["A Blessing from the Thunderbird Sweatlodge"
When I wrote recently about attending a pow wow, dbs of think.stew commented that he regretted missing a chance to experience a sweat lodge. That made me think of the one occasion when I was lucky enough to have had that opportunity, so perhaps this is a good time to write about it.
First, a bit of background info for anyone who might be unfamiliar with this First Nations spiritual practice. A sweat lodge is a round, low, dome-shaped tent built on a strong framework of bent willow branches. Traditionally, it is covered in many thick blankets or animal skins, although heavy tarps are commonly used today.
At the centre of the sweat lodge is a round, sunken firepit in which large red-hot rocks (called "grandfathers") are placed. The rocks are heated outside in an intense blaze tended by a firekeeper, who uses a pitchfork to carry the rocks inside the sweat lodge once they are hot enough.
You enter the sweat lodge through a small opening which is then closed with a flap. People sit in a circle around the firepit on cedar or pine boughs or blankets. Traditionally, people were naked inside the sweat lodge but today, they usually wear loose fitting cotton t-shirts, shorts or nighties. No jewelry, glasses or metal clothing accessories (like zippers) are allowed because of the intense heat.
A sweat lodge should be built and operated only under the supervision and control of a trained, experienced leader. First Nations observe this rule carefully but sometimes insufficiently-trained "new age" practitioners do not. People have sometimes died in those sweat lodges due to dehydration, heart attacks or smoke inhalation. Be sure to check the credentials of anyone putting on such an event. Sweat lodges (like saunas, steam rooms and hot tubs) are not recommended for anyone with high blood pressure or heart problems.
Wednesday's post will explain how I happened, quite unexpectedly, to experience a sweat lodge. The post's subject-matter will seem to take a sharply unrelated turn but trust me, one thing leads to another. Then Friday's post will explain the spiritual nature of the sweat lodge and its ritual. I knew nothing going in and was profoundly floored by its completely unanticipated impact.
Next post: Hymns Old and New -- Spirit of Life