Some Indians prefer only males in Inipi ceremonies; others do not differentiate or mind the mixed male and female participation within the same lodge. As time moves on, mixed lodges are becoming more prevalent. Many believe there should be no differentiation as we are all creations of the Great Spirit, all equal, all holy, especially in the spiritual sense. What differences there are between man and woman are special, due to the Creator. It is a special relationship, in practical respects, but on a spiritual level, there is an equal sameness.

An Inipi usually starts with the loading and offering of the peace pipe. As in the majority of Sioux ceremonies, the Woman’s role reflects her position of honor. A woman, representative of White Buffalo Calf Maiden, will take tobacco and circle clockwise around the fireplace, trailing some particles of tobacco. She will then leave a trail from the fireplace to the sweat lodge opening. She enters the lodge with her remaining portion of tobacco and circles the stone pit with a light sprinkling. The sweat lodge is now considered open, and the participants may proceed to undress for the lodge.

Loin cloths, tennis shorts or swimming trunks are preferred for the men, shorts and a halter or tee shirt for the women. Participants may wear, or carry in their pockets, special stones, crystals, or other significant objects. Once the ceremony group has entered and is seated around the stone pit, the ceremony leader enters, sitting slightly to the side of the doorway. If the leader has an assistant or a singer, that person sits on the opposite side of the doorway. A fire tender is stationed outside and may serve as a doorkeeper and water tender as well.

The lodge leader calls upon the doorkeeper to drop the flap, usually a thick blanket, covering the lodge opening. The lodge becomes black, and at this point, the lodge leader asks for a short, contemplative silence.

After the brief silence, the flap is raised, and the leader calls upon the fire tender to bring in the stones. Before a ceremony, a fire tender should be briefed on the safe handling of the stones. A pitchfork is preferred to a shovel for bringing the stones into the lodge as it prevents glowing coals, which create discomforting smoke within the lodge, from being carried along,. A shovel is preferred for fire tending at the fireplace site, especially when the glowing coals have to be kept over the rocks or stones to keep them hot for a second ceremony. In the old days, elk horns or deer horns were used for pitchforks and shovels.

The lodge leader and his or her assistant usually have a short, stout stick and greet the entering stone. “Hau kola” (Hello, friend), they say to the stone. After four stones have been brought in, the flap is closed.

The lodge is dark and quiet. The participants see only the glowing red-orange stones within the lodge. Some may see within those stones images that have waited since time immemorial. Energized by Father Sky, energized by the fire, which, in turn, was from the trees, and they, in turn, gave of themselves, they whose only life energy came from the sun, the sun a part of Father Sky-all creation part of the great Oneness. Long, long ago, these rocks were created by the One, and the images reflected from them were placed purposely by the Creator, specifically for the participants’ perception at this particular moment in time. Purposely, especially, and powerfully! A Sweat Lodge Ceremony thus begins with deep, meaningful, refreshing power.

Before the first dipper of water is poured on the rocks, the leader should assure all within the lodge that anyone is free to leave at any time. Anyone who becomes frightened or fearful should try to endure or try to summon the courage to stay, but at times there are some who cannot endure a Sweat Lodge Ceremony. If this is the case, the participant should simply call out, and the ceremony will be halted temporarily so that person can carefully leave through the doorway.

The following is the way one Oglala Sioux begins a ceremony while the participants are looking for symbols within the cooling stones.

First Endurance: Wiyopeyate (West)

The recognition of the spirit world is symbolic of the First Endurance. For some, it is time to ask the Almighty for a spirit guide.

In Black Elk‘s vision, the First Grandfather was from the west. This Grandfather held a cup of water and said that water was the power to make live.

In the west, in the black, we believe the spirit beings live. Someday, if we have lived a good life, we too will be among the spirit beings and will be looking down upon this world and our families and friends.

In this ceremony we are going to ask those above, who are looking down upon this tiny lodge, to hear the prayers that shall come from the lodge.

Black Elk spoke of the powers of the four directions; we will call upon these powers in our four prayers, our four endurances today.

At this point, a dipper of water will be poured upon the rocks. Steam will shoot upward. Three more dippers will be poured onto the rocks.

My friends, we will contemplate and pray to the Great Spirit above, Wakan Tanka, thanking the All-Providing One for the life-giving rains which this water symbolizes. We shall ask that our spiritual lives become strong and healthy. Let this ceremony, with its lifeblood of water, cleanse our spirit and refresh us. We will be mindful that the four directions shall enter here tonight, and our lifeblood of water that we give up from our bodies shall be carried to the four quarters of this planet. 

We therefore shall pray sincerely, because of the power of this ceremony. We shall ask the helpers of the Great Spirit to enter into our lodge, and to give encouragement to the prayers and beseechments that we will make here tonight.

