Sweat Lodge Questions and Answers

Compiled by the Wicahpi Luta Tioshpaye Q: What is a “Tioshpaye”?
“Tioshpaye” (tee-OH-shpah-yay) is the Lakota word for “Community.” It signifies a group of people who do things together, have a common interest and actively support one another. Our community, Wicahpi Luta Tioshpaye (Red Star Community) does authentic Lakota ceremonies as we were taught by our friend and brother the late Orville Reddest, a respected elder among the Lakota or Teton Sioux.

Q: What is a “sweat lodge”?
The lodge itself is a low, dome-like structure made from bent willow saplings. It is covered with blankets and then tarps. It holds anywhere from six to twenty people. It has a “door” on the front, usually facing west. This is where you and some very hot rocks enter the lodge. While the door is closed, water is poured on the hot stones, songs are sung in Lakota and prayers are said in English and Lakota. The door is opened two to four times during a typical one hour Lodge ceremony.

Q: What is a sweat lodge “Ceremony”?
The sweat Lodge ceremony is called an “Inipi” (ee-NEE-pee) in Lakota, which means “purification ceremony.” People go to an Inipi to support someone else or to ask for help for themselves. Everything that is and was has a spirit. All our parts--spirit, body, mind and heart--are purified and made to work together as a whole person during an Inipi. This process is not very theoretical. It’s VERY experiential. Words written about it fail to describe. It’s an experience. Let the person “pouring” the Lodge know if you are new. Suffice it to say that you will feel very, very clean and “new” when you come out of a Lodge!

Q: Do I need to have certain beliefs or want to be “Indian” to do this?
If you believe the Sun appears in the East and disappears in the West here in Austin; that it’s cold in the North and warm in the South--then you’re all set belief-wise. If you’re not an Indian when you go into Lodge, you won’t be one when you come out. That said, after going to several Lodges, you can feel yourself becoming part of the Lakota spiritual heritage and culture which is really nothing more (or less) than becoming a decent human being. It’s always good to have a reason to go into a Lodge. You wouldn’t go in just to check it out or have a novel experience. People are either going in Lodge to support someone else or help themselves. It’s also good to show respect for the ways that things are done around Lodge as these ways “have come a long way.”

Q: I have fears about entering such a small, dark enclosure with so much heat and steam. What can I do to deal with these fears?
Those fears are already inside of you. Do you want to keep them or get rid of them? Lodge gets rid of them faster than you can acquire them. If you don’t want to deal with these fears so suddenly, then there are many other ways to become part of the ceremony: fire-keeping, door-tending, food preparation, watching the children. You can also come in for just one or two of the first “doors” (a unit of measurement for Lodges; one Lodge = four doors). You can always ask to leave if it gets too hot or uncomfortable.

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Q: Why do people do this?
Others have followed these ways for thousands of years, week after week, day after day, always coming back for more. What motivated them? Two things: health and help. We need to keep strong to keep going and meeting life’s many challenges. Sometimes that’s hard. So we need our health--recovering from sickness, getting rid of toxins from the air we breathe and the food we eat. Sometimes we also just need help--material help, help with our feelings, help with our grief over the loss of a loved one or just help for your own spirit.

Q: Will I be put on the spot? Will I be forced to pray out loud by myself or anything?
No. Our Lodges are for people just as they are. No special beliefs are required nor are you asked to pronounce your faith or beliefs or personal prayers. Lakota prayers are pretty much down-to-earth requests for health and help to whatever higher power the person asking believes in. If that’s your conscience, then so be it. And your requests for help are made either aloud while songs are being sung or silently to yourself.

Q: What should I wear into Lodge?
Bring a large towel (and a spare, if you like) and shorts (for men) or a loose, smock-like dress (for women). Whatever you wear should be cotton if possible because it “breathes” so well. When the Lodge door is closed, it is pitch dark and you adjust your clothing to allow the steam to heal your whole body.

Q: What time is Lodge?
We go in the Lodge around dusk during the summer and sunset in the winter. Sometimes there are sun rise Lodges, too. We start preparations (fire, Lodge set-up, etc.) at least 2 to 2-1/2 hours before going into the Lodge itself. Everyone attending Lodge should try and come early to help with the preparations, if at all possible. This has the effect of allowing each of us to connect with the whole Lodge process and feel a part of it. Q: If I can’t come early, should I just not come? If you can’t come early, you should still come and don’t feel shy or guilty about it. Some people--because of their schedules on Lodge day—just can’t make it out early, but maybe they can make a special dish earlier in the week or bring a load of wood on Sunday or stay around afterwards to help clean up. There are

many ways to contribute. Q: How can I help?

