Cherokee Morning Song

Monday, September 24, 2012


The sweat lodge is a re-enactment of a return to our mother womb-like experience, which is the cleaning of the body, mind and spirit. People remove all accessories like watches, rings, and glasses, to remember that we came into this world without material possessions. It is a time of sharing our problems with other people and praying for the needs of our innermost self. 

Then after the rounds we re-enter creation reborn with New Hope and a changed attitude. The sweat lodge has been amongst our people long before the churches were built on our Reserves.

 This is where our people went to pray and come in contact with a Higher Power or Creator. There are four rounds to each ceremony. Four rounds in honor of four grandparents or four directions. Six Colors are used in the sweat lodge ceremony. Colour Red in honor of Red Race or First Nation people, the gift given to Red Man is the gift of vision to be able to look backwards in time or to be able to see into the future. Colour Yellow in honour of Yellow Race or Chinese people; the gift they were given is time. 

They are an ancient people in their beliefs and religion. Colour Black in honor of Black Race or Black people; the gift they were given is reason to be able to reason with things. Colour White in honor of White Race or White people; the gift they were given is movement, to be able to move things like jets, planes, and cars. Colour Green in honor of Mother Earth, giver of new life to all creation, she gives life to all two legged, four legged, the one's that fly, ones that crawl, ones that swim, insects, trees, water, rocks and grass. 

 Colour Blue in honor of Father Sky - Creator and God/Great Spirit; the ultimate of all Universal Powers. Blue is a sacred colour. Round 1 - in this round we honor Mother Earth, the Fire, Rocks, Water, and Steam Spirits. Prayers of thanks said by all the participating individuals. Sacred songs are sung, people can either pray silently in your traditional language or English. 

We ask Mother Sweat Lodge to purify our minds, bodies, and spirits to take away all our bad feelings, hurts, anger and resentments. A sweat is a place where we can cry, pray, sing and be able to humble ourselves and cry for our people. Round 2 - in this round we honor all sisters, because women are the backbone of First Nation people and they have the gift of bringing new life into this world. 

We have to remember that some of our women got caught up in alcohol and drug abuse, they get weak and need our prayers and thanks. We pray for our Mothers, Sisters, Grandmothers, Nieces, Cousins, Aunts, Elders, Pipe Carriers, Spiritual Advisers and all Sisters pray for each other. 

We remember all our sisters that are in institutions, jails, battered women's homes and young sisters that are in foster homes. We ask the Creator to help them find their identities. Prayers are said and a sacred or sweat song is sung. Round 3 -in this round we honor all our Brothers. We remember our Fathers, Grandfathers, Uncles, Nephews, Cousins, Elders, Spiritual Advisers, Medicine People, Pipe Carriers, and if any of the above are in the Spirit world we still pray for them that their spirits are set free by their loved ones. 

We remember all our brothers in jails, institutions, jungles and skid row. We ask the Creator to forgive us and for our wrong doings,we humble ourselves and cry for our people. Sacred sweat lodge songs are sung. Round 4 -in this round we honor ourselves now that we have prayed for everyone else. We ask the Creator to help us with our daily living problems and to work on our character defects. We can use any amount of rocks that we want. ------------------------------------------------- The Native American Sweat Lodge A Spiritual Tradition The Sweat Lodge Ceremony, now central to most Native American cultures and spiritual life, is an adaptation of the sweat bath common to many ethnic cultures found in North and South America, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, and Africa.

 It was prompted by the influence of European culture with its corrupting effect on native culture. With the introduction of alcohol and the inhumane treatment of native people, the need to re-purify themselves and find their way back to traditional ways of living became evident, as they were becoming increasingly poisoned by European culture. The Sweat Lodge Ceremony was the answer. 

 With the help of Medicine Men and Women, they could repair the damage done to their spirits, their minds and their bodies. The Sweat Lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place to get answers and guidance by asking spiritual entities, totem helpers, the Creator and Mother Earth for the needed wisdom and power. 

