BeGood Cafe-Archive » #03 Spiritual Journey

#03 Spiritual Journey



How often do we stand at a crossing point in our lives and we need an answer to help us in the right direction?

For some people it might be reading their horoscope, some try their luck with the I-Ching or consult with a wise fortuneteller.

But there are other journeys that people have travelled for hundreds of years, rituals that help the mind move past to the next level. One of these journeys is called a sweat lodge, a form of a sauna-like set up that can be found in old Native American Indian traditions or in the Scandinavian countries.

But there is more to it than meets the eye, after all, they are rituals and these rituals are lead by an elder, very often a shaman who knows how to prepare the space and keep it safe. When a journey is made, one is vulnerable whilst traveling through the elements as our forefathers and elders did with the wisdom and guidance of the stonepeople.

My journey started a few years ago while I was writing my Masters Thesis Industrial Design in Cape Town, South Africa and I wanted to do some research on sustainable development. A friend had just visited the Findhorn community in Scotland for a few months and she mentioned that they were offering in-depth courses on community –ecovillage- trainings; this was evidently also my first introduction to permaculture.

Fortunately, I was able to make my way there and part of the one-month course was filled with a design component. After having seen the neglected sweat lodge, I requested to reconstruct it and learn the rituals behind the journey. My wish was granted and so I set-off to research the meanings behind the motions, a spiritual journey to enrich me for a long time.

Together with two other participants, we set out and prepared the sacred space for a journey with all our classmates – we were twenty-three in total and had thirteen nationalities among us. The hut frame was made from willow twigs- these symbolize the flowing of water and how humanity is dependent on it, as it is part of creation. During the harvesting of the willow branches, a blessing of sacrifice was made to the tree for it to aid in the process of re-cleansing.

The dome shape hut had a diameter of about three meters and was about one and a half meter high in the center. The entrance of the hut was facing east and in the center of the floor there was a small pit that was connected with a narrow canal –the path of life- running eastward to the outside where it connected with a bigger pit. The dome represents the mother’s womb – the feminine energy- and the bigger pit is for the fire –masculine, and it symbolizes the seed- where the rocks were to be heated to a glow.

The willow frame was then covered with wool blankets to insulate the structure as the heat that would later be generated by the steam- the healing component-could stay in the space; after all it was mid-winter and the Scottish nights get very icy cold. Traditionally the lodge would have been covered in hides but the meaning still remains – it being the skin of the mother that protects us.

During the morning of the ritual, we were asked by our mentor to go out and search for a rock in nature with about the size of our head, as a way of preparation. Once we found our rock, we carried it while asking questions about events we wanted insight to in our lives or troubles concerning us, then we carefully placed the rock on the edge of the fire pit in preparation of the event.

Keeping in mind that this is a very sacred journey, it is a very voluntary experience, and so, several of our Eastern classmates did not feel comfortable to participate in the event but they were given an equal chance to partake. Some of them took a small piece of red cloth, placed some tabaco, salt and their prayer into it, closed it up with a string and hung it from the roof on the inside of the dome before the ritual started, so that these too were made part of the journey.

As the fire was lit in the fire pit, the shaman faced the east, thanking all the directions of life being present and how the fire was the symbol for vision and was awakened by the sounds of cymbals. Then we turned to the north with the sound of a drum and we could feel the presence of the warrior in us. The west holds the water and clicking stones reminded us of the gifts we have now. Finally we faced south and the rattles gave the vibrations of healing.

We had two keepers of the fire and they carefully placed the stones in it to bring them to a brilliant red before they were placed inside the hut. Slowly as they warmed, we became aware of the sky above us, the dark star-filled night, the Earth below us as it was turning moist as the dew set ,and the excitement within as this was part of a soul search. While we would be in the hut, the fire keepers guarded the lodge, since we were very vulnerable in our spiritual nakedness.

Our group was a mixed gender; ideally one would enter the lodge without clothes but a towel was more than welcome. Fortunately, we all felt comfortable with each other and as we crawled into the lodge from the bottom south east end of the path of life, our journey to the past begun in a tense silence. The circle was tightly packed as we found ourselves in utter darkness, and slowly the spaces started glowing as the shaman asked for the rocks to be rolled into the center via the path of life. Water was sprinkled onto the stones and the steam associated with cleansing soon filled up the cold space. A speaking stone was passed on and we were able to share our stories of the past, whether it was pain, confusion or words of beauty, everything seemed to be relevant and there was time to understand and live with others in a universal journey, life, all created in that womb!

After about forty-five minutes, we crawled out of the lodge at the top north east point and walked past the fire pit towards a patch of grass and we rinsed ourselves with water, what a cleansing enriching feeling it was! Lying on the grass, naked and looking upward towards the stars in the winter weather is a liberating and carefree feeling.

The next round was dedicated to the present. New stones were slowly brought into the pit; we reflected on where we currently are and how we feel. The darkness was filled by aspiration and doubt while people were sharing – and the speaking stone moved from one hand to the other – each persons’ time of sharing was respected.

I started to see shapes in the soft glow of the stones, spirits danced before my eyes and they brought calmness to my soul, a recognition of my existence. Slowly my hands blended the sweat from my face with the soil beneath me and I painted my body and face with snaking patterns of mud.

When this session finished, I found myself under the stars once more, wet with icy water and my heart beating twice its speed, this was when I knew that my life was too full – of adventure, exposure and contact with too much. This insight was pivotal because my personality is of a reclusive type.

As we entered the last round into another circle beyond the comfort zone, our shaman brought in the brightest hot stones, they hissed as the water teased them and the moisture released a freedom – the potential of being. This round was all about how one can apply or dedicate their life on whatever path they choose.

This was when people made their vows – spoken or unspoken. It was a point of rebirth, about letting the past be and seeing that what we would walk out into was our own chosen destiny.

This journey was the beginning of a new dream for me, a cleansing and a way for my soul to reconnect to the Earth – my mother and the carrier of All. The sweating was hygienic; all life was in it and this slowly ebbed away into the night of memories.

Respect for others had become a pact, treat others with respect and celebrate the elders, as they lead us in wisdom on a path of life, sometimes in pure silence.

Those who did not partake in the actual ritual chose to lovingly cook us a wonderful soup to warm our bellies after an etheric cleansing. We relished the broth in total silence, as we were asked to let the evenings experience stay with us and reflect on the big impact of this experience to our lives.

After my rendevous with the divine, the next steps challenged me to put words into my actions and required of me to reflect on the world with all it’s materialistic components – to really ask myself the question of what was still relevant to me.

And the answer came loud and clear: My goal was to acquire good books, save as much knowledge on as many topics related to growing and processing food, find a piece of fertile land, grow a diverse range of plants to benefit people, and research all the medical uses of what was growing wild. Facing this transformative realization, I told myself, “what an amazing journey this could turn into!”

Now, several years later, I can say with great joy in my heart that my blessings have been granted. The land that I nurture everyday surprises me with abundance, life, and the courage to do even more.

Wisdom lies in the doing and the willingness to grow from within.


Photo Credits: John Vermeulen