A Circle Begins
in the surround of snow topped mountains
a circle begins
in the meadow by a snow melt creek
where hands weave a house of thin green saplings
it is a way of a song
a way of breathing
a pure womb to centre oneself through sweat
a way of blessings and being blessed
a circle of humility, prayer and asking
and there are no clocks to measure time
but the beating of our singing hearts
Harold Littlebird, Pueblo poet
The Sweat Loge or in Lakota Iinitipi is a place of physical and spiritual purification and a time to commune with the forces of nature, earth, water, fire and air, and Creator.
I attended a sweat lodge recently with close family and in the first round of prayers my husband was waxing on how grateful he felt to be his age. It was coming up to our fourth granddaughter’s first birthday and he was asking blessings for her. He said how happy he was to be a grandfather and that he just realized that he was now sleeping with a grandmother. It almost went right over my head until I realized that he was talking about me, the grandmother. emaho
Yes, I have become a grandmother. No longer just a mother. I felt a deep sense of responsibility at that point. I was taught very young that you honour and respect your elders. Great wisdom can be found in their vast knowledge. Grandparents were sacred and safe. Their love knew no bounds. As I enter the season of reflection let me always keep in the forefront of my being that I owe a deep debt to my elders and a responsibility to my children and grandchildren.
“I have so much I can teach her
And pull out of her
I would say you might encounter defeats
But you must never be defeated
I would teach her to love a lot.
Laugh a lot at the silliest things
And be very serious.
I would teach her to love life,
I could do that.”
adapted from a poem by Maya Angelou
“Grandparents are not there only to be loved and appreciated, but to impart wisdom. They have lived and gained understanding, and their grandchildren should turn to them for guidance and inspiration.”
The lodge is low and dome-shaped and is symbolic for the womb of Mother Earth. It is framed with saplings, preferably willow because of its association with water and its symbolism of spring and renewal. The lodge is covered with animals hides, bark, packed earth or today blankets or canvas. The entrance is an arch covered with a blanket flap to keep out light and the floor is earthen.
Sweat lodge stones are igneous rocks. They are heated in a sacred outside fire to extreme temperatures. They are called grandfathers and grandmothers, the ancient stone people. The red-hot stones are placed in a round pit in the centre of the lodge called the fireplace. It symbolizes the centre of the universe; the dwelling place of the Great Spirit and his Power.
The first four stones invite, honour and symbolize the four directions, the next three represent the sky, earth and the centre. The door flap is closed the lodge becomes pitch black and the fire is blessed with water, and medicine (herbs such as cedar or sweet grass). Sitting in the darkness, illuminated by the red glow of the grandfathers, the air hot and humid you feel that you have entered the beginning of life on earth, you are sitting in the womb of creation. it is a place of spiritual rebirth.You can seat away all forms of tension; mental, physical, and emotional. In rounds each person is asked to pray. The Sweat is usually communal and that through the sharing of wisdom and prayers it strengthens ties of mutual support.