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Building Your Own Sweat Lodge

By mybostinks in Culture
Sat Jul 22, 2006 at 12:00:00 PM EST
Tags: moctobomapami, java, cuppa joe, kaffe, coffee, too much (all tags)

First and foremost, this is not a how-to on becoming a Plains Indian medicine man, shaman or any other type of North American Indian. It is a brief introduction on how to make a traditional sweat lodge, to have fun, get naked and see God. There was a diary that covers this subject very briefly, "cultural theft and open source" by turmeric in 2003. This article is not about that at all. This is about how to build one, not be one. If you think that is what this article is about, then you are mistaken.

Sweat Lodge Construction
A sweat lodge originally was a sacred place. It was built by a Native American medicine man for healing purposes. It was used to cure all types of illnesses from physical illnesses to mental illnesses. Original sweat lodges were wrapped in significant ceremony and only practiced by tribal medicine men. Sweat lodges are universal amongst all North American Indians. In fact, the concept of the sauna is universal. The purpose was always the same.

Building a sweat lodge is a simple affair. A sweat lodge, for those that have never seen one, looks like a tent. It is dome-shaped and stands at least 5 feet (1.5 meters) high. It is made out of straight saplings that are at least 7 feet (2.1 meters) high. You need to also get heat bearing, dense (basaltic) rock and lots of wood or even charcoal. The only tool you need is a shovel to transfer the red hot rocks coming from the fire to the pit in the middle of the sweat lodge.

Finally, you need as many old quilts and blankets as you can find. Wool is best. If you can get them at a Goodwill, or other second hand store, all the better. The blankets need to be as large as possible. The real sweat lodge of course was covered with old buffalo robes. I promise you that you won't find many of these and if you do, you won't want to make a sweat lodge with them.

Go to your nearest river/creek bottom and find the straightest, tallest saplings possible, say a forgiveness over each one to the Earth Mother or whatever and then chop it down. You are looking for saplings that are at least 8 ft (2.4 meters). The main point is to silently thank it for letting you pick it out for your sweat lodge. Doing this will give you good karma and harmony with whatever. It sounds goofy but I promise, it works. I for one don't want to take chances.

You will need about sixteen of these saplings, two for each of the cardinal points of the earth. Two you will bend to the West, two you will bend to the East, two you will bend to the North and two you will bend to the South. The remaining saplings you will need to go around the radius of the lodge. These are needed to support the coverings you will place over the lodge in order to keep the heat in.

Find a secluded spot in the woods. With a string and two pieces of wood mark a circle that is about 7 - 8 feet (2.1 - 2.4 meters) in diameter. This means placing one stake in the center and drawing a circle. The string should be 3.5 to 4 feet long (1-1.2 meters).

Next you will need to stick the saplings about 6 inches (15 cm) or so into the ground. The shovel is handy for this activity. Once this is done with all eight saplings, you then need to bend them over and bind them to the opposite sapling on the other side of the sweat lodge. Once all the opposing poles are bound together you should have a structure that is dome-shaped. The dome-shape is significant because it will spread the heat evenly over everyone's naked bodies.

Finally, take the remaining saplings and weave them around the circumference of the sweat lodge. Start at the top by centering a blanket over the very top. On the east side of the lodge leave a spot for an entrance so you can enter and leave the sweat lodge. It is important to make sure that there are no openings at the very bottom. You do not want the cooler air from the outside to come in.

Next you must dig a pit in the center of the lodge. Dig it deep enough to fit all the rocks you have gathered. Test the depth to make sure they fit inside your pit. A word about the stones you get. DO NOT get stones from a river bottom under any circumstances! If you do, when they are glowing hot and you are naked inside the lodge, the moment you pour water on them to release superheated steam they will explode. Then you will get branded and seriously burned in places you don't want to get burned. Any stone that has been smoothed by water even if has not been in water the last 10000 years has water locked up inside it. It WILL explode and cause serious burns. Don't be an idiot.

