A sweat lodge is a spherical structure made of willow branches. 16 willow branches are needed to make this building. These willow branches are partially inserted into the earth and then bent towards each other. They are interconnected and secured with several rings all around so that a sturdy structure is created. On the days that it is used, the sweat lodge is covered with 4 layers of woollen blankets. Originally they used animal skins. In the sweat lodge, also called Inipi (house of breath), a stone pit has been made in the middle. The red-hot stones are laid in it, when the ceremony starts.
What is a Sweat lodge ceremony?
A sweat lodge ceremony is a ritual ‘clean-up’ which is centuries old. The native Americans (Indians – the original inhabitants of America) used the sweat lodge to purify. This could take place, for example, after they came back from the hunt or battlefield. Purification can take place on multiple layers: emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually. The red-hot stones, which have been heated in the fire outside the lodge for about two hours, and the combination of water and herbs will cause steam in the hut. This steam, together with the heat, is the start of the ceremony. Before the stones are brought into the lodge, the participants will take their place in the lodge. The participants sit around the pit. The ceremonial leader and a guide sit on both sides of the door.
The sweat lodge ceremony will last 4 rounds, honoring the 4 directions and the elements at each round. During these rounds there will be sharing, singing, and there will also be silences. After each round there will be a short break. After this short break, the ceremonial leader will again ask for red-hot stones and start the next round. Although we live in a society, in which time is an important factor, during the sweat lodge ceremony “Indian time” will apply. This “Indian time” means that we are not concerned with time, but that we use the energy and the warmth of the stones as a guide.