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Sedona Sweat Lodge

Sedona Sweat LodgebyRev. Robin Tekwelus Youngblood

A few days ago, two people died in a Sweat Lodge ceremony in Sedona, AZ. . . . a Lodge led by a non-Native person; a Lodge covered with plastic tarps; a Lodge with sixty-five participants.

Reportage of this event leaves many with a lot of questions. Several years ago, Chief Arvol Looking Horse, keeper of the White Buffalo Calf Pipe of the Lakota people, called for all Native ceremonies to be 'returned' to the Native people. He felt that non-Native people shouldn't have the right to pour Inipi (Sweat Lodge), or carry a Sacred Pipe.

This caused a lot of controversy. Some Native people agreed, believing that white people were 'stealing' the ceremonies. Many others felt that the ceremonies belong to all people, and are especially needed in this modern world with it's lack of respect and understanding of the innate connection among all beings.

My particular concern, however, has always been safety. Whether one is working one-on-one, journeying with a client; performing a Soul/Power Retrieval; facilitating a Sweat Lodge, Sundance or Rite of Passage ceremony, the one who leads needs to be completely and thoroughly trained.

It is NOT okay to attend one (or even several) Sweat Lodges, and then set oneself up as a leader of Sweat Lodges!It is NOT okay to observe, or even participate in one training workshop, and think one can hold another's life in their hands and perform a Soul Retrieval.

Traditional training takes many years. Years of chopping wood and carrying water; observing the Elders as they pray, set up the ceremonies, create and hold Sacred Space; being willing to listen and follow directions as one is taught the ancient healing designs, how to use the tools and methods, techniques and rituals for healing. It takes years of witnessing one's inner denials; healing one's own pain and trauma; investigating and stalking one's ego, in order to deserve the privilege of facilitating ceremony, ritual, healing modalities.

While intentions may be good, well, as the old saying goes, "The road to H--- is paved with good intentions!" Without proper practical and spiritual training, one doesn't even know enough to see the potential dangers involved in a particular ceremony or healing technique. And, if money and the ego are involved, both are potent temptations to blindness.

If one learns from a traditional, one will not use plastic tarps/bags, etc., to enclose a Sweat Lodge. Plastic is toxic and doesn't breathe. Heat releases the toxins in plastic, which means that the participants have no choice but to inhale it.

I've never known a traditional Sweat Lodge to have sixty-five participants. The most I've ever encountered is around thirty. How can one person possibly hold the energy for that many people, make certain each one is safe, and deal responsibly with any issues that arise?

It worries traditional people when we see reports like this, because we had to fight for nearly a hundred years to re-claim and legalize our ceremonies. There is no way we will allow them to be restricted again! Nor do we want to see anyone harmed at a ceremony that is improperly performed by someone who suffers from lack of wisdom and training.

People die at ceremonies, just as they die in bed. . . . sometimes, a person makes the choice to die in a ceremony. What easier, more loving transition could one have? And, if the ceremony has been properly done - protocols and safety issues all addressed and cared for - then all one can say is, "Hoka Hey! It's a great day to die! A blessing on their journey!!"

Many of my Medicine People, Shamans and Ceremonial Facilitator friends and I have talked at length about what happened in Sedona. We've come up with a set of questions that people can ask before participating in ceremony with an unfamiliar facilitator.
1) Who trained you? What lineage do you belong to?
2) Did they 'pass the bundle' to you in ceremony? Have you been given the right to perform this ceremony by the person who trained you?
3) What kind of Sweat Lodge do you run? Is it a "Warrior Lodge" (endurance rounds, many stones, exceedingly hot ~ which is what Mr. Ray purported to be running in Sedona)? Is it a healing Lodge, a prayer Lodge, a thanksgiving Lodge?
4) How many Lodges have you poured? Who can you recommend that I talk to about their experience in your Lodge?

For those who are pouring (leading) Sweat Lodge ceremonies, there is a whole other set of questions to ask potential participants:
1) Have you Sweat before?
2) With whom?
3) Do you have any medical conditions we need to know about? Are you on any medications? (I won't allow anyone with heart problems, asthma, kidney disease, hot flashes, diabetes in the Lodge for more than the first round, and only if they sign a waiver releasing me from responsibility.)
4) What kind of Lodge? Lakota Inipi, Hippie Sweat, another traditional lineage?
4) Have you attended Warrior Sweats, or healing, thanksgiving, prayer Lodges?
5) Do you use any kind of drugs - even medical marijuana?
6) Have you used psychedelics? How recently? (If potential participants seem ungrounded; if they've been regularly attending any ceremonies where Plant Medicines [Ayahuasca, Peyote, Dime, DMT, etc.) are used, I won't let them in the Lodge until they've had six months of recovery time.)
7) Will you follow the facilitator's directions at all times? (If I sense they need to leave the Lodge, I don't want any arguments.)

My Native Elders didn't ask a lot of these questions. They didn't need to. They were experts at observation. While the questions were a part of their guidelines, all they had to do was watch a person for a little while, and they knew whether that person belonged in a Lodge or not. They had no hesitation with telling someone that it was not the right time for them to enter Lodge, and that they were welcome to pray around the fire with us.

In today's world, where so many are practicing ancient ceremonies without having had that kind of training, and where so many are desperately seeking and trusting those who may not have the skill/wisdom they seek, we have to ask these questions.

Whether in the daily workaday world or in ceremony, it is our Right and Responsibility to protect and take care of ourselves first, and each other next. We are not zombies or victims, relegated to following someone else without discernment.

Please, let us use this tragedy to inform ourselves, discern the best course for ourselves, and seek true training in the healing and ceremonial arts that call to our hearts.

About the author:
Rev. Youngblood, co-founder of Church of the Earth, is a traditionally-trained Shamanic Practitioner. Robin can access and read your Soul's Designs; she facilitates Shamanic Journeys for individuals and groups; Soul/Power Retrievals; De-Possesion, Cord-Cutting; teaches the ancient eco-spiritual wisdom of her Native Elders, and leads Sweat Lodges, Rites of Passage and other ceremonies.
Says Robin: "I believe that the only way we can become the Illuminators our planet needs is to elevate our personal vibrations to harmonize with Mother Earth, Father Sky, and All Our Relations. We are a microcosm of the macrocosm, and as each of us changes and transforms, we create a field for all others to transform as well. How do we do this? By aligning and attuning ourselves through ceremony with the natural rhythms of the Earth and the Great Mystery; by following our heart's true desires; by weaving our song and dance into the web of creation in union with all who are working to heal themselves and Mother Earth."


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Maika Suneagle - October 17th 2009 04:36:24 AM
Very well written and filled with simple wisdom - truly the Shaman way

Mary Harris Cutting/WWWW - May 20th 2010 11:49:21 PM
Hi Robin, I know of you through Ann Harrison and the fact that I worked for California Psychics for 5 1/2 years. I really liked everything that you had to say........very well put and informative..... The one thing that I feel that was left out is how out of integrity this guy is with what he throws everything out of whack to be a charlatan of that magnitude..........and my intuition tells me that even if he didn't do everything "right", it was his dominating greed that lead to this tragedy. Also, he is now going on with his work! He isn't even at the hospital with those that are sick, or at least in meditation and prayer for them........ I will be honest,,,,,,,One of my first sweat lodges (after having done my first ones with Barrett Eagle Bear with whom I would do many more) was crafted with pvc pipes and the man was reading(!) what to say in the lodge..yet I still had an incredible experience because I believe (1) I needed it and (2) their hearts were in the right place....... Blessings O Mitakuye Oyasin, Mary Harris Cutting/WWWW

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