Lakota Indians: Sweatlodge
While the sweatlodge benefits the participants directly, the rite also helps all the people. It is done as a purification ritual to prepare for the help of Wakan Tanka, either for themselves personally or on behalf of others.
A Sweatlodge is used for purification before other ceremony as well, such as a vision quest or the Sundance.
The lodges are generally constructed close to the home, so they can be used frequently and easily, even in bad weather.
The sweatlodge is made from willow poles, 12 to 20, bent in arcs over each other and stuck in the ground at either end to form a dome shape. The dome is then covered with blankets or hides. Representative of the universe, the lodge door usually faces west, where the clouds and rain come from.
Inside, a round fire pit is created at the center of the universe. Rocks are heated in a fire made outside the sweatlodge and bought in with forks. Sage is sprinkled over the entire floor inside, and a path that leads out from the door leads to a small mound of dirt where the sacred pipe is kept.
At the beginning of a sweat, the participants enter and offer a prayer to Wakan Tanka for all provided and help in the past, present and future. Everyone sits on the sage, in a circle, silently watching as the hot rocks are brought in and placed in the fire pit. Once the pit is filled, whoever is leading the ceremony offers the pipe to the four directions, to the sky and to the earth. The pipe is then lit and passed among those in the circle. When everyone has smoked, the pipe is placed in the outside altar with its stem facing west.
Then the flap is pulled shut, the inside darkens and the leader pours water on the hot rocks, filling the entire lodge with steam. The leader prays to the west, asking for the Great Spirit to look upon them all and offer help with all they need to live.
In awhile, the flap is lifted and water is passed around for everyone to drink. Then the pipe is brought in again. This is repeated until the leader has prayed to all four directions, which represent many things (see Four Directions). Each time the pipe is brought in for smoke, when put back in the outside altar its stem is placed in one of the other directions until the ceremony is finished.
After the prayers to the four directions are complete, the leader speaks about Wakan Tanka, how blessed the people are and how they depend on Wakan Tanka for all things.
Then the flap is opened and everyone prays once again to Wakan Tanka, this time in a spirit of thankfulness. As each person leaves the lodge, they say All my relatives.