To say that each person held a shaker for the songs that they would sing inside, each person stopped by the sacred fire, to pray and give an offering of thanks with tobacco and cedar bits. The fire responded to the thoughts thrown into the fire, burning silently lifting the thoughts and prayers, to the sky. The cedar popped and crackled, almost giving those silent wishes a voice. To say that each person took off their shoes and with towels wrapped around their bodies, walked barefoot into the small domed shelter, about 4 feet high and twice that diameter, through the eastern flap, into a quiet place, grounded with sweetgrass, cedar and individual mats, surrounding the perfectly carved empty pit.
An Elder sat inside, waiting. Ha-Be in-di-gyn (come in)
Once seated on the mats, the elder said
” For many of you, this is the first time you’ve ever done this. But it is not the first time that you have been here. This is your mother’s womb. You have come here for healing. This is a sacred place and when you leave here tonight, you’ll feel that love once again.
These Seven Grandfathers(represented symbolically in the form of rocks) are here to keep us warm and help cleanse our spirits. They have been with us for a very, very long time. They are the ones who gave us this Sweat Lodge.”
The Elder beat the drum, turned to his left and dipped the copper mug into the cedar vessel of water. scooped it out, and splashed it on the hot rocks. “This is the life blood of Mother Earth.”
The rocks lit up and a scorching steam pumped out of the pit and billowed into the tarps and young saplings that made up the low ceiling of the Sweat Lodge.
“This place represents the womb of Mother Earth. In here you are back with your mother, the purest you have ever been. There is a delicate balance between here, the spirit world and the world we know outside. The world we struggle with every day.
It was pitch black , yet I was aware of the people who had chosen to participate in this place; there was a mother and her 12 year old daughter form Odessa, their cousin from U of T Toronto, a woman from Quebec and her nephew who built birch bark canoes, the host and hostess and the 2 other people who I was not familiar with. I sat there in wonderment and anticipation. I was aware that there would be an observance that would be physically taxing. The heat and the steam heat was something that was very bothersome for me.
The Elder continued to speak ‘When I pour the water on these rocks, it cleanses you inside and out. The most important thing is that you speak about what is bothering you.” Each and every voice spoke after the 4 beats of the drum, and intermittently the red hot rocks were carried into the pit, the Eastern flap opened with a cool air relief (the cool rain had subsided and the fireman at one point stated that the sun had set.. and I heard frogs croaking and the world of nature was very present).
Yes, and when those rocks were placed in the pit, the elder tossed on tobacco and cedar bits, that sizzled and popped …it was all very magical.
Then there was a ladle of water, thrown over the Grandfather mounds creating a steam that scorched each and every one of us. I buried my feet into the cool earth, far past the cedar and sweet grass and felt so present. …and then my voice was speaking, after I’d beat the drum 4 times.
It was a voice that I simply observed(7 pounds of my body fluids were now in the ground and my forehead was still dripping with sweat). The voice was not unlike the others prior to mine. It asked for help with my issues, my struggles and sorrow. I think back to remembered words” to render ourselves insensitive to pain, we must forfeit the possibilities of happiness.” The expressing of sorrow is very much apart of this purification process.
When the last of our voices had spoken, strawberries, cold delicious strawberries were passed around the circle. I savoured their cold sweet water on my lips and my mouth. They were a heart symbol. I was told that the strawberry , so visually representative of the human heart, had a system of leaves, runners, and roots, as does the human heart that is too is connected to all the organs and parts of the human body . This plant is the last to bloom in spring and the first to bring forth fruit.
Then we congregated in Bonnie and Rick’s home for a welcoming pickerel feast and Rick gave the people from Europe a beautifully illustrated book on The Western Life of Aboriginal People in Canada.
It is interesting to note that he stated that having this particular group of people was meaningful for him, as he had felt great empowerment, teaching He said that he had not felt that it was possible to connect with white people; the small town bigotry being so prevalent in his formative years, and present years.
I drove back to Travellodge in North Bay on a snake-like winding road with the comfort of 3 cars in front of me, leading me, with their red tail lights. My tunes were blasting. I rocked and boy did I ROCK
AND I thought
about how I had not come that far from my true love of nature…canoeing down the North Saskatchewan River with Bryan . Yes indeed a northerly attitude does not leave one lightly.
Nor does the acceptance of a concept that better enables one to be a better connect with this planet.
To end this with 2 quotes:
If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence.
People will forget what you said
People will forget what you’ve done
But won’t forget how you made them feel.
The host and hostess of this particular Sweat Lodge collaborated with friends and family to build the spring-like structure: it is made with young sapling branches from the willow tree and tied together with twine of the basswood tree, later to be covered with a canvas. (originally the skins of moose, deer). Initially, our evening was doomed with rain(that eventually passed) so there was a tarp placed securely overhead. The structure is to built on highland that overlooks a property and lake,.(I quietly think that my property is well suited for a Sweat Lodge).
The sacred fire is prepared ahead of time with mostly maple logs and it is important to place this directly in front the Eastern door, the door that the humans enter. The other directions are entered by the spirits.