The Sweat Lodge

Thanks to Gerald’s excellent description, in the comments on the Rainbow Gathering post, which are posted below, I’ve been reminded of my one and only ‘sweat lodge’ experience.

Gerald writes…

Gatherings are clothes optional. Many like the feeling of freedom. Others see in nudity a spiritual component. Either way here we are creating an Eden where you can be naked without shame. This doesn’t mean you can’t wear clothes, you just don’t have to. We celebrate diversity with tolerance + acceptance, knowing we are all really part of the ONE. I would like to share a report I wrote on thw winter gathering held at a old hippy community at Takaka. The occasion of Matariki was marked by a sweat lodge ceremony held on the nearby beach at Milnthorpe. Proceedings began with the lighting of a large bonfire at dusk of driftwood into which stones were placed. A structure of bent branches covered with blankets, the lodge, was located nearby. At a given time we removed our clothes and moved inside in an orderly way where we sat cross legged in circular fashion. On four occasions hot stones were received and welcomed from the fire and placed into a central fire pit.
Water sprinkled, to a prayer, generated clouds of hot steam, and a feeling of close oneness.
At one point personal prayers of thanks and appreciation were recited. Gathering around the bonfire, on leaving, for seemingly ages , the heat dried and warmed our naked bodies.
Some choose to swim in the incoming tide, the phenomena of green luminescent water adding to the occasion. Overhead the Milky Way slowly traversed the sky and in the distance the lights of Farewell Spit and the dark shape of hills. The quarter moon came and set. And not a breath of wind.
Sunset was just as spectacular as the night was. Pure magic. What a memory.
Back in the house [of the community] the lights were off for the night. The coal range generating a warm comforting heat in the dark.This was the time for head-torches and freshly baked bread.

One of the advantages of living in Scotland is that there are some fabulous and remote beaches an hour’s drive away. Less, but not quite as remote or wildly beautiful.

Beaches such as the one above are two-a-penny as one goes up into the Highlands and Islands. Naturism is entirely do-able because it’s likely you can find a spot where you won’t see another soul all day. Before the children came along we used to spend a couple of weekends a month in places such as this, and it was up in the Highlands where we came across a group of rather lovely New Age travellers who’d had a bit of a hard time with the authorities.

(Note: the story in the link doesn’t refer to the people we encountered, the time frame is wrong, but I offer the link to illustrate Scotland’s approach to New Age folk).

On a Friday evening we’d pack a tent, a camping stove and some food into the car after work and then drive north. It was possible to live nude all weekend if the weather was good. Which isn’t always the case in Scotland! It could be 10pm or beyond before we’d find a place we liked, but as it’s fairly northerly not dark until 11pm and beyond so it was still possible to pitch a tent and settle in for the night.

The two of us arrived at a beach late one evening to discover a quartet of nude bathers a little distance off. Reasoning that they obviously wouldn’t mind if we did the same, we stripped off too and went swimming after giving them a cheery wave to declare our solidarity with them. One of them eventually approached us and it transpired they were New Age folk who were spending the summer travelling around the Highlands and Islands in a tatty old van, living in tents like we were.

For once, they’d discovered a friendly farmer who’d provided them with some vegetables for free and they were cooking up a lentil stew at their ‘encampment’. By way of repayment, the guys in the group had been helping the elderly farmer rebuild some dry stone walls on the land, and the women had been whitewashing his croft dwelling for him.

A Scottish croft house

We got invited along for a bowl of stew, and discovered their ‘encampment’ was an awning draped off the side of their van, a tent, a fire pit they’d dug (with the intention of replacing the turf and leaving no evidence of them having been there when they moved on…and it’s ‘regular’ people who litter their way up and down the coast, yet it’s these guardians of the planet who get the bad press????) and a strange little structure. A sweat lodge, they explained over a bowl of hot stew.

At the time, I don’t think we’d ever heard of the term, but we grasped the ‘sauna’ concept of it. A whole purification process was explained in terms of mystical ritual, but it was also possible to use it as a sauna without a need to buy into the purification ritual.

The sweat lodge has its roots in the indigenous peoples of north and south America, although they can be found in other locations too.

The following evening, after a day in and out of the sea, going walking (clothed) and a trip into the nearest town to buy some extra provisions to share with our new friends, we wandered over to their camp, broke out the bottles of wine we’d purchased, offered some bread, and I helped prepare a simple curry meal while Jim helped light up for the sweat lodge.

We then formed a drum circle and drummed for an hour around the camp fire. The drumming got hypnotic. It was also physically exerting, so it wasn’t long until someone would drop out of the circle temporarily to remove some of the few clothes we were wearing to begin with. A little way away, the elderly farmer watched with a kind of amused detachment and puffed on his pipe. Elderly he may have been, but he was young at heart, but declined the opportunity to be part of it. But I think he was loving the idea of young people indulging in a bit of fun.

A naked drum circle

After we’d drummed ourselves into silence, it was into the sweat lodge, followed by a race down the nearby beach and into the sea -Finnish sauna style- to close up the pores after a bit of sweating out the body’s impurities. A nice experience, but something I’ve never had the chance to repeat.

For once, SL let me down in terms of the availability of a sweat lodge, either on a sim or on the Marketplace, but I was able to locate a Native American sim complete with a tent containing a fire, which is certainly appropriate given the historical aspect of sweat lodges, and replicate the idea of one.

Anton joins me in the ‘sweat lodge’

One thing I would say is that there appears to be a certain risk with sweat lodges in the hands of people who don’t know what they’re doing.

If in doubt, don’t! Perhaps stick to a sauna. I’ve no idea if the folk we shared a sweat lodge with knew what they were doing. They appeared to, but I’m no expert. We survived it and enjoyed it and their company greatly.