Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Indigenous Sweat Lodge

By: Casey Bucher

Courtesy of Professor Davey’s history class, I have become very knowledgeable, as of late, on indigenous sweat lodges. Sweat lodges are used for old traditional native ceremonies that are still being used today. The practice of sweating has been known to symbolize the purification of the body, mind, and spirit so that a new sense of self may become present. There are several styles of sweat lodges that include a domed or oblong hut or even a simple hole dug into the ground and covered with planks or tree trunks. Stones are typically heated in an exterior fire and then placed in a central pit in the ground. The stones used in the ceremony play a strong role by their position and order of placement.  The first stone placed is the center stone, followed by the East stone. The Eastern direction is represented by the eagle. The eagle is strong carrying the prayers to the “great spirit”. The third stone is the South.  This stone represents the summer and the coyote/wolf spirit. These carry love, emotion, community, and introspection. The fourth stone placed in the direction West, represented by the fall season. Winter is expressed through the fifth stone to the North. This is the direction of wisdom and sacrifice, where the elders sit. After these five stones are placed, seven more are added to make a total of twelve.  In the ceremony, twelve is a significant number since there are twelve moons, twelve months, twelve tail feathers on the eagle, etc. Along with the heated stones, tree saplings and blankets make up the features of an indigenous sweat lodge.  The saplings are set in the ground in a circle, tied together to form a rounded frame. The blankets are then added to block out all light and trap heat. The door to the lodge is built low so one has to enter on their knees. This is a humbling reminder to understand that we are no greater or lesser than other life-forms. Once the stones are added to the pit, the door is closed and prayers and songs are offered. There are usually four rounds of this ceremony, one that honors each cardinal direction, which is also honored through the stone placement as mentioned before. 

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