 A traditional Sweat Lodge is a wickiup made up of slender withes of aspen or willow, or other supple saplings, lashed together with raw hide, or grass or root cordage, although in some areas the lodge was constructed of whatever materials were at hand, from a mud roofed pit house to a cedar bark and plank lodge. 

The ends of the withes are set into the ground in a circle, approximately 10 feet in diameter, although there is no set size for a Sweat Lodge. That is determined by the location, materials available and the builder. 

The withes are bent over and lashed to form a low domed framework approximately 4 - 5 feet high at the center. The pit in the center is about 2 feet in diameter and a foot deep. The floor of the lodge may be clean swept dirt, or natural grassy turf, or may be covered with a mat of sweet grass, soft cedar boughs, or sage leaves for comfort and cleanliness, kept away from the central pit. 

 The lodge in former times was covered with the hides of buffalo, bear or moose. In this day, the animal skins have been replaced with blankets, plastic sheeting, old carpet, heavy gauge canvas sheets and tarps to retain the heat and the steam. In many traditions the entrance to the sweat lodge faces to the East and the sacred fire pit. 

This has very significant spiritual value. Each new day for all begins in the East with the rising of Father Sun, the source of life and power, dawn of wisdom, while the fire heating the rocks is the undying light of the world, eternity, and it is a new spiritual beginning day that we seek in the sweat ceremony. 

 Between the entrance to the lodge and the sacred fire pit, where the stones are heated, is an altar barrier, beyond which none may pass except the lodge or fire keepers, to prevent participants from accidentally falling into the fire as they emerge from sweat. 

Traditionally this barrier altar is a buffalo or other skull atop a post, placed about 3 paces from the entrance and 3 paces from the fire, to warn of the danger. At the base of the post is a small raised earthen altar upon which are placed items sacred to the group or clan, sage, sweet grass, feathers, etc., bordered with the four colors, and a pipe rack for the chanunpa. 

 Common to all traditions, and the sweat, is the ideal of spiritual cleanliness. Many sweats start with the participants fasting for an entire day of contemplation in preparation for the sweat while avoiding caffeine, alcohol and other unhealthy substances. Prior to entering the sweat the participants usually smudge with sage, sweet grass or cedar smoke as a means toward ritual cleanliness. 

 Bringing personal sacred items is allowed but some rules apply. Items such as Eagle feathers, whistles and medicine pouches are allowed and welcomed. You should not bring anything that is not natural into the Sweat Lodge, such as: watches, ear rings, gold, silver, eye glasses, false teeth, etc. In many cultures a female on her moon is not allowed into the sweat, but in some they are. 

 A Sweat Ceremony in many traditions usually starts with the loading and offering of the sacred chanunpa ~ "peace pipe" ~ in prayer, that the participants may know and speak the truth in their supplications of Grandfather, Earth Mother and the spirits. 

In other traditions, when you are called upon to go into the sweat lodge you will have some tobacco to offer to the sacred fire, saying a prayer or asking a question, the smoke from the tobacco carrying your request to the Great Spirit. As you prepare to enter the lodge the sweat leader smudges you with the smoke of burning sage, cedar, or sweet grass, wafting the smoke over you with an eagle feather. You then crawl into the lodge in a sun-wise (clockwise) direction, bowing in humility to Great Spirit and in close contact with Earth Mother, and take your place in the circle, sitting cross legged upright against the wall of the lodge. 

 When all are inside the sweat leader calls upon the doorkeeper to drop the flap covering the lodge opening. The lodge becomes dark, and at this point the lodge leader announces that all are free to leave the lodge at any time if they cannot endure. (If you must leave, speak out "Mitakuye Oyasin," "All my relatives, open the door." The other participants will move away from the wall so that you may pass behind them as you leave in a clockwise direction.) 

 He then asks for a short, contemplative silence. After the brief silence the flap is raised, and the leader calls upon the fire tender to bring in the heated stones from the sacred fire. The Stone People spirits are awakened in the stones by heating them in the sacred fire until red-hot. 

They are swept clean with a pine or cedar bough to remove smoking embers which would cause irritating discomfort in the lodge. One at a time they are placed in the shallow pit inside the sweat lodge, placing first the stone on the west, then north, east, south, and in the center to Grandfather.

