Sweatlodge - Have y...
 
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Sweatlodge - Have you ever participated in one?


Historian
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I'm just curious.

Have you ever participated in a sweatlodge ceremony of purification and prayer?

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sunanda
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No but I've talked to someone who has and read about it too. I have lung problems so possibly it wouldn't be a good thing for me to do. I understand it can be quite challenging too and that the dynamics alter according to whether it's single sex or mixed, naked or clothed. Can you tell us how you do it?

xxx

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fleur
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I haven't either..don't think I'd manage one, and anyway, do not know of anyone near me who could oversee one....

Do tell us about them from your perspective Historian? I'm interested. 🙂
I think Oakapple might have been on one....
he's on his hols at the moment:cool:

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tigress
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here is a link to an earlier discussion about sweatlodge experiences

tigress

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butterflywings
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I am another one who hasn't but would love to try.

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Binah
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No, but nearly got there once or twice - I think fear got in the way or I wasn't ready for the experience.

Binah
x

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Historian
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First, let me say that there were some interesting comments concerning Sweatlodge ceremonies on the thread Tigress pointed out. One of the topics that seemed to rise frequently was the issue of participants being clothed or naked.

In the way I was taught, the Lakota Sweatlodge ceremony, is called Inipi, which is literally translated as, "making a connection to breath," meaning the breath of life. The implied meaning is, "making a connection with life" or some just translate it as "to live." Traditionally in the buffalo days, men only participated in a Sweatlodge ceremony with other men, and women only participated in a Sweatlodge with other women. When each gender participated, they went into the Sweatlodge or Initipi, without any clothes, as a symbolic act of humility (stripping off all pretense), and also to recognize that in their nakedness, they are in the same form in which they came into this world.

It was not until the 1960s, that Lakota men and women would sometimes participate in Sweatlodge together. It depended on the leader, as to how he felt about it. However, when this did occur, especially when it became more popular in the 1970s, with the revival of "traditionalism" on Reservations, spurned on by AIM (the American Indian Movement), men would either wear swim trunks, shorts, or a towel wrapped around their waist. Women would usually wear a long, sleeveless cotton dress. The main reason for wearing clothes is so that participants will be focused on praying, rather than whom they are sitting next to. Even though, when done correctly, when the door flap is closed, there should not be any light what so ever. You should not even see your hand in front of your face, let alone anyone else.

Another topic that seems to come up frequently is the heat of the stones, and therefore the heat of the steam. In the way I was taught, the Inipi ceremony needs to be hot enough to make you sweat and hot enough to make you "uncomfortable" and "humble", but not so hot that it becomes painful. It is not supposed to be an endurance test, though unfortunately I know some that run theirs like that. If the heat is so hot that it becomes painful, the participants are so focused on the pain, they cannot focus well on prayers. It is the responsibility of the leader, based on his knowledge and experience, to gauge the heat level and the length of the sessions, so that all participants can benefit, especially if there are health issues to consider.

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sunanda
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That is so interesting. My thoughts would be that the energy would change according to whether or not it was male or female only or mixed sex. And I don't just mean in a sexual manner: in some of the ashrams and temples I've been in in India men and women are sometimes segregated and it does make a difference. Likewise, I would prefer to be naked if I were able participate but only if it were all female. I didn't know it should be completely dark. That must immediately lead you to a different level of consciousness. I imagined that it might involve a degree of physical suffering but am happy to hear that it shouldn't be painful. I'm really beginning to wish I could try one.
My friends who told me about them were new age hippies from the old East Germany and were involved in the global gatherings that used to take place (maybe still do.) (Ooh what was the name of that movement? Senior moment, I'm afraid.) Anyway, Historian, thanks for your info.

xxx

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Historian
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You are correct, there is a difference in the type of energy in an all male Sweatlodge, an all female Sweatlodge or a mixed male and female Sweatlodge. But it again depends on why the ceremony is being done, and who is leading it.

It is interesting to note that the Universe is duplicated in the Sweatlodge, according to the way I was taught. As has been said many times before, variations exist not only between different tribes, but also there may be variations among different communities within the same tribe. You may find that how a Lakota Sweatlodge is run on the Rez at Pine Ridge is slightly different from how one is run on the Rez at Rosebud or Standing Rock.

