By Paula Bidwell
This is a talk about
“Inipi” or Sweat Lodge Ceremony. In Native American traditional
ways we learn by listening to our elders talk and tell stories. This
article is meant to be just that. I will tell the story as my teachers
did and then at a later time I will add more to the knowledge.
Imagine we are sitting around a fire maybe at Powwow or maybe Sun Dance,
or even in our own backyard. The hour is late and everything around
us is still and quiet except for the crackle of the wood burning. A
voice begins to speak….
Did you know there are different types of Inipi (Sweat Lodge) ceremonies?
Many think the Sweat Lodge is only for cleansing and purification. But,
this is not true; there are many kinds of Inipi or Sweat Lodges.
There are Sweat Lodge ceremonies held when a relative has died. These
help the deceased person cross over to the other realm. They are usually
held for four nights. Night is the time for the spirits of the deceased
or “Wanagi”. After the sun goes down, and especially between
midnight and pre-dawn, they wake up and are moving around. The four
days is the time when the newly deceased is able to communicate important
messages and to say their goodbyes. These Sweat ceremonies are also
for the mourners to end their official time of mourning. Which is usually
13 moons or approximately one year. The ceremony for the end of the
time of mourning is called “Wasigala” and can be done without
the Sweat Ceremony.
There are also Sweat Lodge ceremonies for the healing of illnesses.
These are called “Doctoring Sweats”. These ceremonies may
only have the patient and medicine person in the lodge. The rest of
us would stay by the fire and pray or be busy in the house cooking.
Or sometime there may be a few singers and other people close to the
sick person inside the lodge.
Most of us have been to Sweat Lodges that contact the Tunkasilas or
ancient beings for advice and guidance during difficult and perilous
times. It is said that in the Sweat Lodge we meet the Tunkasila or elder
spirits half way. These sweats are usually very hot. They make us so
uncomfortable that we are forced to stay in a state of prayer, which
is very far removed from our everyday busy worlds. This is how we meet
the Tunkasilas half way. Some us don’t eat or drink so that we
are even further removed from our material world. Many of us let our
hair loose and unbraided or untied. This is another way to remove us
from the material world. We are not concerned with how we look. That
is why your elders may tell you not to wear jewelry, or make-up.
Then there are Sweat Lodges for activating, renewing or cleansing of
sacred objects, medicines or canunpas (sacred pipes). In the case for
cleansing, these are very serious ceremonies. It means that something
has happened to the sacred object that has harmed or weakened it. The
need to cleanse a sacred object is a very sad thing. Many tears are
shed during these ceremonies. For the renewal of a sacred object or
medicine is far less serious and is a little like breathing fresh air
into it and letting the sun shine all over it. Activating a sacred object
is another serious ceremony. It is necessary when a person takes the
responsibility of carrying a canunpa (sacred pipe) for the people. This
is best done where the Buffalo Calf Pipe resides in Green Grass, South
Dakota. Although, I have heard of it done in other places when necessary.
Activating other types of sacred objects or medicine can happen anywhere,
but usually takes a Medicine person to conduct the ceremony.
Sun Dance Sweat Lodges are especially for the people preparing to Sun
Dance they are held frequently during the time of preparation. Sweat
ceremonies are also held during Sun Dance for the Dancers and for the
Hanbleceya, or as you may have heard it, “Vision Quest”
Sweat Lodges are held during the one to four year preparations leading
up to the Vision Quest. Also they are used just before the person goes
on the hill for Hanbleceya (Vision Quest). And they are used immediately
when the person comes down from the hill. As an important note, I have
used the term “Vision Quest” only because it is so popular
and understood by many. But you should know that in Lakota, “Vision
Quest” is not the translation for Hanbleceya. The real translation
is “Crying or Praying through the night”. Ceya means both
crying and praying as they are considered the same thing.
Wopila (Gratitude) Sweat Lodges. These are usually held within a year
of a healing or another blessing. A big feast is held afterward and
gifts may be given.
These are the most common Sweat Lodge ceremonies, but I’m thinking
maybe some of you are wondering how to become a Sweat Lodge leader?
This is a natural question. I will tell you how it happened to me. It
took many, many years of attending the Inipi with my elders; listening
to their stories, taking their words to heart and paying attention when
they wanted to teach me. As the years went by I was given a variety
of “rights” such as making sacred canunpa bags and medicine
pouches, making a ceremony fire, cooking sacred foods, fixing eagle
feathers for naming ceremonies, rights to ceremony songs and many others.
But before I received the rights to anything I was instructed in all
the history, the details, the materials, the origins of the songs and
anything else you can think pertaining to the particular skill.
When I was around 35 years old, I received a sacred canunpa from my
grandparents and asked to carry it for the family and all our relatives.
I accepted. Then when I was visiting an elder relative and attended
her Sweat ceremony, at the start of the Sweat she announced to the attendees
that I was her equal and that I would assist in conducting this ceremony.
Later, I was asked to conduct a Sweat ceremony for some elder women.
After the ceremony I was told that I would be conducting these ceremonies
the rest of my life. And I have.
This may sound all very complicated and almost impossible to achieve.
But, this is how it happened for me and is not necessarily the way it
is for everyone. My training was very strict and very lengthy. I hope
I have not discouraged anyone. I live off the reservation now and attend
Sweat ceremonies that are conducted by someone who although, Indian,
never lived with his people or received any traditional training. He
received a vision and that is the way he conducts his ceremonies. I
attend and respect his ceremonies. They are powerful and serve the true
purpose of an Inipi or Sweat Lodge ceremony, even though he wasn’t
traditionally trained as I was.
You are all my relatives.
written by Paula Bidwell. She has a website at http://www.nativetalismanart.com
Not only does she explain things in a good way she is an Artist who
makes some beautiful stuff. Take a minute and check out her website.
I know she would appreciate it.