June 19, 2022

Sweat Lodge Teaching Weekend
By Tom Blackhawk & Kurt Griffith

IMG 9892 1200cropSome of the good, good people who came out for the Gathering, thank you for all the beauty you bring.

Ceremony begins way before you lay the stones, light the fire or prepare and cover the sweat lodge. Ceremony is about intention, Ceremony is about the heart, Ceremony is about others and not self. If you are open and willing to come with the intention to let go of self the Spirits can heal any ailment of Mind, Body, and Spirit.”

I’m not sure who said this, but there is profound truth in the statement.

I have participated in many Sweats from many traditions and longed to fully experience a Lodge from beginning to end. So, I spent the Memorial Day week and Weekend up in Artemis, Pennsylvania at 4 Quarters Farm at the Sweat Lodge Teaching Weekend, setting up and participating in the deep sacred Native tradition of sweat lodge ceremonies.

We began Friday Afternoon by setting the sacred fire and enjoying a welcome supper, followed by an evening Welcome Sweat. Afterward, we socialized by the fire, greeting old friends and meeting new ones.

The next day, after brunch, we engaged in a morning session discussing different traditions from all over the world. We set the fire and prepared for the purification ritual. We ate supper together and attended the Council Fire, where we listened to Native American stories, myths, and legends.

Preparation of the Lodge is a rite unto itself. We worked together to cut wood and gathered water from the well and river that would be poured in the Lodge. We learned how to cover the lodge, set the sacred fire, and choose the Grandfathers (stones) which would be used in the ceremony. Every task was attended to with mindfulness and sacred intent.

Later, sitting in Lodge and smoking sacred herbs through the Chanupa, the Great Plains Sacred Pipe, we prayed for and with the community, and lifted our voices in song and prayers to the Great Creator.

Each Sweat had four rounds in honor of the Four Directions, where the door is closed, and water and herbs are poured on the fire with short breaks between rounds. We did not have to participate in all four rounds, but it was recommended to get a deeper experience. Ceremonies lasted about 1.5 hours.

The scent of sweetgrass, sage, cedar or juniper, and copal wafted through the lodge, as we sprinkled it on the Grandfathers as the water was poured at each round. A Wabanaki/Cree herbal mix made by an Elder Clan Mother, was added as well. The steam felt like a warm blanket, and I felt a sense of security and safety. I felt safe – Safe to pray, release emotions, cleanse myself, and heal.

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Fre Basics: Setting Stone, and pitchfork handling, expertly demonstrated by Fire Keeper Fox. We learn by doing.
Protocol Note: None of the photographs are of ceremony in progress, these are teaching & practice sessions.. 

On Sunday, under cerulean skies, we split into two groups, according to interest. One workshop choice was called “Spiritual Traditions of the African Diaspora”, led by Baba Oren Whiddon (Ika Occana) and Santera Pam Alexander (Eguin Colarde). We followed up later with Readings of IFA with Baba Lawo, Father of Mystery, Orren Whidden, and A Pete Bi, daughter of IFA, Pam Alexander.

Running simultaneously was a Lakota language class led by Kurt, where participants learned the meaning of Lakota sacred songs sung in Inipis, pipe ceremonies and the Sundance. Later, he also held a practical session where we learned techniques, guidelines and practices used in Sweat Lodges. Safety is of the utmost importance, and we learned to be vigilant about the well-being of the participants. We followed up with a training Sweat, followed by the afternoon sessions, a community supper, and a Council Fire. On Monday, after brunch, we learned how to close the Sweat Camp with a Pipe Ceremony and reflected on our experiences.

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Lakota Language & Song Basics.  Practicing working with rocks and antlers – closely supervised, with cold stones.

During the weekend, we participated in Lakota, Wiccan, and Navajo lodges. There are numerous similarities among the traditions, but subtle differences as well. Following is a brief description of each.

The Lakota Lodge was very structured and organized, with a set number of prayers and songs to be sung each round. The stones are placed meticulously in the pit to honor the Four Directions, and the water pourer blesses the water each round. We entered the lodge and moved clockwise from beginning to end. Women entered first, followed by men.

