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Visiting the modern Hammam in Ankara and lstanbul
NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE
Joining Running Foot in a Navajo Sweat
A Boisterous Bath in Leningrad
SAUNA & HEALTH
NATIVE AMERICAN SWEAT LODGE
The Sweat Lodge Joins the Modern World
©1997 Mikkel Aaland All Rights Reserved
My friends enjoying a "tent" sweat near a creek in Chico, California.
In recent years the myths and ancestral rites of the Indians, long suppressed or ignored, have captured the imagination of America. Sweatlodges are beginning to appear in suburban backyards and communal farms.The Sioux's willingness to allow non-Indians to participate in their sacredSun Dance ceremony has made many of us aware of both the spiritual and medicinal benefits of the sweat lodge. It also encourages camaraderie in acommunity sharing and growing together.
I asked many Native Americans how they felt about this cultural loan. Most responses were positive, though a few had reservations. The Sioux leader of my sweat bath during thc Sun Dance ceremony had one caution. "Sweat lodges are easy to make. You can pray to your own gods and take herbs that heal. But without a medicine man or spiritual leader, it is not an Indian sweat."
Others were hesitant to discuss the sweat bath ceremonies at all, afraid that a non-Indian might not understand its spiritual implications and might inadvertently defile its sanctity. Black Elk wanted the ancient ways to be remembered by his brethren. His teachings in The Sacred Pipe and Black Elk Speaks makes it clear they were intended for all people--Indians and non-lndians.
I visited a commune in the Sierra Nevada foothills of northern California who happily adapted a sweat lodge to their lifestyle.* They own their land together. Some have jobs in nearby towns to generate revenue, while others work theland to provide food. Some hail from cities, others from small towns and farms. Their abiding interest is in exploring the values of other culturesand developing their own away from the technological values that dominateour society.
Their sweat lodge is half buried in three feet of river sand, its domed shape harmonious to the wooded surroundings where the Maidu tribe once roamed. Every Sunday the group assembles at the pit, a ritual woven intotheir lives. Friends from nearby towns often join in.When I arrived, a fire was blazing a few feet away from the sweat dome, a naked man sat playing his guitar while a small child was diligently cleaning a huge pot that was probably cleaner before she began.
Several naked people sat in a circle, awaiting the hot rocks.They didn't have to wait long. After the rocks had been shoveled into the lodge, ten of us crawled under the canvas and arranged ourselves in acircle on the sandy floor. A man poured a brew of bay laurel on the rocks.The pleasant sounds of hissing and spattering filled the darkness andchanting began. Everyone chanted in his or her own way, adding unique tonesto a tapestry of sound. Some were familiar with Indian chants, others weren't, but the blend was very gracious.More water was poured on the rocks, sending off another rush of bay laurel scent. The chanting grew more intense as the people began beating themselves with whisks of leafy plants. Those who became too hot, slipped outside to dive into the stream, and returned for more sweating and singing.
Later, we reclined in the cool, soft river sand and talked for a while.Then everyone began drifting away, some to their cabins, others for astroll up the river. I found my car and drove lazily back to Chico. I returned some months later and found they had built a Finnish bathhouse.The sauna was for cleaning, they explained, and the Indian sweat dome for ritualistic purification.
*Keep in mind this was written in the mid-seventies...