Coming to Lodge early to help with preparation is a big help. It also enhances the whole Lodge experience. Getting trained on starting the fire and carrying the Stone People into the Lodge make you a very valuable person to the group. You will be setting the tone and direction of our Lodge and getting us started in a timely fashion. So that we can continue to have these Lodges on a weekly basis, on some Saturdays we have wood or stone gathering parties followed by Lakota singing or language lessons. These work parties usually begin at 11:00 AM at the Lodge

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grounds. If you want to learn some ceremony songs, and really want to prepare yourself for Lodge by doing something indispensable to the experience, join us on these important resource-gathering occasions. These are announced in our weekly email newsletter.

Q: What kind of Lodges are these?
Lodges that our Tioshpaye sponsors are authentic Lakota Lodges. We got our ways from Orville Reddest, who got his from Grandpa Earl Swift Hawk. Both men were traditional Lakota men and fluent Lakota speakers whose first language was Lakota. Most of our Lodges are mixed, the Lodge. The men sit on the south. Every so often we also held back-to-back on the same Lodges. which means that men and women pray together in north side of the Lodge and women sit on the have separate Lodges for men and women--usually night, or simultaneously if the site has two

From time to time, we have visiting ceremonial leaders whose families may do things slightly differently within the Lakota Way. If they have been invited to pour for us, then we follow their instructions. We don’t questions them or make them feel like they have to defend their ways.

Q: The Lodge I went to before does things differently. Which way should I follow?
The proper and respectful thing to do is to always support the person who is doing the pouring. If that isn’t comfortable to you, then you have the option of not attending that Lodge. As Orville said, “You got to have respect.”

Q: Why do we have Mixed Lodges?
There is a greater need these days for the healing power and the humble, effective way of praying that these ceremonies and ceremonial leaders provide for the people. It is out of compassion for the people that ceremonial leaders like Orville and Grandpa Earl poured Mixed Lodges; so more people can participate in each Lodge. At Sun Dance and other places on the rez today, it seems that this is the way things are going. With our Tioshpaye, Orville encouraged us to pour Mixed Lodges most of the time, but to periodically set aside a night for separate Men’s and Women’s Lodges. See the Lodge Schedule for specific information on upcoming Lodges.

Q: Who was Orville Reddest?
Orville Reddest was an Oglala Sioux (Lakota) man in his 50’s when we met him. He was descended from Crazy Horse’s medicine man and interpreter, Horn Chips. Orville presided over and led Sun Dance, put people out on the hill for Vision Quest, and sang for several types of Lakota ceremony. Orville was also a lay minister for the Potato Creek Episcopal Church near Interior, South Dakota, where he lived. Rather than finding conflict in the Lakota and Christian paths, he saw tremendous convergence and used the church as well as the Inipi to help his people Orville led and inspired several circles throughout the Midwest who used Lakota ceremony (Lodge, primarily) to lead Indians (and others) off of drugs and alcohol and back on to the “Red Road.” Orville taught the Lakota way to our Tioshpaye. His teaching didn’t come from a book, but from his heart where the teachings of his Grandma, Grandpa, and the ways of his people resided.

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Q: Who leads this group now, after Orville’s passing? Orville’s adopted brother, Jerry, agreed to take on Orville’s commitments after his passing. With the encouragement of the community, Jerry now leads us.

Q: Who can come to Lodge?
Our Lodges are open to anyone who wants to pray with us. The more, the merrier. Beginners are great to have at Lodge. Children’s voices are also wonderful to hear in Lodge and around camp. Of course, the adults who bring children are responsible to either supervise those children, or make sure that someone else is available and willing to do so. Q: Is there any time when it would NOT be good to attend Lodge? Women experiencing their monthly menses (aka, “Moon Time”) are already in ceremony; an older, more powerful ceremony that has opposing effects upon ceremonies like Lodge, Vision Quest, or Sun Dance that involve the Cannunpa (ceremonial pipe). Therefore, traditionally, women avoid being physically near the Cannunpa and certain other ceremonial items (the wood, stones, age, cedar used) during the first 48 hours of their Moon Time. Many women wait 4 days to be certain.

Q: What about drugs and alcohol and going to Lodge?
People coming to Lodge shouldn’t drink any alcoholic beverages or take any recreational drugs for at least 24 hours before attending Lodge. This includes marijuana and peyote. You might become sick in Lodge, and your presence may cause others to feel weak. Orville and Granpa Earl believed that the Cannunpa Way (the way of the Lakota Pipe) and the Peyote Way don’t mix. If you find it difficult to stop taking alcohol or drugs for 24 hours before Lodge, let one of the people leading Lodge know, and they can discuss with you a program to help.

