One of my relatives from Custer State Park near Rapid City, SD
One day, almost two years ago, I attended a healing ceremony in a Sweat Lodge. The leader, a Medicine Man from Canada, did some doctoring on me. I sat at his right side in the lodge. He sat at the West door and carried a water drum. He is Midewin. Anishanabe. He knew I wasn't feeling too good and told a friend of mine to bring me to the Sweat Lodge ceremony. That wasn't out of the ordinary as I have been going to the Sweat Lodge ceremony on pretty much of a regular basis for quite a few years. I went and he gave me instructions of where to sit in the lodge.
Our Sweat Lodge looks similar to this one.
For those of you that don’t know about the Sweat Lodge, it is a ceremony where people go into a low half dome darkened structure and sit in a circle as rocks, heated in a fire, are brought in and water is poured over them. It is, in essence, a sauna or steam chamber. Read more about it HERE.
After the ceremony, he talked to me and told me to drink some tea made with herbs. All the herbs in the tea were from the area, Northland stuff. Cedar, bear root, sweetflag and swamp tea. He also mentioned wild ginger. I gathered the dried herbs from people who had picked them and dried them. I filled tea bags and each morning drank a cup of tea or added the tea to a green tea.
Did it do any good for my health? Well, I am better now than I was when I went to the healing ceremony. But I can't say for sure that it was the herbs he prescribed that put me on the mend. I am optimistic and do believe that the herbs didn't hurt me and probably did help me in some way. Even if I just drank less or no caffeine the day I drank tea, I believe this to be an improvement.
The doctoring might be construed by some as some kind of mumbo jumbo to some. Most folks use the usual societal methods and go to a doctor’s office when they don’t feel good. The doctor decides what is wrong with you and gives you pills to get rid of the malady. I know it’s not quite that simple, as sometimes tests are taken and surgeries are performed, but this is where most people go to get an opinion about their health.
Swamp Tea is made from plants like this found in the wild.
Other health care people do it differently. They can look at you and see your eyes or smell your breath and make an assumption that something is out of whack in a persons system. The Medicine Man knew I wasn’t feeling well by a very old tried and true method. Someone told him I wasn’t feeling good lately.
As I sat in the Sweat Lodge, (some great pictures of a lodge being constructed at this link), the leader was using an eagle’s wing to fan the hot moist air towards me. He sang songs as he steadily beat his drum. He threw herbs on the hot rocks that smoldered and released their medicine into the air, and he brushed away impurities that were coming out of my body in the form of perspiration, and cast them aside.
When the ceremony was complete and the door opened, we crawled out of the lodge. The leader was the last to exit. When he left the lodge, he was visibly weak and tired. He half walked, almost crawled, into the nearby woods and threw up repeatedly.
No one said so, but I saw this as symbolic of him taking upon himself all of my illness and badness and then relieving himself of it in the woods in the form of vomit.
In the lodge, he sang a song that told of the Thunder beings that would come to visit us. Later that evening, there was a brief small thunderstorm with thunder and lightning strikes. Certainly he could have been watching the weather channel earlier that day and saw that there would be storm activity in the region and based his prediction on this information. Everything he did could have some sort of explanation that would render it as the aforementioned mumbo jumbo.
After we had the time in the lodge, we changed into street clothes. The garments we wore in the lodge were damp from perspiration and soiled from the sandy ground we sat on. We shared food as most people brought a dish to pass. This pot luck, which we called a feast, is always a big part of the Sweat Lodge ceremony.
Fire heating the rocks used in the Sweat Lodge ceremony
Sitting by the fire before the actual entering of the lodge structure, the ceremony in the lodge itself and the feast after are all a part of the experience. The fellowship and community time, the gathering of people and visiting with each other, the praying and eating together, make for a delightful evening in my opinion. Much better than attending the bar, getting drunk and beating your wife when you return home for example. Not that I ever exhibited that behavior, but it has been known to happen often on the Indian Reservation. The Sweat Lodge is a more pleasant place to spend the evening.
Just before we ended the ceremony, the leader said to me, “What is your spiritual name, you don’t have a spirit name, do you?’
I responded and said, “No, I don’t.”
In the past many years, as I attended Native ceremony with Dakota and Anishanabe people, I always wanted a spiritual name. As I learned this way of life, I received the teaching that it might be selfish of me to want something that would only serve to feed my own ego. I felt that if I had a spirit name, I would belong and know I was accepted.
I knew the process to ask for a spirit name, but always felt awkward as I am a white man. I like to tell people I am a “full-blood” when they ask me. I am a full blood Italian with my parents and their parents before them coming from Italy, being born there and begotten from Italian people.
This night, I didn’t have to ask. The spiritual leaded and elder gave me a name. He knew I didn’t have one, he said he had an idea, a strong thought, pop into his head about it, and he named me Mashkoday Biizhiikiins, (Mush-ko-day' Bee-zhee-keens'). That is Ojibwe for Little Buffalo and literally means small prairie cow.
This Bison is from South Dakota. Grand daughter Anna watched him 'up close' out the car window.
So it was of great interest for me to receive the story and pictures of the post before this one, showing the bison giving birth. I saw the little buffalo and was reminded that is who I am on some level. I can’t say what, if anything, it all means, but it did conjure up some feelings and strong thoughts in my own soul.
It also reminded me of an earlier time, just last year in fact, when we lived in a small two room cabin on the Bad River Indian Reservation along the South shore of Lake Superior. We named our place The Cabinette. It was small, like a cabinet. Besides, that's what then three year old Yoody called it as she heard the root word cabin and immediately thought of a cabinet. I miss being there. I visit often. Below is a video I shot in the Spring of 2007:
When I returned home that evening, Mrs. Spadoman was sitting in the front room facing the Great Lake Superior. She asked me, “How was the lodge?” I answered that it was okay and that Neil had done some doctoring on me.
She went on to ask me, “About what time did you go in? How long did the ceremony last?”
Ironically, as I stood next to my pickup truck and disrobed, getting ready for the lodge, I glanced at my cell phone and noted the time. It was just a few minutes past eight o’clock in the evening. I calculated in my head that we must have gone in around 8:15 or so and he did the doctoring first off. That part of the ceremony might have lasted about 45 minutes.
Sunset view from in front of The Cabinette.
She told me that she was sitting there, reading, and she saw movement out the picture window. A huge bald eagle landed in a tall pine tree right outside on the lakeshore, not 60 feet away. She looked at the clock and saw it was 8:17 p.m. She watched it, and it sat there until 8:59 p.m. Then if flew away. An hour or so later, it thundered and some lightning stuck and a little rain fell and just moistened the ground.
Photo courtesy of Shutterwi.
Coincidence? Maybe so. I can’t prove anything and really don’t have the desire to do so. But to me, the idea that the eagle came and watched over my home and my spouse while I was being administered to in the Sweat Lodge, and the thunder beings passed over and shouted to her, "It's all okay and it is good", is a no brainer. We are connected to nature and all related to all things natural.
I told her about my name. She smiled and saw that I was pleased. She knew the name fit me. I went outside and walked to the edge of the land and gazed out over Lake Superior. I held a handful of tobacco and cast it to the water and said, “Chii Megwiitch”
In front of The Cabinette, October of 2006.
The Cabinette, Winter 2008
Beautiful sunrise at The Cabinette, South shore of Great Lake Superior near Ashland, WI
Feel free to e-mail if you have any questions about the Sweat Lodge ceremony.