How My Sweat Lodge Came to Be

~Nicholas Noble Wolf

Grandpa did not pass on any of the various Pueblo ceremonials (the only exception, as such, would be the Earth Renewal Ceremony, which was no longer being performed). He felt that it was improper for a person to be doing tribal ceremonials if he were not a member of that tribe. Even so, he was cut from the tribe for teaching a white man even the shamanic ways he carried. He was not permitted to be buried on the Pueblo when he passed over.

My personal background in sweat is very diverse, and I will share with you how I came to run lodges and where my lodge came from.

Over many years past, I have been honored to pray in sweats of many different traditions. The first lodges I entered were Apache in origin. Subsequently, I did Lakota Inipi with numerous people, one of which was Grandfather Al, a Lakota elder from South Dakota who had come to marry a good friend of mine. Al taught me much about sweat. I also did lodges with Ute people and others, and my “brother,” Kary, taught me much also. Another “brother,” Sam gave me much about fire. My shaman teacher, Jade, carried a Mongolian lodge from his grandfather's side of the family. I was trained and received authorization to run this Mongolian lodge. However, since I am not Mongolian, I do not run it these days.

Some years ago, I was not running any sweats and got hassled by Sam to run them so he could come and sweat because I had a good place to put up a lodge, and he didn't back then. Well, I didn't feel to put up the Mongolian Lodge I was authorized, so I went and prayed as to what I should do. After a whole lot of prayers, I received vision from Grandfather that I was to put up a lodge and how it was to look and how it was to be run. Essentially, it looks like an east-facing Lakota lodge without pipe. (Some Lakota run their lodges facing east, others west. Grandfather Al’s lodge faces west, for example.)

I was directed that the lodge should be constructed of thirteen willows to create the womb of the Earth Mother. I was told that the inside of the lodge should be covered with white sheets to acknowledge the cave of the Great White Mother Bear (she who takes the spirits of the animals and purifies them before sending them back to be born again). I was shown what songs were to be sung and when in the lodge and exactly what was to happen in each round--for example, drum is brought in during the 3rd round. I was told to heat 28 rocks plus one for the travelers (those who are traveling and can't be there at this time). All these things I was shown in detail. Of course, when I "borrow" someone else's lodge, it is not constructed this way, but Grandfather doesn't mind as long as I run it as I was told.

Since I built my lodge, I have been honored to have people from many, many traditions to come and pray with me. It is always good to hear someone pray in Lakota, the next in English, the next in Ute, another in Navaho, and even someone in Hebrew. In fact, people are permitted to of course pray through song, and I always love it when one of my friends brings forth one of the traditional songs of his people. Maybe what honors me the most though, is to have elders who have their own lodges to come and sit in my sweat. But maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. As Grandfather Al said, "It is dark, it has rocks and steam, we pray; I understand that, and it is good."