Legend has it that the White Buffalo Calf Woman, a wakan, or holy spirit, showed herself to two Lakota scouts as they were starving on a hilltop. The members of the Lakota tribe came across this beautiful, celestial woman dressed in all white buffalo skin while seeking a herd. One of the men lusted after her but was immediately struck down for his impure thoughts, reduced to a pile of bones and dust, while the other was told to go back to the tribe and prepare for her arrival. The wakan told that she would help his tribe reunite with creator spirit.
When White Buffalo Calf Woman appeared before the Lakota councils she brought the Chanupa, a sacred prayer pipe, and taught the seven sacred rites, including the vision quest, Sundance, and Inipi ceremony. For the Lakota people, the Inipi ritual is sacred. It’s a ceremony of intentional discomfort to vicariously experience the suffering of others in the world and send them prayer with true intent. Most people are more familiar with the English term sweat lodge.
This is my Inipi Experience.
Inipi: The Rite of Purification
Sweat Lodges have been a part of Native American culture for millennia. The Sacred Sweat Lodge Ceremonies, called Inipi by the Lakota have been performed as a purification and sacrament to higher power for over 10,000 years. It was such an honor to share such a venerable experience. Inipi is a purification rite and is necessary in order to help the vision quest seeker enter into a state of humility and to undergo a kind of spiritual rebirth.
Warning: This type of ceremony is not for the faint of heart.
What to Expect During An “Inipi”: The Sweat Lodge Ceremony
Sweat lodge ceremonies are about more than just sweating — they’re purification rituals used for a broad range of purposes, depending on the culture and the occasion. Most sweat lodge ceremonies today are associated with Native American cultures, who use these ceremonies to give thanks, to heal, to seek wisdom, and to purify the mind, body, and soul. Native people call their path the “Red Road” (here “red” is not a racial term but rather the sacred color of the North).
Native American sweat ceremonies typically take place in domed, circular lodges, though some cultures use teepees, or even pits covered with branches or tree trunks. The Lakota ceremony I attended was crafted from young saplings and thick blankets and branches covering the whole. The center was a pit dug into the ground, where the ceremony leader (his name was Darth) placed hot glowing lava rocks.
We sat on the ground, some cross-legged, others with arms clutching knees to the chest. There was no space in between us, we were snugly situated as close as possible. If anyone still felt like they were strangers, we weren’t anymore.
Prayers are said at each stage of the sweat lodge ceremonies. Darth, the firekeeper began by blessing the lodge and burnin sweetgrass within. Our ceremony then began with 14 rocks placed in the center. Darth welcomed each hot stone as it entered the lodge with “a-hoy eon, welcome grandfather”.
We purified the ceremony with sacred sage. Water poured from a sanctified bull horn was passed around to drink and was used to pour onto the fire. The steam was so hot, a towel was needed to hide from the intense steam that burned as it entered the nose and throat.
We sang and prayed aggressively, asking for healing, wisdom, and the release of anything that doesn’t serve anymore.
Spiritual and Physical Health Benefits of Ritual Sweats
There was a heavy hold in my heart that evaporated during the ceremony. At one point, I absolutely had to leave the ceremony- I was sure I was going to pass out. I felt so anxious, anxiety-riddled, and scared. There was some sort of panic arising out of my chest…and then, it was gone. It felt like a giant ball of ugly spewed from my chest.
These types of experiences are common.
The ceremony itself is often divided into four parts representing different spiritual challenges. The sweat lodge is a special place that induces introspection and communion with the Earth and her Spirit, as well as a renewal of social and cultural bonds. Chanting, drumming, and meditation empowers participants to endure the heat for much longer than they usually could, teaching participants to overcome physical discomfort and frustration.
I myself lasted just short of 3 hours in the steam-blasted 120 (F) degree sweat lodge. During the ceremony, the sweat lodge provides Mental Purification & Healing – the mind is freed of distractions, offering clarity of thought as well as Spiritual Healing – it allows for introspection and connection to the earth, to the planet and to the spirit world.
Research has shown that sustained heat releases the same endorphins as heavy physical activity, but without the burst of adrenaline that accompanies a challenging workout. Sweat lodges can also help fight infections by creating a temporary fever state in the body, which some say lessens chronic inflammation. The heat is also a great remedy for arthritis, muscle pain, and skin disorders, which can be improved by the increased blood flow at the surface of the skin.
My Spiritual Experience
Though quite personal to each of us, the sweat lodge provides almost a psychedelic experience as the spirit of our ancestors enters the dome and connects with those participating.
I experienced what I can only describe as a vision.
I believe that my totem animal (or at least one of them) came to me. He appeared before me right before the fire keeper opened the door after our second prayers and let the light in. I saw a coyote, asleep, just for a split second. During the second ceremony I also experienced an indigo-purple gaseous figure that didn’t budge, eyes open or shut. At first I thought it looked like hands, but I felt a strange presence with me that lasted throughout the ceremony, something that I attribute to the strange colored light behind my eyes.
The purple haze scared me at first, because I felt like there was something holding me: A figure, a presence, or something in between.
The anxiety built until the third ceremony, when I stated my prayers out loud and asked for help. I felt what can only be described as a release. I heavy burden left my chest, allowing me to breath again. At this point, I was already crawling on hands and knees before the exit, and I collapsed as I exited the lodge in a sweaty heap on the ground. Another woman followed, wrapping me in a towel and placing my head on her lap. She held me as I gasped for air, offering support and love, and telling me that the pain won’t hold me anymore. I had overcome- and allowed whatever was grasping my soul to pass.
I’ve never felt so much love and support from a community of strangers before. I was so welcomed. I’m not sure what happened to me spiritually inside the lodge, but I can tell you that it feels like I lost weight- not physically, but mentally. My soul feels lighter. I feel different, somehow.
The Inipi ceremony opened my eyes to a dark energy that I’ve been keeping my whole life. Something that I’m now processing, noticing, and actively releasing. I’m more in tune with my well-being, and am actively changing the way I respond to my thoughts. I’m able to see anger that I’ve held towards family and friends that I’d pushed deep in my body. Emotions are rising up, and I’m able to welcome them, and let them go.
Where You Can Participate in A Sweat Lodge in Washington State
My ritualistic sweat lodge was invitation-only. As it was a very small circle and completely free, there’s a need for a barrier from the general public. However, there are a few in the Pacific Northwest that will allow visitors without an intermediary acquaintance or friend. Here are a few that I discovered:
Sweat Lodges in the Pacific Northwest
- Sacred Grove Sweat Lodge
- Suggested Donation: $25-50
- Four Winds Sweat Lodge
- Suggested Donation: $20
- Woman’s Way Red Lodge
- Lakota Way Healing Center
- Donations of Bundles of Wood, $20-50 or Food & Beverages for after ceremony of equal value
I hope this helps you find your healing path!
If you are interested in some of my other spiritual experiences, check out: