In one form or another, the sweat bath is practiced in some form by every culture in the world, from the Alaskan Eskimo south into the land of the Mayans, from the ancient Celts, to the North American Native Peoples. The sweat lodge ceremony, older than recorded history, was established in order to facilitate healing, purification and relaxation in their lives.
Lakota elder Black Elk tells us: "The sweat lodge utilizes all powers of the universe: earth, and things that grow from the earth; water; fire; and air."
The Sweat Lodge is an ancient ceremony of prayer and purification. It is a very physical way to pray. It is a shamanic way in that we go away from the everyday world and go back to the womb of grandmother Earth, so that we can commune with spirit to bring healing and ritual back to our everyday world. We heat rocks in a fire and bring the glowing hot rocks into the center of the lodge. When the lodge is closed, we pour water on the rocks and pray. Our prayer may be in word or song or sometimes in silence. Afterward we gather for a celebratory feast together.
The Sweat Lodge I "pour for" is guided and empowered by the Spirits of the Four Directions, by our connection to the Four Elements, by our visions and requests, and by our Intent.
The sweat lodge symbolizes the womb of Grandmother Earth and the heated stones can represent her body, which supports all life. They are also known as The Stone People, preservers of wisdom. The fire that is used to heat the rocks represents the perpetual light of the world, and is the source of all life and power. The water slowly releases the heat in the stones, which rises as steam and permeates the air to create a hot, humid atmosphere conducive to manifestation of the particular intent of the ceremony.
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Every tribal culture has its own traditions. Overall, there is no right or wrong way to engage in a sweat lodge ceremony, other than to enter the lodge with an open mind and be prepared for cleansing of negative emotions, healing of physical ailments, clearing of mental concerns and/or releasing of spiritual blockages. Intent within integrity is the key to the positive outcome of the ceremony.
A major side effect of a sweat is the cleansing of undesirable toxins from the body. Bacteria and viruses cannot survive at temperatures much higher than 98.6 degrees. The rise in temperature also stimulates the endocrine glands and facilitates the release of negative ions into the air, inducing relaxation and alertness.
There is normally no charge for participation in sweat lodge ceremonies, although voluntary donations may be requested to cover costs of expenses for upkeep of the lodge. Traditionally, participants bring medicine gifts and tobacco for the sweat lodge leader and fire people, as well as food to share following the ceremony.
Water is poured on the stones as the Water Pourer calls in the sacred energies desired for the intent of the sweat. Each participant offers personal prayers for self, others, and for releasing of pain and suffering of all. Between rounds, more hot stones are brought in as the group chants and prays for wisdom and insight. At the conclusion of the sweat, participants leave the lodge in a sacred manner, again honoring “all my relations”.
I was honored to become a Water Pourer several years ago and built my own Sweat Lodge on my land – it is a Wolf Lodge – honoring the Spiritual Animal Totem of Wolf. I have shared with you the basics of a Sweat Lodge Ceremony above. The Intent of each Lodge Ceremony can vary – the size, length of time, content, etc. I usually recommend people allow for 3 hours for the Lodge, then, allow time for the feasting and celebration afterwards. I have tried to answer some commonly asked questions below.
Frequently Asked Questions
Please read the following Frequently Asked Questions before contacting us for further information or reserving your spot in an upcoming sweat lodge so that you are familiar and comfortable with all aspects of the Sweat Lodge ceremony and proceedings. If you find your question is not answered, please contact us.
Do I have to make reservations?
Yes. No one will be admitted to the Sweat Lodge Ceremony that I offer without invitation and prior orientation. There will be instructions about how best to contact me to make your reservation for the Lodge. Most likely, I will ask you to call me at 845-482-5521 or email me for instructions. Do not wait until the day of the event.
What do I wear in the sweat lodge?
Clothing is optional but often minimal and modest clothing is recommended if the Lodge is attended by both men and women. For men they may wear trunks or shorts; women may wear short cotton dresses or shorts and t-shirts. Bathing suits are often not modest so choose accordingly.
What time should I arrive?
Most Lodges will begin around 12:00 PM, but specific times will be posted for each ceremony. The actual ceremony begins with the lighting of the fire 2 hours earlier. You must must plan to arrive no later than 10:30 AM (or 1 ½ hours prior to entering the Lodge). During this time we are preparing the Lodge and then preparing ourselves for the Sweat Lodge Ceremony. Around noon, we will enter the sacred space and the Ceremony begins. Late-comers will not be admitted. We usually finish no later than 5 PM and often share a Pot Luck dinner together afterwards. Since I am offering the Sweat Lodge Ceremony as a one day workshop, the times have changed. We will begin by 10AM with the lighting of the fire, and finish by 5 PM, longer if there follows a communal meal. Following the fire-lighting we will be preparing for the Lodge with personal journeying, dancing, drumming, visioning, and preparing the Lodge itself. Around 12-1 we will enter the sacred space and the Ceremony begins. Late comers will not be admitted.
What do I need to bring?
