I recently had an opportunity to participate in a Native American Indian Ceremony known as a sweat lodge. I learned from Tribal Elders, direct representatives, (adopted tribal brothers authorized instructors) that the Crow Indian Nation permitted adopted brothers to use the Sweat Lodge Ceremony if several conditions were met. Also in previous history I had the pleasure of spending some quality time with a Chief of the Crow Nation, Chief Dan Old Elk. Old Elk and I discussed Native Indian Ceremonies and the topic of energy in general. That in its self would be a great topic for another article.
In order to have the rights to conduct the ceremony one must be properly trained. It’s all about the safety of the participants. In addition to safety the basic fabric of the philosophy must also be maintained, meaning not compromised. In exchange for the rights to “Pour” the ceremony the following items are offered in trade. A blanket, tobacco, a small amount of currency, and a personal item valued by the giver. Hence the Universal Law of Fair Exchange.
The short list of items seemed a small price to pay for permission to conduct a sacred ceremony. After A trip to Wal-Mart for a blanket and tobacco, the rest of the items were assembled easily. Currency was available. The gift of a personal item was a more difficult. I decided that my favorite old tee-shirt, with a wolf howling at the moon would be suitable. Like most of my favorite t-shirts, In Larry the Cable Guy Fashion, the sleeves were removed immediately. I also love the universal “right to bare arms” The shirt was splattered with several colors of various paints from years of prior use.
Sweat day came a little too soon for me and I was startled to hear my phone ring waking me out of a very comfortable sleep. Seems I overslept by about one hour. I jumped up to take care of the morning essentials and sped towards the location at a speed slightly over the legal limit. Upon arrival at the sweat lodge I noticed even though I was late, so were several other participants.
Training began in a circle, as is common for the Company I work for. We use a lot of traditions borrowed (with permission) from the Crow Nation. The circle represents the never ending cycle of life. Elders stand in key positions that mark the North, South, East and West. The circle begins with the leader stating; “What goes around comes around.” Then we pass the heart to heart hug. After the hug the person in the place of control, (the north) begins the instruction. In essence the next twenty minutes of discussion was about Company Policy, and safety procedures, and of course the recent tragedy that occurred in Sedona Arizona. Google that if you have an interest.
We then discussed the gifts to be exchanged. The blanket signified comfort. Tobacco came from mother earth. The currency represents fair exchange, something of value for something of value. In retrospect silver or gold would be more fitting, (because Federal Reserve Notes by definition represent DEBT.) The personal gift to me is most significant.
A co-worker provided two nice pieces of her artwork that obviously had been well thought out and highly symbolic. One pencil, the other colored pencil. For a moment I was jealous, that turned to envy, that quickly dissipated, ending up as self loathing.
Another Co-worker gave up a very special watch that she had been given as a youth. Later she lost the watch in a pond. She recovered the watch, however it was in non-working condition but very special to her. And so it went with my-self and another co-worker explaining our gifts.
It is important to note that typical ceremony participants are a diverse group with multiple religious backgrounds. The instructor clarified that while we all may have different belief systems, spirituality comes within all denominations. In order to stay true to the Crow Ceremony it is necessary to offer a prayer to The Great Father, or Grandfather. Also it is necessary to pay homage to Mother Earth. I personally had no problem with the Crow belief system. My personal preference however is to pray first to mother earth, then father sky. Does that make me a mamma’s boy?
After the gifts were collected we circled out in clock-wise rotation symbolizing an upward spiral vortex.
We then had yet another co-worker available to operate the door opening. This person, (doorman) was also responsible to pass “hot rocks” and water through the door opening at the appointed time. It is interesting that the door person is also responsible to keep trespassers from walking between the fire pit and the sweat lodge. That prevents negative energy from permeating the area. Those participating in the sweat ceremony had already conducted the ritual at the circle.
I will not discuss the process of building the sweat lodge at this time. This in itself is another ceremonial topic. However the sweat-lodge is a small dome constructed of hickory boughs frame work that is approximately eight feet circumference and about five feet high. The covering or skin is heavy weight canvas layered so that when inside it provides a pitch black environment. Within the lodge just inside the door opening is an earthen pit about a foot deep and three foot diameter. The symbolism of the actual lodge is as follows; framework and covering when inside represents the inside of the buffalo, and the pit with glowing hot rocks inserted represent the heart.
Outside the sweat lodge at a distance safely from flammable materials is located the fire where rocks are brought to temperature. Hardwoods some seasoned and some green are ideal to bring rocks to temperature suitable to produce the proper amount of steam. It is suggested that at least fifty or sixty hand or melon sized rocks are available at the sweat lodge. Rocks should not be sandstone, however that is generally what was available for this particular ceremony. Also outside the fire area was stored several containers of water to serve multiple purposes. At the conclusion of the ceremony it is necessary to extinguish the fire.
Also outside the sweat lodge was located a small mound of rocks that participants could place personal items on so as to bless them by the power of the cleansing process about to unfold. It is believed that items placed there would attract the same benefits received as within the sweat lodge.
Participants stooping or crawling filed through the doorway in a clock wise direction to continue the upward spiral theme. Once inside the actual ceremony began. There were a series of “pours” with various elements discussed relating to the number of ladles poured over the hot rocks. The numbers four, seven, ten, and millions are significant. I choose not to go into detail on the numbers subject. It is very important that “what happens in the sweat-lodge stays in the sweat lodge.”
The actual ceremony lasted about an hour and a half. There were breaks in between the pours so as to replenish the rocks, and provide drinking water to participants. I do not know for sure, but I will hazard to guess that in days of old, there were no water breaks. As a matter of fact, fasting and doing without water was likely required.
The sweat lodge ceremony ended outside the lodge, culminated by participants gathering in yet another circle. Final thanks given to all in the circle including the support staff. Afterwards, we circled out and lined up for a bucket bath. This was a nice end to an awesome ceremony.
From a personal perspective I offer the following. In compliance with Universal Laws as I understand them, A gathering of like-minded individuals is synergistic and even in business marketing circles, (that darn shape again) is known as a master-mind. Release of negative energy from the energy system and physical body is an awesome form of cleansing. Stating positive affirmations and giving thanks is certainly a form of being great full; (Self Explanatory.)
In exchange for all of that powerful energy received, and negative energy expelled, and recognizing that we earth bound spirits are powerful and capable of co-creating our own realities, I can only say Thank You to the Crow Nation.
James “Jim” Blackstone
Footnote: Another ceremony not mentioned but standard is the practice of “smudging.” Again this is another ceremony worthy of its own article.