Personal Development and Spirituality Topics

with Karen Scheel

The North Speaks

Inipi sweat lodgeThe Inipi or “Sweat Lodge” as they are most commonly called is a sacred ceremony still used by Native Americans today, which utilizes the four primary elemental powers of the universe. Sweat lodges exist within most every culture and serve many purposes, but among the Native Americans, the Inipi is a place of spirit where one goes to cleanse the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual body, and to pray. This powerful ceremony penetrates to the very core, cleansing and renewing all parts of a person’s being. The cleansing is used as preparation to commune and listen to the Great Spirit (God). And for many tribes nothing of significance is undertaken without the Inipi and its accompanying rites.

Everything from the construction of what is known as the Stone People’s lodge to the actual Inipi ceremony has a spiritual significance and is according to a specific ritual. The dome structure representing the womb of Mother Earth is made from fresh cut saplings laid in a circle that are bent over to the center and tied together to form a half sphere. When in use, the lodge is usually covered with canvas tarps or blankets with hides used in the past. A circular pit in the center represents the Great Mystery’s power, and signifies the center of everything. Outside the lodge in a larger fire pit, a Fire Keeper tends the sacred Stone People until their color is red. The Fire is considered to be the first medicine man and represents life. Whatever goes into the Fire goes into the lodge and into each person. The Fire Keeper assists the medicine person by making the Fire and preparing the Stone People for the Inipi Ceremony.

Several years ago, our community at Frog Hollow was given the honor of having a traditional Inipi lodge built for the first medicine man that came, and another gift soon followed. As men and women have a different kind of power, most traditionalists believe it is best to avoid mixing the energies and have separate lodges for both. It is also believed a greater power is derived from repeating ceremonies in the exact same way they have always been done, as repetition creates the sacred space – a portal, which the ancient spirits remember and use for their return. Therefore, this traditional medicine man would not physically be in the lodge with any women, but gave his permission to a man he had been working with from our culture to train me to lead a traditional woman’s lodge. I would go through four separate lodges known as “doors” and then would lead my first Inipi ceremony on the fifth door.

At first, the prospect of being able to lead others through some major spiritual healing in the lodge had me very excited, and the first door was passed through easily. However, I went through the second door and was given a teaching with such profound impact that ultimately served to alter my course. Throughout the years, the Spirit that delivered this teaching has come through many times asking me to reveal the message received. Therefore, my hopes are to help all that feel inclined to build, lead or participate in any kind of sweat lodge to have a greater understanding for what it is they are actually doing, and to be very clear as to why they are undertaking this passage, especially with so much misuse currently taking place within our culture. It is also out of great respect for an ancient culture’s ways that I share the message received. And so…

On the night of my second door and after everything was ready, opening prayers were said and four of us cleansed with medicine herbs before entering the womb of Mother Earth in a clockwise direction. After the pipe filling prayers to be smoked in the fourth round was completed, I watched as the first five Stone People were individually brought in on a pitchfork and placed in the pit. As each One entered the lodge, medicine herbs were sprinkled on them. The first Stone Person was placed in the center of the pit to represent the “Creator.” The second One placed in the East represented the spiritual aspects and new beginnings. The third Stone Person placed in the South represented everything related to the emotions and community. The forth Stone Person placed in the West represented introspection, along with physical strength and healing. The fifth Stone Person placed in the North represented wisdom and sacrifice.

After the first five Stone People were honored, the door closed for the first of four rounds, water was poured and the lodge began to heat up. In the first round, we honor and pray for the female aspects of life. In the second round, we honor and pray for the male aspects. The third round is for healing and the forth round is for the personal self. At the end of each round, the door opens for more Stone People coming from the Fire.

Sitting in the womb of my darkness and ignorance with my back facing North, the intensity of the burning heat was bringing up my human weaknesses as the medicine of the Stone People melted them away. I welcomed the brief coolness of air filtering through as the door opened, and more Stone People joined the first five. The door closed for the second round and the heat penetrated even more deeply forcing liquids to pour from my body. The door opened and closed quickly for the third round, I was struggling to keep myself there. In total surrender, my body went from a sitting position to lying down on the earth. I prayed for even more strength to remain in an environment that was rapidly becoming unbearable. Just when I thought I could take no more, the door to the lodge flung open and a draft of coolness flooded through giving me much needed relief.

