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Quil'sten: Sweat Lodge
Quil’sten: Sweat Lodge
By Rev. Robin Tekwelus Youngblood
Nearly every indigenous culture had some form of sweat bath. In ancient days, sweat baths were often used as much for prayer and ceremony as for bodily purification. According to Joseph Bruchac, author of “The Native American Sweat Lodge, History and Legends”. sweat baths were found in early Rome and many places in Europe, as well as China and South/Central America.
For traditional Native Americans, however, the Sweat Lodge is not just a purification for the body. It is a ritual cleansing, healing and attunement for the Soul and Spirit. As such, it is one of the most sacred rites that Native peoples offer.
In order to facilitate the ceremony of Sweat Lodge, one needs to be initiated and trained by an Medicine Man/Woman, a ceremonialist who holds the ‘Sacred Bundle’ (The Medicine Teachings). Until the Medicine Person transfers the Power of the Medicine (signified by the Sacred Bundle), the initiate does not have permission (or enough wisdom and power) to facilitate this potent ritual.
I am Okanagan, a tribe of the NW Plateau region in eastern Washington and British Columbia. In our way, Sweat Lodge is a living being. The Lodge is called “Quil’sten”, and is the embodiment of the masculine form of the Creator. The tree limbs which form the Lodge are Quil’sten’s ribs. The interior of the Lodge is his heart. The earthen floor upon which we sit is the feminine personification of the Mother, and the small pit into which the heated stones are placed is the Mother’s womb. The grandfather or grandmother stones contain the nascent prayers that will be birthed during the ceremony. So, when one enters Quil’sten, one places oneself within the heart and womb of the Great Mystery.
Is there any one of us who wouldn’t feel the profound effect of Divine potential, the pregnant possibility of re-birth? In the still silence of the womb, one often feels the living, breathing, pulsing heart of Mystery. Under the cover of darkness, one surrenders to the purifying steam; to the stirring chants that open the senses to Divine inspiration; to the deepest longings of the heart. Enveloped in. utero, in the embryonic fluid once more, one remembers the purpose of this life, and accepts again one’s reasons for incarnation.
Sweat Lodge is the quintessential circular combinant vibration of the ever-in-motion Elements: fire and water heat stone; air and water meeting heated stones release the steam that cleanses us and carries our prayers to the Above World of Spirit and Ancestors. Our renewed understanding of Mother Earth’s conception nurtures us as Father Sky receives our gratitude and needs, responding with manifestation through the matrix of the Divine Marriage of masculine/feminine alignment.
Those who guide ceremonies bear a huge responsibility. The Medicine Person is a ‘hollow bone’, a channel who mediates between Spirit and The People for whom she/he is holding space. He/she is responsible to Creator, the people participating, and the lineage of ancestors and teachers who passed on the teachings. This means following protocols in every way. A Medicine Person is accountable for the spiritual, mental, emotional and physical safety of each person who enters the Lodge.
Sweat Lodges are held for many reasons. There are Gratitude Lodges, in which the participants come together to celebrate and give thanks for a special circumstance. All Lodges include a gratitude round, but a community Lodge dedicated to gratitude is a very special gathering indeed.
‘Warrior Lodges’ test endurance. These Lodges should only be entered if one is training as an initiate in a particular lineage. In this case, the individual’s teacher has trained the person over a long period of time. The trainee has built stamina through strenuous long-term exercises, much like a triathalon athlete who runs, swims, and bicycles separately for many months before combining all three endeavors into one race.
Most of the Lodges I facilitate are Healing Lodges. Our purpose is to create a safe and sacred space for participants to open their hearts, minds and bodies to whatever form of healing they need. In a Healing Lodge, I ask that each person state their need and intention in the first round. We call in the Spirit Helpers/Guides/Ancestors and all our guardians in the second round, then focus attention on whatever needs to be healed in the third round. Often, I will offer a shamanic or soul retrieval journey during this round. (This can get pretty intense, and if I didn’t have the skills and many years of experience, I couldn’t hold the space and assist people to find their healing.) Our fourth round is always offering gratitude to Creator and All Our Relations for the healing and re-birth we have received in the Lodge.
Sweat Lodge is a community experience. Building and maintaining a Lodge is a lot of work! Each time the community wants to Sweat, wood has to be gathered and chopped, water has to be carried, the Lodge has to be dressed with blankets, the altar needs to be weeded, etc., etc. (As a side note: I’ve seen Lodges covered with plastic tarps, but I wouldn’t attend one. Heated plastic is toxic and doesn’t breathe.) When the Lodge is done, the blankets have to be removed, sometimes washed, always dried and put away. It’s definitely a team effort, shared by dedicated community members!
While sharing this ceremony is both a fundamental and profound experience, I’ve never attended a Lodge without humor. Coyote seems to show up, at least for a few minutes, just to remind us not to take ourselves too seriously! There may be tears, but there is also always laughter, always joy, especially as the ceremony completes and each person realizes how pure and innocent, how re-birthed, renewed, restored and refreshed they feel.
My grandmother took shelter in Quil’sten, at peace in the heart of Creator and the womb of the Mother, until the day she died. I expect I will, too. For this, I am grateful!
About the author:
Rev. Youngblood, co-founder of Church of the Earth, is a traditionally-trained Shamanic Practitioner. Robin can access and read your Soul's Designs; she facilitates Shamanic Journeys for individuals and groups; Soul/Power Retrievals; De-Possesion, Cord-Cutting; teaches the ancient eco-spiritual wisdom of her Native Elders, and leads Sweat Lodges, Rites of Passage and other ceremonies.
Says Robin: "I believe that the only way we can become the Illuminators our planet needs is to elevate our personal vibrations to harmonize with Mother Earth, Father Sky, and All Our Relations. We are a microcosm of the macrocosm, and as each of us changes and transforms, we create a field for all others to transform as well. How do we do this? By aligning and attuning ourselves through ceremony with the natural rhythms of the Earth and the Great Mystery; by following our heart's true desires; by weaving our song and dance into the web of creation in union with all who are working to heal themselves and Mother Earth."
sahn Nicole Hill Teacher - October 19th 2009 05:52:23 PM
i would like to send this onto some folks is that ok..very well put..proactive..sharing knowledge..