 Additional stones are then placed to Grandmother and The People. After four to seven stones are in the pit, depending on tradition (and probably the size of the stones), the entrance is closed and sealed by the Sweat Lodge Keeper, who generally is also the fire tender. 

 Aglow with the luminance of the red hot stones, the ceremony begins in the lodge. The sweat leader sounds the Water Drum and calls forth the spirit guides in prayer from the Four Directions. 

The sweat leader then dips water and pours it onto the hot stones in the pit, producing large amounts of steam, usually one dipper for each of the four directions, or until he is told by the spirits to stop. Then he begins his prayers, songs and chants.

 A typical prayer might be: Grandfather, Mysterious One, We search for you along this Great Red Road you have set us on. Sky Father, Tunkashila, We thank you for this world. We thank you for our own existence. We ask only for your blessing and for your instruction. Grandfather, Sacred One, Put our feet on the holy path that leads to you, and give us the strength and the will to lead ourselves and our children past the darkness we have entered. Teach us to heal ourselves, to heal each other and to heal the world. Let us begin this very day, this very hour, the Great Healing to come. Let us walk the Red Road in Peace. During the purification of one's spirit inside a sweat lodge, all sense of race, color and religion is set aside. As in the Mother's womb and the Father's eyes, we are all the same, we are One. Each of us has the ability to sit with the Creator himself.

 Healing begins here for dis-ease, physical, emotional, directional and spiritual. As the steam and temperature rises so do our senses. Messages and vision from the Spirit World are received through the group consciousness of the participants. One at a time, as a talking stick is passed, all the people inside get an opportunity to speak, to pray and to ask for guidance and forgiveness from the Creator and the people they have hurt. As they go around the circle, they tell who they are, where they are from, and what is their clan, so the Creator, the Spirit People, and all there can acknowledge them. 

 A sweat is typically four sessions, called rounds or endurances, each lasting about 30 to 45 minutes. The round ends when the leader announces the opening of the door. The first round is for recognition of the spirit world which resides in the black West where the sun goes down, and the Creator may be asked for a "spirit guide" by some of the participants. 

 The second round is for recognition of courage, endurance, strength, cleanliness, and honesty, calling upon the power of the white North. The recognition of knowledge and individual prayer symbolize the third round, praying to the direction of the daybreak star and the rising sun that we may gain wisdom, that we may follow the Red Road of the East in all our endeavors. 

 The yellow South stands for growth and healing. Thus, the last round centers on spiritual growth and healing. From our spirit guides from the west, from the courage, honesty and endurance of the north, from the knowledge and wisdom obtained from the east, we continue the circle to the south from which comes growth. It is from growth and maturing that healing comes. 

 At the completion of each round, the participants may emerge, if desired, to plunge into an adjacent pool or stream if one is available, or roll in the snow if the sweat is held in winter. In arid areas the participants roll in the sand to cool off and remove the sweat. 

Many participants maintain their places in the lodge until completion of the fourth round, while the cooled stones in the pit are removed and replaced with hot stones. There are many different forms of sweat ceremonies in Native country. Each people has their own tradition and this is especially clear when it comes to the sweat lodge ceremony.

 Many differences, depending on the people participating, occur during each ritual. For instance, many times rounds are held in complete silence and meditation as the participants feel the need. At other less intense times, a round may be devoted to story telling and recounting of the clan's creation stories. This is all part of spiritual and emotional healing and growth.

 Respect, sincerity, humility, the ability to listen and slow down are all keys in the way you approach a ceremony. Who Sweats and Why? The sweat lodge ceremony usually occurs before and after other major rituals like the "Vision Quest" for example. The aim of the ceremony is to purify one's mind, body, spirit and heart. It is also a "stand alone" ritual that it occurs whenever it is needed. 

Sweat lodge essentially translates into returning to the womb and the innocence of childhood. The lodge is dark, moist, hot and safe. The darkness relates to human ignorance before the spiritual world and so much of the physical world. 