In the fourth and final round, I sat listening to prayers in a native tongue and watched the fire light flicker from the lighter as the pipe was being lit. Suddenly, I felt another presence within my body. I quickly became aware of seeing from and with another perspective. I heard the words, “They have no spiritual culture of their own and are reaching out to ours.” As the me within the we continued to watch and listen, a feeling of sadness and compassion began to wash over me bringing tears to my eyes. Within the next few seconds, the energy within me shifted as a forceful tone simultaneously spoke the words, “They are taking and using something that does not belong to them,” and then this energy abruptly left my body.

I left the Stone People’s lodge with a sinking feeling along with the questions this Spirit had come to raise. I initially tried to put a spin on the message to justify it in a way that would better serve what I wanted to do, but deep within my being I knew better. Our lodge was coming down and Inipi ceremonies were not something I would do now. To this day, I still have mixed feelings about our culture doing this ceremony in a Native American way. If a second lodge is erected then it will be done in another medicine way so as not to infringe on any culture’s spirituality. Which in part was the medicine teaching delivered from an Ancient One who sits in The North. Aho!

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  1. you misinterpret the spiritual message. the holy man was uncomfortable with adopting you as a sister, along with the others, because he needed to know that your heart and desire was to be one of his people.

    the old ways did not prohibit women from doing inipi with men, particularly when used as an adoption ceremony to have you reborn into their people. what happened to you was the equivalent of a catholic priest refusing to give you communion since you were not catholic.

    i have been adopted by an oglala family, and been reborn as an oglala, along with my wife, and i feel strongly that i am now oglala, and the responsibility for worshipping as they worship. i was a white man, but now i am red man.

    this happened thru my oglala brothers and sisters, who accepted my spirit, and thru wakan tanka, the great mystery, our creator. i am building my own inipi lodge, and i will worship in the oglala way.

    i talk with grandfather every day, and he helps be to be worthy, to understand wakan, the spirit in all of his creation, and he will guide me every day to accomplish this, and it will be wakan, holy.

    this is an everything, or nothing proposition, and this is what the spirit told you in your mind. you did the right thing. when you are ready to become one with a tribe, interview with a holy man, have the true desire to be one with his tribe, honor their traditions, go to inipi with them conducting the inipi, and you will be as i am, one with the tribe and our creator.

    to whom much is given, much is required.
    to whom much is given, who are not ready, that much is taken away, or lost.
    be willing to give all to achieve this rebirth, and i can assure you, it is more than worth the sacrifice.

    we are all together, we are all one…your brother, torchholder

  2. Peaceful Greetings Karen,

    I thank you for sharing your experience, wonderful words and your Spirit here, and I thank Divinity/Creator for this space here to be able to share and learn. You helped me to learn more about the Sweat, Inipi and of what it means to be Fire Keeper. Thank you! 🙂

    I am grateful you were able to have the experience you had and to hear Spirit. I offer my prayers to you for all good Blessings for whatever you may need or want, ‘An it harm none, Blessed Be.

    My physical heart is not strong enough to endure a Sweat (I would quite literally have a heart attack and need emergency care, therefor knowing that I would only become a disruption to the Ceremony, I respectfully do not join in the Sweat) however I am grateful and very honored to be able to help tend the Fire when I am called. It is hard and good work, and I am grateful and glad to be able to be a supportive part of the Ceremony in whatever way I can.

    I will not render any judgement on the message you felt you received. Sometimes we must trust in our instincts. But it is true that such messages can be misinterpreted. What a Blessing it is then that there is this thing called the internet where we can share experiences and hear others’ points of views. 🙂

    I have had somewhat similar feelings of peculiarity as roughly what you describe. For me, I am choosing for the present moment to interpret these Spiritual vibrations as reminders that it is okay for me to be me, that I do not need to abandon my own Spirituality in order to be of some kind help, even in tiniest of small ways, to those of different Spirituality. And my responsibility at the moment is to observe and leave things as I found them with those beings to which they belong, unless of course something is outright given to me to hold in trust and keeping on their behalf. I have a Smudge Wing that is in this level of keeping. I do not use it for my own rituals but instead wait for if or when I am called to help, and then bring the Smudge Wing along with me.

