The Sweat Lodge Ceremony - An Aboriginal Healing Tool

By Sandra Laframboise
Reviewed by
Elder Frank Supernault and Elder Kelly Running Wolf
Edited by: Michael Colin Caulkins and Karen Sherbina

The Legend

The Piegan tribe was southernmost at the headwaters of the Missouri River in Montana, a subtribe belonging to the Siksika Indians of North Saskatchewan in Canada. Piegans were of the Algonquian linguistic family, but warlike toward most of their neighbouring tribes, since they had horses for raiding and were supplied with guns and ammunition by their Canadian sources. Piegans also displayed hostility toward explorers and traders. Several smallpox epidemics decimated their population. Now they are gathered on reservations on both sides of the border.

A girl of great beauty, the Chief's daughter,
was worshipped by many young handsome tribesman.

One young tribesman was very poor and his face was marked with an ugly scar. Although he saw rich and handsome men of his tribe rejected by the Chief's daughter, he decided to find out if she would have him for her husband. When she laughed at him for even asking, he ran away toward the south in shame.

After traveling several days, he dropped to the ground, weary and hungry, and fell asleep. From the heavens, Morning-Star looked down and pitied the young unfortunate youth, knowing his trouble.

To Sun and Moon, his parents, Morning-Star said, "There is a poor young man lying on the ground with no one to help him. I want to go after him for a companion."

"Go and get him," said his parents.

Morning-Star carried the young man, Scarface, into the sky. Sun said, "Do not bring him into my lodge yet, for he smells ill. Build four sweat lodges."

When this was done, Sun led Scarface into the first sweat lodge. He asked Morning-Star to bring a hot coal on a forked stick. Sun then broke off a bit of sweet grass and placed it upon the hot coal. As the incense arose Sun began to sing, "Old Man is coming in with his body; it is sacred," repeating it four times.

Sun passed his hands back and forth through the smoke and rubbed them over the face, left arm, and side of Scarface. Sun repeated the ceremony on the boy's right side, purifying him and removing the odours of earthly people.

Sun took Scarface into the other three sweat lodges, performing the same healing ceremony. The body of Scarface changed color and he shone like a yellow light.

Using a soft feather, Sun brushed it over the youth's face, magically wiping away the scar. With a final touch to the young man's long, yellow hair, Sun caused him to look exactly like Morning-Star. The two young men were led by Sun into his own lodge and placed side by side in the position of honor.

"Old Woman," called the father. "Which is your son?"

Moon pointed to Scarface, "That one is our son."

"You do not know your own child," answered Sun.

"He is not our son. We will call him Mistaken-for-Morning-Star," as they all laughed heartily at the mistake.

The two boys were together constantly and became close companions. One day, they were on an adventure when Morning-Star pointed out some large birds with very long, sharp beaks.

"Foster-Brother, I warn you not to go near those dangerous creatures," said Morning-Star. "They killed my other brothers with their beaks."

Suddenly the birds chased the two boys. Morning-Star fled toward his home, but Foster-Brother stopped, picking up a club and one by one struck the birds dead.

Upon reaching home, Morning-Star excitedly reported to his father what had happened. Sun made a victory song honouring the young hero. In gratitude for saving Morning-Star's life, Sun gave him the forked stick for lifting hot embers and a braid of sweet grass to make incense. These sacred elements necessary for making the sweat lodge ceremony were a gift of trust.

"And this my sweat lodge I give to you," said the Sun. Mistaken-for-Morning-Star observed very carefully how it was constructed, in his mind preparing himself to one day returning to earth.

When Scarface did arrive at his tribal village, all of his people gathered to see the handsome young man in their midst. At first, they did not recognize him as Scarface.

"I have been in the sky," he told them. "Behold me, Morning-Star looks just like this. The Sun gave me these things used in the sweat lodge healing ceremony. That is how I lost my ugly scar."

Scarface explained how the forked stick and sweet grass were used. Then he set to work showing his people how to make the sweat lodge. This is how the first medicine sweat lodge was built upon earth by the Piegan tribe.

