The Sweat Lodge has been called ‘the most powerful structure in the world’. It is a place specifically constructed to conduct ceremony. Sweats vary from purification, and cleansing to healing sweats. It is said that the Sweat Lodge during ceremony responds to what the participants need.
Other types of sweats include clan sweats such as Bear clan sweats, sweats for fasters before and after they fast sweats for sun dances and sweats when you seek your spirit name.
In some traditions, the women sweats together at one time and the men sweat at together at another time as well.
Fire & Altar
As you approach the sweat lodge you first come to the altar and the sacred fire where the rocks which are called the Grandmothers and the Grandfathers, are heated for the sweat. One of the teachings of the fire is that when we leave this earth, we have to go through fire to get the the spirit world. It takes only a second and all the impurities that we have gathered while on earth have been removed.
Both the fire and the altar are in line with the door of the lodge.
A sweat lodge is a dome-shaped structure. When people talk about the lodge they talk about entering the womb of Mother Earth.
The direction of the doorway that the people enter differs according to the teachings of the conductor. One conductors teachings may specify that the doorway faces east. Another teachings will require that the doorway face south because his or her teachings and medicine came from the south. The teachings of another lodge specify that the direction of the doorway change throughout the year. This four direction lodge would face each direction for three months of the year.
The frame of the sweat lodge is made of a specific number of red willow, ash, birch, maple and jack pine saplings. Some teachings refer to the frame as the ribs of Mother Earth. Tobacco is placed at the base of the hole that each pole is set into.
In the past, the frame would be covered with buffalo or deer hide. Today, canvas tarps and blankets are used. The coverings keep the light out and the heat in.
Once the lodge is constructed, a ceremony is held before the first sweat takes place.
Inside The Lodge
Inside the sweat lodge, the participants sit in a circle around the central fire pit. The sweat lodge conducted usually sits at one side of the door and may have other participants sit in the four directions of the lodge. The number of people attending the ceremony varies depending on the reason for the sweat.
Grandmothers and Grandfathers
A fire keeper tends the sacred fire that is outside of the lodge. At the request of the conductor, the fire keeper brings the Grandmothers and Grandfathers to the lodge door. They are then placed in the pit at the centre of the lodge by the conductors helper. Even though the fire keeper is not inside the sweat lodge, he is very much a part of the ceremony and may receive cleansing, teachings and healing.
In some teachings, the rocks are known as the bones of Mother Earth. Women call the rocks Grandmothers and men call them Grandfathers.
In one tradition, teachings describe four-lodges-in-one where the number of rocks is specified for each type of sweat. Seven rocks are used in the cleansing sweat, fourteen rocks are used in the healing sweat, twenty one rocks are used in the hunting sweat and twenty eight rocks are used in the truth sweat.
When you enter the sweat lodge you are seeking help from the Creator and the spirits. The helping spirits are called into the sweat lodge by means of prayers, songs, drums or shakers. A drum, either a hand drum or a water drum, is an important item in the ceremony because the drum os made from all of Creation. The sound of the drum is like the heartbeat of Mother Earth.
Songs and prayers are offered during the ceremony. Sometimes a pipe is used.
Each person has a chance to speak or pray within the lodge. Cedar water is poured on the Grandmothers and Grandfathers creating a cleansing steam in the lodge.
At the end of the ceremony, the spirits are thanked and then sent home.
When you come out of the sweat lodge your spirit feels new and alive. You can feel the healing energies and you are more aware of all Creation and the beauty that is there.
Sweat Lodge Conductors
Sweat lodge conductors are men or women who have trained for many years to earn the right to conduct sweats. They have received the teachings and have gone through ceremonies to develop the gift that is given to them.
The sweat lodge conductor knows the protocol and history of his or her lodge. They are able to explain it clearly and concisely when asked.
It is important that the sweat lodge conductor is aware of health issues you may have before you enter the lodge.
He or she is also able to assist you with your experiences in the sweat lodge.
Preparations for a Sweat
When you request a sweat, an offering of tobacco is made to the sweat conductor.
Some sweat lodge conductors say you should abstain from alcohol and drugs for at least fours day while others say seven days.
Resources:Anishnawbe Health Toronto: Jake Aguohia, Garnett Councillor, Harlan Down Wind, Roger Jones, Rose Logan, Mary Louie, Dorothy Sam, Nelson (Sugar Bear) Shognosh, Geraldine Standup & Ella Waukey
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