Native Sweat Medicine Lodge vs. White Fear
Citation: Temperance. "Native Sweat Medicine Lodge vs. White Fear: An Experience with Peyote (ID 47175)". Erowid.org. Jun 12, 2006. erowid.org/exp/47175
I went with some friends from a New Age bookstore to go a native Indian sweat lodge. We were there all weekend. My wife was invited to go, but at the last minute changed her mind. I don’t think she would have liked it much any ways; it was a lot of roughing it, campfires, rain, hard ground and an odd assortment of food. But then again, it is an attempt to get back to native ways, so it was very appropriate.
We arrived at 7pm and did a sweat, then ate some food, to get ready for the Medicine tent at midnight. At that point we spent the whole night in a full size teepee, with the fire going in the inside, and it raining on the outside. Of course there was very little sleeping since it was a ceremony with prayers, singing and so on, we weren’t encouraged to sleep (they would poke at you if you started to dose off or get too comfortable. Think of it as a self-imposed endurance test.
The most provocative part of course was the Medicine Tent, the teepee. We didn’t know what medicine was, thinking maybe that we might smoke some grass or some thing like that. I myself have only smoked it on occasion and had never taken any psychedelic drugs of any kind. However, it was much more of an endurance test than that. They gave us three types of Peyote, one in a dry granola form, one in a wet gritty and spongy form and then as a tea. As soon as I had choked down the one bite, they would pass the bowls around again. This happened 5 times. It was awful. It tasted like gritty wet cow pie, and was insanely bitter.
To “get well” or throw up, was expected as part of the treatment. I am not one to throw up so I endured it only to have it effect me for the next few days as it would work its way out of my system, I could hardly keep any food in me I had such diarrhea. We were told we all had a significant amount of it, and that the effects in the medicine tent were going to be different than if we took it on the outside. However it also stands to reason that no one in his or her right mind would endure this as a recreational drug. It was too horrible.
I am not sure what others experienced during their vision questing, but I was beginning to see some visions, even though we were told this was not a hallucinogenic, but rather for clearing and focusing the mind. Predominantly I saw the fire's timbers pulsating, and the embers took on the shape of spines and bones, skulls and faces. The face of the old man sitting on the far side of the teepee was clear to me with his long beard and sharp nose and features.I looked up from the fire, and it was him to the detail, he was already looking at me from across the fire with his steel blue eyes. I felt I knew him from some were, even a past life. He looked like the wizard.
Other images came to mind later.I couldn’t imagine any one meditating from all the boisterous singing, the sharp stabbing pain in our backs as we lay on the hard floor and of course the waves of nausea that flooded over with each dose of the cactus. Many of the experienced practitioners made a hasty retreat for the door as they felt the bitter drug coming back up their throats.
But even then I look back and recall all the fears that were welling up in me, that feeling of the native wanting to claw its way out, contrasted by the scared white man that wanted to run away from this crude uncivilized world I was experiencing. I could see my fears in front of me, and they seemed to take shape, they were real and tangible, and floated in front of me like shapes. I listened to the voices in the teepee around me and they were unfamiliar, Spanish, Lakota, and even French. They all seemed to speak above me, and leave me out, paranoia set in about what they might be saying, maybe about me. I could see what looked like many lifetimes as a white man, and his western mind obsessed with comfort, cleanliness, and desire to be a separate ego and pride as an individual. This feeling of community and back to nature was now alarming me with fear. Fears of nature, panic of the lack of comforts, like electricity, and warm sugary and processed food. The feeling was irrational if it was just from my surroundings, but I felt this feeling of not being at one with the savages, and the lack of understanding and conflict the western mind has with nature and that which he cannot control came from many life times.
Not just my past lifetimes, but the lifetimes of my white ancestry, it was in my blood and DNA, breed into me, by my great, great, grandparents who also knew of this white fear. Why is it when the lights blink out for an hour it is the topic of conversation or the traffic light on the corner is out…white fear. What about the grocery not having a certain item we want or gas prices rising, forcing us to consider alternatives to our comforts…white fear. Of those that are different skin than us, those that speak of foreign tongues, they could take over…white fear. What of those that worship in nature, a female mother goddess, frightening nakedness, and a religion that talks of becoming one with the earth…white fear.
The music, that I knew on the outside I had identified with and longed for, was now beating harshly on my ears, the earth I wanted to bond with was now ground into my every pore, the sense of oneness with others was forced on me as we huddled sweaty and naked together in darkness. I had so often longed to get away from the faults and obsessions that Americans embrace. I don’t understand or appreciate most of popular culture and its escapist fantasies. But now, here in my new tribal world I felt like a stranger, and I shuddered and panicked at the experience of not having the comforts that I was so accustomed to.