Oh, Wakan Tanka,
Oh, Great Spirit Above,
We are gathered here below
In our pitiful little lodge
Made upon our Mother, Mother Earth.
We shall call upon the four powers
The four quarters
The four directions
The four Grandfathers of Black Elks’ vision.
Father Sky said he would help us;
Mother Earth said she would help us;
The Buffalo Calf Woman has instructed us;
And our relatives shall be looking on while we pray.
Oh, Wakan Tanka,
Oh, All-Providing One,
Oh, Creator of All,
We shall beseech you
Through the powers you have created for us.
Mitakuye oyasin [Literally, for all my relatives]
Ho. Hetch etu aloh [It is so, indeed]

At this time, those within the lodge may introduce themselves to the Spirit World, beginning with the person to the left of the lodge leader.

“Oh, forces that come among us within this womb of our
Mother, I am Cetan Lutah, and I am most pleased to be here
tonight. Hetch etu aloh.”

The introductions help to allow a more personal perspective within this powerful group beseechment. After the introductions, the fire tender or doorkeeper will be called, and the cool air will be allowed to refresh the participants for a few minutes before the second Endurance begins.

The leader may comment while the flap is held open:

Appreciate the life giving air.
We must be aware.
Someday, each of us will take our last breath.
This cool air rushing inward
Reminds us to appreciate
Our Breath
Our Life.
More rocks may be called for, although if an “easy” approach was called for in the first endurance, there is usually enough heat in the stones for the second endurance.

Second Endurance: Waziya (North)

The flap is closed and the second endurance begins. The cleansing steam and the recognition of courage symbolizes the second endurance.

We will now call upon the power
From the white north
Let us think about the Great White Giant, Waziya,
Or Way-ah-zahtah.
The one who puts our Mother Earth to sleep
Under the winter’s mantle of snow
Endurance, strength, cleanliness, honesty.
A dipper of water is poured upon the rocks. Enough dippers are poured to bring forth the steam throughout the lodge.

Endurance, cleanliness, strength, purity
Will keep our lives straight
Our actions only for a good purpose.
Our words will be truth.
Only honesty shall come from our interaction
With all things.
I shall give up some of my waters.
I shall endure this ceremony to send my prayers.
The drum may be sounded for a time, while the participants endure and contemplate.

The second Grandfather
Held an herb of power in his hand.
The black horse, the horse of the spirit
Was gaunt and sick.
The black horse took the herb and
Became strong and healthy.
Oh, powers of the universe,
I will take this herb
To become strong and healthy to endure.

At this time, the leader may pass out sage to the participants to hold or chew. The sage represents the healing herb, the fortifying herb, the herb that can help overcome the bad things of the world.

Since from the north comes the great, white, cleansing wing, the leader can take a wing, or several feathers and fan the air.

The thunder nation is appearing.
The white goose nation is appearing.
Let this cleansing wing
And the sage you have upon you
Give strength and courage to endure this ceremony.
If the heat subsides, more steam may be generated by applying more water.

The second endurance comes to an end after a period of contemplation. By this time, all the participants should be sweating. The fire tender or doorkeeper is then called upon to lift the flap. As the flap is raised and held open, the leader asks the participants how they are feeling. Most respond enthusiastically at this stage. A dipper of water may be passed to those participants who desire to pour the water over their heads.

Minne mitak oyasin (water for all my relatives) may be called out, meaning that the water shall take their water (sweat) into all parts of the earth and to all their relatives.

Third Endurance: Wiyoheyapa (East)

Usually, more rocks and a new bucket of water are needed before the third endurance. After the new stones have entered, the flap is closed. The recognition of knowledge and praying individually out loud symbolize the third endurance. All within look upon the stones in silence, viewing images upon and within the red glow. After a while, water is poured upon the rocks and the leader begins.

Red is the color of the east. The third Grandfather, the Grandfather of the daybreak star, appeared to Black Elk. The daybreak star symbolizes an awakening. From awakening can come knowledge and wisdom for all races to overcome the ignorance, the destructive and wasteful, consuming fears that detour our resources. This morning we begin a new day. New knowledge came with this day, as evidenced by the red way that is before us here. The red peace pipe was presented by our third Grandfather. The pipe is spiritual. With spirit and knowledge the world can be made well.

The drum is sounded for a few moments. The leader continues:

Brothers and Sisters
Each of you is asked to pray:
Pray for what you desire in this life,
Pray for a loved one or a relative,
Pray for better leadership in this world,
Better religious leadership,
Better political leadership,
Pray for our Mother Earth.
Any and all of these things you may pray for.
End your prayer with HETCH ETU
My sister or brother sitting next to me, when you are finished, so that your brother or sister next to you may begin his or her prayer.  

Please begin your prayer.
This prayer indicates the beginning of individual prayers.
The participant sitting to the left of the leader prays first. The rest follow with their prayers in a clockwise or sunwise manner.