Q: Can we bring pets to ceremony?
We discourage bringing dogs and other animals to Lodge. They have been known to walk off with clothing and ceremonial items. There are also specific ceremonial reasons for this, which we will be glad to explain to anyone who comes to Lodge.

Q: What should I bring to Lodge?
If this is your first Lodge, then you really only have to worry about bringing your Lodge clothes or towel and a tobacco gift. Assuming this isn’t one of your first Lodges you could also bring: 1. A potluck dish or beverage for the feast that follows Lodge; 2. Prayer-tie material (cotton cloth, cotton string, loose tobacco); 3. A tobacco offering (such as, a pack of Bugler tobacco, available at any large grocery store) for the person who is leading the Lodge. We encourage you to make prayer ties before coming out to Lodge, so you can be available to help with Lodge preparations. If you don’t know how to make prayer ties, bring the material and someone will show you.

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It’s really great if people can also, from time-to-time, bring wood (untreated and without nails or any metal), stones (lava rocks), and/or sage (prairie variety which is light gray as opposed to the white, brittle West Coast type). Special Lodges require making “flags” for each direction and a long string of prayer ties. You may be asked to make these, especially if the Lodge is being held at your request or for a special purpose--a “Thank You” or “Wopila” Lodge, for instance.

Q: Isn’t tobacco bad for people? I feel funny about buying it and giving it as a gift.
Some people think: “Tobacco causes cancer; that can’t be a good thing!” The loose tobacco you bring to Lodge and offer as a gift is then used to make “offerings” back to the Spirits of the Directions. Loose tobacco is also used to put on the ground to discourage fire ants from taking over Lodge grounds. Some people do use the tobacco gifts to smoke and use in prayer, also. It is each person’s freedom to choose to smoke tobacco or not. We can’t presume to know what’s “best” for others. That’s their decision and we have to respect that.

Q: Where do I get materials and additional knowledge for Lodge?
If this is your first Lodge, then you really only have to worry about bringing your Lodge clothes or towel and a tobacco gift. The following is a list of materials and where you can get them: Fabric and String There are used for flags and prayer ties and are available at Hobby Lobby, Wal-Mart or Hancock Fabric. Should be 100% cotton, but blends are OK if cotton is not available. White or red string is fine. Fine cotton yarn makes good string for ties or flags and is easy on the hands. Tobacco This is used for making prayer ties and flags as well as being offered as gifts. Loose tobacco is used for ties and flags. Bugler or Top are just fine and are inexpensive and available at Randall’s, HEB or Albertson’s. If the person pouring Lodge smokes cigarettes, people often offer them a pack of their brand. Stones The stones are what heat the Lodge and, along with the water, create the steam. It is also said that the Stone People breathe when we pour water on them and that their breath heals us. These are lava stones and are found in areas where there are extinct volcanoes. The closest lava stones are at Pilot’s Knob south-east of town. Wood The wood is used to heat the stones. They give up all the sunlight they’ve been storing. They give up their life to heat the stones. We use any kind of wood as long as it’s not treated with paint or strong chemicals. Wood for fire should have no metal in it: no nails, hinges, etc. Cedar is just great and most people don’t want to use it in their fireplaces.

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Sage The prairie sage we use is found in the upper Midwestern plains. It has light gray, soft leaves. We use it to rub on parts of our bodies that need healing during Lodge. We also use it to smudge (purify ourselves with smoke) and to make teas and medicine. You can obtain it by picking it or ordering it from Sioux Trading Post (800-456-3394) or White Horse Herbs (605-856-4125). Cedar Cedar leaves growing on our local junipers and those from flat cedar (found up north and west) are both used for smudging. Cedar is known for its protective qualities and also makes excellent, easy-to-light firewood. Songs The songs we sing are authentic Lakota songs. The great majority of these have been brought back from Vision Quests conducted long ago or, in some cases, recently. Many of the ones that we sing are directly from Orville. There are also good songs on one of two tapes: Lakota Ceremonial Songs” by John Around Him, and “Sending a Voice, Volume I” by Wanbli Gleshka Cikala (Little Spotted Eagle). Both of these tapes have booklets with Lakota and English. You can order them from the Sioux Trading Post in Rapid City or White Horse Herbs in Mission, South Dakota. Lakota Language If you want to learn Lakota, we’d recommend first going to lots of Lodges where you can pick up a fair amount. Then you might want to get Everyday Lakota by Joseph Karol. It’s a very easy-to-use dictionary. Not too big and very handy. If you want to learn more about the structure of sentences and such, we’d recommend Reading and Writing the Lakota Language by Albert White Hat, Sr. It’s also got great stories and Lakota philosophy in it. Both these books are available from Sioux Trading Post and White Horse Herbs. Web Site You can find out more about out community and the ceremonies it sponsors at this website: http://theredstar.ning.com

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