Now that Scarface was so very handsome and brought such a great blessing of healing to his tribe, the Chief's beautiful daughter became his wife.

In remembrance of Sun's gift to Scarface and his tribe, the Piegans always make the sweat lodge healing ceremony an important part of their annual Sun Dance Celebration.

The History

Saunas and Sweat lodges have a long historical tradition in many parts of the world: most of Ireland, Finland, much of Europe, Russia, Africa, Japan, the Mediterranean and the Middle East each has had their own version of the Sweat lodge or sauna. In many of these places, the health benefits of sweat baths have long been known, and these benefits include cleansing the toxins out of your body; extreme heat kills bacteria’s and viruses. In conjunction with this physical revitalization, spiritual renewal and purification of the mind, soul and spirit are other important purposes resulting from regular sweat lodge use (D. Joseph Alderson).

Spiritual renewal and purification of body, mind, soul and spirit are the major purposes and benefits resulting from regular sweat lodge use (D. Joseph Alderson).

In one form or another, the sweat bath has been practiced in many Native North American Tribes, from the Inuit in the north, to the Navajo in the Midwest, the Sioux/Lakota/Cree in the plains, the Mickmaq in the East and all the way down south into the land of the Mayans (Bruchac). This sacred religious/healing ceremony has been in practice for thousands of years. The purpose usually went far beyond cleaning the body. The sweat bath (Sweat lodge) provided a cure for illness, revitalization for aching muscles, and a sense of identity for Natives participating in and reclaiming their culture. It heals the mind, the body, the emotions and the soul. Finally the Sweat lodge is a holy place where we can connect and communicate with Creator (God), the Spirit Helpers (comparable to the angels and others depending on your spiritual or religious practices) and our ancestors (our grandmothers and grandfathers and all the generations who came before us).

(Reproduced from internet;
George Catlin's drawing of the Mandan's sweat lodge in 1845.
From Sweat,copyright Mikkel Aaland)

European settlers saw the Sweat lodge, with its sacred cultural and religious implications, as a threat. Even after Natives were forced onto reservations, Christian missionaries and government officials systematically denied the use of the Sweat lodge and other rituals, in an effort to eradicate practices thatrevitalized this millennium-old culture (Bruchac). In Canada we saw the government introduce an Act of Parliament in 1876, called the Indian Act, which was the first act that governed the Natives (also called First Nations of Canada) and outlawed all of the ceremonial practices. It summarily gave authority to the Christian religious bodies at the time to colonize the ‘savages,’ a derogatory name given to us, in order to make us good Christians. The residential schools were also invented around this time, where thousands of Native children were forcibly taken out of their communities and brought to large centralized schools for cultural assimilation. Enforcement depended upon how great a threat was felt from a particular tribe.

In doing so, the government of Canada attempted to destroy the culture of the First Nation people. We endured and our tribal rituals and way of living survived through the early 20th century.

With many European settlers and westward-moving adventurers chronicling first-hand accounts of the clandestine practices the sweat lodge ceremonies(remember they were outlawed), along with many other ceremonial rituals, a great number have survived colonization and therefore are able to be performed today. Now that First Nations peoples and their ceremonies have been protected under the 1985 Constitution of Canada, we are beginning to see a re-emergence of the practice of sweat lodge ceremonies, and interestingly now enjoy participation by many non-native peoples.

There are many different types of Sweat lodge structures and variations and meanings of the Sweat lodge depending on the Tribe whose ceremonies you are following. However, all of the sweat lodge ceremonies have a similar effect and some universal meanings to Native people; these are physical and spiritual healing, and a holy place for the offering of our prayers to the Creator.

