For my project I chose to research the Lakota Vision Quest and the Sweat Lodge Ceremony that precedes it. To go along with my presentation I built my own model of a sweat lodge that fits 1-2 people. I tried to follow the traditional building model but, due to inaccessibility to many of the materials, such as 16 willow saplings, I had to make the most of those resources available to me. Regardless, I definitely gained a better sense of what building a lodge out of branches entails. I gathered loose branches (that the maintenance and ground’s crew had left in a pile to be discarded) and used string to tie the branches together.
The Vision Quest, or Hanbleceya, literally translates to “Crying for a vision,” with hanble meaning “vision or dream” and “ceya” meaning “cry.” Traditionally, vision quests last for 2-4 days, although nowadays most people do 1-2 days. Although it is generally men that embark on these spiritual journeys, women sometimes do as well. Before heading out, it is customary to approach a holy man/woman and ask if they will accept the responsibility of guiding you in your quest. The person inquiring will bring a peace pipe along with them and, if the holy man/woman accepts this role, then the two will smoke the pipe together, forming a sacred relationship between them. People go on Vision Quests in an attempt to get in touch with the Great Spirit and Mother Earth. In order to do this successfully, one must open up their heart and attempt to rid of their ego, cleansing the mind, spirit, and body, so that they may get in touch with the spirits and see visions. Those partaking in the ritual head into the sacred land with nothing but a peace pipe and sometimes tobacco offerings in the form of little cloth pouches; no food or water is permitted. While on the quest, participants will hold out the peace pipe and cry out to the spirits praying for a vision; if successful, the resulting visions can be very powerful.
Before going on a Vision Quest, it is customary to do a Sweat Lodge Ceremony to cleanse and prepare for the spiritual journey. This ceremony can either be referred to as inipi or inikagapi, with i meaning “by means of,” ni meaning “life or breath,” and kagapi meaning “the make or cause.” Our class is very fortunate for having had the opportunity to partake in multiple Sweat Lodge Ceremonies during our stay in Pine Ridge. Each ceremony is split into four “doors;” each one representing a different direction and therefore each holding a distinct purpose in the ceremony. The first door is to the west, the direction that the sun sets, and is represented by the color black. This door seeks to recognize the spirit world and it is at this time that participants may ask for a spirit guide. Next the leader summons to the north which is white; this door is about finding courage and cleansing oneself, so as to be pure enough that the spirits may accept your prayer. The third door is to the east, the direction that the sun rises from, and is represented by the color yellow. This door stands for the birth of knowledge and here the circle focuses on the power of individual prayer, now that the body has opened up to the spirits and been purified. The fourth and final door is red and directed toward the south. This final door represents growth, which in time leads to healing. In the book Mother Earth Spirituality, the Sweat Lodge Ceremony is described as “The ceremony that ‘intermingles and conveys the lifeblood of the world.’” (Mother Earth Spirituality, p. 62). While it is virtually impossible to describe the experience in the sweat lodge because it is so different for each participant, I personally found this quote to be particularly accurate in summing up my experience as a whole.
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Marshall, Joseph, III. The Lakota Way: Stories and Lessons for Living. New York: Viking Compass, 2001. Print.
McGaa, Ed, and Eagle Man. Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American Paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World. San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990. Print.
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