Traditionally it was only the men who would sweat. As time has passed and the lodge has evolved, other levels have been shown. The sweat lodge has given many gifts and shown itself as a way to not only cleanse, but to release anger, guilt and shame in a safe way, and to bring people together as ONE ( unity). 

These days women sweat also, provided they are not on their moon time or cleansing time already. Men can sweat separately and women can sweat separately, or there can be mixed sweats where men and women both participate. The Elder or Lodge Keeper running the ceremony according to their teachings will determine this. Observing very strict protocols while in ceremony are the key. 

Men and women must both practice modesty in their dress when they come to ceremony. Sweat lodge is not a fashion show, nor is it a place for vanity or to get a date. This is a sacred place to pray, meditate, learn and heal, and that must be the focus. Unlike "New Age" sweats we do not go in naked when men and women are present. 

It has nothing to do with being uncomfortable with our bodies, as some would have us believe. Rather it is about not confusing spirituality with sexuality, and creating a safe place where all people feel comfortable. 

Men, women, boys and girls can all benefit from the lodges. Modesty is to be practiced in our dress, meaning that men wear shorts and bring a couple of towels to cover themselves and the women wear modest dress or long skirt with a loose T-shirt and a couple of towels. 

 We must always walk the Red Road in a way that honors others' views and teachings without sacrificing our own. All of these ways are good, none is better or worse than the other.

 We need to unite all of the races and both of the sexes if we are going to be strong and the Sacred Hoop is to be mended. Every form of spirituality goes through change. 

This evolution reflects the changing needs of the community and of our environment. Anything that will not change risks isolating itself from the people. Water is life and changes everything, even the hardest stone. 

The change that is needed is turning towards each other instead of away from one another. If we ceremony together, we heal together, we laugh together, live and love together. 

 If you are invited to a sweat, the 24 hours previous to the sweat should be spent in cleansing, fasting, prayer and meditation on the intended purpose of the sweat, and you should be free from drugs and alcohol. 

 For the greatest spiritual benefit, these conditions should be met. If you would like to know more of what happens in a sweat lodge ceremony the answer is quite simple: Attend one. It will be different than the last one you attended. And so it is . . . Hokh! Mitakuye o’yasin. Hecetu welo !! . . . All my relatives, it is indeed so..!! A ho! Love and Peace, Barefoot Windwalker -------------------------------------- The Process of the Sweat Lodge Ceremony Once the rocks are heated and all the preparations are done then people are ready to enter the Sweat lodge and sit around the hole in the earth.

 The hole in the center of the structure inside is where we are going to place the hot rocks and splash water on them along with placing special herbs also called medicine. We are going to bring rocks four times and each time this is called a door, and or an endurance or the first round. First Endurance or First Door or First Round is dedicated to the East The recognition of the spirit world is symbolic of the First Endurance. For some, it is time to ask the Almighty for a Spirit Guide. 

 The first round also known as the first endurance, according to the teaching of Dancing Two Eagle Spirit, also known as Yellow Moon Singing and Butterfly woman, acknowledges the woman spirit of all creation, including the woman spirit that is present in the male energies. 

It is the color yellow for the yellow nation. We therefore invite the Ancestors of the yellow nations of the world to come and teach us. This direction is in the east where the sun rises and represents a new day or a new beginning. It is the spirit of the Eagle that I call upon to come in and help us. 

The Eagle is one of the birds that fly high in the sky and we Native people believe that the Eagle carries our prayers to Creator. We thank the Eagle for all its representation and the ability to see far and beyond what is in front of us. 

This is where one would begin to focus on why they are at the lodge, the healing they are seeking, and how they can go beyond what is in front of them. Many other spirits can be placed in that direction by other healers. 

Remember that it is just one way and is not representative of all the different meanings that Medicine People and lodge leaders assign to this direction or any other directions.

 If you have any spirit helpers then call upon them to come in during the ceremony. Once songs and prayers are made, the elder calls for the door to open. Some Elders may allow water to come in and allow the people to drink. Some Elders may even allow people to take a break and leave the lodge. 

