Sweat lodges are dome shaped structures that Indigenous peoples use during different purification rites and to promote healthy living. They are heated by steam that is created when water is poured on hot rocks. The purpose of the sweat lodges is to sweat out toxins and negative energy, as these are believed to cause an imbalance within. Much like Hippocrates in 460 B.C., and philosophers during the 16th century, many believe internal balance fought off illness and disease.
Building Sweat Lodges
The building of First Nations sweat lodges varies from territory to territory, and even within territories it depends on the conductor. The structure is generally the same, but with slight differences:
- Step one involves choosing the correct spot on the ground to build the lodge. Generally, a quiet place is sought out – this ensures there is no distraction or disturbance during the ritual.
- The next step involves digging a fire-pit and filling it with stones. These stones are typically 25-50cm, making it possible for them to hold heat longer during the ceremony. They are referred to as Grandmothers and Grandfathers.
- A second pit is dug in what will be the centre of the dome – this is where the rocks will be held within the lodge during the ceremony.
- Once this is done, the builder will use supple branches to create the dome like shape surrounding the pit.
- In the past, these branches were then covered by bark and fur, while now it is blankets and sometimes tarpaulin. This encloses the dome, while always leaving an entrance. The direction of the entrance depends on the conductor of the lodge.
Sweat Lodge Ceremony
Sweat lodge ceremonies are ran by conductors who have trained for many years to perform them. They have received proper training and healing and are able to advise based on health concerns.
Once inside the lodge, those participating in the sweat sit in a circle around the central pit. In some sweat lodges, men sit on one side and women on the other. Sometimes, men and women have separate ceremonies. There are variations depending on the territory or ceremony.
The fire pit outside the lodge is tended to by a firekeeper, who brings the stones into the central pit when advised by the conductor.
Those who enter the sweat lodge are looking for help from the Creator. For this reason, songs and drums are used to call helping spirits into the lodge. Everyone is given an opportunity to speak and pray when they are in the lodge, and water is poured onto the hot stones to create cleansing steam.
Once the ceremony has ended, the spirits are thanked and sent home. The participant is left with a spirit feeling alive and new.
Uses and Benefits of Sweat Lodges
There are different reasons that First Nation use sweat lodge:
Purifying and Cleansing
Some First Nations use the sweat lodges to cleanse themselves of impurities and toxins within the body as well as negative energy. This is often done before ceremonies.
The belief that imbalances within the body result in disease and illness is popular amongst First Nations peoples and so use sweat lodges to restore this balance.
Many Indigenous peoples use sweat lodges before and after fasting to cleanse their body and mind and prepare for the fast.
Sweat lodge ceremonies are sacred to First Nations and are always conducted safely and with ceremony in mind.
The different uses and benefits of First Nations sweat lodges are like that of hot springs throughout different cultures and history. These have all played a role in the development of hot tubs and hydrotherapy over the years.
Want to know more about the Evolution of Hot Tubs? Check out our full timeline here and download the infographic to keep up to date!