Oh, Great Spirit,
I thank you for this experience tonight.
I pray that all ways, all hoops
Come together in understanding.
I pray that the world leaderships come together
To end the needless waste or war spendings.
I pray that the ways of the Indian people live on.
I pray that our environment
Becomes cleaner and less polluted.
I thank you again, Great Spirit, for this ceremony.

This prayer or similar versions are common in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony.

After all have prayed, the leader calls for the fire tender or doorkeeper to raise the flap. Mitakuye oyasin is called out as the flap is raised.

The dipper of water may be passed around again to those who wish the water to be poured over their heads to refresh and cool themselves and to facilitate the mixing of their lifeblood of water with Mother Earth.

Forth Endurance: Itokaga (South)

The last endurance centers on healing. “Yupayo!” (Close the door) the fire tender is commanded, and the last endurance prayer may begin.

The south stands for healing and growth. Black Elk spoke of south, from whence comes the power to grow. The bright red stick with green leaves in Black Elk’s vision was given by the south Grandfather. The stick grew into a great shading tree that stood in the center of the nation’s circle. From knowledge (the east) comes growth (the south), and from growth can come healing.

Let us think of Mother Earth, her rich bounty will result from springtime, the golden corn and the seeds of harvest, all grown strong from Mother Earth, the spring rains, and the energy of Father Sky. It is time to consider healing: healing of ourselves, healing of a loved one, healing of adversaries for peace among nations, and healing of the harms done Mother Earth. There are four concepts of healing, my friends, for you to contemplate to the Great Spirit above while I sing this song [or play the drum].

The leader will then pour four dippers of water onto the rocks, and the steam will build. The drum is played and/or a song is sung while the participants contemplate. The leader may call out a short reminder for the benefit of the participants’ contemplation; for example:

Oh, Great Spirit,
I pray for myself in order that I may be healed.
Oh, Great Spirit,
I pray for my close friend who is sick and needs help.
Oh, Great Spirit,
I pray for this world so that all these atomic weapons
And other bad things that we point at each other
Will someday soon all be destroyed.
I pray that all adversaries will communicate
And all of the mistrust will be healed.
Oh, Great Spirit,
I pray for the environment.
I pray for its cleansing
And the renewal of our Mother Earth.

The leader may point out some specific areas and ask for the Great Spirit’s wisdom regarding them.

When the steam has subsided, the leader will usually offer a summarizing prayer, or one or several of the participants may pray out loud in respect to a particular area of healing. Usually the leader will have briefed certain individuals regarding preparing, to some degree, a prayer regarding healing; or the individuals are free to request time to voice their healing prayer.

The leader concludes the ritual with a short final prayer – a prayer of thanksgiving for a successful Sweat Lodge Ceremony.

The light of the Great Spirit surrounds us.
The love of Wakan Tanka enfolds us.
The power of the Creator protects us.
The presence of God watches over us.
Where ever I am, the Great Spirit is!

The fire tender or doorkeeper is called and the participants leave the lodge one by one in a clockwise manner, beginning with the first person to the right of the entrance.
The participants usually change into a dry set of clothes to be comfortable when they gather once again to smoke the peace pipe that was loaded earlier. After the pipe has been smoked, there might be a supper.

The hot coals are excellent for metal boiling pots loaded with stews which are cooking while the ceremony is in progress. Coolers of juice, mineral waters or soda are consumed in quantity by thirsty participants after the ceremony. Garbage bags are brought to take out all that has been brought in. A plate of food is placed at a distance from the lodge as an offering to all the spirits that entered the ceremony.

The ceremony is very refreshing. Many participants will linger to sit around the fire in peace and serenity, appreciating and remembering their moving spiritual experience.

Sweat Lodge Checklist

For Building the Frame

  • Hatchets
  • Hunting knives
  • String, twine or fishing line
  • Tarps
  • Several clean blankets

For the Fireplace

  • Hatchet
  • Shovel
  • Pitchfork (or deer horns)
  • Matches
  • Limestone or granite rocks (approximately 20 per ceremony, cantaloupe size)
  • Several five-gallon water containers

For Inside the Lodge

  • Two or three-gallon pail
  • Dipper
  • Drums, rattles
  • Eagle-bone or wooden whistle
  • Sage

Personal Items

  • Change of clothing and towel
  • Tobacco bundles
  • Special amulets, stones or crystals, medicine bags
  • Peace Pipe (if you have one)
  • Mineral water, soda, or juice; absolutely no alcohol*
  • Food contribution for supper
  • Cooking and eating utensils
  • Potholders
  • Garbage bags.

For thousands of years, the Native North Americans beseeched and acknowledged in the ceremony without any form of drugs or alcohol. Their spiritual path led them to a highly harmonious lifestyle, social and environmentally. They also reaped high self-esteem and positive self-worth. Respect Indian ceremony and its proven history. For thousands of years, Mother Earth was very respected. Respect the deep dignity of these spiritual ways.


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