 Second Endurance or Second Door or Second Round is to the South The flap is closed and the second endurance begins. The cleansing steam and the recognition of courage symbolize the second endurance. The second endurance is in recognition of the male spirit including those present within the female energies. 

We call upon the spirit of the Jumping Mouse, the Wolf or the Hawk to come and help us with our prayers. We acknowledge the color red for all the red nations of the earth. 

 By this time, all the participants should be sweating, getting rid of their bodily toxins through their pores, the slight deprivation of air and the exposure to extreme heat have combined to help alter their state of consciousness. Depending on the state of people present, there might be an invitation to say prayers, sing songs, or the release of energy through an exercise within the lodge. 

The fire tender or doorkeeper is then called upon to lift the flap. As the flap is raised and held open, the leader asks the participants how they are feeling. Most respond enthusiastically that they are doing well at this stage, some though, are suffering from the extreme and have shortness of breath, and some are having an out of body experience and we say that they are in the spirit world.

 If this is the case then the Elder invites the people to stay and focus on their prayers while they bring the person back in a safe manner, usually working with the fire keeper on this. Water may be passed to those participants who desire to pour the water over their heads or to drink it.

 A longer break is taken to mark the half way of the ceremony. Third Endurance or Third Door or Third Round is to the West Usually more rocks and a new bucket of water are needed before the third endurance. 

After the new stones have entered, the Elder instructs the people on how this round will go. He or she also invites people for doctoring or physical and emotional healing, instructing everyone else as to what to do and how to focus. 

The flap is then closed and the round begins. In this round and direction we call upon the Brown Bear, the Owl, and many others, including the Thunder Bird, to help us go deep within. I acknowledge the color of dark blue (Cree/Ojibwa/Algonquin colours) or black (Lakota colour) for the black road and also for the black nation of the earth. 

The black road is the road where people are being hurt or hurting themselves through different means. The black nation of the world and their ancestors are also invited in. The recognition of deep meditation and the ability to go inwards for the answers and to develop the ethereal intuition is what I encourage people to focus on in this round. 

Sometimes praying individually or out loud is done, but most of the time I encourage people to simply pray silently and go into the foetal position, and I then guide them through a meditative exercise.

 This is what symbolizes the third endurance for me. I encourage people to try to look within and gaze upon the stones in silence, hopefully viewing images within the red glow of the rocks. After a while, water is poured upon the rocks and the leader begins to sing a healing song.

 If an elder has brought in a pipe into the lodge, it is usually during the beginning of this round that the pipe is smoked. 

 Fourth Endurance or Fourth Door or Fourth Round is to the North The last endurance centers on specific personal healing. The fire tender is thanked for all of the hard work, and the last endurance prayer may begin. 

The North stands for wisdom and knowledge, for the White Calf Buffalo Woman, Blue Heron, and others as well. We acknowledge the color white for the white nation of the earth. The leader may point out some specific areas of prayers for an individual to pray or work on and ask for the Great Spirit's wisdom regarding them.

 When the steam has subsided, the leader will usually offer a summarizing prayer in this final round, or one or several of the participants may pray out loud in respect to a particular area of healing. 

Usually the leader will have briefed certain individuals regarding preparing, to some degree, a prayer regarding healing; or the individuals are free to request time to voice their healing prayer. 

The leader concludes the ritual with a short final prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving for a successful Sweat lodge ceremony and acknowledges that we have welcomed all of the Nations of the world to be with us. 

The fire tender or doorkeeper is called and the door is opened, the participants leave the lodge one by one in a clockwise manner, beginning with the first person to the right of the entrance. 

 At the end of a sweat every one's clothing is soaked through with sweat, and participants usually change into a dry set of clothes to be comfortable when they gather once again to smoke the peace pipe that was loaded earlier if they hadn't smoked it before.

 After the pipe has been smoked, there is sharing of food around the fire and a closing circle where all the people are invited to say a final word of gratitude. The hot coals are excellent for metal boiling pots loaded with stews, which usually have been cooking while the ceremony was in progress. Coolers of juice, mineral water or soda are consumed in quantity by thirsty participants after the ceremony. 

