Sunday, October 17, 2004


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sweatman said...

My name is Tim. I live in Washington State in the U.S.A.
I am of mostly Irish heritage, but grew up around Native American culture. I practice native spirituality with traditional elders (Lakota mostly).

Outside the peyote cults (a relatively recent arrivial on the Northern Plains), and occasional experimenters, there is no drug use in Lakota "sweatlodges". In fact even the Peyote Church doesn't normally use that "medicine" in an inipi (sweat-lodge) ceremony. I am very familiar with Lakota, Blackfoot, Annishnabe, Dineh, Salish, and Cheyenne culture: none of them traditionally used mind-altering drugs with the possible exception of tobacco in their ceremonies. Some individuals played around with them especially in the past 200 years, but they are not a part of traditional spirituality especially in the sweatlodge.

We go into a sweat-lodge for many reasons. The one reason was alluded to in a photo caption in your article where the entrance to the lodge recalled a passage-tomb. We go in the lodge to be reborn, which of course necessitates death.

As a newcomer to these ways and a person who has used drugs to expand my consciousness (with mixed results), it seems to me that drugs do not enhance the experience of an inipi ceremony. Rather they make it difficult to perceive the spirits who are called to that dark and womblike place. Psylocibes and cannibis make it difficult to tell the difference between a personal vision or hallucination, and a manifestation of the presence of a "visitor".

That is the second reason we go into a sweat-lodge: to commune with the spirits of ancestors and non-human benefactors or protectors. And the third and perhaps most important reason is to pray to our creator in thanks - for a good ceremony, for good health and happiness, and for the divine to regard us as grandchildren (and whatever else we want to pray about)...

I liked your article, and the last speculation about 'burnt-mounds' being sweatlodge-remains sounds about right. I'm very interested in what my ancestors may have used the sweatlodge for. I do not doubt that they used psilocybes in them. However, drugs are not necessary for interacting with other worlds and the beings in them. Experiences that we consider unusual or fantastic are not necessarily the product of drug-induced hallucinations. I'd go so far as to say that the reason we consider them fantastic and unusual is a product of our delusions and the great "disremembering" you refer to.

As a young man I used drugs to shake up my delusional and narrow perception of the universe. In the absence of elders and genuine spiritual traditions this was a great gift. However, now that I am in the presence of elders and good spiritual ways that are now being rekindled but never were forgotten, my former drug-use still clouds my perception of the spirit world. The farther I get from it the more able I am to see the spirits and receive their teachings.

questman said...

I want to correct one of the definitions about the sweat lodges on the American continent. They were not used as rites of passage from boyhood to manhood.

There are different types of lodges for different purposes.
The main purpose is for spiritual and physical purification. A sacred fire is built where the stones are heated to red hot. The leader of the lodge, man or woman, will go in first and always in a clockwise direction. All are smudged on entering the sacred circle which contains the lodge.

There is a 40' circle at the lodge here on this land that is composed of rocks from past lodges. Smudging is the cleansing of negative energy through the smoke. Sage, Sweet-grass, Cedar and Copal resin are used, depending on availability.
Trading also took place for these sacred items, and still does among Indigenous Nations.

The leader calls in those who wish to swear and they enter clockwise as well until all are inside. The firekeeper will hand in rocks as requested and the door or flap will be closed. Songs and chants are sung, requests are asked of the Great Mystery and this will continue around the circle of people sitting round the pit filled with the hot rocks.

Each time someone is finished, more water will be poured onto the stones. There are usually four 'rounds', but the length will vary according to the number of people - and the leader. Sometime people will jump into water if it is near: standing water is preferred, as moving water is thought to carry away the energy gained.

Some people and traditions will only sweat with males or with
females. Some do mixed lodges as well. When there is a mixed lodge, the people will enter alternately: man, woman, man woman and so on. This is to balance out the male/female energies.

There were war lodges and of course they would consist of male warriors.
There are lodges from the Sundance, one at dawn and in the evening after the 4th round of dancing is completed. The four days of dancing during the Sundance, each day with our rounds of dance, is done entirely without food or water. The spirit and energy of the Sundance is very powerful and this energy can be felt plainly unto the very end. It is a dance where the energies of spirit serves as food
and water. Lodges are very important for this ceremony.

Sweat lodges are also entered before going into the Vision Quest, and after coming out from the traditional 4 day quest. I have done many sweat lodges and it is never a test of endurance. It is the purification of mind, body and spirit. You indeed feel cleansed afterwards. I've done lodges in summer
and winter and have known Elders with high blood pressure to sweat, with wonderful results healthwise.