Visions in the Sweat Lodge
The steam and the heat coming from the stones take you to a deeper layer of consciousness and pave the way for purifying on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level, my dreaming teacher Vidar told me.
The preparations for the sweat lodge are well underway. On a wide field, protected by trees, stands a low, round hut made of branches and covered in blankets. A couple of feet in front of the hut, there is a fire burning where stones are heated. In a minute or so, they will all be carried inside to warm the hut.
I enjoy the quiet restfulness and the wide-open space of the countryside, far away from the big city. There is no traffic, just the sound of singing birds, the soft breeze through the trees and the cracking of branches. The sun shines weakly through the clouds.
Spring is in the air, which gives rise to welcoming the ancestors of the four wind directions in two ceremonies: the deer and the bear. I immediately got excited when Vidar, who conducts the sweat lodge, started to talk about it.
The only thing I did not look forward to was to sit squeezed together among fifty naked people. However, in retrospect, that meant nothing compared to the heat and the darkness that fell on me like a smothering blanket.
Before we enter the sweat lodge, we sit together in groups to make offerings to the ancestors, the so-called prayer ties. On colored pieces of fabric, we lay tobacco and tie them together as a pouch. For each one of the four directions, you make at least four prayer ties. After that, you can make an unlimited amount with personal wishes for whomever or whatever.
In total, I make twelve of them. I find a place all the way in the back, and just like everyone else, I tie my twelve prayer ties to the willow branches above my head. As everyone has taken their seat, five glowing stones are carried inside the lodge one by one.
The sweat lodge ceremony consists of four rounds of approximately one hour each and a break in between. During every round, we greet the ancestors of one of the wind directions. Vidar tells us the steam and the heat coming from the stones take you to a deeper layer of consciousness and pave the way for purifying on a physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual level.
The Indians used the deeper state of consciousness for traveling in the spirit world and receiving visions for healing. Not only that, but it also helps you to reconnect with Mother Earth and to come in contact with your inner knowledge. The dreamer in me is mostly looking for a vision, the vision of the four wind directions to be exact.
The lodge is dark and packed.
Vidar pours water over the hot stones with a wooden soup spoon. The stones start to sizzle and give an orange glow. The door flap is swung shut. Suddenly, a feeling of panic overwhelms me because it is pitch dark. I hear Vidar say that in this sweat lodge you can experience the softness, wisdom, kindness, and subtlety of the deer.
I experience the smothering heat. I would rather leave immediately, but there are four more rounds to go. I knew it was going to be warm, hot even, but I hate the darkness even more, or is it the combination of the two? I try to breathe calmly, and comfort myself, and then things start to improve.
In the first round, Vidar welcomes the deer, the grandfather of the north with cheerful drumming and singing. The crowd roars and sings as if we are attending a party, and this feels weird when you cannot see your hand before your face and you feel like you are choking. I am bathing in sweat. I try to let myself be carried away by the drums and the singing; it sounds merry and distracts me from my fear of the dark.
In the next three rounds, the grandfather of the east, the eagle, the grandfather of the south, running wolf, and of the west, grandmother moon and black bear are welcomed.
You cannot imagine how happy I am when the flap opens in between rounds and bottles of water are carried inside and passed along. It is no luxury because my body is craving liquid.
When the grandfather of the east is welcomed, I start dreaming. An eagle settles down next to the stones and leaves a feather behind for me. He screeches, flaps his wings and flies straight at me. With the wind beneath his wings, he flies me over green hilltops. Ohio-Michigan-Colorado, the wind whistles, and floating I feel like the queen of airspace.
From a distance, I conclude preparations are being made for an Indian funeral ceremony. Two Indians with a waistcloth wrap my father’s body for ceremonial worship in a white cloth and lay him down on a raft, made of two canoes bound together with thin sticks.
With fierce paddle strokes, the Indians navigate it through the breakers to the small island a couple of hundred yards further into the sea, where the branches of the only tree alive rustle in the wind. In the shadow of the tree, there is a high wooden scaffold on which my father will be laid out.
I try to comprehend the images to wait and see what will happen: burial or cremation. However, nothing happens. Will he just remain lying there? My thoughts make me dizzy, and the heat gets hold of me. Hot air fills my windpipe. I feel locked up and feel more and more stifled. I cannot possibly walk over all these heads in the pitch dark.
I cannot stand it any longer and gasp: “Can someone open the door?”
“No,” one of the participants says resolutely. Deeply offended, I do everything to survive, and by breathing through my stomach, I try to calm myself. When I find the rhythm, I have more control over myself.
It does not take long before the door flap opens, and the light falls in. I am relieved and hurry out behind my neighbor, taking a dive into the nearest pond.
In The Sorcerer’s Dream, about my initiation into the sorcerer’s world and mastering lucid dreaming, I describe, among others, shamanic rituals and ceremonies like the sweat lodge.