Every sweat lodge experience is different. Ceremony themes will vary depending on the season or intention. Before agreeing to do a sweat it is good to know what rules there may be and what is expected of you. You may be asked to fast or refrain from consuming caffeine or alcohol for a day before the sweat. Also, some sweats are done in the nude, so being aware of any rules ahead of time means there wll be no surprises. Basically, the host or lodge leader serves as the master of ceremonies and the sweat participants follow his instructions throughout the sweat proceedings.
My First Sweat Lodge ExperienceIn May of 1997 the members of the meditation group I belonged to was invited to participate in a ceremonial sweat. This particular sweat was intentioned to be in Gratitude to our Earth Mother, Gaia and a celebration of the Spring season. This intention was appropriate with Mother's Day approaching on the week-end. This purification ritual was held to honor our Earth Mother as well as all our blood mothers and grandmothers from past and future generations.
Sweat Lodge Pre-FastBill Dopke, our host and guide, recommended that all the sweat participants eat a light breakfast, but to skip lunch and supper on the day of the sweat. The sweat was scheduled to begin around 8pm. About two hours prior to the sweat ceremony I realized that my body required some nourishment so I allowed myself a plain roll and a handful of grapes rather than fasting. My anticipation was high. I was excited about getting to experience my very first sweat.
The group of us walked the short trail from Bill's river home entering the timberlands on his property in Illinois. In silence we made passageway to the Native American styled ceremonial lodge he had built with his own hands. We came to a clearing of trees with wooden stakes marking North, South, East, and West. Each marker had a ceramic mask nailed to the stakes. These masks were artworks of our host, a sculptor. In the center of the clearing a burning fire greeted us with its warmth, as did the wind, and the swaying tree branches above our heads.
Offering Blessings and GratitudeWe each tossed a pinch of tobacco into the fire as an offering to show gratitude to Gaia. We also rang a bell to invite the forest sprites to join us in our celebration. We gave oral blessings to our mothers, our grandmothers, and our great-grandmothers.
We took turns smudging each other's auras with the smoke from a smouldering mountain sage wand, breathing its woodsy and sagey fragrance into our lungs. We each were given a twig of fresh sage to grasp inside our palms as we prepared to enter the lodge.
Entering the Sweat LodgeWe each took a curious peek inside the lodge. In the center of the lodge we saw where the earth had been scooped out to make room for the heated river rocks. Earlier in the day Bill had gathered rocks from the waters of the Mississippi River and placed them under the fire he had set ablaze. Bill now gathered the red-hot rocks from beneath the fire and carefully carried them one by one with his shovel through the doorway of the lodge, dropping them into the center pit.
There were seven of us who crawled into the small man-built dome-shaped shelter. Others remained outside of the lodge to watch over the fire and make themselves available if anyone needed assistance during or after the sweat. I sat cross-legged with my head and shoulders hunched over slightly since the ceiling of the lodge was very low. My discomfort was immediate. I wondered if I would be able to endure the full forty or more minutes that the ceremony would last. I sure hoped so. I was seated smack in the middle of the lodge. The only way I would be able to get out was to ask three other people to crawl out of the lodge ahead of me to make a passageway for me to exit.
- In the darkness our voices sang out:
Ancient Mother, We hear you calling
Ancient Mother, We hear your song
Ancient Mother, We hear your laughter
Ancient Mother, We taste your tears
Medicine Wheel TotemsOne by one, we each invited the Native American medicine wheel animal totems to communicate with us.
- The Bear
- The Buffalo
- The Eagle
- The Mouse