Ceremonial Steam: Native Sweat Lodges

Sweat Lodge

Hupa Native American Sweat Lodge

Long before modern bath environments offered high-technology steam generators and fixtures, Native American and other native cultures utilized the powerful effects of steam, which they generated in sweat lodges. Native American sweat lodges were typically dome-shaped, circular and built low to the ground. They were made from “living” materials including tree branches and animal skins, and as a result the structures were believed to possess spiritual significance.

In order to power the steam generation within the sweat lodge, rocks were heated up outside, in fire pits, to extremely high degrees. Transported into the sweat lodge utilizing shovels, they were then placed into a pit dugout in the center. The ceremony leader would pour water on the hot rocks, creating steam, elevating the internal temperature of the sweat lodge, and causing participants to sweat. Often traditionally used plants such as sage were placed on the rocks prior to pouring water, adding an aroma and essence to the steam and aiding in purification.

The reasons tribal members participated in ceremonial steam bathing were many and varied; relaxation, invigoration, body detoxification, emotional purification, spiritual fellowship, mind strengthening and numerous other reasons were common. Sweat lodges, being places of communal gathering, also promoted interpersonal relationships and brotherhood. Sweats were often conducted in different ways; sometimes in complete darkness, other times in complete silence, and sometimes chanting, singing and drumming were incorporated.

Native Americans were not the only ancient group to utilize sweat lodges; there were similar forms of lodges in Russia, Finland, Japan, Africa, numerous countries in Latin America, and many other places all over the world. Today in the United States and other locales, there are native lodges that are open to the public. Those who wish to experience the way steaming was done hundreds, if not thousands of years ago, can simply visit a native reservation that offers the experience. There are also non-native sweat lodges and interfaith lodges that can offer similar experiences.

If you wish to participate, choosing a sweat lodge with an experienced staff and making sure to be aware of any precautions and following the rules is imperative. There’s no doubt that such an experience can provide a unique adventure and a window into a culture that inhabited the planet long before your own.

The preceding statements about sweat lodges have not been medically evaluated. Always consult your physician before engaging in activities where heat and steam are utilized.

This post sponsored by:

ThermaSol Steam Showers

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