Some Sweat lodges were made out of willow poles covered with birch bark or animal skins.  Others were built down into the earth or on the side of a mountain, and sometimes they were made in a more solid way and therefore more permanent with rocks as a base and the walls built of wooden planks (Bruchac). Today the two most popular and widespread Sweatlodge structure and ceremonies are that of the Lakota People and the Plains Cree.

picture reproduce from internet
Crow Sweat Lodge
reproduced from internet

In recent years, the Sweat lodge has come to be widely used as a prayer ritual separate from other rites. It has achieved the status of principle rite, meaning that this is the main prayer and healing ceremony among many Native Americans groups. It is sometimes a way in which Native Americans offer to share their spirituality with non-Native Americans, as was noted above.

The Sweat lodge is used as a place of teaching, planning, praying, singing, and communing with others. Furthermore, a sweat is often performed in preparation for other rites, and as a means of returning to the non-ritual world after the completion of other holy ceremonies such as the Sun Dance, the Ghost Dance or the Winter Dance  ceremonies.

The Sweat lodge structure, the ceremony and it’s full meaning and the healing effect that will be describe in this paper are based in Cree Teachings as my Elder of 18 years is a Cree Man from High Prairie Alberta and my ancestral land is of the great Algonquin Tribe of the Odawa people.  My family origin is believed to be from Kitigan Zibi also known as Maniwaki Reserve.  This reserve is on the border of the Province of Quebec and Ontario along the Ottawa River.

1880 Photo - Buffalo Sweat Lodge Frame, 1878
Navajo Sweat Lodge In Arizona
Navajo Sweat Lodge In Upper California

The Sweat Lodge Structure and Location

Sandra Laframboise and the Sweat lodge structure at Maple Ridge, British Columbia site - 2004

Sweat lodges often take the form of a small dome-shaped structure constructed from bent willows, which is then covered with blankets. Alternatively, the structure can be made of stacked wood which is then covered with dirt or hides that encloses the space in order to hold the heat for a sweat lodge ceremony. Once this structure is completed it has many different meanings for different tribes. The Lakota call it Inipi (Black Elk).

An important part of the ritual of building a Sweat lodge structure is choosing the right location. The picture of the Sweat lodge above stands across from a creek, down in a small valley-like area on private land. My Elder Frank Supernault moved onto the owner's land in early 1992. Fortunately there was another Elder living in one of the dwellings who happened to lead sweats occasionally down by that same creek. With numerous offerings of gifts to honour the land owners and the traditional tribe of that area, we were able to build the site up over several years to the point where it now has a change room for women and a change room for men, as well as a covered shed for wood. At our site, a Sweat lodge ceremony has been held at least once a week for just under 17 years now.

We knew we had the right spot when all involved said Yes, this feels right. Over the years, and sometimes during ceremonies, black bears, deer, coyote, owls, eagles, hawks, ravens, blue herons, snow geese, and swans have come to visit us. All of these sightings seem to support our claim that we have chosen the right location to do ceremonies, and we believe we have been blessed strongly by the spirit of those visiting animals to do the important work of healing and prayers for the world.

The materials needed to build a Sweat lodge structure are extremely important, and in themselves carry many significant meanings. Throughout the process of building a Sweat lodge structure, great reverence and honour must be taken by the individuals involved; respect and prayers are the theme and motto to live by and the spoken words must give life through action or we might bring ill will or physical illness to the people who use the lodge.

Many of these practices and beliefs are based on legends and old stories which traditionally have been an important way of passing our culture on to future generations. Based on Cree Teachings, the Lodge structure that I use is not a permanent structure and usually gets rebuilt in the spring time(our time of renewal and planting). This represents the impermanence of life and that entities are forever evolving and changing. Our structure is built from tree saplings that we find on the land where we will make the lodge, and we feel very fortunate as we do not need to travel far to locate these materials.

Each spring a group of us will gather for the rebuilding, we then do a smudging ceremony (a process which involves burning herbs and the symbolic washing of the body with the smoke created from those burning herbs), we verbally set our intentions and say some prayers. Then, led by prayers, we go to the specific site of the saplings we are going to use for the Sweat lodge structure. Once the saplings are found we offer tobacco. Tobacco is said to be one of the plants with the highest energetic frequencies. It has the power to announce our intentions to other plants, and the smoke of the tobacco travels to Creator. In this way, tobacco informs the Creator of our prayers and intentions. Each person offers a pinch of tobacco to the sapling whose life they are about to take. Again, here we believe that the earth is alive and that we are related to everything, and therefore we must come in a humble and respectful way to ask permission to do this act and explain ourselves in prayers as to why we want to kill one of our relations to build a structure to pray in.

The lodges I build and that I teach others to build use 16 willow saplings crisscrossing each other, with each intersection being tied with cloth to hold it in place. We then use more willow saplings to make a circle around the structure.  Normally in total we use 28 willows or saplings to form the beautiful dome shape structure of the lodge.

The structure is normally built with willows because it grows mostly along river banks and already has a special relationship with water (Bruchac). However, depending on the area you are in and the availability of willows, other flexible saplings can be used, such as the vine maple.

Navajo Sweat Lodge in Arizona

By this point we have also created a hole in the center of the lodge, and we have used the dirt from the hole to create a sacred mound in front of the structure. In front of the mound we have created a fire pit with which to heat up the rocks which we will use in our sweat ceremony. We then cover he Sweat lodge structure with many blankets. In our traditional ways, several hundred years ago, people would use buffalo skins, moose hides, and possibly even bear skins (Bruchac).

What this structure represents for me and for those I teach is the womb of mother Earth. Through the teachings of my Elders I believe that we are related to all living things, and that the earth is alive. By building a round dome shape upon her of saplings, the structure looks like her ribs or her belly. Once it is covered and we go inside, it is as if we go back in time through the birth canal and are alone in the darkness of her womb, being fed, getting rid of our garbage and in direct communication with Creator.

Completed Sweat lodge structure during a renewal ceremony
in spring of 2005 (note sacred mound)

The Sweat Lodge Structure and Ceremonies within

Once the Sweat lodge structure is built and ready for use, there are many other rituals to be followed within the Sweat lodge ceremony that adds other dimensions to the overall ritual. The sweat lodge and other rituals, although intimately interconnected, can each be practiced on their own. However, when other ceremonies are done within the sweat lodge ceremony, it enhances the individual's sense of connectedness to the Sacred Divine Energies, which might also be called Creator.

A Sweat lodge ceremony, for the Elder leading the ceremony, usually starts long before the day of ceremony. The Elder usually begins thinking of the ceremony 7 days before the ceremony itself, and starts paying attention to all of his or her surroundings, events that are unfolding around them, feelings, and dreams. All of this helps in setting the intentions for the ceremony. For most of the participants, however, the ceremony starts once the sacred fire is lit. The ceremony I lead and those I have taught starts when you show up on the sacred grounds.

We normally gather early on the day of the ceremony, then we have the first smudging ceremony (a ritual that uses smoke from sacred herbs to purify oneself) and announce who we are and state our intentions for the day. Then the work needed to prepare the Sweat lodge ceremony is shared. Usually this entails cutting the wood, removing the rocks from inside the Sweat lodge structure prior to lighting a new fire for the day's ceremony. Also important is the choosing of the Grandmothers and Grandfathers also known as rocks in a prayerful manner and the building of the sacred wood altar in the way of sacred instruction from the Elder leading the ceremony.

We use the name of Grandmother and Grandfather for those specific rocks that we use in the ceremony because we believe that the rocks are people and hold the knowledge of our ancestors. In our belief system, when we die our bodies go to the Earth Mother and our spirit goes to the Sky Father to be near Creator, Grandfather Sun and Grandmother Moon. When Father Sky cries upon the earth (known as rain, also known as the male water), Mother earth takes this water, along with the ashes of our body, deep within her and moulds them with her fire into these beautiful rocks which then become th holder of our history and our ancestors. When we heat them through ceremonial fire we bring them back to life in a different form and we pray with/for them. If we are focused enough and sensitive enough, we also may receive messages from them.

