Purification Rite (Sweat Lodge) -
Inipi is the Sioux word for sweat lodge. It helps the participant to reach a state of humility, purify the body, gain strength for what lies ahead, and under go a personal spiritual rebirth.
Every single part of this ceremony from the site choosing, material gathering, construction of the Inipi and the other features to the very end of the ceremony represents important meanings to the Native American. There is a purpose for each small part and each has deep meaning and must be respected.
Never pay anyone to attend a Purification Rite. There are those who would abuse this rite and the others the Sioux celebrate for money.
The prayers said at each stage during the ceremony draw upon all of the powers of the universe, the Earth, Water, Fire and Air. Traditional Native Americans hold this ceremony before all of the other sacred rites, or any time that spiritual and cultural needs of individuals or the tribe need to be taken care of. In the past the ceremony was held as the sun rose in the East but now it is also held at other times of the day. Some who are in charge of the Inipi prefer only all males but others accept both sexes in the ceremony.
A circular dome structure is created using 16 long, straight, willows that are bent until they overlap the opposite willow and tied together to form a solid support for the outer covering. A Sweat lodge can be made in many sizes to accommodate as many people as needed. In the old days the structure was covered with hides but today tarps or blankets are used to prevent any light from penetrating inside and to keep the steam and heat in. The circle represents a lot of different things, the womb, birth to death, the earth, the universe, the sacred circle, etc.
A fire pit is made in the center of the sweat lodge to receive the glowing hot rocks brought inside the structure. Water is poured from a dipper to create large amounts of steam.
A small earth mound is constructed outside of the door of the sweat lodge. Both mound and the Lodge door face the east.
Several feet away to the East is the fire pit and it has a partial mound around it which represents the crescent moon depicting the out world, with the inside of the sweat lodge depicting the "womb of the universe from which souls are created."
Rocks are heated in the outside fire pit with the fire representing the sun. The number of rocks used for each particular sweat lodge ceremony depends on the person in charge of the ceremony. The leader of the ritual will be able to answer all questions asked about it if they know what they are doing and are qualified to lead the ceremony.
After the preparations have been done, the leader of the ceremony has a burning coal brought inside the sweat lodge and burns sweet grass to create smoke to purify the inside of the structure. The rising smoke from sweet grass purifies each person's hopes, needs and oneness with every thing that lives and takes these things to Wakan Tanka.
Sacred Sage is scattered and spread on the floor of the lodge for the participants to sit on. Flowers, grass, reeds or cedar can be spread on the floor also. The pipe is smoked and then taken outside where its placed on the mound of earth outside the lodge door.
All participants then enter and seat themselves in a circle within the lodge. The leader enters last and sits near the door. The pipe is again brought inside the lodge and smoked by all and then taken outside where it is returned to the small mound of earth outside the door. By smoking the pipe, the participants voice is sent up to Wakan Tanka and the smoke is the visible breath that carries the prayers up to the "Great Spirit."
A couple of people are left outside to act as a fire tender and a door keeper who can also function as the water tender. The door is closed and the leader asks for a short period of silence so the participants can contemplate what the ceremony will be able to accomplish for them.
It is always the responsibility for the leader to carefully observe the participants during the ritual and make sure each person is able to continue. If they are not doing well, the leader can make adjustments in the level of heat created and by leaving the door open longer or other options. The leader is always responsible for the safety and well-being of the people.
Each rock is important. They have been energized first by the sun, then by the fire which was energized by the trees who were energized by the sun and all were created by the Great Mystery. A preset number of red hot rocks in groups are brought in one at a time by the fire tender and put into the center fire pit and the door way is closed off.
Each glowing rock is greeted as its brought in by the leader with the words, "Hau kola" (Hello, Friend). When the rocks have been placed in the center pit and the door is closed some participants may see images, patterns or symbols in the fire energized rocks. They are reminded that Wakan Tanka purposely created these particular rocks and the images in them long ago specifically to be seen in this particular ceremony's participants.
The leader then tells everyone if they become afraid or fearful, while they can leave at any time they choose, it is best if they can find the courage to stay. Some just can not remain in the dark enclosed space or feeling ill from the steam or heat and it is alright to leave if you must and the ceremony will be halted for you to do that Just let the leader know what is going on with you so they can help you.
The words "Mitakuye oyasin (All my relatives) are said at each opening of the Lodge door.
First endurance (West) centers on asking for a symbolic spirit guide. Traditional prayers are said aloud in each endurance by the Leader. Cedar and sage are sometimes added to the hot rocks from time to time. Four dippers of water are poured on the hot rocks to create steam from the bucket of water. Participants are invited to introduce themselves after the first set of four dippers are poured on the rocks. The door is opened to refresh those inside for a few minutes before the second endurance begins.
More rocks in groups are added as the leader continues each of the four directions endurance sections of the sweat. Sage is passed around at the end of the second endurance (North) to be chewed or held. Some ask for a dipper of water to pour over their head to carry their sweat to mingle into and with the earth. The second endurance focuses on asking for courage.
The third endurance (East) centers on recognizing knowledge and wisdom and includes participants praying out loud beginning at the left of the leader going clockwise around the lodge. All watch the moving patterns or images in the hot stones before the water is poured on them.
The fourth endurance (South) centers on healing for ones self or others. Prayers to thank the Creator are said and then the door is opened and all leave. The pipe that was placed on the mound of earth at front of the lodge is then smoked.
The heat and steam can become very intense depending on how may series of rocks are brought in and some can not take it for long. Others endure to the end of the ceremony to complete it.
The heat, steam, specific rituals done by the leader of the Inipi, and the pipe's smoke cleanse and release all burdens, guilt and evil within the participant to bring them as close to Wakan Tanka as possible. This ceremony is deeply personal and to try to explain its impact of the emotional, mystical, spiritual and psychic experiences one goes through can not be done. The ceremony must be experienced personally to fully understand it.
As the ceremony progresses, the door is opened four times to depict the four ages (directions) that were originally described by White Buffalo Calf / Cow Woman when she told the Sioux people, "There will be four ages, and I will look in on you once each age. At the end of the four ages, I will return." The fourth time the door is opened everyone leaves the lodge, going from the dark to the light. This is to mean the person is liberated from the physical universe.
Everything that is impure is left in the sweat lodge.
A feast is held afterwards.
Photos courtesy of JoaquimLeo and Mellanie Bronitsky
The Sacred Pipe: Black Elk's Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux, Joseph Epes Brown. 1953
The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge, Raymond A Bucko 1998
Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing, by Ed Mc Gaa Eagle Man 1990
http://journal.earthwitness.org/the-quaker-magpie-journal/rss-comments.xml great warnings about fake ritual leaders. The Inipi belongs only to the Lakota people and there are specific cultural and spiritual reasons for each part of the ceremony. This is an angry comments site about those who abuse the sacred ceremonies.