In the Lakota tradition, the dome-shaped framework of the willow saplings, with tanned buffalo robe coverings (or the blankets, quilts, or army canvas often used today), creates an environment that is in a sense, a microcosm of the Universe.

There is a perceived dome that is mirrored from the dome framework of the Sweatlodge above the surface of the earth, and extends below the surface of the earth, creating a spiritual sphere. The surface of the earth, upon which the participants sit inside, is in effect, the equator of this sphere. In a same sense, the surface of the earth is also the mid-point between the domed shape of the sky, (from horizon to horizon, in a 360 degree circumference) with a perceived dome of equal size beneath the surface of the earth.

Inside the Sweatlodge or Initipi, there is a pit dug into the earth, and spherical shaped stones about the size of a grapefruit and heated in the fire pit directly in front of the Initipi, are piled into the stone pit in such a way as to be in a mass half-below and half-above the surface of the earth, creating a sphere of heated stone. It is believed by some, that when the covering is closed, at that point in time and at that place, it is the center of the Universe.

So, heated stones in the shape of a sphere, in a stone pit that creates a mass of stones in the shape of a sphere, in the center of a spherical Sweatlodge framework, which is in the center of the Universe seen from earth as a sphere.

In other levels of meaning, in Lakota tradition, the willow framework of the Sweatlodge represent bones, or specifically the ribs of a buffalo, and the outer covering (originally buffalo robes), represented the fur, skin and symbolic flesh of the buffalo. When participants crawl into the Sweatlodge, (crawling on hands and knees is both an act of humility and a remembrance of our connection to our four-legged relations), it is thought that the participants are symbolically entering the dark womb of a female buffalo, a symbol of the Universe in a very abstract sense, only to re-emerge from it after the ceremony ends, as if being born again, with a purified body and purified spirit.

As far as what takes place in the Inipi, I was also taught that what goes on in the Sweat, stays there. The implied meaning behind this is three-fold.

The first layer of implied meaning is that there needs to be a sense of confidentiality with fellow participants. If people are going to open up and pour their hearts out, they are becoming very vulnerable and need to trust that what is said in the sweat remains confidential information. Otherwise, people will not feel comfortable in getting to a sincere, heartfelt, and humble frame of mind and it defeats the purpose for having a Sweat.

Secondly, the Sweat is designed to purify negativity. Both the physical toxins and negative things in your body that is purged out through your sweat and goes into the ground, where it can be filtered and dispersed. That is why the coverings should be taken off after each Sweat so that those things can be dispersed by sun and rain. I have been to Sweats that have had the coverings on so long that the grass has died and mold and fungus is beginning to grow on the framework, or they cover the ground in carpets. 🙁 (More on this in a moment.)

Anyway, the spiritual toxins and negativities are also purged from your spirit as well, such as anger, jealousy, resentment, bitterness, sadness, distress, etc., and are "left" in the Sweatlodge. To discuss what took place inside may bring those things back, which defeats the purpose for having a Sweat also.

The third layer of meaning has to do with sacred space. When certain spiritual topics are discussed openly in a casual, normal atmosphere, some have said that malevolent spirits can listen in on the conversation and as a result, can cause mischief, confusion or even harm to people. In a sacred space such as inside a Sweatlodge, the space is prepared with sage, cedar, prayers, etc. and becomes a "controlled" environment where only positive, benevolent spirits exist in a disproportional amount to a normal atmosphere, without any malevolent spirits present. Therefore, this sacred space becomes a safe environment to talk about certain spiritual topics.

Fairly recently, I had someone ask me about the difference between having a Sweatlodge covered all of the time, versus taking the coverings off after every Sweatlodge ceremony. Therefore, I thought I would add what I was taught about this aspect.

For some people, the norm has become a covered lodge or Initipi most of the time. Mostly because they consider it to be too much time and effort to have to take the covers off, dry them out, store them, then put them back on well enough to cover the lodge again, etc. It's more of a time management issue with some people I guess. Besides, if you take the covers off, then you also have to keep the inside grass cut, which is also a chore, since a weed-whacker does not fit within a Sweatlodge framework very "conveniently."

