Sweat lodges were a basic component of Native American life. The Native
American completed a purification ceremony in these sweat lodges. This ritual
dealt with purifying the human body and soul. The layout of the sweat lodge, the
practice of the purification ceremony, and the symbolism in each of these things
are all part of Native American rituals The Navaho used to call sweat lodges
tq”ache. They are made out of birch willow branches and resemble a beehive.
Outside of the sweat lodges is a fire used to heat rocks. A dirt path from the
fire outside goes through the door leading to the fire inside. The door is
always facing toward the east. In the middle of the sweat lodge is a hole with
the heated rocks from the fire outside. Sweat baths are filled with symbolism.
Sweat represents the washing away of physical and moral impurities. This
ceremony is meant to revitalize and allow the person to be born anew. The lodge
is an image of the universe. The rocks inside symbolize the center of the
universe. The heated rocks in the fireplace represent the Mother Earth. The
stream created by pouring water over the rocks symbolizes the Thunder Being. The
participants purify themselves with rocks, fire, water, earth and air. The
practice of the purification ceremony is essentially a sweat bath. When the
stones in the fire outside are hot enough they are brought in. The participants
chant and sit in silence. After this is done, a mixture of water, sage grass,
cedar, and pine needles is poured onto the hot rocks. This produces a hot vapor
bath that leaves the fragrance of burning needles and grass. This practice can
be done many times a day. There are always sweat baths before important
ceremonies, warpaths, or the signing of treaties. This ritualistic ceremony
shows many of the beliefs about God’s relationship with the earth and humans.
This purification ceremony put the American Indians in a frame of mind to make
important decisions. The layout, practice, and symbolism in the sweat lodges are
a major part of Native American rituals.