Otherwise, any stones you choose will be fine. Igneous rocks are the best and extremely dense basaltic rocks are the absolute best. However, after about 3 or 4 heatings of these stones they will crack and fall apart and will need replacing.

Admire it for a few minutes then start covering the sweat lodge with the blankets. I usually have enough old blankets to have two layers. Cover the entrance so that you can open a flap that can allow entrances and exits. If you have done this correctly your construction is complete. You may want to cover the ground inside with old blankets as well. It is not enjoyable to have sticks, thorns or other sharp objects poking you in the butt. This should be obvious.

Next build a fire to heat the stones. You will need lots of dry, seasoned wood for this part, hardwoods are the best. Native Americans used buffalo chips on the Plains. That will give you an idea of how many buffalo there were before buffalo hunters almost hunted them to extinction.

You want to build a medium sized bonfire on top of the stones. Don't put all the wood you have gathered into the fire. Heating the stones to a red hot glow usually takes a few hours. You cannot have too much wood. If you have too little wood and you run out before the rocks are heated red hot, then you have failed it.

Once you see that the rocks are glowing red in the fire, let the fire burn down to coals and you are ready for a wonderful sauna. As the host, make the announcement that everyone should get stripped down and ready for the sauna. Then get the shovel and start moving the rocks one or two at a time into the earth pit inside the lodge. Once the pit is filled everyone can now enter into the lodge to sit cross-legged in a circle. It is very womb-like and at first totally dark except for the glowing rocks in the center. It is already getting quite warm in the lodge.

Sweat Lodge Activities
Once everyone is inside, the host then uses a ladle to pour fresh clean water over the glowing rocks. The burst of superheated steam for me is quite thrilling. The water is instantly converted into steam and there is a loud "explosion". In a couple of seconds, your body is engulfed with a deep warmth and heat begins to flow from your head downward thereby engulfing you.

There is no other experience like it. Once everyone has adjusted to it, repeat the process of pouring water over the stones to heat up the sweat lodge even more. Within a couple of minutes, sweat and all the poisons in your body starts pouring out. It is not a bad idea for everyone to have bottled water to drink. You do not want to get dehydrated.

My favorite thing was to invite couples over for a Bar-B-Q and a sweat. Bathing suits were optional, and as you can imagine, nudity is preferred. Do not eat before the sauna, eat afterwards. So, prepare your activities accordingly. Everyone will burst with conversation and amazement to how good it feels and the excellent mental state it puts you in.

For a truly exciting experience do this in the middle of winter with deep snow everywhere. Then try the following. Get heated up for about 45 minutes as you would do normally. Once you are ready to leave the lodge do so and dive or roll around in the snow for about a minute or until you are cooled down. You are not only completely cleaned but the experience is beyond description. Alternatively, you can fill a medium-size inflatable wading pool with water and ice and dive into that.

The most important thing is to have fun. This is a cheap and fun way to have an excellent sauna. Make a day of it and have your friends help with the construction of the sweat lodge. I have lots of sweat lodge stories, it is time for you to have yours. There is no other experience like this and you will enjoy every minute.

Special Note of Thanks:
localroger made an excellent suggestion here. For those that cannot find saplings or appropriate rocks, his suggestion is excellent. You could almost do this in an urban area with a little creative thought. wink, wink
The original comments to the diary entry are here


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Display: Sort:
Building Your Own Sweat Lodge | 47 comments (35 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
under "sweat lodge activities..typo... (1.28 / 7) (#2)
by dakini on Sat Jul 22, 2006 at 11:32:46 PM EST

"Three is no other experience like it" - three should be "There"....:o)

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
Fixed, thanks! (3.00 / 2) (#3)
by mybostinks on Sat Jul 22, 2006 at 11:46:35 PM EST

[ Parent ]
I have a great interest in various (3.00 / 3) (#4)
by ESAD1 on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 12:30:09 AM EST

cultural activities, so this is very interesting. I have also known those that have used the sweat lodge for their own purpose. Good story, well written.

