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Inipi (The sweat lodge)

Taken from the following URL adress on the Crystalinks website

Here is a great article about the INIPI (Sweat Lodge).

The sweat lodge (also called, Inipi, purification ceremony, sweat house, medicine lodge, medicine house, or simply sweat) is a ceremonial sauna and is an important way of life for some North American First Nations or Native American cultures. There are several styles of sweat lodges that include a domed or oblong hut similar to a wickiup, or even a simple hole dug into the ground and covered with planks or tree trunks. Stones are typically heated in an exterior fire and then placed in a central pit in the ground.

Use of Sweat Lodge in Different Cultures

Something similar to a sweat lodge can be found in different ancient cultures as a ritual for healing, cleansing, and reaching higher consciousness.

One of the early non-Indian occurrences can be found in the fifth century BC, when Scythians constructed pole and woolen cloth sweat baths.

Vapor baths were in use among the Celtic tribes, and the sweat-house was in general use in Ireland down to the 18th, and even survived into the 19th century. It was of beehive shape and was covered with clay. It was often used as a cure for rheumatism.

Native Americans in many regions employed the sweat lodge. For example, Chumash peoples of the central coast of California built sweat lodges in coastal areas in association with habitation sites.

Today Native Americans in many regions employ the sweat lodge.


Rituals and traditions vary from region to region and tribe to tribe. They often include prayers, drumming, and offerings to the spirit world. In some cultures a sweat lodge ceremony may be a part of another, longer ceremony such as a Sun Dance. Some common practices and key elements associated with sweat lodges include::

Darkness – Many traditions consider it important that sweats be done in complete darkness.
Placement – The lodge is placed in a location that will facilitate communication with the spirit world.
Orientation – The location of the door may be based on the purpose of the sweat lodge.
Construction – The lodge is generally built with great care and with respect to the environment and to the materials being used.
Clothing Ð In Native American lodges participants usually wear a simple garment such as shorts or loose dresses.
Offerings – Tobacco and other plants are often used as an offering. They can be smoked in a traditional pipe, sprinkled on the hot stones or offered to the fire.
Support Ð In many traditions, one or more persons will remain outside the sweat lodge to protect the ceremony, and assist the participants. Sometimes they will tend the fire and place the hot stones, though usually this is done by a designated firekeeper. In another instance, a person that sits in the lodge, next to the door, is charged with protecting the ceremony, and maintaining lodge etiquette.
Dog soldiers – Sometimes one or more persons, called ‘dog soldiers’, will remain outside the sweat lodge to tend the fire, place the hot stones, protect the ceremony and assist the participants.


The most important part of sweat lodge etiquette is respecting the traditions of the lodge leader. Some lodges are done in complete silence, while others involve singing, chanting, drumming, or other sound. It is important to know what is allowed and expected before entering a lodge.

Traditional tribes hold a high value of respect to the lodge. In some cultures, objects, including clothing, without a ceremonial significance are discouraged from being brought into the lodge. Most traditional tribes place a high value on modesty as a respect to the lodge.

In clothed lodges, women are usually expected to wear skirts or short-sleeved dresses of a longer length. In many traditions, nudity is forbidden, as are mixed sex sweats. Many lodge leaders do not allow menstruating women. Perhaps the most important piece of etiquette is gratitude. It is important to be thankful to the people joining you in the lodge, and those helping to support the lodge.


Wearing metal jewelry can be dangerous as metal objects may become hot enough to burn the wearer. Contact lenses and synthetic clothing should not be worn in sweat lodges as the heat can cause the materials to melt and adhere to eyes, skin, or whatever they might be touching. Cotton clothing is recommended for lodges.

There have been reports of lodge-related deaths resulting from overexposure to heat, dehydration, smoke inhalation, or improper lodge construction leading to suffocation.

In October 2009, during a New Age retreat organized by James Arthur Ray, three people died and 21 more were sickened from an overcrowded and improperly set up sweat lodge containing some 60 people and located near Sedona, Arizona. Ray was arrested in connection with the deaths on February 3, 2010, and bond was set at $5 million.

Even people who are experienced with sweats, and attending a ceremony led by a properly-trained and authorized Native American ceremonial leader, could suddenly experience problems due to underlying health issues. It is recommended that a physician check people intending to have a sweat lodge experience, and that people only attend lodges with reputable people.

If rocks are used, it is important not to use river rocks, or other kinds of rocks with air pockets inside them. Rocks must be completely dry before heating. Rocks with air pockets or excessive moisture will likely crack and possibly explode in the fire or when hit by water. This can result in razor-sharp fragments and splinters striking participants with sufficient force to effect injury. Even rocks used before may absorb humidity or moisture leading to cracks or shattering.

There is also a risk posed by modern chemical pesticides, or inappropriate woods, herbs, or building materials being used in the lodge.

Lawsuit filed by the Lakota Nation

On November 2, 2009, the Lakota Nation filed a lawsuit against the United States, Arizona State, James Arthur Ray and Angel Valley Retreat Center site owners, to have Ray and the site owners arrested and punished under the Sioux Treaty of 1868 between the United States and the Lakota Nation, which states that if bad men among the whites or other people subject to the authority of the United States shall commit any wrong upon the person or the property of the Indians, the United States will proceed at once to cause the offender to be arrested and punished according to the laws of the United States, and also reimburse the injured person for the loss sustained.

