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 Advisors 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 Advisors, 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 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." 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 endurance's, 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 Indian 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 key in the way you approach 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. 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 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.
Sweat Lodge Etiquette
We welcome you to the opportunity to participate and pray in the traditional ways of the Lakota people. The "Inipi" ceremony is a very sacred ceremony and we ask that you observe some basic etiquette when participating. The Inipi is the way we pray to Grandfather. The lodge represents Mother Earth and when we crawl out at the end of the ceremony it is like a rebirth.
We leave all our problems in there with the Grandfather Stone
No women should come to the lodge when they are on their "Sacred Monthly Time". That is a ceremony in itself and according to the elders we cannot be in two ceremonies at the same time.
If you have not attended a traditional Lakota lodge please be open to learn and ask questions.
Do not assume you know. We want to always be respectful.
* When women come to the lodge they should not wear slacks or jeans. They should come in a skirt or dress that is at least below the knees. When in the lodge women should wear a dress or skirt and shirt that covers some of the arm and is long. Bring different clothes to wear in the lodge than the ones you arrive in. No sleeveless, tank tops or bathing suits. We must respect ourselves. Bring a towel in the lodge. Wear no makeup or metal jewelry of any kind.
* In the lodge, men wear swim trunks or shorts with no metal on them.
* When you arrive, be sure to shake hands with the people and introduce yourself.
* Be aware that there will be many sacred items sitting on the alter in front of the lodge.
* Do not throw anything in the sacred fire. It is not a bonfire.
* Bring tobacco to put on the alter before you go into the lodge.
* Women usually go into the lodge first. Be sure to listen to the one pouring the lodge for any special instructions.
* The firemen will smudge you with sacred sage or cedar
* First the medicine man will load his "Channunpa" (sacred pipe) with tobacco while a song is sung..
* Allow the Lakota women and elder women to go in first unless you have been instructed otherwise.
* Turn in a clockwise circle at the door, then crawl in and say "Mitakuye Oyasin" or "All my relations" as you enter the opening. We crawl in to humble ourselves and then remind ourselves that we are all related.
* Crawl in a clockwise manner sitting next to the person ahead of you. Be silent. When the first seven stones come in there should be no talking. We must pray to the directions at that time.
* Sometimes there are separate men's and women's lodges.
* After the 7 stones come in the men will begin coming in.
* When all the stones are in the ceremony begins.
* The door will open and close 4 times.
* Sacred songs will be sung when the door is closed.
* Pray when the door is closed while looking at the Grandfather Stone People.
* Do not attempt to leave the lodge while the door is closed.
* Do not pull up the sides while the door is closed.
* Do not pull up the sides unless the one pouring the water gives you permission.
* It is good to drink plenty of water the day of a lodge (especially in Colorado where the elevation is high and it is very dry.)
* Be sure not to over eat before a lodge. You may become nauseous.
* Be sure to ask questions if you are not sure what to do.
* After the 4th round (door) we will go out and get dry clothes on and come back and form a circle and smoke the "Channunpa" and eat the spirit food.