As the ancestors are called forward to join me in the darkened womb, their purifying heat scorches my skin and I am left trembling with a vision that the person I used to be might not survive this transformation.
Screams pierce the darkness, striking at me from every direction, filling me with terror. The deep resonate pounding of the drum summons ethereal symphonies and I begin to sense the spirit world getting closer and closer with each invocation in the ceremonial sauna.
Between heartbeats I am afraid I won’t last the four rounds and I begin to wonder how many bodies I have to climb over in order to get to the door before I pass out.
Would anyone even notice I’ve disappeared from consciousness?
With each drop of water that sizzles on the stones, the chief calls in the sacred spirits for the ceremony. And as more are brought forward, beads of sweat trickle down my body, my heartbeat beginning to pump to the rhythm of the drum. The darkness and heat within the protective womb bring moments of heightened awareness to my trembling body.
I am warned not to breathe through my nose, so my breathing is shallow – I fear taking a deep breath will burn my lungs. This probably means screaming in terror is out of the question.
A voice cuts through the darkness reminding me that I am not alone and I start to feel as though I’m among kindred ones, their presence giving me the confident resolve to endure the sweat.
After the fourth round, the chief concludes the ceremony, and I walk away honoring “all our relations”…not only the human ones but also the spirits of animals, plants, rocks, and even natural forces.
I slip out of the darkened womb and trespass into the unlit forest alone.
The dampened earth finds its way between my toes with each step I take. Branches caress my skin, leaving whispers of nothingness as I walk by. Strangely, I feel newborn, as though I am no longer a mere flesh and blood woman, but a denizen of the earth.
I am no different than that stone over there or the tree that stands so tall, so magnificent.
An awareness fills me, I am not of my mortal coil, my body. If I was to die, my soul would disappear in a soft sweet sigh, crossing over into a new realm of possibility.
With new eyes, I stare up into the trees and see the sun peaking through the branches, setting down. I am in no hurry to leave the forest – I feel a connectedness to the land that I haven’t felt in years.
As I return back to my kindred spirits, the warmth of the fire feels delicious on my naked skin as the temperatures begin to rapidly cool. A pipe is passed along and we share our experiences with one another. As it becomes my turn, I accidentally suck in the smoke and hack out a lung. I am allergic to smoke.
I leave the cool moist forest after honouring ‘all my relations’ and travel back into the heart of the city.
I smell funny and I even look funny. I am covered in mud and my sweat-laden hair is plastered to my scalp…but I don’t care who sees me. I find my way to the Granville Island Tea Shop to have a nice warm cup of tea before I head home for the night.
I am taken aback by the handsome stranger who walks by my vehicle, stopping dead in his tracks, asking me to join him for a drink. I look up at him rather quizzically and wonder if he notices that I look like I’ve crawled out from under a rock? It is entirely possible that he hasn’t yet noticed the strange smell emanating from me. Regardless, this man, at least a decade younger than me, gets rewarded with a BIG smile. What was it that made him stop?
Without regret, I leave him and his kind offer behind in order to go home to the promising warmth of a bathtub and bed. And as I disappear from consciousness, my fur-children snuggle up close to the forest creature who peacefully dreams about the dreamer.
I am grateful for the invitation to partake in this remarkable sweat lodge ceremony led by local Native Elder Sandra LaFramboise (Dancing to Eagle Spirit). For a moment in time, I felt completely connected with the land – that I was more than my body.
I remember a question once posed in university, “Is man a part of nature – or beyond nature?” Well, since I moved to Vancouver, I have felt somewhat beyond nature while living amongst the mechanical technological industrialized setting. Very few local parks and forests actually muffle the vibrational harmonics of the city. It wasn’t until this experience, the sweat lodge ceremony, that I felt an inter-connectedness to the forces of nature once again.
All my relations.
Interesting Factoids about Sweat Lodges
- The oldest sweat lodge dates back to 5 B.C. and is used in different cultures across the world.
- Sweat lodges are similar to saunas.
- During the ceremony, there is a ‘fire-keeper’ who tends to the fire located directly outside the lodge. The firekeeper stirs up the large stones located within the flames and embers of the fire pit. Once hot enough, the stones are added to the pit within the center of the lodge.
- Some health risks to the extreme heat include: dehydration, heat exhaustion, headaches, fatigue, smoke inhalation.
- Health benefits includes the relief of aching muscles and tension in the body, cleanses and detoxifies the body, and reduces stress – among other things.
- Some sweat lodge ceremonies include chanting or drumming – others are in complete silence.
- Nudity may be allowed in european sweats, but in the traditional first nations sweat lodge ceremony nudity is sometimes frowned upon as is mixed sweats. If it is a mixed ceremony, women are expected to wear longer loose-fitting dresses.
© Monthly Adventure, Patricia Taylor, January 2009