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Sweat Lodge Ceremony, Part Two
Writing anything about the sweat lodge is difficult. For one thing, calling this ceremony a sweat lodge is a misnomer. In most Native languages the word ‘sweat’ does not even appear. The more common Lakota term (which is the word most non-natives are familiar with) is Inipi. Inipi is a shortened version of the older Lakota term Oinikagapi, which means, literally, the making over of the life force lodge, or the renewal of the life force lodge. These days it is more commonly called the purification lodge. This term, as well as other Native terms refers to the cleansing and purification part. Grandpa Wallace called it the ‘Stone People Lodge’ because the stones were the real elders, the ones really in control of the ceremony.
It is good to remember that this common ceremony, done by a majority of Native peoples in North American (as well as Central and South America, parts of Europe such as ancient Greece, old Ireland, and the Sami people of Lappland) is not about your endurance to heat. It is about how you humble yourself and pray.
In the lodge you get on your hands and knees, in the pitch dark, to call out to the unseen powers. They see you, they hear you, and they feel you when you pray with focus and sincerity. When you join with the old songs (because singing is our oldest form of praying) the spiritual worlds see you and help you. Too forget this is to forget the original meaning of this ceremony, the purification of your spirit.
In any given tribe ‘sweats’ were done for many reasons; as preparation for other ceremonies such as the Vision Quest or the Sun Dance. Sweats were also done for healing or as a ceremony in and of itself.
In some traditions they had particular altars for each different ceremony. Grandpa Wallace said, among the Lakota there were at least 33 different altars. It is good to remember that praying and singing is a part if all of them.
I can tell you of some different articles or sections of books that will give you a good description of sweat lodge. However, nothing, no chapter, no lecture and no video could give you even one tenth of what first crawling into a sweat lodge is really like. The experience, with a competent and experienced sweat lodge power (leader) is the only real way to know this ceremony. I can also tell you that after 40 years of sweat lodge experience, that no two are alike. It is an ancient way and a unique way. Hau!
About the Author
Steve began his spiritual journey while still in his teen years and has followed his path ever since. He is descended from the Lenapi people. He holds a masters degree in anthropology (Native American studies) and has taught in colleges and universities for many years. Although he holds a masters degree, most of his education has come from a variety of tribal spiritual leaders such as Wallace Black Elk, Frank Fools Crow, John Fire Lamedeer, Buck Ghosthorse and many others. Steve was trained in the old ways by these wise elders and has been a sweat lodge leader (as well as a leader of many other ceremonies) for over 31 years. To sit in ceremony with Steve is truly an honor as well as a powerful spiritual experience.
For more information, or to ask Steve questions please use our "Contact Us" page. We look forward to hearing from you!