Centering the Energy in a Sweat Lodge


I experienced my first Indian sweat lodge at the 1979 Rainbow Gathering on July 3. I had read about them before and wanted to try one. I got the opportunity when I ran into a Native American medicine man (Medicine Story) at the gathering who was going to do one, so naturally, I decided to take part in it.

The sweat lodge is a dome shaped structure that has a pit in the center. Outside the sweat lodge, there is a fire which is used to heat rocks until they are red hot. Then, the rocks are placed in the pit in the sweat lodge and everyone gets in and it is sealed up. I think there were about five of us in there, plus Medicine Story.

The medicine man says a few words of peace to help center the energy and then precedes to sprinkle water on the hot rocks. When he does this, we all chant. I think we were in there for a couple of hours. After it was over, I noticed it produces a feeling much like what you feel like after being in an isolation tank. The major difference is that the sweat lodge is a group experience while the isolation tank is a solitary one. Even so, both experiences tend to give you the we are all one feeling that LSD is known to produce.

I used to know the Indian customs for building a sweat lodge, but that was a long time ago. From what I remember, eight poles are used to support the structure and I think the doorway is supposed to be on the east side. There is also a certain branch that the medicine man uses to sprinkle the water on the hot rocks. I'm not sure what else is involved.

One thing I do need to stress as that you should not try a sweat lodge if you do not know what you're doing because you can be badly burned from the intense heat if you don't. Much like coal walking, you have to learn how to alter your consciousness to protect your physical body. Those who can get into the chanting and into the spirit of the whole thing usually do just fine, but those who get paranoid over the whole affair can get hurt. That happened to the person who turned me on to my first Rainbow Gathering.

Actually, what happened was not that he got paranoid. He had done the sweat lodge before without any problems. What happened this time was he had burned his leg on a motorcycle exhaust pipe and he failed to protect it before doing the sweat. It got infected and he got so mad he tore up the sweat lodge, much to our dismay. He had a real bad ego problem and even got murdered over some dope deal that had gone sour less than five years later. I really felt sad over the whole thing.

In spite of the bad stuff that happened, the sweat lodge seemed to really give me a spiritual boost. It may have saved me from a bummer the next night when I took too much acid. That was the Fourth of July, which is party night at the Rainbow Gathering and they had estimated that there were 10,000 Hippies there that night. The acid was in some tea, so I didn't know how much I had consumed. Once I realized this, I starting walking back into camp. My main concern was that the acid would take effect and I would get hopelessly lost in the woods. Luckily the moon was just about full so I could see where I was going.

Another fear I had was I might freak out, but then I remembered something. Christ Colin, it's impossible to freak out at a Rainbow Gathering because of all the positive energy around you (actually I had to help out with a couple of freak outs at a later gathering, but those resulted from people getting dosed against their will and we were able to get them quickly resolved). Instead, walking back into camp turned out to be one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever had. This involved walking past campsite after campsite of dancing Hippies. It was the biggest party I ever experienced in my life.

The party went on almost the whole night. I spent most of the time in my tent listening to it all and digging the visions of the other Rainbow people. I remember hearing this sax player who really knew how to blow. I think he started playing about 3AM and he must have played for an hour. I went to sleep shortly after that, and the next day, I woke up, feeling perfectly fine.

Once I left the gathering, my body was probably in the best physical shape it had been in. This was from walking all around the camp, the healthy food, the lack of booze and of course, the sweat lodge. When I got back home and turned on my computer to write about the gathering, I noticed my vision had changed. I could see every pixel on the screen that normally blurred into the letters I type. I have noticed that one effect of altered states of consciousness is it seems to improve your visual perception.


Copyright 1995, Colin Pringle
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