A plate of food is placed at a distance from the lodge as an offering to all the spirits that entered the ceremony, or is put in the fire to send up to the spirit world.

 The ceremony is very refreshing activity, and many participants will linger to sit around the fire in peace and serenity, appreciating and remembering their moving spiritual experiences that just occurred. Physical-Psychological-Emotional-Spiritual Healing aspects of the Sweat Lodge Ceremony Neuro-theological approaches provide an important link between the scientific and religious perspectives. 

These approaches have for most part neglected the implications of a Neolithic form of spiritual healing - shamanism. Every Medicine person leading a Sweat lodge ceremony and every tribal group has its own traditions and ways of conducting a Sweat lodge ceremony (Running Wolf). 

In general, there is no right or wrong way to perform a sweat lodge ceremony, other than to enter the lodge with an open mind and be prepared for cleansing of negative emotions, healing of physical ailments, the clearing of mental concerns and/or the releasing of energetic or spiritual blockages. 

 One of the immediate effects of a Sweat lodge ceremony is the cleansing of undesirable toxins from the body. Bacteria and viruses cannot survive at temperatures much higher than 98.6 degrees, and the sweat can get up to 120 or 130 degrees.

 The rise in temperature also stimulates the adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol response to stressors on the body called flight or fight response are released into our bloodstream (Cannon).

 It also helps bring blood flow to the skin. The Heart beats faster and the impurities in the vital organs are flushed out. Clogged respiratory passages are opened by heat, this gives relief from colds or minor respiratory problem.

 A fundamental way our brains function is through the attraction and pushing of negative and positive ions along the neuropath ways. The endocrine glands facilitate the release of negative ions into the air, inducing relaxation.

 The splashing of water on superheated rocks in a sauna or Sweat lodge facilitates such process and produces an abundance of negative ions, which promotes profuse sweating; an altered state of being accompanied by feelings of refreshment and well-being. 

 The alleviation of the following physical and emotional symptoms has been reported by many participants at our lodge: *some of the cramping pain during menstruation and removal of excessive water caused by retention of sodium *following childbirth, the sweat lodge relieves aching muscles and cleanses the body. *repeated exposure to sweat lodge ceremony helps alleviate depressive symptoms by enhancing sense of self and identity. 

It helps people to bond with others, providing a sense of belonging, and also removes the feeling of isolation *helps relieve tension and stress *reduces pain for rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, myofascial pain, lupus, neuralgia, tendonitis and some cancer pain *endurance through the ceremony has helped people to cope with feelings of claustrophobia *high blood pressure *improved sleep patterns *due to the opening of the skin pores with the intense heat of the lodge, some skin diseases such as psoriasis, eczema and neurodermatitis are improved [Studies by M.I Hannukesela and S. Ellahham, published in The American Journal of Medicine [110,118-126], indicate that saunas activate the sympathetic nervous system, the rennin-angiotensin-aldosteronesystem and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal hormonal axis. This causes releases of hormones including adrenocorticotropic, aldosterone, angiotensin II, argininevasopressin, atrial natriuretic peptide, beta-endorphin, cortisol, epinephrine, glucose, growth hormone, norepenephrine, prolactin, renin activity, thyroid and thyroid-stimulating. 

These increases return to normal within a few hours and have no permanent negative effects but many positive effects being reported by the participants(Reprinted from the Internet)] I am of the belief that if the effects of the sweat lodge were studied further, and over a longer time period by the different professionals, a more exhaustive list of health benefits could be accrued. It should be noted that people with severe medical or mental health issues, including acute psychosis, acute episodes of schizophrenia, 2 or 3rd trimesters of a pregnancy, chronic and severe heart problems, and people with major post-surgical conditions should avoid using the Sweat lodge.

 In conclusion, I believe that the Sweat lodge is a significant ancient tool of my people which is now fast becoming a modern manifestation of shamanism. The ceremony helps us enhance our deepest respect for one another, for our ancestors, for our Medicine people, and for our Sacred Mother Earth and all of God's creations.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you that was so helpful and informative. I will share this with others.