What is a sweat lodge?
The sweat lodge is a sacred purification ceremony most often associated with Native American traditions. However, there are many such practices throughout the world…in South America and Europe, Scandinavia, Russia, Siberia, Japan, Africa and Australia.
In all these cultures, the central action is the same: heated rocks are placed in an enclosed space. Water is then poured on the rocks to produce intense waves of heat. Sometimes herbs are burned or crushed in the lodge or added to the water to produce a soothing fragrance. Some ceremonies include specific healing procedures and rituals.
The lodge is often built out of pliable saplings, which are bent into a dome-like shape. The frame is covered with skins, tarpaulins or blankets, and then sealed around the bottom. Some sweat lodges are more permanent structures built of stone/mud.
The Symbolism of the Ceremony
The Spirit of the Earth Medicine Society (SOTEMS) has a fundamental goal to create a pathway to express the unique spirituality of this continent and its people, drawing on the wisdom and healing traditions of many cultures as a starting point. The SOTEMS sweat lodge ceremony has been developed as part of the ongoing creation of a healing community distinctive to contemporary Australia. It is not part of the Lakota (North American Indian) traditions.
The sweat lodge itself is rather like a womb within the Earth: dark, fecund, warm. We live again within Mother Earth. It is circular, and the participants sit in a circle. The circle is a powerful symbol, for in a circle everyone is equal.
The doorway of the lodge faces the East, the origin of new beginnings, the place where the sun begins his journey at sunrise each day. Two important markers map our journey in the sweatlodge:
Why participate in the ceremony?
The sweat lodge encompasses both beginnings and endings. Each time we take part in a ceremony, we take a journey to the centre of our being, joined with the others in the sweat lodge and yet also alone. It is about birth, death and rebirth. We change as a result of participating.
During the ceremony, much will be asked of you. It may be very hot, dark, oxygen starved and claustrophobic. But each of us needs to call upon our inner strength (not bravado) and move into and through the discomfort with quiet dignity. Indeed, dignity is a central value in the sweat lodge.
Great richness flows from maintaining this focus. We chant to help us concentrate on the journey and not the uncomfortable physical environment and our fears. Chanting also helps us to breathe easily and to compose ourselves.
Physiologically, the lodge helps to tune the autonomic nervous system, creating a new internal balance, smoothing out the peaks and lows of emotional and energetic changes. Psychologically, it fosters feelings of wellbeing, peace and self-worth. It is a powerful tool for growth and also for specific kinds of life difficulties, emotional turbulence and trauma.
There is an intrinsic value arising from participation in the sweat lodge. It is not a competitive experience; no contest exists to see who can ‘tough it out’ the longest. One measures the distance travelled and spiritual gains by personal standards. No criticism applies to those who leave before the ritual is finished.
The sweat lodge is not advised for pregnant women, people taking tranquillisers or antipsychotic drugs, or people with any of the following conditions:
Please discuss any concerns you may have with the ceremonial leader before you participate.
Preparation on the day of the ceremony
Please also read and familiarise yourself with SOTEMS sweat lodge safety practices and protocols.
What to bring with you
Towel, sarong/loose shorts, bandana; water or isotonic drinks such as Gatorade, Powerade or coconut water to hydrate after the the ceremony.
If you are sweating in NSW, SA or VIC a plate of food to share after the sweat. (excluding Byron bay Sweatlodge - Northern Rivers).
Please leave valuables at home.
Cost per sweat lodge is $20.
If this is your first sweat with SOTEMS, you will also be asked to sign a waiver form which you can download and sign from here [waiver form. pdf]. This is to ensure you have understood your preparation requirements and also an opportunity to indicate any health concerns you might have.
After a sweat, drinking and eating are necessary to replenish the body’s electrolytes. Rest and a good night’s sleep are recommended.
Copyright © 2004 Spirit Of The Earth Medicine Society (SOTEMS) Last modified: 15-Jun-2013