedar, sage, tobacco and sweet grass are burnedto help focus and balance the senses. When the flap door is closed it is completely dark inside. The interior heats up, prayers are made and sacred songs are sung. The ceremony consists of four “rounds,” each lasting approximately 20 minutes. The door is opened for about 10 minutes between rounds.
A very sacred pipe (“Chanupa Wakan Cha” in Lakota Sioux), or tobacco rolled in a corn husk is sometimes smoked. The smoke is believed to penetrate the realms of creation, moving from the dense to the more subtle, thus carrying the prayers to the Creator. Tobacco and herbs are used in the smoking mixture and are non-hallucinogenic. Indian Tobacco (Kinnikinnik) is a mixture of Damiana, Coltsfoot, Uva Ursi, Lobelia, Osha root, and Red Willow bark.
Immediately after the Sweat Lodge you will share in a simple “feast” in the Sweat Lodge area. This is a social time and the concluding element of the ceremony.
3. WHAT DO I WEAR IN THE SWEAT LODGE?
Modesty and comfort
best describe the attire for the Sweat Lodge. It is respectful for men to wear loose, long
bathing suits. Women wearing bathing suits should wrap a towel around the waist and
a loose-fitting T-shirt. Traditionally, women wear long skirts and loose-fitting tops.
Shoes are not worn in the Sweat Lodge, but may be worn outside the lodge between “rounds.” It helps if your shoes can be easily removed. Also, it is recommended that you take a large towel into the lodge.
• Everything said in the sweat lodge is kept confidential.
• To prevent a chill, even in hot weather, it is wise to bring a jacket or other warm clothing for after the ceremony.
• If the ceremony is held in the evening, it is advisable to bring a flashlight.
4. HOW DO I PREPARE FOR THE CEREMONY AND WHAT IS RESPECTFUL BEHAVIOR WHILE IN THE CEREMONY, AND NEAR THE SWEAT LODGE?
• The Sweat Lodge leader asks that no one consume alcohol 24 hours prior to the ceremony. He also asks that no photographs be taken of the Sweat Lodge prior to or during the ceremony.
• Women on their “moon” (menstrual cycle) do not participate. In the Native American tradition,when women are on their moon cycle, they are undergoing their own powerful personal purification ceremony. Traditionally Native Americans do not mix ceremonies together because they believe each neutralizes the other.
• For health reasons, pregnant women should not attend.
• Anyone with heart problems, high blood pressure, or other serious health problems should consult a doctor before attending the Sweat Lodge ceremony. This is very important.
• It’s a good idea not to eat for a few hours before the ceremony.
• Be sure to drink plenty of water during the day of the ceremony.
• Beginning in the morning, it’s helpful to consider that the ceremony has begun. You will get the best out of the ceremony if you prepare by being mindful and contemplative.
• Please, no cell phones or beepers near the ceremonial grounds.
• Individuals do not take water into the Sweat Lodge. Sometimes the leader will provide water between rounds.
• Do not wear jewelry or glasses into the lodge. They can cause burns. For most, contacts are OK.
• The Sweat Lodge area is sacred and you will want to treat it with reverence. This means soft voices and earnest intent. Please do not shine your flashlights on the Lodge or throw anything into the fire.
• Please refrain from touching any feather, pipe, drum, fan or other ceremonial objects that are not yours.
• Don’t walk between the fire and the Sweat Lodge unless the leader or his helper ask you to do so. This is the energy path that flows from the fire to the lodge.
• When you enter the Lodge, kneel down and say “all my relations,” or, in Lakota Sioux, “Mitakuye Oyasin,” (pronounced mah-tah-kee-o-ah-sin). This means, “we are all related.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life with whom we share kinship in the Circle of Life.
• Once you enter the Lodge, the leader will direct you which way to crawl around the fire pit. Traditionally, you go clockwise, however the leader may direct you otherwise.
• If you feel too hot, put your head low to the ground and cover your head and shoulders with your towel.
• If you initially feel claustrophobic, consider that this is an opportunity to overcome discomfort.
• Try your best to relax into the intense heat. If you feel you must exit, wait for the ending of a song, prayer, or other appropriate time, then ask to go. The leader will encourage you to stay in an effort to help you overcome your discomfort. He will, however, let you out. If you exit the lodge you can ask to reenter, but only when the door is open between the rounds. If you exit the Lodge, know that you remain part of the ceremony, so try to stay near the Lodge and continue your prayers. You can also join the others for food at the end. We will share in a simple potluck meal immediately following the ceremony. This is traditionally called a "feast," and is considered part of the ceremony.
You may like to bring a supportive "heart offering" of one or more of the sacred herbs to the sweat lodge leader, Suggestions are: tobacco ("american spirit" or "pueblo" brands purchased in a small package at drugstores), or sweet grass, sage or cedar (purchased at health food stores). Such offerings are traditionally made at some point prior to the ceremony
In addition, people traditionally make offerings of support by bringing items that are used in the ceremony, its preparation, or caring for the ceremonial grounds. Examples are: wood, water, food, and other items that you feel (and learn) will be useful. In contemporary times, money has become a form of exchange and offering - especially for those not able, for one reason or another, to bring material items such as those listed above. Money offerings allow maximum flexibility regarding items most needed for the ceremony. The main thing is that any offering you bring be voluntary and from your heart. Your offerings are not a requirement for participation. Whatever your offering might be (other than the sacred herbs as explained above), please give them after the ceremony traditionally during the feast or give-a-way. This applies especially to money offerings.
There is no offering that is too small. It is all about your intent and respect.
Sweat lodges are run differently by different lodge leaders. Wherever you go, you follow the instructions of the sweat lodge leader. He or she may, at any time, change things that you may have become used to in the past. Changes are based on "being in the present moment."
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