However, if you think about why a Sweatlodge ceremony is done, it is designed on one level to purify the body, mind, spirit, etc. and purge negativities in the physical manifestation of sweat, which goes into the ground. In the buffalo days, the interior of a Sweatlodge had fresh sage covering the ground to sit on. This was intended to help filter and break up spiritual and physical negativities before they went into the ground, and to prevent the negativities from clinging onto the people sitting on the ground. When a Sweatlodge ceremony is over, the coverings are taken off to allow sun and rain to cleanse the "contaminated ground" and dissipate all the negativities so that it can be used fresh for another ceremony at a later date.

When you keep the coverings on a Sweatlodge, the sun and rain do not have a chance to dissipate the negativities from the previous Sweatlodge ceremony, so participants end up sitting on potentially contaminated ground. It would be like taking a bath in a bathtub full of dirty bathwater that someone else has already taken a bath in. The coverings, if left on the Sweatlodge long enough, will not dry out properly and can then grow mold and mildew, develop bee and wasp nests, spiders, ants, etc. Not a healthy environment.

It will also eventually kill the grass, because of the lack of sunlight, so participants end up sitting on bare dirt and getting muddy. Because of this, some Sweatlodge owners have gone as far as putting down carpet remnants in the interior to sit on. This means that the negativities never have a chance to get broken up and dissipate in the earth, they just collect and linger in the carpet. I can't think of a more disgusting environment in which to supposedly cleanse and purify oneself.

I uncover my Sweatlodge the day after every Sweatlodge ceremony I have. I dry out the coverings then fold them and store them for the next time and pile the used rocks around the edge of the fire pit. I leave it uncovered the rest of the time, and weed-whack the interior every ten days or so depending on growth. I do not replace the coverings until the day I am going to have a Sweat. This also gives me something to do in the 3 hours it takes to heat the stones. This method is more labor intensive and time consuming, but I believe in doing it in the way I was taught. The easiest way is not always the best way.

I now have South Dakota prairie sage (Artemisia ludoviciana gnaphalodes), growing in my garden, and have enough quantity of sage that I can have fresh sage covering the ground when I do a Sweatlodge or Inipi ceremony on certain special occasions. This is the old way of doing it that I grew up with.

Lastly, some folks have asked me about the framework of the Sweatlodge. The way I was taught, after leaving tobacco offerings and saying prayers of thanks to the trees for offering themselves to be used in such a way, willow saplings about 1 inch in diameter at the base, are cut and the bark stripped off to make the framework. Traditionally, long thin strips of the bark are used to tie the crossed willows together, though sometimes bailing twine has been used instead.

There are two types of Lakota Sweatlodge frames that I am aware of, with different uses and meanings. One type uses 12 support saplings, which makes a square with an X in the middle of the square at the top of the lodge, and has one horizontal rib going around the sides. The other, larger version uses 16 support saplings, which makes a shape in the form of an eight-pointed star at the top of the lodge, and has four horizontal ribs going around the sides.

Keep in mind that this is what I know of the Lakota tradition. There are many, many tribes that follow Sweatlodge traditions, with many versions, variations and meanings. To illustrate these variations, consider that in the Lakota way of doing things, traditionally, the "spirit trail" or the "sacred path of life" is formed from dirt taken out of the stone pit, dug in the center of the Sweatlodge to hold the stones, and extends from the stone pit, out the door, and connects with the sacred mound or altar, which is also made from the same dirt. (Note: It is said that the sacred mound or altar represents the vision-quest hill.) One should never cross over it, nor should anyone, except the fire keeper, cross between the sacred mound and the fire pit.

In Ojibwa or Anishinaabe Sweatlodge traditions, often there is a straight line of cedar needles along the ground from the stone pit to the sacred mound that is not to be crossed, instead of a dirt path.

In Cheyenne Sweatlodge traditions, often there is a shallow, straight trench that is dug, connecting the stone pit and the sacred mound.

I hope this helps.

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sunanda
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My friends who told me about them were new age hippies from the old East Germany and were involved in the global gatherings that used to take place (maybe still do.)

RAINBOW GATHERINGS! (I just remembered.)

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Historian
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I hope this helps.

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Crowan
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I hope this helps.

You hope what helps?

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Historian
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The information...

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Crowan
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The information...

But it was six years ago!

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