You need to bring clothing for the Sweat Lodge, a towel or blanket to sit on in the Lodge, a towel to clean off with afterwards, clothes to change into for the pot luck, a drum or rattle for use in the Lodge, and it is traditional to bring a gift for the Water Pourer and the Fire Keeper, preferably wrapped in red cloth, however, since I am offering the Sweat Lodge as a Workhop that you are paying for, the gifts are optional. If we are preparing for the Lodge with making Prayer Ties, all materials will be provided for you.
If it rains will you cancel?
Generally Sweat Lodges are not cancelled unless the weather is extreme. You can always call before the lighting of the Fire and check in with me.
Will we eat a meal?
Yes. The Sweat Lodge Ceremony which is a community event is followed by a pot luck dinner. Please bring a dish that you typically enjoy at home. It should be cooked beforehand and in a container that can be reheated and served from.
How much does it cost?
There are many expenses incurred in the holding of a Sweat Lodge including not only material used but time and space invoved – including three days of preparation and cleanup and the assistance of a Firekeeper. As it is a ceremony that we offer to the Community and to Spirit, I do not "charge admission," rather I request that you make a contribution to the Sweat Lodge Water Pourer and Firekeeper. Part of our preparation for The Lodge is 45 minutes of drumming, dancing, and journeying, during which must will be shared and instructed. The amount I recommend to give is a minimum of $50 per person to me and $20 to the Firekeeper.
There are many expenses involved in the holding of a Sweat Lodge Ceremony including material, wood, labor, 3 days preparation, assistance of a Firekeeper, etc. As a Ceremony, we offer it to the well-being of the Community and to Spirit. Traditionally, Lodges were paid for with contributions both in money and labor. In my experience this custom has not worked for my Lodges which are a lot of time and work. And most people are not prepared for doing this kind of Spirit work and need preparation. So, I am charging $100 per person, $175 per couple for the day-long event. And I recommend a financial gift to the Firekeeper, $20 or more.
Can I bring my pet?
No pets are allowed at the event. There is no part of the ceremony for them.
Can I bring my child(ren)?
Please do not bring your children. Taking care of them will distract you and others from the ceremony and no child care will be provided. Generally a child is considered old enough for the ceremony when they finish high school, although some exceptions are made for mature teens. Sometimes a Sweat Lodge Ceremony will be held as an initiation for a young person, upon reaching menarche, or graduation, or a biological time for entering adulthood, or another major milestone.
How hot does it get?
It can get as hot as any sauna I have ever been in. The rocks are glowing red and the steam can be at the boiling point of water. You may have several concerns if you are asking this question. One is that you have health concerns. If your doctor gives the go ahead for you to go to saunas then I expect the sweat lodge will be okay. Some medical conditions and medicines do have heat interactions and your concern is important. If you have concerns, please ask your doctor. However, if the reason you ask this question is that you are afraid of being uncomfortable, then the sweat lodge may not be for you. The sweat lodge can be uncomfortable to some people. We crawl on our hands and knees on the earth, sit for several hours in a tight cramped position, and have heat and steam pour over us in the complete darkness of the lodge. All the while we pray, sing, journey, rattle, etc. This is a very physical way to pray and it is not for everyone.
Does it matter that I take a medication?
It can be critical, depending on the type of medication you are on. Transdermal patches are affected by heat and can cause an overdose in some situations. You must get clearance from your physician if you have serious concerns. This is part of your preparation for the Lodge.
Is it true that menstruating woman are not allowed at the sweat lodge?
It is true that in many traditions there are restrictions against a woman on her moon coming into the sweat lodge. I personally feel that the decision should be up to the woman herself. Whatever your decision, feel free to participate in the Sweat Lodge Ceremony in whatever way you deem appropriate for yourself. Some of the women I know who choose to stay out of the lodge while on their moon still come and do great service helping with the door, passing in the antlers, etc. and helping with tending the fire and carrying the rocks. In the lodge, when the door is closed the walls disappear and when that happens the difference between the outside and the inside goes away too. This means that sitting by the fire can have just as strong a spiritual effect as being inside by the rocks. As part of my learning I have tended fire outside the Lodge and I can tell you that it was as intense a prayer/journey opportunity as inside the Lodge.
Are pregnant woman allowed at/in the sweat lodge?
No one who is pregnant or thinks they might be pregnant is allowed into the Lodge. The process is just too dangerous for an unborn child due to the extremes of heat, sitting for long periods, etc.
This sounds so cool, can I tell all my friends so they can experience a sweat lodge too?
The Sweat Lodge is a serious ceremony and is performed for the well-being of the community and for the individuals taking part. It is not an event to come to out of curiosity or for having a "cool experience." I suggest if you are new to the process, come with a friend and experience it firsthand. See if the Sweat Lodge form of prayer and cleansing is something that you want to include on your personal journey. See how you feel afterwards and then you might invite others to join us next time. I do offer Sweat Lodge Ceremonies for private groups.
When are you holding a Sweat Lodge? Is there a regular schedule?
I generally offer a Sweat Lodge Ceremony once a month during late Spring through mid-autumn. Please see our Events page for upcoming scheduled events. Please contact us if you would like to be added to the notification email list for any of our scheduled events.