Sweat Lodges

   Many Native American nations make use of a ritual complex in which people enter a heated confined space in order to seek purification. The ceremony itself involves communication with powerful other-than-human persons or helpers, most centrally the heated rocks onto which water is sprinkled to produce steam. In fact, many Native Americans identify the ritual structures not as “sweat lodges” but as “stone people lodges,” clearly aligning themselves with an animist cosmology. The combination of sensory deprivation and overstimulation (i.e., the darkness and heat) may induce a light trance, but the key here is the practice of altered styles of communication, or “prayer.” Further ceremonies normally follow from the purification achieved in “the sweat,” such as vision quests. In New Age and neo-shamanic contexts, sweat lodges may also be considered initiatory but more often enable self-knowledge than communication with other-than-humans. While many Native Americans welcome non-Natives into their lodges, they generally see neoshamanic sweat lodges as an offensive appropriation by “wannabe Indians” facilitated by exploitative “plastic medicine people.”

Historical dictionary of shamanism. . 2007.

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