    Sometimes our purpose is to serve as host, or helper, bringer, Be-er. One of the Gifts of the human animal is flexibility and sometimes that aspect gets exercised in Spiritual as well as intellectual, emotional and physical senses.

    As I approach a Ceremony, I make it known who and what I am (which, by the way, is Wiccan/Solitary…) to the best of my knowledge (for the inner self can be a rather dynamic, changing thing) at that time to the Spirit / Divinity / Creator, I give Them honors and my Spirit-heart love, and then entrust to Them to either accept me or not.

    I believe if Creator / Divinity didn’t want me there, then I wouldn’t be there. Thus if I am called and allowed to be present for Ceremony, it would appear Divinity must have some kind of confidence in me to have me be present at all. Up until very recently, I didn’t even know what an Inipi was or who the Lakota people were. It seems clear to me that until recently, I wasn’t ready yet to learn.

    Divinity brings to us what we’re meant to learn and when we’re ready to learn (regardless though that sometimes we might disagree with the timing of it). It’s what we choose to do with the knowledge once we receive it that potentially becomes confusing and / or challenging. Very often it is that I pray for guidance on what is it I am meant to do with knowledge-gifts shared with me. Sometimes the answer is to only observe, or wait, or learn more, or venture further and deeper unto the Path.

    Whatever answer or answers there be for you, I pray for you for Blessings of Light of Peace, Well-Being, Safe-keeping and Simple Joy. ‘An it harm none, Blessed Be. 🙂

    Family With My Beloved CroneLunaWulf And All Our Kindred Fur, Feather And Fin Spirits…
    Harrisburg, PA

  3. mi Takuye Oyasin…we are all one and related…redman medicine-Inipi, medicine wheel and wakan healing thru ceremonies are where many of Us adopted in Lakotas come from now as we accept and promote this way of life…I heal this way because I respect it and the teaCHING…i RESPECT GRANDFATHER..and the way of the PIPE,….and there is no provision to restrict men NA and Women from doing Inipi together ..except for certain cleansing Ceremonies…the medicine Man determines ..this need…good info for all here! mi Takuye Oyasin

  4. First off – thank you to those that have left comments and I mean no disrespect but am feeling called to interject a note for the reader. The “traditional” medicine man that I was honored to meet is aware of this article so until he or any traditional Native American medicine man opts to weigh in and negate the information provided, the reader might want to keep in mind that some comments on this article are from non-Indian people that have been adopted by someone from a tribe. These adoptions are much like a family from our white tribe adopting a child from a foreign country. But unlike the selection process and paper work that folks go through to adopt children, many adults that are already affiliated with a Native American family request their adoptions, which is usually completed via an “adoption ceremony.” As such, adopted folks cannot speak with complete authority, because there are many levels/layers within any tribe of people. Additionally, white man’s world penetrated the reservations, which forced many of their traditional spiritual practices to go underground where many continued a secret practice rather than risk being killed/murdered. It is also my understanding that there are very few traditional medicine folks left today so many new age Native Americans do not follow the traditional ways of the past because they are no longer taught to the whole, and/or some that do learn choose to walk a slightly different path. These new ways do not negate what the adopted folks are taught because some core elements concerning this culture’s spiritual beliefs/practices remain in tact, but they in no way represent the whole of any tribe’s medicine ways, especially the traditional ways that some Native American medicine men uphold to this day.

  5. Could you please tell me the meaning of the differnt colored cloths that are drapped inside the Inipi?

  6. Hello Issy,

    The cloths hanging from the top are for the spirit directions to use if/when they enter the lodge. Yellow for the east – white for the south – black for the west – red for the north – green for earth and blue for sky.

  7. How do you pronounce “Inipi”?

  8. I-nip-i…I (as in “it”) – nip – ee.

  9. I`m not sure what to say. Metis like me exist because our ancestors wanted a bridge to deeper understanding with the new people arriving here. Anishnabe`, Lakota & Iriquois are very open to sharing with those that respect traditions, no matter the genetics. So what spoke with you maybe doesn`t speak for all ancestors.

    Inipi: ee-nee-pee. (from how I`ve heard it pronounced).