Thanks! Your words are appreciated. /nt (none / 0) (#16)
by mybostinks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 09:51:07 AM EST

[ Parent ]
I also remember the sweats were made of (none / 1) (#19)
by ESAD1 on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 01:32:28 PM EST

woolen blankets too, but over top of them was canvas, painted with various things that were meaningful to the tribe such as the buffalo, bows and arrows etc. All very interesting to say the least. When woman were around these lodges, they had to wear skirts, no pants were allowed. This was to show respect.

[ Parent ]
Good to see this in the queue. (2.50 / 2) (#5)
by xC0000005 on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 12:31:55 AM EST

Another good article.

Voice of the Hive - Beekeeping and Bees for those who don't
thanks bee man!... (3.00 / 4) (#6)
by mybostinks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 12:52:15 AM EST

[ Parent ]
"build your own sweat lodge" (3.00 / 5) (#10)
by circletimessquare on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 02:26:28 AM EST



anyone else see a connection there?

The tigers of wrath are wiser than the horses of instruction.

Hehehe Excellent CTS! (2.88 / 9) (#11)
by mybostinks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 02:30:04 AM EST

no one can get anything past you. You can always nail it!

[ Parent ]
-1 fiction (none / 1) (#20)
by scatbubba on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 01:48:10 PM EST

I assure you, the trees do not give a fuck if you cut them down.  I think you've been watching too much lord of the rings.  

maybe (none / 1) (#21)
by scatbubba on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 01:49:44 PM EST

if the indians spent more time exploiting their resources instead of thanking them, they would be owning this land, instead of granted small pieces out of charity.

[ Parent ]
I threw that in there for (3.00 / 3) (#22)
by mybostinks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 02:41:35 PM EST

color. Obviously, people aren't gonna take that too seriously...except you i guess.

I think indians today are exploiting their resources quite well. Many tribes are getting quite rich exploiting white man's money with all the casinos they have in the U.S. For those that are, it was better than striking oil. In that regard, I believe they got the last laugh.

[ Parent ]

It...it's like a k5 rebirth! (3.00 / 4) (#23)
by debacle on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 04:41:57 PM EST

I've only been in a sweat lodge once. It truly is a near unearthly experience. Sitting in a small room with 50 people in almost complete darkness, listening to the chanting of the 'medicine man.'

It tastes sweet.
Yes the experience is (none / 1) (#24)
by mybostinks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 06:05:32 PM EST

indescribable. This is why it must be experienced if at all possible.

[ Parent ]
Gonna push this to vote in a little (none / 0) (#25)
by mybostinks on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 09:12:59 PM EST


-1, all fucking hippies must fucking hang (1.28 / 7) (#26)
by indubitable on Sun Jul 23, 2006 at 11:54:24 PM EST

What kind of sick fuck doesn't want to roger some dude wearing a bear suit?

I am aligning mine to 45 degrees off compass point (none / 1) (#27)
by newb4b0 on Mon Jul 24, 2006 at 01:05:15 AM EST

http://www.netmoneychat.com| NetMoneyChat Forums. No Registration necessary. Ya'll.

yeah...um that would work quite well too.... (none / 1) (#29)
by mybostinks on Mon Jul 24, 2006 at 01:23:09 AM EST

but your brain may get a little cock-eyed, YMMV tho.

[ Parent ]
stones (3.00 / 3) (#33)
by Eivind on Mon Jul 24, 2006 at 07:31:44 AM EST

I've done this (well, the Scandinavian version, but as you say, a sauna is a sauna) and the explanation is fine, with one mistake.

The thing about the stones is nonsense, pure and simple.

It's true, certain stones will crack, or worse, have shraps that fly when you suddenly pour water on them while they are glowing-hot.

This happens because stones expand when warm and contract when cold. So, when you pour cold water on the surface of very hot stones you end up with the "skin" of the stone wanting to shrink, breaking it up.