The number of rocks used in ceremonies varies depending upon the Sweat lodge leaders (also known as Elders or Medicine people) and the intentions of the ceremony. I personally prefer my sweats to be very hot, and therefore use an unusually high number of rocks between 52 and 72 rocks in total during the ceremony. I have used as few as 4 rocks, but those are usually performed under very special circumstances, and are therefore rare.

Once all of this is done and the fire is roaring, then there is a second circle where all of the participants share their prayers and intentions. The individuals usually share why they have come to purify and what help they are seeking from the Creator. Usually the Elder leading the ceremony will also share some insights and knowledge, and might give a name to someone or share a vision that they have received.

There usually is no cost for attending a Sweat lodge ceremony. However, because this is a Holy ceremony it is customary to offer gifts to the Elder and offerings for prayers. These offerings are normally prayer prints of any of the 4 colours of the 4 directions accompanied by a pouch of tobacco as an offering and a protection.

These prayer cloths are usually 1 meter by 1 meter of cotton or poly-cotton. The colours used in sweat lodge ceremonies have meaning and differ from tribe to tribe. However there are four that remain true across most Native Tribes and that is the colours associated with the 4 cardinal directions. These are yellow for the East and the yellow people; red in the South and for the red people; black in the West for the black people and white in the North for the white nation. Depending on also what you are seeking, you would bring a specific colour. However when attending the Sweat lodge ceremony for the 1st time it is safe to assume that red cloth would be the general offering.

This is where I believe some people have misinterpreted our practices and taken advantage of others, specifically by charging people a lot of money for something we normally share out of compassion. When you attend Sweat lodge ceremonies often you regularly support and honour the Elder in different ways (i.e., a beautiful gift of honouring, ensuring the Elder has enough money to live and be comfortable, share food with the Elder and ensure that their needs are met). Remember that these actions should be considered a sacrifice for the betterment of yourself and your community. These offerings are made right after the talking circle or when directed by the Elders' helper or when meeting the Elder. You would do this also if this is your first time and you just want to experience a Native American Sweat lodge ceremony.

The loading and offering of the peace pipe is the final step before entering the Sweat lodge structure and starting the purification process. Some Elders will light the pipe and smoke before entering the lodge. Others will light the pipe inside the lodge during the 1st, 2nd or 3rd endurance. Some Elders will smoke the pipe at the end of the ceremonies marking the end of the ceremony.

Once this part is determined and the elder has entered into the lodge, he or she will then ask people to enter into the lodge. Usually the persons entering would do so in great reverence by putting themselves on their knees and announcing themselves by saying "All my Relations". Then they would crawl on their hands and knees to the place they would be sitting for the duration of the ceremony.

Loincloths, tennis shorts or swimming trunks are the preferred clothing for men. For the women it is usually shorts and a t-shirt or a dress. Participants may wear, or carry in with them special stones, crystals, or other significant objects like drums, feathers or rattles. It is up to the Elder of that ceremony to give the permission for these articles to be brought into the lodge; therefore the participants would need to ask in advance what is acceptable for a particular sweat.

Once the ceremony group has entered and is seated around the stone pit, the main action of the ceremony is ready to begin. If the leader has an assistant or a singer, that person sits on the opposite side from where the Elder sits, usually by the doorway. If a fire tender is stationed outside, then that person will serve as a doorkeeper and water tender as well sitting in on the ceremonies inside the lodge. All of these particular protocols depend upon the discretion of the person leading the ceremony.

Before a ceremony, a fire tender should be briefed on the safe handling of the stones. A pitchfork is preferred to a shovel for bringing the stones into the lodge as it prevents glowing coals from being carried along, which create discomforting smoke within the lodge. A shovel is preferred for fire tending at the fireplace site, especially when the glowing coals have to be kept over the stones to keep them hot for a second endurance. In the old days, elk horns or deer horns were used for pitchforks and shovels.

