I was trying to think of what to write this month when an episode of Longmire I’d been watching provided the answer—the sweat lodge! In this episode, an all-women sweat lodge was having a ritual to purify and help women who had gone through ‘bad times.’ I have no idea of the verity or fiction of this individual ceremony, but sweat lodges are certainly an important part of the culture of several nations, mainly Plains Indians.
|sweat lodge frame, public domain|
In the United States, Native Americans consider the ceremony of the sweat lodge a religious ritual, not to be duplicated by white men any more than non-Catholics should attempt to make money from giving Holy Communion. I have to ‘own up’, however, that while traveling on the Yucatan Peninsula some 13 years ago, my daughter and I took part in a Temazcal, the Mayan equivalent of a sweat lodge.
In this instance, it was limited to ten participants and was held in an adobe lodge. I thought it was very tastefully done—not New Agey at all—but obviously I’m prejudiced. We wore bathing suits (about as minimal as one can get, after all) and sat around a fire with stones onto which water was caste periodically. Herbs were initially passed around to begin a purification process, and small plates of fruit were also passed to keep us hydrated. Quite honestly, my prevalent memory is trying to stop myself from screaming ‘let me out of here!’ Luckily, I kept in the back of my mind ‘this too shall pass’ and managed to get myself lower toward the ground, which was cooler. Anyone who says they’ve been through this process and didn’t feel the least bit of claustrophobia or panic is lying. At about fifteen minutes, the door opened and I almost jumped for joy thinking this was the end of it, but no! An assistant was coming in with more hot rocks! I think my memory sort of blacks out at this stage, until the door was finally opened and we were led down to the sea for the most wonderful swim of my life. You truly cannot imagine what that felt like, under brilliant stars in the cool water after thirty minutes of this ceremony. . And I felt I had truly paid my penance and been washed of my sins. The finale to this was a cup of herbal tea.
|Hupa Sweat Lodge, Edward S. Curtis via Wiki|
I would not be able to do this ritual now since I suffer with AFib, which no doubt would be affected by the intense heat. In fact, in 2009, three people died in Sedona, AZ, during a sweat lodge ‘retreat’ that had been improperly organized with nearly sixty people in the lodge. The organizer was charged with these deaths, but in addition, the Lakota Nation brought a suit against him as well as the U.S. and the state of AZ, stating that the Sioux Treaty of 1868 had been violated. The lawsuit claimed that the purification ceremony had been desecrated by causing the deaths of those three people.