Sweat lodge

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Sweat lodge of the Nez Percé , Edward Curtis 1910
Sweat lodge in Columbia 1937

The sweat lodge or the sweat lodge ritual (a cleansing ritual ) was widespread among the Indians of North America and probably also among many other peoples of the northern hemisphere and served the preparation of ceremonies, cleansing and physical health maintenance and healing in the event of illness.

The best known is the Inipi ceremony of the Sioux (Lakota, Western and Eastern Dakota), which is one of the Seven Sacred Rites , which the Sioux through the culture bringer Whope ("The Beautiful") or White Buffalo Woman ("White Buffalo Woman ") ) was transmitted and is still being carried out today. The name Inipi is derived from the Lakota language, the Lakȟótiyapi ; Ini from Inyan ("stone, rock") and Pi ("hut, dwelling").

The sweat lodge ritual was also widespread among other Sioux-speaking peoples (Absarokee, Assiniboine, Stoney, Mandan, Hidatsa) as well as other plains and prairie tribes (Arapaho, Cheyenne, Mandan etc.), each of which used slightly modified forms.

Similar sweat lodges can also be found among the Mesoamerican Indians - there they are known as Temazcal or Temazcalli and apparently served primarily to maintain physical health and for healing - less for ritual cleansing and healing of body and mind. In this respect one can compare these steam baths with the sauna from Northern Europe.

Construction of the hut

An Indian sweat lodge can - depending on the tribe - have different shapes: from a simple, covered earth pit to rectangular, flat wooden houses, small round mud huts, additions to residential buildings to the shape of a wicker dome, which is usually chosen today, originally from the Plains Indians , specifically the Lakota, was used. In this traditional form, the sweat lodge is built in a ritual process from willow sticks or hazelnut rods. The sticks are inserted into prepared holes, arranged in arches and connected to one another by four rings in a dome shape (Lame Deer version). A hole for the hot stones is dug in the middle of the hut. The excavated earth is piled up next to the entrance or in the middle on the way to the fireplace to a "sacred hill" or altar. In the Lakota tradition, the fire pit is six steps away and is connected to the hut by a path. The fire stands for the sun, the hut for the earth, which receives energy from the sun. The stones for the ritual are called "seeds of grandfather sun". The Lakota use a certain number of stones for a cleansing ritual, usually 32 and for a healing ritual 64. For use, the framework is covered with furs or blankets. A Lakota sweat lodge is about 5 to 7 feet (1.5 to 2 m) high and can accommodate 7 to 8 people, but there are also significantly larger sweat lodges up to 25 people, e.g. B. with sun dances .

Sweat lodge in the traditional design of the Lakota Indians on the Beuerhof in Üxheim, Eifel

The sweat lodge construction is subject to different rules and varies greatly depending on the choice of place, observance of the cardinal points, the number of wooden sticks to be used and the symbolic representation of elements, planets and the balance of forces. So with the Lakota z. B. 12 willow sticks are used for a family sweat hut, while a hut made of 16 sticks is provided for the healing rituals of medicine men . The entrance is on the west side of the Lakota, on the east side of many other tribes, sometimes on both.

Each part of the hut has a special meaning. In the Lakota tradition, the four rings represent the four phases of creation of the higher spirits, the allied spirits, the subordinate spirits and the lower spirits, which are then individually assigned to the holes in the willow sticks (sun, movement, earth, stone, moon, Wind, satisfaction and harmony, bison, bear, cardinal points, spirit, intellect and matter). In the middle of the dome, 104 tobacco sacks in the colors of the cardinal points are then hung. An important ritual item in a Lakota hut is the sacred pipe .

Fire and stones

The fire is a layer fire . Thick branches are stacked square and crosswise in several layers. The 15 to 20 cm large stones are placed in the middle layers and covered by further wood layers. The resulting pile of wood measures around 1.2 × 1.2 meters and is around one meter high. In about two to three hours, the fire makes the stones glow visually in the dark. It must then be received at least another two hours during the ceremony. An appropriate supply of wood is required for this. The stones should be as dry as possible (no river stones) so that they do not crack dangerously in the heat and contain no substances that evaporate under heat - limestone e.g. B. is unsuitable.


A ritual leader is responsible for the process of the sweat lodge ritual, who interprets the rules and meanings and can vary them. The places in the sweat lodge are also important in healing rituals and are assigned to various human problems. During the sweat lodge ritual, the selected stones are heated in a nearby fireplace, carried into the sweat lodge by the fire guard, sprinkled with herbs and poured over with water. This repeated process is accompanied by intense prayers, sometimes drums and singing.