  10. I guess this is one of those topics that will keep us going round and round, and clearly no one can speak for all the ancestors – just as no one can speak for the different ways of the limited numbers of medicine men/women within any given tribe that still follow their “traditional” teachings etc.

    Pulled a few links from the web for those that are interested in learning more.

    “… in the United States sweat lodges were outlawed during the nineteenth century when reservations were being created….Christian missionaries in the Americas saw the sweat lodge as a threat because of its religious and sacred status to the Native Indians. The greater they felt threatened by a particular tribe the more they would attempt to crush and stop the sweat lodges from happening. In Mexico the tribes just removed the offending sections of sweat bathing and they were left alone by the Spanish conquerors. One tribe that has consistently fought off Europeans and kept the traditions alive and unchanged are the Sioux. They were punished greatly for their defiance but nonetheless they have maintained their traditions unchanged….In the past sweat lodges were used by men and women separately until times changed and both sexes could partake in the experience together. Some feel this change was done so Native communities could stay bonded together even as there numbers were dwindling….”

    “…The sweat lodge ceremony was mainly used by Native American men to cleanse and purify before going hunting or into other ceremonies for healing…”

    “…Traditionally it was only the men who would sweat. As time has passed and the lodge has evolved, other levels have been shown…. These days women sweat also, provided they are not on their moon time or cleansing time already. Men can sweat separately and women can sweat separately, or there can be mixed sweats where men and women both participate. The Elder or Lodge Keeper running the ceremony according to their teachings will determine this…”

    Declaration of War Against Exploiters of Lakota Spirituality (June 10, 1993)

    The Cheyenne Declaration regarding the Protection of Sacred Ceremonies(May 6, 2003)

  11. a hunka ceremony is just that, a sacred ceremony and doesn’t have to be done inside a lodge and alot of people who have been adopted can speak with authority because if our elders taught us the ways and we listened then we know why we do things. the biggest problem we have now a days is no one ask questions anymore. the last sundance i was at there was a group of people looking at everyone confused why we were all whooping and hollaring at the dancers when they were breaking flesh and i watched them the rest of the day. they never asked why we were doing that and they left not knowing so they lost out on a lesson because they didn’t ask any questions. i took my daughter at 4 years old thru a hunka ceremony since she isn’t biologically mine and she asked so many questions i was sooo proud of her, and when my son was born she answered all the questions he had even though she was not born into our world but adopted she has just as much knowledge as any 4×4 i know. don’t mean to start a argument, just wanted to state that you should never disregard knowledge given to you about something. u can learn a million things and believe 5 of those things and you will be right but never not listen to someone speaking. my uncle tracker would talk about the past and things and u could be assured that 0nly 5 % of it was true. the hard part is listening to the whole story and trying to decide what was the 5% of truth and what was the 95% of bull.

  12. A-Ho! My spirit guide – Great Eagle Soaring – is asking that I write a comment here. So you can understand where I am I should tell you that my awakening began several years ago and that I am currently undertaking a spiritual journey, and with WOLF, at my sit – a wonderful TEACHER) I am learning so much about myself and reshaping my personal dream weave so I can be the very best I can be. I am studying Native American Teachings and as part of that course I am learning about the “into purification” ceremony. Your website found me as I was undertaking some research and I wanted to Thank You for sharing your personal experience. I hope one day to be able to partake of the experience and that my re-birth will bring me closer to Great Spirit, The Great Mystery, and my higher purpose.
    Many Thanks and many blessings

  13. You are very welcome Earth Dancer and i can assure you that wolf and eagle are very great guides that will serve to give you that rebirth with or without anything added!! My very first feather gift while walking in the woods one day came from eagle but i did not know it at the time and thought it was an owl feather and even got into a debate with a medicine man about what kind of feather it was years later :). Ended up giving him that feather that had been hanging on my wall to hold for me because I didn’t know what to do with it but soon learned after it left my possession. However, i will not ask him to return this feather but have yet to stumble upon another one so if you are gifted one, treasure it!!

    And for those that may not know what Marcy is referencing, Hunka = Hunkapi (sounds like: hoon ka pea) which is the making of relatives ceremony, and is one of the 7 sacred ceremonies of the Lakota.

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