I am building a sweat lodge with the intention of its being used the day after the next Full Moon, May 15th.
This is a record of the building of it, for the purpose of preserving the instructions.
Ireland had traditionally used stone sweat lodges since ancient times and there are a great many of the ruins around where I live ~ just over 50 in the 10 square miles around me ~ but they are very low and derelict and uncomfortable, so building a temporary structure in the Native American style is easier now. I am not saying this is a Inipi or some appropriation of the Native custom ~ I am simply using the ”bender” style of construction that is typical of the Native American.
(A sweat house from nearby.)
I first built a lodge with friends under the direction of Dennis Banks, the Native American leader and co-founder of the American Indian Movement, when I hosted him as he passed through our village in 1997. A lot of things have been written about Dennis that are not so appealing and I do not know the truths of his story. He was just a guy I happened to meet along the way, but in my personal dealings with him I found him perceptive and wise, a natural intuitive, and kind. Let that which knows All be his judge.
I have built several sweat lodges over the years since then on my own land, but not for many years. So, I am looking forward to this.
It will take a bit of time.
First you have to find a suitable site. I am building a small one for 2-4 people, but you will have to find adequate space to build the lodge depending on how many people you hope to accommodate. Preferably build it in a private and beautiful place. You will also have to have room for a reasonably large fire pit nearby, because the fire you will build to heat the rocks will be fairly big, and you do not want to have to transport the rocks a long distance. I have a fire pit outside, but not enough space beside it for a lodge, so I am going to lift sods in a different part of the garden and build a new temporary fire-pit and then replace the sods afterwards.
This is the place I have chosen. The lodge will be to the left and the fire pit to the right of the flower bed.
The place I picked would naturally lend itself to a North facing opening but this is not auspicious. The lodge should open either to the East or to the West. So, we have decided to go for the westward opening even though it will mean crouching to get past the Crab Apple tree when carrying the hot rocks from the fire on the fork.
The wood for the lodge is recommended to be Hazel. You can use Willow if you cannot find Hazel, or another pliable wood that forms straight branches, although if you leave the structure in the ground the Willow will sprout and soon form trees. If you want to do that make – make a greenwood hut – then ensure the space is suitable. Note: Hazel is very strong but also VERY pliable, and Willow might snap even if it is very green…so Hazel is best.
You will have to find a reasonably large Hazel copse as you will want a good choice of poles. We found a Hazel wood on a neighbour’s land. The woodland is called the Fairy Fort. I decided 8 large poles of about 3-5 cm in diameter for the upright struts would be sufficient and some thinner poles of about 2-3 cm in diameter for the horizontal struts. Cut them with a saw or strong tree clippers, allowing them to be about 9 foot long to the end of the taper and as straight as possible.
Trim off side branches.
Transport them back to the site of the lodge. Rope in some one strong enough (and kind enough to go along with ”your latest crazy plan”…)
Before you build the lodge lift a circle of sod about 2 foot wide from what will be the centre of the enclosed space. Expose the soil, dig a shallow bowl and keep the sod turfs aside to replace later. This is the place where you will place the heated rocks during the sweat.
In Ireland the soil is pliable enough due to high rainfall so that the poles do not usually need to be whittled at the ends for going into the ground, but in some places in America the poles are whittled because the ground tends to be parched and hard. As it happens the ground I chose needed the poles to be whittled. So in that case whittle the broad end of poles to points like so….It sounds easy but it took me blooming AGES! And was not helped by somebody opening the window every so often to shout ”Yee Haw” at me…
You will need strong twine, though it does not have to be too thick. Cut off a good few lengths and leave them on the ground in the centre of your work so you can reach them handily. Mark out the circumference of the lodge depending on the size you want. Leave enough space to sit cross-legged and a bit away from the central circle where the rocks are. Don’t make the hut too small as it will feel uncomfortably warm. Then insert the poles at equal distances to make a circle.
Insert the poles at a diagonal…This is important.
Inserting diagonally is to maintain the domed shape of the lodge at the end.
When you have all 8 poles in the ground they will be splayed out like this…
From now on you definitely need 2 pairs of hands. You are going to bend in 2 poles towards each other so that they meet in the middle…bend the strongest poles that are diagonally opposite each other. You HAVE to place your foot at the base of the pole (on the side of the pole facing inside the circle) as you bend it down…keep your foot pressing down there while bending in the poles..