The ritual begins with the common preparation: looking for wood (for a large ritual fire that has to burn vigorously for several hours), looking for stones, sealing sweat lodges with blankets, preparing a fireplace, and stacking wood and stones in an artful way. The keeper of the fire or fireman is the second master of ceremonies and is responsible for setting up, lighting and maintaining the fire and later for transporting the stones and protecting the ceremony from outside. He does a responsible, hard and sweaty job. The group accompanies the lighting of the fire with drums, singing and prayer.

After a break (until the fire has made the stones glow) the actual sweat lodge begins with a ritual cleansing of the participants through smoking . Before entering the sweat lodge, the clothes are removed and jewelry and offerings are placed on an altar.

The ritual in the hut begins with the invitation of the ancestors and spirits, whose supporting energy contributes to the success. This is usually followed by four rounds, each round with a topic, following the Lakota way :

  1. Thank you: For everything that has happened to me, what I have experienced and learned.
  2. Requests: For myself and others (especially for energy, ideas, insight).
  3. Giving: What I want to give away (love, knowledge, energy),
    but also what I want to let go of (negative thoughts, bad habits).
  4. Vision: Be open to inspiration and knowledge in silence.

In the different rounds a different number of infusions is made: in the first round four, in the second seven, in the third ten, and in the last round an “infinite” number of infusions.

Sweating and praying should bring about an external and internal purification and the reunion with the spirit, so that the person is born again. According to the traditional explanation, the sweat lodge with its dome resembles the belly of a pregnant woman lying on the ground. So the participants return to the belly of mother and mother earth and experience a purification, renewal and re-creation of their life energy through the ritually called energies.

The sweat lodge should not be left either during or between the rounds (compared to a pregnancy, which cannot simply be "left"). Some traditions allow an exit between rounds. With the Absarokee , the hut may only be left in the second round. At the beginning of the third round of a Lakota sweat lodge, the ritual leader gives each participant drinking water. In "medicine sweat lodges", participants are not allowed to lie down. This can be quite an effort, because it is usually extremely hot in the sweat lodges.

The sweat lodge ceremony was brought to Europe mainly by members of the Lakota tribe, but also from other traditions, where it has attracted increasing interest since the 1990s. The first sweat lodges in Europe probably took place in 1982 and 1983 in the course of the shamanism conferences in Alpbach (Tyrol).

In order to conduct a sweat lodge ceremony according to the Lakota tradition, authorization from a Lakota Indian is required. It is, however, very controversial among some Indians whether sweat lodges should even be made outside of America, and even more controversial whether white sweat lodges should run. On the other hand, this is advocated because the ritual should be open to everyone. Furthermore, worldwide sweat bath traditions and numerous archaeological finds in Northern Europe (especially in Ireland and Finland) suggest that sweat lodge constructions were also used for ritual purposes in other cultures.

See also


  • Joseph Bruchac : The Native American Sweat Lodge. History and Legends. Crossing Press, Freedom CA 1993, ISBN 0-89594-637-8 .
  • Raymond A. Bucko: The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge. History and Contemporary Practice. University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln NE et al. a. 1998, ISBN 0-8032-1272-0 .
  • Rodney Frey: The World of the Crow Indians. As Driftwood Lodges (= The Civilization of the American Indian Series . Vol. 185). University of Oklahoma Press, Norman OK et al. a. 1987, ISBN 0-8061-2076-2 .
  • Gerhard Popfinger: The sweat lodge. Origin, construction and ritual. Arun, Uhlstädt-Kirchhasel 2010, ISBN 978-3-86663-035-2 .
  • Christiane van Schie: In the lap of the earth mother. The sweat lodge, a female healing path. Worldwide tradition, taboos and ceremonies. Drachen-Verlag, Klein Jasedow 2010, ISBN 978-3-927369-49-8 .
  • Christina Welch: Appropriating the Didjeridu and the Sweat Lodge: New Age Baddies and Indigenous Victims? In: Journal of Contemporary Religion . Vol. 17, No. 1, January 2002, pp. 21-38.

Web links

Commons : Sweat lodges  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Folklore treatise u. a. about designs http://openlibrary.org/works/OL4504975W/Indianische_Schwitzha%CC%88user_der_Nordwestku%CC%88ste_Nordamerikas
  2. James Eogan: Cleansing Body & Soul? ( Memento of the original from May 29, 2010 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. Article by an Irish archaeologist @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot / www.waterfordcity.ie
  3. Christiane van Schie: In the lap of the earth mother . Pp. 35-41.