For the Lakota people, the Inipi is sacred. It’s a ceremony of intentional irritation to vicariously experience the suffering of others in the world and send them prayer with true intent. Most non-natives are more familiar with the term sweat lodge; a short, dome shaped hut covered in blankets and tarps, filled with blazing rocks that create a sauna-like atmosphere.
Recently, I participated in a traditional sweat lodge ceremony, run by a Lakota elder named Carl of Big Heart Circle in Ellenville, NY. I was invited by a long time participant after I had just asked my husband for a divorce. Something about being held in ceremony as you navigate through an abrupt time. Ceremony solidifies the ground beneath you and helps you move through what you need to move through with the realization that you are not alone without having to say anything out loud. We are all going through something.
“As a community we came together, starting with preparing and covering the lodge the day before. This is part of our three day ceremony: Friday lodge preparation, Saturday sweat lodge and feast and Sunday talking circle with Carl Big Heart. As in all ceremony, we have a beginning, a middle and an end. This is represented in the three days that we come together. Leave Sunday feeing uplifted inspired and grounded as we stand firmly in the directions for future generations.” The night before the lodge, we also made prayer ties setting them with intention to take into the lodge with us and burn in the bonfire at its conclusion to the Great Spirit for blessings. Prayer ties are made with string, tobacco, and small pieces of cloth.
Four colors of fabric are traditionally used when making a prayer ties to represent the four directions or the four winds—east (yellow), north (red), west (black), and south (white). Black is for what you are releasing. White is what you’re calling in. Red is the energy that you want to cultivate more of. Yellow is for something you’re thankful for? I can’t remember. Just ask, as I feel like with different circles, colors can mean different intentions. Just choose the guidance that resonates with you most. Ceremony started with elders designating an archetype to some people and all of us choosing rocks to add to the sacred fire, which were then carried in to be used as heat.
I think that with that experience the things that I want people to understand the most is safety. Not all persons should participate in this type of ceremony especially those that are heat sensitive or have been advised by their doctors to not be in hot situations. Also, honor when you have to take a break. There are breaks in between the 4 rounds and water passed around during that time as well. Please take care of yourself and honor what your body needs. This isn’t a competition but a commitment to compassion for yourself, where you are in life and of those around you. I do advise bringing a towel with you in the lodge for those truly hot times to cool the air coming at you, when it isn’t a break. Also, bow your head down to touch the cool earth supporting you when the heat gets intense. Dehydration is a risk, which is why lodges offer the breaks between each session. Respect yourself and do what you need to do to keep yourself safe. Dress code is comfortable and skirts for women. Men and women are divided in the lodge. Other than that, enjoy the light show, grandfather rocks, and being around the community and know that you are supported.
More than happy to answer any questions related to this, just ask! 🙂