What is a sweat lodge?

What is a sweat lodge? If you've heard this term many times and don't know what's behind it, you've come to the right place.
A custom of the Indians - Sweat Lodge

A custom of the Indians – Sweat Lodge

The term is often used as a synonym for sauna. But this is only half correct. Because behind this name actually hides an ancient ritual, at the center of which is a hot room. In this article, you will learn everything you need to know about the tradition: where it comes from, what it uses and how you can still experience the ritual today.

The sweat lodge was invented by the indigenous people of North America, better known as Indians. Therefore, the ritual is often referred to by the English term Sweat Lodge. The Celts and Germanic tribes must also have known similar ceremonies. This is at least suggested by excavation finds. It has been handed down that the ceremony was used by the Indians for cleansing and healing.

Even today, people swear by the power of heat. So-called shamans offer the ritual. You will probably look in vain for a sweat lodge in a public bath. Here it is rather a marginal phenomenon. If you want to experience the authentic experience of a traditional sweat bath, it is recommended to search the Internet for a shaman near you, who usually offers this experience in his garden.

Construction of a sweat lodge

The actual hut is not particularly high, usually around 120 centimeters. It is usually a type of tent made of wickerwork. This wickerwork is covered with skins or blankets. In the middle of the interior there is a hole in which hot stones are placed. They later provide the cozy warmth in the hut. The stones are heated at a fireplace a few meters away.

Procedure of the ritual

Before it can start, teamwork is required. According to the rules of the ritual, the participants first collect stones and wood. Once this is done, the fire is lit and the stones are warmed. The fire keeper has the task of carrying the stones into the tent. But before he does that, the participants go to the hut.

There they sit on tree stakes. Only when the last one has taken his seat, the fire keeper puts the stones into the trough. He follows strict rules when piling them up. During the process, he repeatedly makes infusions with clear water. Herbs are placed on the floor for fragrance and purification.

Speaking of rounds, there are four of them according to the classical rules. In the first round, the participants are supposed to thank someone, in the second to make a wish for someone else, in the third to let go of something, and in the fourth to fill the vacuum created by it.

Indian Sweat Lodge

What is the benefit?

According to Native American beliefs, sweating in these lodges serves to purify and heal. If you believe the natives of North America, the ritual eliminates almost all “diseases”. Sweating is healthy in any case. Especially since the participants can fully engage in the experience thanks to the strict rules. The inner cleansing is also supposed to lead to a reunion with one’s own spirit. At least that’s how the shamans, the teachings from days long past, see it. Those who engage in it will at least experience a very deep relaxation. In order for the ceremony to work, the hut should not be left during the entire time.

However, the rules are not so strict today. In the meantime, most fire masters allow participants to leave the lodge during the breaks between the passages. Whether you believe in it or not, such a sweat lodge is a very special experience in any case. If you already have experiences with it, please feel free to share them with us.

Frequently asked questions

How long does one spend time in a sweat lodge?

The time spent in a sweat lodge depends on the type of ritual performed in the lodge. In most cases, the ritual in a sweat lodge can last between one and four hours.

What do you wear in a sweat lodge?

It is recommended that women wear either a bikini or a bathing suit. A light cloth, such as a hamam cloth, is also acceptable. The man wears a bathing suit or short shorts, although as with the women, a hamam towel (available from can also be used. Please remember to bring a towel to sit on.

What stones are suitable for a sweat lodge infusion?

It is very important to choose the right stones. Some stones are known to burst in the fire or explode when infused. In either case, the person can suffer serious injury. Stone types commonly used in sweat lodges include granite, basalt, and gneiss.

Who is an Indian sweat lodge suitable for?

A Native American sweat lodge is suitable for people who want a spiritual experience that focuses on cleansing and healing the body, mind, and spirit. It is a great way to relieve stress and relax. It is also a great way to connect with others and find a deeper connection to yourself and nature.

How warm does it get in a sweat lodge?

In a sweat lodge, it’s not the quantity of heat generated that matters, but the quality of the spiritual setting. This includes the ritual construction of the sweat lodge and fireplace, the devotion of the fire keeper, the energy of the carefully selected stones, the spiritual quality of the person leading the sweat lodge, the songs, the prayers, and last but not least, the participation of the group participants. Therefore, the temperature in a sweat lodge is between 40 and 60 degrees Celsius.

Can one go outside during a sweat lodge ceremony?

Yes, when the “door” is opened and before new stones are brought in, one may leave the sweat lodge but not re-enter. In order not to disturb the flow of a ceremony, it is advisable to finish the ritual before leaving the lodge.

Are there any health requirements for visiting the sweat lodge?

Yes, there are health requirements for a visit to the sweat lodge. Individuals with certain health conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, asthma, diabetes, or pregnant women, should consult a physician before visiting. Individuals suffering from mental illness should also consult a physician before visiting.


Purchase Tip: The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge

Studies in the Anthropology of North American Indians

A consistent and important part of Lakota religious life for centuries has been the intipi, the ritual of the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge has changed little in appearance since it was first described in the late seventeenth century. The ritual itself consists of songs, prayers, and other actions performed in a tightly enclosed, dark, and extremely hot environment. Participants who sweat together experience moral strengthening, physical healing, and the renewal of social and cultural bonds.

Today, the sweat lodge ritual remains an important part of Lakota religion. It has also been used, often controversially, by non-Indians. More recently, the ritual has become popular among Lakotas recovering from alcohol and drug addiction. This study is the first to examine in depth the history and significance of the Lakota sweat lodge. Bringing together data from historical sources and field research on the Pine Ridge Reservation, Raymond A. Bucko provides a detailed discussion of continuity and change in the sweating ritual over time. He offers compelling explanations for the longevity of the ceremony and its enduring popularity.

The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge: History and...


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