The Navajo Lodge was not as structured and was notably hotter than the Lakota. The prayers and songs concentrated on the beauty of the world in all aspects; in all species, and in being at peace with self and the world to create the perfect balance. All living things are sacred to the Navajo.

The Wiccan Lodge was a combination of some aspects of the Lakota and the Navajo. It was hotter than the Lakota, and more structured than the Navajo. Each round had a different focus, but they built on each other: Round One is focused on prayers for healing the Mind; Round Two prayers are for healing Relationships; Round Three prayers are focused on Magick or Medicine; and Round Four prayers are for healing the Body.

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At the Drum, every song is a prayer. One heartbeat. One Voice. We send our voices to the Grnadfathers

People of all traditions can participate in Sweat Lodges and experience cleansing, peace and healing of Mind, Body and Spirit. The Sweat Lodge staff at Four Quarters provides a safe experience for all participants, whether they are old hands or complete beginners. This includes meticulous and mindful preparation, watchfulness, respect for Nature, and a lot of hard work. They Sweat staff don’t make the Magick; they facilitate the group’s call to the Spirits to promote healing and health for all who enter.

Tom Blackhawk

IMG 9891 1200cropOur guardain fox watches over the uncovered sweat lodge, awaiting the next ceremony.

As the Sweat Liason, and lead faciliator for the weekend, it was an event we had been wanting to do for some time. While every Sweat Lodge ceremony is an opportunity to lean, we really wanted to give our crew of Staff, Volunteer Helpers and guests an opportunity to get "backstage" so to speak. To learn more about the traditions of the Lodge and how to work more intimately with the ceremony. Our aim was that attendees learned more about what we do and why, how we go about it, how to support it, some history and context, and hopefully we provided some good “head food” for the people to take home with them.

I am fond of quoting one of my teachers and saying that "we stand on the shoulders of giants." People of great knowledge, wisdom, generosity and real courage who shared their sacred ways, not only with thier own nations, but with outsiders as well, in order to bring goddness to all the people. So their sacred ways would not be lost in the crashing din of the modern world. I will also say one thing very firmly, NO ONE went home from this weekend imagining themselves a Water Pourer, Medicine Person, or gods-help-you – a “Shaman.” That was not the intent of the gathering, and such things requre a long-term commitment, dedication, and training.

Being a Water Pourer is not a trivial or casual thing. It is demanding, difficult, requires sacrifice, experience, and special training in ceremony, almost always within a sacred tradition. Over time, we may someday hope to see potential ceremony leaders emerge from the ranks of the Sweat Lodge staff and volunteers. We are prepared to be extremely patient about that. Baby steps. Training Wheels. People went home with a deeper appreciation and understanding of the ceremomy and a more earth-spirited way of looking at the world and thier relations. It requires a communituy to do what we do in a good way. To prepare the Lodge, to set stone and tend fire, to pull stones, to tend the door, to help take care of the People, to help put things safely away when ceremonies are done. We are trying to cultivate and nurture such a comunity at Sweat.

We also went to some lengths to go into how we support the interfaith theme of Four Quarters. We are not concered with who or what you pray to, but that you pray. Your relationship with the universe and all its vast sacredness is a very personal thing.

I will say that I was very impressed, not only wth our regular crew, but very much with our guests, some who were on the Land for the very first time. It is a good thing to make friends and grow the family. Everyone was present, attentive, interested, and very respectful. On Friday I had brought out the ceremony drum, and the while willing, the results were... a little chaotic. To be expected, and Spirit knows everyone starts as a beginner. But on Sunday, after teachings and ceremonies, the drum pulled together in a good way. I suspect the experience of ceremony and being in service opens "the hollow bone" to let Spirit flow. We were drumming and singing with far more of One Heart and One Mind spirit - a family, a tiospaye. We hope to see you all around our fires again.

Nothing but gratitude for the people, our crew, My Medicine SIster and Brother, Otter, and Walter Weaving Eagle, and the support of the Church of Four Quarters - and all of our teachers over the years, for making this possible, and making it beautiful. Pilamaya, Wopila Tanka.

Mitaquye Oyasin,

Kurt Talking Stone

Learn more about Sweat Lodge at Four Quarters Here