It does emphatically not happen because of water "trapped inside" the stone. That water has generally evaporated in the time the stones spent in the fire anyway. (besides, if this was the reason -- do you really imagine that stones lying outside of rivers are 'dry' ? There's this thing called rain. Where I come from there's around 2000 liters (thats 530 gallons) for every square meter every year. That's *certainly* more important than if the stone was in a river or not, 300 years ago.

The stones behaviour under this stress instead depend on the type of stone. Round stones from a river can be perfectly fine, provided they're the rigth *type* of stone. Non-river stones can send flying white-hot stone-shrapnel flying when you pour water on them, if they're the wrong type of stone.

Granite is generally ok. Basalt is good. Conglomerates are double plus ungood. Gneiss is fine (and very commonly found as round water-formed boulders in a river or a stony beach). Marble, Slate and Quartzite are all horrible.

In general, if the stone has any kind of "structure" any kind of obvious lines along which it would fail if you hit it hard its likely to be bad. If it seems homogenous and there's no obvious direction in which it would split more easily, odds are it's ok.

If in doubt, test first. Really. You *don't* want to have a white-glowing piece of rock embedded in your thigh.

Great! Thanks for the correction... (none / 1) (#34)
by mybostinks on Mon Jul 24, 2006 at 08:06:18 AM EST

I just always used igneous rocks, mainly basalt. They were everywhere.

[ Parent ]
Aye, i thought that part was bunk. (3.00 / 2) (#35)
by daveybaby on Mon Jul 24, 2006 at 11:28:50 AM EST

Water trapped in the rocks, my arse. But then the article did say basaltic (i.e. igneous) was best, which is pretty much correct, so i let it lie.

Basically you want to avoid sedimentary rocks (e.g. sandstone) and especially metamorphic rocks (e.g. slate, marble). Go for igneous rocks such as basalt and granite.

[ Parent ]

Yes you are correct, I would rewrite that (none / 1) (#36)
by mybostinks on Mon Jul 24, 2006 at 06:34:35 PM EST

if I could. Where I live I can always use basalt or granite. I didn't consider anything else.

[ Parent ]
Except (none / 0) (#37)
by brain in a jar on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 03:27:43 AM EST

Gneiss is metamorphic and the grandfather poster reckoned it was about perfect.

As he said, structure and porosity either in the form of cracks or because the rock is sedimentary seem to suck.

I wonder also if it might be possible to make things safer by putting a layer of non-hot rocks over the hot ones to provide a measure of shrapnel protection without making the sauna no longer work?

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

Hmmm... (none / 0) (#38)
by daveybaby on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 04:53:04 AM EST

Gneiss can be formed from either sedimentary or igneous rocks. Maybe gneiss formed from igneous is ok, while that from sedimentary is not. Maybe.

[ Parent ]
I think (none / 0) (#39)
by brain in a jar on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 05:05:15 AM EST

the point is with Gneiss, is that the heat and pressure involved is so great that the porosity (excepting fractures) ends up being negligible regardless of the parent rock.

Going back to my undergrad/ A level geology isn't there a sequence of increasing degree of metamorphism slate, schist, Gneiss with Gneiss having fully recrystalised and not having that much in common with the original rock at all.

Life is too important, to be taken entirely seriously.
[ Parent ]

True enough (none / 0) (#40)
by daveybaby on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 05:22:17 AM EST

If you melt rock down enough, how can you tell whether its metamorphic or 'original' igneous?

[ Parent ]
safer (none / 0) (#44)
by Eivind on Wed Jul 26, 2006 at 02:12:35 AM EST


We've actually used a sligthly different method which is probably also sligthly safer.

Goes like this. You need 11 large bricks, about 8 50cm long ironrods and about 3-4 meter of wire.

Construct a rectangle from 5 of the bricks, having one of the short sides open (2 bricks on each "long" side, 1 brick on the short side)

Put the ironrods over, paralell to eachothers, spaced so that whatever rocks you have will not fall trough.

Make the second level of the rectangle above the ironrods with your remaining 6 bricks.

