The Miracle of Sweat Ceremonies

As an adolescent I discovered the miracle of sweat ceremonies. Beset with the crossfires of testosterone and family upheaval, I found relief, purification, and clarity in improvised sweat ceremonies. Then, as a young adult I embarked on a practice with the Earthtribe that for over thirty years has blessed me and many of you with the privilege of what we loosely call sweat lodges. Over that period of time we have entered these lodges at least once per month, and often more. In my way of thinking this persistent practice over the decades is a profound respect of a variety of traditions. In recent emails several of you have asked me to comment on the origin of sweat ceremonies. Your curiosity peeked my interest. Now, let me speak to the origin of the sweat ceremonies and then to the benefits, even miracles.

A traditional informational source came to me from the lineage of Bear Heart Williams,a Muscogee-Creek shaman and a leader in a council of intertribal medicine people during the last half of the 20th Century.For over a decade I was Bear Heart’s apprentice, and he imparted many enriching stories about the use of intertribal sources of sweat ceremonies.
Since many traditions claim to “own” this ceremony, I have embarked on a research journey to discover some of the original narratives. Here are a few headlines to add to what I have written in other books. Most know that the Lakota tradition as explicated by Black Elk has done a wonderful job of preserving and enhancing the practice in North America, but other tribes have also engaged in this ceremony. Bear Heart held that his people had their own version of the ceremony, just as important as the Lakota. A similar claim is made by some Cherokee people, and others as well. In short, indigenous people of North American have no clear consensus on the ceremony’s origin. No one tribe owns this miraculous ceremony.

No wonder. The ceremony appears to have its origins in prehistory, likely among the Mal’ta people. According to recent research up to 39% of genetic material of Native Americans derives from the Mal’ta strain as revealed in a 17,000 year old skeleton in a discovery near Lake Baikal in Southcentral Siberia. The research proposes that Native Americans carry about 1/3 European genes and 2/3 East Asian.(

This discovery speaks indirectly to the wide spread usage of the sweat ceremony across the globe. In addition to Native American forms, the Finnish have their sauna; the Russians still engage their Bania; mystic Islamic people engage in the Cagaloglu hammams; Japanese cleanse in the Mushi-buro; MesoAmericans purify in the Temescal. A Russian shaman wrote about his ceremonial sweats at about the same time the Lakota may have been part of the ancient Mound Builders(9th-12th Centuries CE):

“We all know how man came into being
Man was created when God took a bania and
sweated profusely. After the sweat God
gave man his soul.”

With newer discoveries 21st Century scientists raise many questions about the origin of sweat ceremonies: Were ancient Nordic shaman the progenitors of sweat ceremonies across Europe and Asia? Or were the Mal’ta shaman, hybrids of Europeans and East Asians, the originators some 17,000 years ago? And did they bring the practice to the Americas? Current lodges built by nomadic Siberians are almost exact replicas of the lodges I was taught to build by Bear Heart. It is not likely that these Siberian shaman learned how to build their lodges from any tribe in North America. It is likely that their ceremonies predate North American practices, according to current researchers.

Such may or may not be the case. As many of you know, I am of mixed-blood. I have strongly identified with my indigenous heritage. In that vein I am suspicious of Western Civilization’s probing of indigenous ceremonies, especially since the research tends to support European predispositions. I also understand and have compassion for indigenous peoples who are sensitive to what might be seen as the mainstream’s “stealing” their ceremonies as was the case with their(our) lands.

So, what is a balanced take-away from this brief exploration? The sweat lodge ceremonies likely emerged in a variety of power points around Earth’s landscapes. Thus, sweat ceremonies are are for all peoples and, indeed, emerged from the sacred web of eco-fields to lead humans in a return to the circle of life. This ceremonial practice is a primary portal into our human re-connection with the Living Universe. Our current human situation is too precarious, in my view, for any of us to possess any wisdom perspective that has the potential to heal the rip between humans and the natural landscape.