The following breakfast ceremony was equally brutal to my stimulus. Cold corn and cold buffalo meat didn’t appeal to my stomach that now turned inside out. Then it was dawn, and I was exhausted. They allowed us to collapse momentarily, and even as bodies walked around and over me, I could hear them in the distance talking, but I ignored it all. I couldn’t tell the drugs effects from sleep depravation.
Then about as the sun was rising, and the rain was breaking up, we huddled to the outside fire again and waited. The second sweat, they promised would be very meaningful and empowering. I crawled in to the hut, on the cold and wet dirt floor; my sense of smell could no longer detect sweat or the pungent smoke that permeated everything. The girls were on one side and the men on the other. They held peace pipe, and as the stones were brought in by the fire bearers one by one, they touched the tip of the pipestone bowls to the red hot rock grandmothers, 28 stones in all. Then they lit the pipes, and as they were stoked I marveled at the ceremony, as each one silently gave reverence to the 4 quarters, their pipe, the sky and earth, and spun them around to the next person. It was quite beautiful how synchronized it became.
Soon, one by one the large pipes let out their last breath of smoke and the door was closed to the wig wham. This time it was different. I couldn’t see the light and it felt like night had descended again. When the singing and ceremonies began the steam rolled off the hot rocks and I could feel my face burning. I looked up and saw faces again, this time in the faint outlines of light that snuck into the walls. The faces were of ancestors, but also of death.
The grim reapers face formed, as if again saying “I am the great white death that all your people have faced.” Another face emerged and it was in a war paint, streaming down vertically on a painted white face. I believe it was a Crow tribe, and their war paint. Both loomed in eminent death. The smaller face of the native death, held more strange fear and anger than the familiar and stereotypical face of the Reaper. They both seemed to wink at me and I could almost hear them say, “be good kid…” with a laugh. I knew they were goading me and teasing. I responded in my mind, there is no good or bad me, just me! To which they seemed to knowingly nod, approvingly. At least they would not take me with out me having first learned this lesson in life.
When I finally thought I had faced all my demons and fears, the door flew open one last time, and the babe that the parents wanted to bring in was handed in wrapped naked in a fresh towel to the mother. We closed in what was called a “baby sweat”, and I awaited one last final and mild steam to come over me. It turned out to be the straw that broke my will. The child was brave, and I thought to my self, it is us that fear the womb, not the child who probably hated to have recently left it only months ago. Finally the heat and the water, splashing on him gave him to raise his cry in discomfort. All of our parental meters went into overdrive, and the women as much as the men were shifting uncomfortably, as our primal instincts told us we must tend to this pain, and save the baby.
Some even spoke out in ceremony not able to hold their tongues any longer. I myself started counting the minutes, that we might have to endure it, and then there was silence. This silence proved to increase the primal tension. Was the baby ok? Did it pass out, how could it suddenly be so still, how would we know in this darkness that the child was still all right? The seconds ticked by even longer as the priest poured out more song, and more water for steam. Finally we were released from this hell, and the baby cried once again as the door flap was ordered open. It didn’t come right away, and we were again forced to wait against everyone’s will this time. Did they forget about us, did they all go back to the house because of the rain? No, finally some one took mercy on us, and the door flew back. Some of us stayed collapsed as the heat rolled out and the cool fresh air poured in. I crawled out around some of the bodies and around the circle of steaming stones. I literally kissed the earth and staggered to me feet.
I saw S and she was the one to have stayed behind for us. I kidded her saying she was our Valkyrie come to retake our souls from their voyage. We gathered around the fire, and I stood the longest in the rain with only my towel around me, so disoriented, and not being able to gage my own body temperature. I slipped and fell, cutting my hand as I struggled to put on my robe. The grey haired old professor, was now back after having found his missing friend who had been wandering the woods and the highway after the medicine lodge. She spoke only French and the group had been very concerned for her. Now, relieved, it was his turn to smoke his pipe, and he invited us to do so. We all hugged and rejoiced in our new lives. Our native guide held out his wet trunks over the fire to dry on a stick, as if he were waving a victory flag.
Later of course, we retired to the house, were I again gave thanks for indoor plumbing, and even though I couldn’t hold any food down I was thankful to purge myself of those toxins still coursing through me. Most of us tried to eat some thing, and the dinner from the night before, that again greeted us with pies, soups, and deserts, no longer had their allure. All I could stand was liquid and a few bites of salad and bread.
It was a good experience, and brought about a lot of introspection.
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