The North Speaks
Inipi Sweat Lodge
The Inipi or “Sweat Lodge” as they are most commonly called is a sacred ceremony that utilizes the four primary elemental powers of the universe, which is still used by Native Americans to this day. Sweat lodges exist within almost every culture and serve many purposes, but among the Native Americans, the Inipi is a place of spirit where one goes to cleanse the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body, and to pray.
Everything from the construction of what is known as the Stone People’s lodge to the actual Inipi ceremony has a spiritual significance and is according to a specific ritual. The dome structure representing the womb of Mother Earth is made from fresh-cut saplings laid in a circle that is bent over to the center and tied together to form a half sphere. When in use, the lodge is usually covered with canvas tarps or blankets with hides used in the past. A circular pit in the center represents the Great Mystery’s power and signifies the center of everything. Outside the lodge in a larger fire pit, a Fire Keeper tends the sacred Stone People until their color is red. The Fire is considered to be the first medicine man and represents life. Whatever goes into the Fire goes into the lodge and into each person. The Fire Keeper assists the medicine person by making the Fire and preparing the Stone People for the Inipi Ceremony.
Many years ago, I was given the honor of having a traditional Inipi lodge built here at Frog Hollow for the first medicine man that came, and another gift soon followed. As men and women have a different kind of power, most traditionalists believe it is best to avoid mixing the energies and have separate lodges for both. It is also believed a greater power is derived from repeating ceremonies in the exact same way they have always been done, as repetition creates the sacred space – a portal, which the ancient spirits remember and use for their return. Therefore, this traditional medicine man would not physically be in the lodge with any women but gave his permission to a man he had been working with from our culture to train me to lead a traditional woman’s lodge. I would go through four separate lodges known as “doors” and then would lead my first Inipi ceremony on the fifth door.
At first, the prospect of being able to lead others through some major spiritual healing in the lodge had me very excited, and the first door was passed through easily. However, I went through the second door and was given a teaching with such profound impact that ultimately served to alter my course. Throughout the years, the Spirit that delivered this teaching has come through many times asking me to reveal the message received. Therefore, my hopes are to help all that feel inclined to build, lead or participate in any kind of sweat lodge to have a greater understanding for what it is they are actually doing, and to be very clear as to why they are undertaking this passage, especially with so much misuse currently taking place within our culture. It is also out of great respect for an ancient culture’s ways that I share the message received. And so…
On the night of my second door and after everything was ready, opening prayers were said and four of us cleansed with medicine herbs before entering the womb of Mother Earth in a clockwise direction. After the pipe filling prayers to be smoked in the fourth round was completed, I watched as the first five Stone People were individually brought in on a pitchfork and placed in the pit. As each One entered the lodge, medicine herbs were sprinkled on them. The first Stone Person was placed in the center of the pit to represent the “Creator.” The second One placed in the East represented the spiritual aspects and new beginnings. The third Stone Person placed in the South represented everything related to the emotions and community. The forth Stone Person placed in the West represented introspection, along with physical strength and healing. The fifth Stone Person placed in the North represented wisdom and sacrifice.
After the first five Stone People were honored, the door closed for the first of four rounds, water was poured and the lodge began to heat up. In the first round, we honor and pray for the female aspects of life. In the second round, we honor and pray for the male aspects. The third round is for healing and the fourth round is for the personal self. At the end of each round, the door opens for more Stone People coming from the Fire.
Sitting in the womb of my darkness and ignorance with my back facing North, the intensity of the burning heat was bringing up my human weaknesses as the medicine of the Stone People melted them away. I welcomed the brief coolness of air filtering through as the door opened, and more Stone People joined the first five. The door closed for the second round and the heat penetrated even more deeply forcing liquids to pour from my body. The door opened and closed quickly for the third round, I was struggling to keep myself there. In total surrender, my body went from a sitting position to lying down on the earth. I prayed for even more strength to remain in an environment that was rapidly becoming unbearable. Just when I thought I could take no more, the door to the lodge flung open and a draft of coolness flooded through giving me much needed relief.
In the fourth and final round, I sat listening to prayers in a native tongue and watched the firelight flicker from the lighter as the pipe was being lit. Suddenly, I felt another presence within my body. I quickly became aware of seeing from and with another perspective. I heard the words, “They have no spiritual culture of their own and are reaching out to ours.” As the me within the we continued to watch and listen, a feeling of sadness and compassion began to wash over me bringing tears to my eyes. Within the next few seconds, the energy within me shifted as a forceful tone simultaneously spoke the words, “They are taking and using something that does not belong to them,” and then this energy abruptly left my body.
I left the Stone People’s lodge with a sinking feeling along with the questions this Spirit had come to raise. I initially tried to put a spin on the message to justify it in a way that would better serve what I wanted to do, but deep within my being, I knew better. Our lodge was coming down and Inipi ceremonies were not something I would do now. To this day, I still have mixed feelings about our culture doing this ceremony in a Native American way. If a second lodge is erected then it will be done in another medicine way so as not to infringe on any culture’s spirituality, which in part, was the medicine teaching delivered from an Ancient One who sits in The North. Aho!