Bear Heart used to say to me,”The miracle of healing lies in relaxation from the grip of our usual mind.” He taught that states of relaxation constituted a pathway to wholeness. Along that line I have performed research on myself through the years using neuro-feedback equipment to monitor my brain waves. As many of you know, in Western Civilization most of us spend most of our time with Beta brain waves, a wave pattern that ancients engaged only when there was acute danger. Our brains in Beta tell us that we are in danger most of the time with our constant goal-oriented thinking and with a culture obsessed with fear.

I was curious if sweat ceremonies would shift my brain waves from Beta to Alpha, a more relaxed state far from the madding crowd of fears. So, two hours after completing a lodge ceremony, I measured my brain waves with my middle-of-the road equipment. To my great surprise the technology told me that not only were my brain waves shifted from Beta to Alpha but even into a much deeper descent into the Theta state. Neuro-research indicates deep relaxation walks hand-in-hand with Theta waves, which likely reside in the frontal brain.

Such results surprised me, but I was in for an even larger surprise. Over the next 24 hours I typically spent considerable time not only in Alpha, not only in Theta, but also in Delta. Delta waves are usually characteristic of sleep, but here I was walking around and dipping into Delta, at least for a day after the sweat ceremony. Extensive research through the neuro-sciences on meditation speak volumes about the relationship of meditation and health. But even experienced meditators rarely achieve Delta waves in their meditations.

Could it be that these ancient sweat ceremonies as practiced with indigenous peoples around the world offer a gateway into states of consciousness conducive to healing of body/mind/soul? Could it be that Spirit is assisting us to rediscover this practice at this particular hinge in Earth’s story? My anecdotal research suggested so.

I have not extended my informal research into a larger domain with other sweat lodge participants, but I suspect I am not exceptional in these relaxed brain states. In fact, I may be a “hard” case. And, if the relaxed state is a major portal to health and happiness, as much research indicates, then the sweat lodge ceremonies are a context for miracles.

I am interested in any significant breakthroughs you have had in the miracle of sweating. Your sharing in this blog will enhance our understanding.

5 thoughts on “The Miracle of Sweat Ceremonies”

  1. Wow! Bringing new technology (biohacking) to see the measurable benefits. So cool.

    It’s amazing to see how Zen, Vipassana, and cultures using sweat lodges were so effective in achieving the same / similar goals.

  2. I too have experienced “the miracle of healing” you and Bear Heart speak of in relaxing the ordinary grip of the mind in the sweat lodge. A perspective I add to the conversation is of the sweat lodge ceremony as a fire tender. I often do not enter the lodge but stay outside holding the circle for those sweating. The repetitive groove of my ordinary mind shakes loose through the ceremonial practices of preparing the lodge, drumming, chanting, moving, singing, connecting with the rocks and fire, embracing the energy and letting go. Fire tending is an another gateway of the sweat lodge ceremony to shift my ordinary state of consciousness and open my body/mind/soul for healing.

    1. This is so true, Lisa. Some of the precious moments to me of fire tending is either softly drumming a heartbeat or silently listening to the murmur of the prayers. The words are not audible from within the lodge, but the murmur of the souls’ song is gently heard. Another is feeling the balance in my body as I hold the rocks to go into the lodge counterbalanced on the pitchfork. There is such a grounded-ness to that moment. Sometimes when the participants sing, I quietly sing-a-long in deep connection with them and with the moments with Spirit.

  3. “We all know how man came into being
    Man was created when God took a bania and
    sweated profusely. After the sweat God
    gave man his soul.”

    This powerful statement in your blog article truly is profound. God’s water and breath (giving of the soul) formed man’s being. We are 90 + percent created of water. That combination along with light which can become particle is a deep journey into the creative original force.

    Also, in your article I am really amazed at the change in brain waves. I know that I personally always feel rested, almost asleep, after a lodge and feel really relaxed and at peace for two or three days. It is hard to come home and indulge in mundane activities. I usually sit on my deck and meditate a while or on occasion take a nap.

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