“The Sweat Lodge Ceremony, now central to most Native American cultures and spiritual life, is an adaptation of the sweat bath common to many ethnic cultures found in North and South America, Asia, Eastern and Western Europe, and Africa. It was prompted by the influence of European culture with its corrupting effect on native culture. With the introduction of alcohol and the inhumane treatment of native people, the need to re-purify themselves and find their way back to traditional ways of living became evident, as they were becoming increasingly poisoned by European culture. The Sweat Lodge Ceremony was the answer.” -http://www.barefootsworld.net/sweatlodge.html ‘Westerners’ are now seeking a refuge from their toxic lives as well and are more often participating in these very ceremonies to help them purify.
A sweat lodge is represented of a mother’s womb as the ceremony is a rebirth process. The structure is small, round, and domed-shaped, and in this case at Gaia Sagrada about 28 people are huddled inside, including the shaman(a)s, whilst two fire keepers stay outside to tend the fire. In the center of the primitive sweat lodge is a shallow pit for stones. These are heated in a massive fire outside the lodge and then brought into the sweat slowly by one of the fire keepers throughout the 4-stage process. I was thrilled when I recently had the honour to be fire keeper at the sweat lodge ceremony. Myself and co-facilitator here at Gaia, Carol both took the role on for the day (and night) for this particular ceremony. It was a pure treasure.
The entire ceremony lasted about 8 hours and is run by two shaman(a)s, Salvador and Sofia. Plant medicine (a ‘tea’ of 90% San Pedro and 10% Ayahuasca) is consumed throughout the ceremony.
A sweat typically consists of four sessions, called rounds or endurances, each lasting about 30 to 45 minutes. I found out firsthand that there are 9 big hot rocks to be transported for each round. With our sticks, Carol and I would dig in the massive fire uncovering the hottest rocks; I’d grab it with the metal ‘rock basket’, Carol would ‘dust’ it off with some leaves to eliminate any coals, then I would lug the rock in the sweat lodge where Salvador, the shaman would be awaiting its arrival. Once all the rocks were transported, the door would shut and another stage would be begin; steam would be created inside by pouring water onto the hot rocks.
A round ends when the shaman announces the opening of the door. Carol or I would lift the blanket door and everyone would get a little relief of air and light. A good hour would pass between the ‘stages’ and people would continue to sit inside and be encouraged to stay in. We tended the fire while the sweat lodge was closed, and learned quickly that the fire keeper’s job didn’t end with the fire. When the door was open it was our responsibility to help anyone who did exit the lodge, fetch anything that Salvador or Sofia needed, and take care of the purge buckets. Salvador and Sofia were both very patient and gentle while guiding us during our role throughout the ceremony. Once that door was closed again, Carol and I would check the fire and then be certain to steal a few moments lying down, taking the pure beauty in, whether it was the clouds, trees, or stars. The plant medicine opens up your heart and heightens your connectedness with nature.
Water was only offered to everyone once a round. Being outside, around the fire and excerpting a lot of physical energy, it was demanding at times but many lessons were learned. With each glass of water that was offered, I tasted the utmost purity and value of it like I never have – so much gratitude for it. The entire day was surreal, challenging at times but completely exhilarating, rewarding, and out of this world. It was an absolute privilege to be a part of. I soaked up learning from the different rituals throughout the ceremony from blessing the water to sending my prayers with the sacred tobacco, not to mention tending the fire. I thought I already had a high level of affection for Mother Nature but my appreciation for this earth, water, and fire is totally heightened.
The fire keepers’ job isn’t technically done until the last flame goes out officially. Everyone always congregates afterwards around the fire outside the sweat into the wee hours of the night. This night was no exception. The fire officially went out about 6am the next morning. Carol and I were laid out around the fire at this point surrendering our ‘fire stick’ with only a few guests remaining. The sun had come up, it was time to say goodbye to the fire, or the ashes at this point, and the ceremony. Thank you, thank you. Namaste.
“Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of yours.”