The lodge leader calls upon the doorkeeper to drop the flap covering the lodge opening, usually a thick blanket, after the previously determined number of stones have been brought in. At this point the lodge becomes completely dark, and the lodge leader uually asks for a short, contemplative silence. Opening songs are sang, medicines are sprinkled on the hot rocks which we call the Grandfathers and Grandmothers, and then water is poured on the hot rocks. The individuals are then said to be alone in the Universe with the Creator and we are in connection with the laws of the Universe.

In my language we welcome the Grandmothers and Grandfathers by saying,
"Boujou Mushum Boujou Kokum"
(welcome grandfather, welcome grandmother)

The lodge is dark and quiet. The participants see only the glowing red-orange stones within the lodge. Some may see within those stones spiritual images that have waited since time immemorial. These stones have been energized by Father Sky, by the fire, which in turn has come from the trees who gave of themselves to be part of our ceremony, and whose life energy came from the sun. From this cycle we know that the sun is an important part of Father Sky, and all of creation is a part of the great Oneness. Long ago these rocks were created by the One, and the images reflected from them were placed there purposely by the Creator, specifically for the participants' perception at that particular moment in time. A sweat lodge ceremony can thus begin with deep, meaningful, refreshing and insightful power.

Before the first dipper of water is poured on the rocks, the leader normally assures all participants within the lodge that anyone is free to leave at any time. Anyone who becomes frightened or fearful should try to endure or try to summon courage to stay, but at times there are some people who cannot endure a sweat lodge ceremony.  If this is the case, the participant should simply call out "All my relations please open the door" and then wait for the Elder to instruct the doorkeeper to open the door. When this happens, the ceremony will be halted temporarily so that person can carefully leave through the door once it is open. The person stays out while the endurance of that part is done and then the participant can go back inside to try and do another round of endurance.

The Process of the Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Once the rocks are heated and all the preparations are done then people are ready to enter the Sweat lodge and sit around the hole in the earth. The hole in the center of the structure inside is where we are going to place the hot rocks and splash water on them along with placing special herbs also called medicine.  We are going to bring rocks four times and each time this is called a door, and or an endurance or the first round.

First Endurance or First Door or First Round is dedicated to the East

The recognition of the spirit world is symbolic of the First Endurance. For some, it is time to ask the Almighty for a Spirit Guide.

The first round also known as the first endurance, according to the teaching of Dancing Two Eagle Spirit, also known as Yellow Moon Singing and Butterfly woman, acknowledges the woman spirit of all creation, including the woman spirit that is present in the male energies. It is the color yellow for the yellow nation. We therefore invite the Ancestors of the yellow nations of the world to come and teach us. This direction is in the east where the sun rises and represents a new day or a new beginning. It is the spirit of the Eagle that I call upon to come in and help us. The Eagle is one of the birds that fly high in the sky and we Native people believe that the Eagle carries our prayers to Creator. We thank the Eagle for all its representation and the ability to see far and beyond what is in front of us. This is where one would begin to focus on why they are at the lodge, the healing they are seeking, and how they can go beyond what is in front of them. Many other spirits can be placed in that direction by other healers. Remember that it is just one way and is not representative of all the different meanings that Medicine People and lodge leaders assign to this direction or any other directions. If you have any spirit helpers then call upon them to come in during the ceremony. Once songs and prayers are made, the elder calls for the door to open. Some Elders may allow water to come in and allow the people to drink. Some Elders may even allow people to take a break and leave the lodge.

Second Endurance or Second Door or Second Round is to the South

The flap is closed and the second endurance begins. The cleansing steam and the recognition of courage symbolize the second endurance.