Bend in the poles and then weave the ends together. Check that the height of the lodge is sufficient (about 5 foot high at the centre) and that you have a nice curve on the poles..
Then cross the next 2 poles you bend in towards each other over these interwoven poles to form an X in the centre of the lodge roof..
Tie the interwoven poles securely at least twice on each end.
Bend in the rest of the poles. Weave the middles of poles above and below the central part of X in the roof, to make the lodge stronger…depending on what you think works best..
When you are done the upright struts of the lodge will look something like so…
…perhaps they will look neater 🙂
After that, you use the thinner poles to make horizontal struts…and an arch for the door..
Tie the horizontal struts securely onto the uprights and weave them in, make sure you especially tie in the ends as you don’t want a piece flicking loose when you are in the lodge..
When you are done the structure will look something like so….
Tune in later in the week when I will be talking about the serious matter of ROCKS…
CONCLUSION OF INSTRUCTIONS
The rocks you need should be igneous rocks, granite, basalt, limestone. I used a mix of Limestone and Sandstone. The sandstone did crack a bit, so it’s not ideal. Be careful when you are heating them on the fire to stay well back as they can suddenly splinter. The rocks are about half the size of a basketball, though smaller is fine too. Gather about 20.
You will need a fair bit of wood. Gather in advance. The fire is built like a platform, with a space underneath to feed through wood and keep it burning. You want to keep the rocks up off the coals for as long as possible so keep putting wood through that holds up the platform. It is best then to use the largest pieces of wood for the frame, as they will burn through slowest.
Pile your rocks up on top of the platform. Don’t have them too close to edge for when the fire collapses at the end you want them to fall inwards.
Then go back and prepare the lodge.
Make a floor with cut rushes. This is to keep you up off the damp ground. If the ground is parched and dry you won’t need it, although some kind of flooring is usual. Important: Make sure to keep the edges of flooring back away from where the stones will lie, as you do not want any smouldering of any vegetation.
Then cover the hazel structure with old blankets and quilts, and tie them on. Try and cover the whole thing with this layer and make sure it stretches down to touch off ground, though a little breathing gap is okay too….
Then cover the whole thing in a tarpaulin and weigh down the edges at the bottom with stones.
Make a door that is handy to open for putting in rocks but that also closes quickly and seals well to keep in heat. I used 2 old sheepskins…(sorry Mr Sheep, he was a skin before i knew him…)
Now the fire will take about 3 to 4 hours to heat the rocks so light it at the appropriate time for when you want the lodge.
You will have to tend it pretty constantly to get the rocks hot enough, but stay back so you don’t get over-heated before the sweat. Drink plenty of fluids all day.
Eventually the fire will collapse in on itself but you can build now over the rocks and just keep it going until rocks are hot enough…about 3 to 4 hours.
A water container and jug beside the lodge for cooling down after the sweat…if you had a pool or pond or stream nearby that would be ideal…otherwise improvise.
A basin of water and cup for inside the lodge for sprinkling on the hots rocks from time to time, and a brush for sweeping ashes off the rocks before they go into lodge. Usually this might be sage. I don’t have it here, so I made a brush with Lavender.
You will use a long handled FORK to transport the rocks to the lodge. This is so that you don’t bring burning embers along with it. Brush off each rock before it is ladled into centre of lodge. Start with 5 rocks. leave the others on the still burning fire. Take off jewellery including rings. Wear light loose clothes, or swimwear (or whatever you want). Leave drinking water near the lodge. It is best not to go into lodge during menstruation or if you are unwell in any way.
After you get accustomed to the 5 rocks, add 5 more, and continue in this way over time as suits you.
This is the rocks in centre of lodge the day after.
The lodge went very well, very relaxing. Just sitting for about 3 hours quietly.
It seems to have awoken ten years of tiredness in me since and I have been sleeping lots. I think that is a good thing 🙂
That day I did a random pick on http://64dakinioracle.org/
Weirdly the card that came up was…
White Buffalo Calf Woman…hahahah! I thought that was funny. And nice.
I leave you with a picture of a little friend who called to say hallo to me while I was working…