Wrap the string around your "oven" to avoid the bricks being forced apart when the stones expand/contract as a result of the heating.

Put stones on the top "level", a fire on the bottom level, leave your tent wide-open for this.

Maintain the fire for about 3 hours, however long it takes to get the stones red-white glowing.

Remove the coals and embers from the fire with a shovel. The stones stay where they are.

Close the tent. Proceed as in the story.

The advantage is that it's harder to touch the stones since they're a bit shielded, you could also easily put a iron-net or something over the stones as shrapnel-protection.

The reason we do it like this is a different though -- even with a very simplistic oven like this one, the fact that you have an oven, combined with the fact that the stones are *directly* above the fire, literally inside the flames, means you get the stones hot quicker, and you get them hot with like literally 1/5th the amount of firewood you'd otherwise need.

[ Parent ]

You can also buy one (none / 1) (#41)
by msmikkol on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 11:40:43 AM EST

If you don't know which end of a knife to grab, it might be better to buy than build yourself a sweat lodge. :) At least Nexi Products Ltd. offers tent saunas: http://www.tentsauna.net/english/index.htm

Existence in progress - do not disturb.

isn't it sad (1.50 / 4) (#42)
by balsamic vinigga on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 03:46:29 PM EST

that any given somaudlin diary gets more comments than this FP story?

Please help fund a Filipino Horror Movie. It's been in limbo since 2007 due to lack of funding. Please donate today!
isnt that the truth.. (1.00 / 2) (#43)
by dakini on Tue Jul 25, 2006 at 04:45:31 PM EST

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
[ Parent ]
isnt that the truth..it always seems to happen.. (2.50 / 2) (#45)
by dakini on Wed Jul 26, 2006 at 12:19:46 PM EST

" May your vision be clear, your heart strong, and may you always follow your dreams."
[ Parent ]
STFU$ (1.00 / 2) (#47)
by victorianLoser on Wed Jul 26, 2006 at 06:40:36 PM EST

"The whole world is a stage and we're all bit-players in a terrible improvised play." TheGaffer
[ Parent ]

Origin of the word "sauna" (3.00 / 3) (#46)
by CptPicard on Wed Jul 26, 2006 at 03:03:48 PM EST

Shouldn't forget that the word "sauna" has been borrowed into most other languages from Finnish. Finland has always had the sauna as a very core part of the culture, and we probably also are the only modern nation that considers it as a nationally defining characteristic. All homes and even most apartments have their saunas, as you simply can't live without one...

The health and sanitary effects are noteworthy: because the sauna is rather sterile, women used to give birth there, with the sauna heated for mild warmth. I can imagine it was more comfortable that way, and you had ready access to as much hot water as you wanted, too. Because of this habit, infant and mother mortality rates were significantly lower in Finland than elsewhere even before the invention of modern methods.

Even during WW2, Finnish soldiers had regular saunas to keep bugs and diseases at bay. I guess it worked -- IIRC there were no major epidemics of anything during wartime in our army. Not to say it all was due to the sauna, but it probably played a role.

One final note: the sexual insinuations that foreigners find funny, aren't. The sauna is somewhat culturally sacred, and it has nothing to do with sex, even in the (more rare you'd think) case of men and women going together -- this is mostly restricted to communities of people such as socializing students, occasionally members of the same family etc.

With the current European heat wave... (none / 1) (#48)
by anno1602 on Thu Jul 27, 2006 at 07:07:41 AM EST

... my south-facing apartment is a sweat lodge.
"Where you stand on an issue depends on where you sit." - Murphy
IAWTP (none / 0) (#49)
by tetsuwan on Thu Jul 27, 2006 at 09:22:15 AM EST

Oh my god how this is true. It's especially bad when you go to bed drunk.

Njal's Saga: Just like Romeo & Juliet without the romance
[ Parent ]

Building Your Own Sweat Lodge | 47 comments (35 topical, 12 editorial, 0 hidden)
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