The second endurance is in recognition of the male spirit including those present within the female energies. We call upon the spirit of the Jumping Mouse, the Wolf or the Hawk to come and help us with our prayers. We acknowledge the color red for all the red nations of the earth.  By this time, all the participants should be sweating, getting rid of their bodily toxins through their pores, the slight deprivation of air and the exposure to extreme heat have combined to help alter their state of consciousness. Depending on the state of people present, there might be an invitation to say prayers, sing songs, or the release of energy through an exercise within the lodge. The fire tender or doorkeeper is then called upon to lift the flap. As the flap is raised and held open, the leader asks the participants how they are feeling. Most respond enthusiastically that they are doing well at this stage, some though, are suffering from the extreme and have shortness of breath, and some are having an out of body experience and we say that they are in the spirit world. If this is the case then the Elder invites the people to stay and focus on their prayers while they bring the person back in a safe manner, usually working with the fire keeper on this. Water may be passed to those participants who desire to pour the water over their heads or to drink it. A longer break is taken to mark the half way of the ceremony.

Third Endurance or Third Door or Third Round is to the West

Usually more rocks and a new bucket of water are needed before the third endurance. After the new stones have entered, the Elder instructs the people on how this round will go. He or she also invites people for doctoring or physical and emotional healing, instructing everyone else as to what to do and how to focus. The flap is then closed and the round begins. In this round and direction we call upon the Brown Bear, the Owl, and many others, including the Thunder Bird, to help us go deep within. I acknowledge the color of dark blue (Cree/Ojibwa/Algonquin colours) or black (Lakota colour) for the black road and also for the black nation of the earth. The black road is the road where people are being hurt or hurting themselves through different means. The black nation of the world and their ancestors are also invited in. The recognition of deep meditation and the ability to go inwards for the answers and to develop the ethereal intuition is what I encourage people to focus on in this round. Sometimes praying individually or out loud is done, but most of the time I encourage people to simply pray silently and go into the foetal position, and I then guide them through a meditative exercise. This is what symbolizes the third endurance for me. I encourage people to try to look within and gaze upon the stones in silence, hopefully viewing images within the red glow of the rocks. After a while, water is poured upon the rocks and the leader begins to sing a healing song. If an elder has brought in a pipe into the lodge, it is usually during the beginning of this round that the pipe is smoked.

Fourth Endurance or Fourth Door or Fourth Round is to the North

The last endurance centers on specific personal healing. The fire tender is thanked for all of the hard work, and the last endurance prayer may begin. The North stands for wisdom and knowledge, for the White Calf Buffalo Woman, Blue Heron, and others as well. We acknowledge the color white for the white nation of the earth. The leader may point out some specific areas of prayers for an individual to pray or work on and ask for the Great Spirit's wisdom regarding them. When the steam has subsided, the leader will usually offer a summarizing prayer in this final round, or one or several of the participants may pray out loud in respect to a particular area of healing. Usually the leader will have briefed certain individuals regarding preparing, to some degree, a prayer regarding healing; or the individuals are free to request time to voice their healing prayer. The leader concludes the ritual with a short final prayer, a prayer of thanksgiving for a successful Sweat lodge ceremony and acknowledges that we have welcomed all of the Nations of the world to be with us. The fire tender or doorkeeper is called and the door is opened, the participants leave the lodge one by one in a clockwise manner, beginning with the first person to the right of the entrance.

At the end of a sweat everyone's clothing is soaked through with sweat, and participants usually change into a dry set of clothes to be comfortable when they gather once again to smoke the peace pipe that was loaded earlier if they hadn't smoked it before. After the pipe has been smoked, there is sharing of food around the fire and a closing circle where all the people are invited to say a final word of gratitude. The hot coals are excellent for metal boiling pots loaded with stews, which usually have been cooking while the ceremony was in progress. Coolers of juice, mineral water or soda are consumed in quantity by thirsty participants after the ceremony. A plate of food is placed at a distance from the lodge as an offering to all the spirits that entered the ceremony, or is put in the fire to send up to the spirit world. The ceremony is very refreshing activity, and many participants will linger to sit around the fire in peace and serenity, appreciating and remembering their moving spiritual experiences that just occurred.

Physical-Psychological-Emotional-Spiritual Healing aspects of the Sweat Lodge Ceremony

Neuro-theological approaches provide an important link between the scientific and religious perspectives. These approaches have for most part neglected the implications of a Neolithic form of spiritual healing - shamanism.

Every Medicine person leading a Sweat lodge ceremony and every tribal group has its own traditions and ways of conducting a Sweat lodge ceremony (Running Wolf). In general, there is no right or wrong way to perform a sweat lodge ceremony, other than to enter the lodge with an open mind and be prepared for cleansing of negative emotions, healing of physical ailments, the clearing of mental concerns and/or the releasing of energetic or spiritual blockages.

One of the immediate effects of a Sweat lodge ceremony is the cleansing of undesirable toxins from the body. Bacteria and viruses cannot survive at temperatures much higher than 98.6 degrees, and the sweat can get up to 120 or 130 degrees. The rise in temperature also stimulates the adrenaline, noradrenalin and cortisol response to stressors on the body called flight or fight response are released into our bloodstream (Cannon). It also helps bring blood flow to the skin. The Heart beats faster and the impurities in the vital organs are flushed out. Clogged respiratory passages are opened by heat, this gives relief from colds or minor respiratory problem.

A fundamental way our brains function is through the attraction and pushing of negative and positive ions along the neuropath ways. The endocrine glands facilitate the release of negative ions into the air, inducing relaxation. The splashing of water on superheated rocks in a sauna or Sweat lodge facilitates such process and produces an abundance of negative ions, which promotes profuse sweating; an altered state of being accompanied by feelings of refreshment and well-being.

The alleviation of the following physical and emotional symptoms has been reported by many participants at our lodge:

[Studies by M.I Hannukesela and S. Ellahham, published in The American Journal of Medicine [110,118-126], indicate that saunas activate the sympathetic nervous system, the rennin-angiotensin-aldosteronesystem and the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal hormonal axis. This causes releases of hormones including adrenocorticotropic, aldosterone, angiotensin II, argininevasopressin, atrial natriuretic peptide, beta-endorphin, cortisol, epinephrine, glucose, growth hormone, norepenephrine, prolactin, renin activity, thyroid and thyroid-stimulating. These increases return to normal within a few hours and have no permanent negative effects but many positive effects being reported by the participants(Reprinted from the internet)]

I am of the belief that if the effects of the sweat lodge were studied further, and over a longer time period by the different professionals, a more exhaustive list of health benefits could be accrued.

It should be noted that people with severe medical or mental health issues, including acute psychosis, acute episodes of schizophrenia, 2 or 3rd trimesters of a pregnancy, chronic and severe heart problems, and people with major post-surgical conditions should avoid using the Sweat lodge.

In conclusion, I believe that the Sweat lodge is a significant ancient tool of my people which is now fast becoming a modern manifestation of shamanism. The ceremony helps us enhance our deepest respect for one another, for our ancestors, for our Medicine people, and for our Sacred Mother Earth and all of God's creations.


The Native American Sweat Lodge 'History and Legends'
Joseph Bruchac copyright 1993 by Josseph Bruchac: The Crossing Press

The Sacred Pipe - Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux
by Joseph Epes Brown
ISBN 0-8061-2124-6, Pub. University of Oklahoma Press

Rainbow Tribe - Ordinary People Journeying On The Red Road
by Ed MaGee, Eagle Man
ISBN 0-06-250611-0, Pub. Harper San Francisco

NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE - History of Sweat Lodges 
©1997 Mikkel Aaland All Rights Reserved

A sweat Lodge

The Native American American Sweat Lodge a Spiritual Tradition

Sandra Laframboise – 1959
An Algonquin – Cree Metis Elder to the Two Spirited People

Frank Supernault
Cree Elder from High Prairie, Alberta

Kelly Running Wolf - Mickmac Elder

Lidya Black Elk - Direct daughter of Black Elk

Thomas Nez - Navajo Elder

D. Joseph Alderson and others by Chetty Chapko, for use by the Ceremonial
Discussion Committee of Pine Arbor Tribal Town - 1997

Sweat Lodge by Walter Bradford CannonPrairie du Chien, Wisconsin, October 19, Lincoln, Massachusetts was an American physiologist