The Lakota Nation holds that James Arthur Ray and the Angel Valley Retreat Center have violated the peace between the United States and the Lakota Nation and have caused the desecration of our Sacred Oinikiga (purification ceremony) by causing the death of Liz Neuman, Kirby Brown and James Shore. As well, the Lakota claim that James Arthur Ray and the Angel Valley Retreat Center fraudulently impersonated Indians and must be held responsible for causing the deaths and injuries, and for evidence destruction through dismantling of the sweat lodge. The lawsuit seeks to have the treaty enforced and does not seek monetary compensation.

Preceding the lawsuit, Native American experts on sweat lodges criticized the reported construction and conduct of the lodge as not meeting traditional ways (“bastardized”, “mocked” and “desecrated”). Indian leaders expressed concerns and prayers for the dead and injured. The leaders said the ceremony is their way of life and not a religion, as white men see it. It is Native American property protected by U.S. law and United Nation declaration.

The ceremony should only be in sanctioned lodge carriers’ hands from legitimate nations. Traditionally, a typical leader has 4 to 8 years of apprenticeship before being allowed to care for people in a lodge, and have been officially named as ceremonial leaders before the community.

Participants are instructed to call out whenever they feel uncomfortable, and the ceremony is usually stopped to help them. The lodge was said to be unusually built from non-breathable materials. Charging for the ceremony was said to be inappropriate. The number of participants was criticized as too high and the ceremony length was said to be too long. Respect to elders’ oversight was said to be important for avoiding unfortunate events.

The tragedy was characterized as “plain carelessness”, with a disregard for the participants’ safety and outright negligence. The Native American community actively seeks to prevent abuses of their traditions. Organizers have been discussing ways to formalize guidance and oversight to authentic or independent lodge leaders.

Updated November 18, 2011

James Ray jailed for Arizona sweat lodge deaths BBC – November 18, 2011
A self-help author is facing two years in prison for the deaths of three people at an Arizona “sweat lodge”. James Ray was convicted in June of “negligent homicide” and will serve three sentences concurrently. The deaths occurred at the Angel Valley Retreat Center, 115 miles (180km) north of Phoenix, in October 2009. Ray said at the hearing he would have stopped the ceremony if he knew people were in distress. He accepted blame for causing pain to the victim’s families.

Sweat Lodges Can Be Deadly – Not Cleansing Live Science – February 8, 2010
The idea that the human body can sweat out toxins is widely believed, and is in fact the basis for some businesses. Hot springs, sweat lodges, and pricey spas around the world offer “sweat wraps” and other techniques claimed to detoxify and purify the body. Things don’t always go as planned.

History of the Sweat Lodge
Use of the sweat lodge was chronicled by the earliest settlers in America. In 1665, David DeVries of New York observed Indians “entirely clean and more attractive than before” while sweat bathing.

Roger Williams of Rhode Island wrote in 1643: “They use sweating for two ends: first to cleanse their skin; secondly to purge their bodies, which doubtless is a great means of preserving them, especially from the French disease (probably influenza) which by sweating and some potions, they perfectly and speedily cure.”

George Catlin wrote a lengthy description of the Mandan’s sweat lodge in 1845, ending with the comment: “Such is the sudatory or vapour bath of the Mandans, and, as I before observed, it is resorted to both as an everyday luxury by those who have the time and energy to indulge in it; and also used by the sick as a remedy for nearly all the diseases which are known amongst them.

The most popular form of sweat bathing among North American Indians was the hot rock method and its variations. These were used exclusively by tribes in the central plains, the southwest, the Great Basin and the eastern woodlands.

Whether permanent, temporary or portable, they were smaller than other Indian structures, and usually domed and sometimes oblong. Nomadic tribes drove pliant boughs, such as willow, into the ground and arched them into a hemisphere, secured with withes. Stationary tribes used more substantial materials – logs and heavy bark. Temporary sweat lodges were covered with blankets or skins, while the permanent types were sealed with mud or sod.

In either case, a depression was dug near the door or in the center to cradle the rocks, which were heated outside and brought in on forked sticks. Steam was produced by sprinkling the rocks from a straw broom or a hollowed buffalo horn. Although simple to build, every detail was symbolic.

The Sioux, see the interior of the sweat lodge as representing the womb of Mother Earth, its darkness as human ignorance, the hot stones as the coming of life, and the hissing steam as the creative force of the universe being activated. The entrance faces east, source of life and power, dawn of wisdom, while the fire heating the rocks is the undying light of the world, eternity.

Sweat lodges were often connected with gods and creation. In the lore of the Wintu tribe of California it is said that Olelbis, the creator, built a great and awesome sweat house, its middle support being a huge white oak, with various kinds of oaks being side supports and flowering plants serving as binding and sides. Then, as the house began to grow wider and higher, it became wonderful in size and splendor.

Just as daylight was coming, the house was finished and ready. It stood in the morning dawn, a mountain of beautiful flowers and oak branches; all the colors of the world were on it, inside and out. The center tree had grown far above the top of the house, filled with acorns; a few of them had fallen on every side. This sweat house was placed there to last forever, the largest and most beautiful building in the world, above or below. Nothing like it will ever be built again.

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