Friday, October 23, 2009

Comment on the Sweat Lodge Deaths

There's been a lot of press lately about the sweat lodge deaths in Arizona.

These headlines can possibly scare interested people away from an experience that has been used without any drama for thousands of years.

These are the times when a bridging of the Native American and white/black/latino cultures is happening, and so one unintended aspect of these deaths is that they can bring about cultural communication and understanding, even though it is under tragic circumstances.

In the press, there has been only minimal exploration of the historical uses of sweat lodges. Some of it, rightfully so, is clouded in mystery. That's because the ways, the uses, and especially the effects of the sweat lodge are not immediately apparent to the outside observer, especially the western outside observer. It's somewhat akin, I would imagine, to the outside observer who looks at masonic culture and traditions as portrayed by Dan Brown -(I happen to be reading the Lost Symbol right now!).

I have had the privilege to partake in traditional ceremonies facilitated by Native Americans, American Indian, whatever you want to call it (because some Indians certainly would never call themselves Native Americans) - for 6 years now. That's not a lot of time, as any true Indian would tell you, however, one thing is for sure: there is no reason to be scared of the sweat lodge. I have many clients who are interested in these ways and are pursuing them in their local areas from those who are trained.

A trained sweat lodge leader is one who has been chosen by Spirit, and one who has endured years upon years of rigorous testing and training. A lodge or "altar" would never be passed down by an elder unless the individual has passed many, many tests of endurance, heart and strength. The sweat lodge leader must be strong enough to withstand the sickness of ALL those who are in the lodge. By sickness I mean karma, bad decisions, generational DNA influences, trauma, accidents, illness - all sorts of nasty stuff, whatever comes up. It can be a very, very difficult path to follow. It is NOT to be taken lightly, nor is one's decision to enter a sweat lodge.

The sweat lodge leader is most likely is not profiting from their use of sweat lodges, although it is custom in today's society to give the leader of the sweat lodge a monetary donation after the lodge. The fact that the leader of the Arizona lodge, James Arthur Ray, is charging $10,000 per retreat has been used as criticism from some. However, his retreat included a lot more than just the sweat lodge itself. The only person who truly knows what happened at that lodge is Great Mystery and Creator - and that's probably the way it should stay.

One enters a sweat lodge for a higher purpose. I have seen many people enter a lodge to test it out once, twice, or a handful of times. That's fine and it's intended for that. Every single sweat lodge that I have ever been to has been an EXCEPTIONALLY welcoming and SAFE place for ALL people.

There's been criticism from Indians, who say they would never cram 60 people into a lodge. In my experience, the most I have ever seen in a lodge is around 20-25 people. Any more than that I don't think the sweat lodge leader could be fully attentive to every person's healing experience.

Thankfully, I have had teachers and mentors whose goal in life was to extend these Indian traditions and understandings to ALL people. Understand that many Indians don't want their traditions passed on to white people. Many still have deep-seated, generational distrust of white people.

While understandable, this is what I am using MY LIFE to pray for. I am using MY LIFE, with the use of my gifts and every ounce of strength, to pray that this old DRAMA be healed. ONCE AND FOR ALL.



Michelle said...

Thanks for posting this. I think that all of these things needed to be said. Personally, I'm of the belief that one does not charge for any type of Shamanistic healing, however, in this day and age, these healers are not treated with the respect they deserve, nor are gifts given as they should be, for services performed. And while the cost seems outrageous to the poor amongst us, the benefits should always outweigh the cost. Let's hope some peace can be made from this. Thanks again for the post.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for your comments.

How do you think incidents like the Sedona tragedy should be prevented in the future?

Do you think the law should become involved in this tradition, requiring certification in order to lead (or assemble) a sweat lodge? If some Indians don't want to share this tradition with non-Indians, they would probably resist such institutionalization.

How can this healing tradition be extended to help others outside its original culture without incidents like this, which both harm participants and negatively affect the uninitiated public's perceptions of this ancient healing rite?


Phoenix Aquua said...

I agree with Michelle, as far as "charging" the fee's that this particular person did...other fees are very it appears that only the fortunate are able to be healed?...If these healers are "chosen" as you put it....were they told by the chooser to charge outrageous fees? I think not. The core message is appreciated, but we must awake the the smoke and mirrors that are being used....use your own intuition. Just like Dr. Wayne Dryer, Ramtha, etc...all charge for their spiritual messages....shame shame shame....there is nothing spiritual about charging money for knowledge.

Carol said...

I was fortunate enough to attend two sweat lodge ceremonies. The lodge was built by a Native American who had trained with an elder. All that was expected was a bag of tobacco for the ceremony and a length of material in a basic color to be used for flags. If you could not bring anything, that was fine. It was a gift not a fee.
They had two lodges a small one used usually during the week or for small gatherings and a larger one for special gathering such as New Years Eve. When a much larger crowed was expected for a special ceremony. The main difference was that the larger lodge was taller.
I was able to stand in the middle. Both of the lodges were covered with blankets and skins. Tarps were thrown over the top in case of rain. A lodge must be able to breath. As we all know heat rises. As a former draftsperson, from what I could see of the lodge that was constructed for the 60 people, the per portions were way out of whack and it also seemed very long, I suppose to accommodate more people, hence ,more money. I understand the lodge was four foot high. I couldn’t tell how big around it was from the picture. The heat and steam had no where to go. I don’t know what it was covered with, but it looked like a geometric built with triangles and covered with non breathable tarps. The traditional lodge is built more like an igloo.
Also, the leader encouraged anyone that overwhelmed to leave or take a break. Unlike the man who put on this “retreat’ who told people who wanted to leave that they were “tougher than that” In other words, don’t be a wuss.
I the right circumstances where a sweat lodge ceremony is a spiritual session instead of a money making event concocted by some new age entrepreneur, It is a beautiful health inspiring event. Is it uncomfortable? Yes, it is hot and steamy but the average, healthy person can easily tolerate it. We had children in our lodge. They had to sit in the front to be very closely monitored.
When a sacred ceremony is done for money it ceases to be spiritual and turns into just another big money making adventure for those who can afford “big bucks”.
This was a tragedy that never should have happened if carried out by someone with even the slightest idea of what he was doing. Because of that, people suffered and died. Based on my own experience, I can only imagine what those poor propel went through. This was not a sweat lodge, it was and oven.