Intro: “With somewhat her typical endearing fecklessness my good friend at the last moment decided to accept the invitation of an old friend to visit his schloss for a ceremony he was preparing. Gathering me up, and always up for something new and different, I decided to tag along even though it meant riding in her car, and she was a terrifying driver at the best of the times.Weather wise, it was not the best of times.
The sky was threatening, unique combinations of black and purple, the wind powerful, moving the little sub-compact back and forth though she slowed down not one whit in corners or straight-aways. If you’ve never driven in Germany, let alone on the little roads to isolated villages or schlosses, you can’t imagine the giddy terror I felt as possibly sliding off into some bog or lake, not to be found until days later if at all. But I took it all in course, as it was pointless to say anything for she was smiling and happy.
After taking numerous turn-offs or backing up and reversing course, she finally decided to stop and ask someone, a convenient gentleman who happened to leaning out of his second story window to have a smoke. She called up to him and he obliged with proper directions.
“This is finally it,” she said, as we passed an ancient stone church which front the schloss. Uncobbled and deeply rutted, we drove bouncing up the manor’s drive but I couldn’t see it as yet. It was only a black form against a blacker sky, no lights of any kind as definition. A streak of lightening then spliced the sky, making me blink. And a delicious shiver traveled my spine as a strong rumble of thunder followed.
“We’re here,” my friend announced.
Here for what, I thought to myself. At that time I didn’t know why we’d come….”
A song you may know.
“The river is flowing,
flowing and growing,
the river is flowing
back to the sea.
Mother Earth is carrying me,
child I will always be,
Mother Earth is carrying me
back to the sea.”
A small circle of strangers surrounded the growing heap, chose stones and lifted them to the sky in salute, to each direction, north, south, east and west. They were placed amongst the wood we also helped gather. And then it was lit.
For three hours the stones heated, each person taking their turn to carefully ensure that the fire didn’t go out in the windy, stormy night. At other times singing songs, drumming and telling stories in honor of Mother Earth, peace, and harmony.
It’s nothing in the world like going into a sweat lodge with strangers, and after hours spent in each others company talking of life, feelings, and emotions, emerging as, Siblings of Mother Earth.”
“To honor the spirit of my ancestors….” said one.
“For peace in the world and unity among all men….” said another.
“For my grandmother….for the children….”
“For a greater love throughout the universe…..”
“For those gathered here in fellowship…..”
Blowing rain and snow, frigid temperatures didn’t curb the enthusiasm and growing excitement in the air. It was electric!
And then it was time. The sweat leader Lotte, called for us all to gather close again. As if by magic the storm quieted. Removing and storing our clothes, we shook and rubbed and gave all our negative energy and thoughts up into the void. Then we crawled down into the slightly subterranean pit of the skin covered frame of wicker that was the lodge almost as if going hiberation.
Almost total darkness, we sat or lay around the dug pit in the center of the small enclosure. A young man placed the first of the super hot stones into the pit, and the skin was let down over the entrance. Heat emanated from them lighting the anxious faces all around. Ladling water over the stones, with a growling sizzle the first wave of steam filled the lodge nearly taking your breath away. Ultimate cleansing!
Around the circle a stone was passed. When it came to you, it was your time to express thanks, emotions, thoughts to the spirits which move us. The spirits of the bear, of the wolf, of the eagle…..
For the next four hours, around and around the circle the stone was passed. More stones were brought, the stone of honor to the grandmother, to the ancestors, to the children, to the universe. Water was ladle over, more steam billowed up.
If the heat became too much for someone, it was best to lay down on the cool earth. But for those like me it was the heat and steam that was best. The heady feeling of oneness with universe elucidated by the darkness and closeness, the fever.
If you touched another it was ok. It was not about sex, in fact, it was strangely unsexual, but it was very, very sensual. The sense of self, of touch, of complete awareness of others, of your body and mind. Understanding was perfect although we didn’t all speak or understand the same languages.
Whatever the language used: some cried when they spoke, some dreamed aloud, some groaned and growled as they released pent-up feelings, memories. We hugged them, and held each other close.
When the last stones were brought, it was a special time. The culmination of the ceremony. Lotte drummed and softly sung a song of oneness. We were all reborn, siblings of Mother Earth. From her womb we emerged, glistening with sweat, light-headed with pleasure and fulfillment. Truly a new beginning. While we had huddled inside, snow had covered the world. The wind had quietened. If was if everything we knew before had changed, been made new. And so had we.
The sweat lodge was over for this time, but our comradeship was just beginning. We didn’t wish to leave the fire. And the air outside no longer felt cold though naked and barefoot we stood in ankle deep drifts. Some washed in buckets of icy water left for the purpose. Others knelt and gazed into the dying embers of the fire. A few made and tossed snowballs about like children in an impromptu battle.
And so we went back to the schloss, a winding path back up the slight hill. Someone had thoughtfully put a huge kettle of miso soup on the cavernous fire place to heat, and so sitting in blankets we shared a meal together along with rice and bread.
Late into the night we talked, learning each others languages, finding more common ground between ourselves. Dutch, Russian, German and English, we laughed into the night, completely relaxed and at peace.
Some of the people that were there…. I never knew their names, but wherever they are now in the world, they will always be my siblings birthed together on a magical night.
Memories from December 2003.
End note: With the recent upswing in charlatan “shamans” and neo-Native ceremonies performed by those who do not fully understand the mystery and simplicity of what a sweat lodge truly is, there are some who might question what I shared with these others on a unique night in Deutschland. In this case, some things were interpretive but done in good will.
I would never take part with anything I didn’t feel comfortable or felt was respectful or as accurate as possible, nor support any such event or person(s) conducting them. For some natives and “others” who’ve I’ve come across or been asked to “assess” while in Germany and other European countries, they are doing so money or followers. I do not agree with their way, but it is their way to be.