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MEDITERRANEAN BATHS

Visiting the modern Hammam in Ankara and lstanbul
Early Greek and Roman Batths
Mass Bathing in the Balnea and Thermae
The Islamic Hammam is Born
The "'Turkish Bath" Visits Europe and
America
Private Sweat Bathing Cubicles

FINNISH SAUNA

A Visit in the Dead of Winter
History of the Nordic Bath
Sauna in Europe
Sauna in Japan
Sauna in America

NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE

Joining Running Foot in a Navajo Sweat
Lodge

A Guest at an Oglala Sun Dance Ceremony
History of Sweat Lodges
Hot Rock Sweat Lodge
Direct Fire Sweat Lodge
Sweating Without a Sweat Lodge
Origin of the Temescal
The Temescal Today
The Sweat Lodge Joins the Modern World

RUSSIAN BANIA

A Boisterous Bath in Leningrad
History of the Great Russian Bath
Bannik, the Spirit of the Bania
The Birth Bania
The Wedding Bania
The Death Bania
Health & the Bania

The Bania after the Russian Revolution
The Spreading Influence of the Russian Steam Bath

SAUNA & HEALTH

Sauna & Health
Sweating
Skin
Heating & Cooling the Inner Body
Positive Effects of Negative Ions
Spirits of the Sweat
Social Sweating

USING THE SAUNA/ SWEAT BATH

SAUNA/SWEAT SPICES

PRECAUTIONS

SPECIAL SAUNA CONCERNS FOR WOMEN

BUILD YOUR OWN

 

NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE

History of Sweat Lodges

©2011 Mikkel Aaland All Rights Reserved



George Catlin's drawing of the Mandan's sweat lodge in 1845.
From Sweat, copyright Mikkel Aaland


 

In one form or another, the sweat bath pervaded cultures from the Alaskan Eskimo south into the land of the Mayans. The purpose, in most cases, went beyond getting the body clean. The sweat bath provided a cure for illness, revitalization for aching muscles, and a sense of racial identity. A Navajo who fought in World War II told me he came back for a sweat bath "to rid himself of evil accumulated during war."

 

2011 Update: Build Your Own Sweat

I just released a new eBook titled How to Build Your Own Sauna & Sweat. It's available for instant download ( $9.99) for the Kindle and the Nook (more formats to follow).



EARLY CHRONICLES

Use of the sweat lodge was chronicled by the earliest settlers in America. In 1665, David DeVries of New York observed Indians "entirely clean and more attractive than before" while sweat bathing. Roger Williams of Rhode Island wrote in 1643: "They use sweating for two ends: first to cleanse their skin; secondly to purge their bodies, which doubtless is a great means of preserving them, especially from the French disease (probably influenza) which by sweating and some potions, they perfectly and speedily cure."

George Catlin wrote a lengthy description of the Mandan's sweat lodge in 1845, ending with the comment: "Such is the sudatory or vapour bath of the Mandans, and, as I before observed, it is resorted to both as an everyday luxury by those who have the time and energy to indulge in it; and also used by the sick as a remedy for nearly all the diseases which are known amongst them. Fevers are very rare, and in fact almost unknown amongst these people: but in the few cases of fever which have been known, this treatment has been applied, and without the fatal consequences which we would naturally predict. This custom is similar amongst nearly all of these Missouri Indians and amongst the Pawnees, Omahas, and Punchas and other tribes."

In his book, Travels Through the Interior Parts of North America (1766-68), Captain J. Carver, observing Native American customs, wrote: "Pains and weaknesses in the stomach and the breast are sometimes the result of their long fasting and consumptions of the excessive fatigue and violent exercises they expose themselves to from infancy, before they have strength to support them. But the disorder to which they are most subject is plueresy; for the removal of which, they apply their grand remedy and preventative against the generality of their complaints, sweating."

Nevertheless, the white man saw the sweat lodge, with its sacred and religious implications, as a threat. Even after the Indians were subdued, Christian missionaries and government officials systematically denied use of the sweat lodge, interrupting a continuity that lasted thousands of years. Enforcement depended upon how great a threat they felt from a particular tribe.

The Sioux, who stubbornly fought white man's attempt to "civilize" them, were punished by Indian police for simply entering the sweat lodge. More docile tribes gave up sweat lodge rituals voluntarily. In other regions, such as Mexico, sweat bathing continued without interruption as long as certain elements offensive to the Spanish conquerors were abandoned. In areas where influence of white culture was less intense, a more tolerant attitude prevailed and sweat bathing continued. This explains the integrity of my experience with the Navajos, and why the Crows of Montana, who served as scouts for the Army, have continued the practice without interruption to this day. (A present day Crow ceremony is described by Reginald and Gladys Laubin in The Indian Tipi. )

CULTURAL REVIVAL

My experience with the Ogala Sun Dance ceremony grows from a cultural revival now sweeping the Native American community. Wounded Knee, Alcatraz, and the Bureau of Indian Affairs takeover come to mind as urgent manifestations of this need for identity. Many Indian groups, such as the National Indian Unity, are reviving use of the sweat lodge in their annual conferences.

Three basic forms of the sweat bath are indigenous to North America: the hot rock method, used by the Navajos and Sioux; the direct fire chamber, heated by blazing logs; and a more sophisticated type relying on a heating duct system believed to be of Mayan origin.

 

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