Inipi and the Fires of Sweet Everlasting Part 1

Stepping over the threshold into the ancient purification ceremony of Inipi, a circle of 15-30 friends recently joined the Native American teacher, Wolf Martinez, here for four days of crying, laughing, healing and change.

Inipi …which some call “the sweat lodge”… really means the House of Breath. Where man meets fire, water, earth and air on its own terms through the presence of our ancestors.  With the quantum understanding that everything is made of consciousness at its core, we can touch the inner spirit of all things to receive guidance and balance. According to the Lakota, “Those that run this sacred rite should be able to communicate with Tun-ca-s’i-la (our Sacred Grandfathers) in their Native Plains tongue. They should also have earned this rite by completing Han-ble-c’i-ya and the four days and four years of the Wi-wanyang wa-c’i-pi” …all of this and more qualifies Wolf to run the Inipi. You can learn more about it here and here.

I’ll admit that I had concerns. In my previous experience with Inipi I haven’t been able to endure the four rounds of scorching heat. I knew that Wolf would be less willing to allow folks to leave the lodge early. Wolf is a Sundancer (there were a couple of other Sundancers in attendance) and there’s little pity for weakness among them. No, in Inipi one must rise to meet their strength, not collapse into their soft spots. Wolf assured us that in his many years of holding Inipi, no one has died and lives have been changed.

On each of the four days we were to clarify our intent for entering the lodge. As we sat around the fire (it took a couple of hours to heat the pile of stones underneath) we brought our gifts of tobacco over to Wolf…one at a time…told him of our intent and listened to his advice about it. My intent was to deepen my relationship to the specific plant intelligences on this land so that they would teach me directly and indicate who would most benefit from them. And, to survive the Inipi rite. He had some rather strong words to say about the latter.

Finally, Wolf and Jim Coyote Song entered the Inipi to prepare the pipes while the rest of us sat around the fire, silently focusing our intent as prayers to the glowing  Grandfather stones. Wolf came out offering a prayer, spreading tobacco from the stones to the Inipi door and all around it. Time to enter…down to the ground, head kissing the earth, crawling like children into the Inipi womb. The pit dug in the center is empty. Blankets cover the ground. We’ve all made a necklace of tobacco packets while we prayed and we tuck them up into the sapling frame. As large heated stones are slid in, each is swabbed with a wet cedar bundle to clean off ashes. Pipes are touched to the stones as they settle into the pit. Cedar is dropped onto them filling the lodge with incense. The door is closed and its pitch dark. A hiss as the first water hits the stones, releasing their breath. We’re instructed to do three things: breathe deeply throughout the ceremony, sing the Lakota songs (even if we’ve never heard them before) and pray. If we do that, we’ll make it through all four rounds. If anyone has a problem, they’re told to lower their head to the earth and ask the mother for help. If that doesn’t work, they can cry out as loud as possible “All My Relations” and Wolf will stop everything to help them. I noticed that no mention was made of letting anyone out…not that it couldn’t happen in an extreme case. I sat by the door just in case a wisp of coolness might creep in.

The basic pattern for each of the four rounds is the same. Round one is a call to the four directions and to our ancestors; round two, we offer prayers for ourselves; round three, prayers for others; round four, prayers of gratitude. Each is  filled with hypnotic Lakota songs, repeated heat waves as more water hits the stones, a few words about the ceremony, prayers. Then the door is lifted to allow in cool air and more stones. No one goes out. I surprised myself by staying all four rounds. Afterwards, we smoke the chanupa (sacred pipe), have dinner and a talking circle to share our experiences.

As I wandered around after this first session, I noticed a plant growing all around the lodge: Sweet Everlasting! That night the plant seemed to call to me; it was sacred to the Inipi in days gone by, these days — forgotten. And it was being trampled by those who didn’t know what it was. I resolved to show it to everyone the next day…and to make it the center of my intention at the next rite. Why? In the next article I’ll share the amazing secrets of the Sweet Everlasting and what happened when it entered the Inipi with me. For now, here are a few photos (photos of the lodge and alter were prohibited).

Entering the grove

Setting up alter, Wolf makes cedar bundle

Starting the fire over grandfather stones

To be continued…

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About dcoda

An herbalist for over 40 years, ten years spent alone in the Ozark Hurricane Creek Wilderness Preserve, working with its brilliant botanicals. I'm an instructor and co-founder of the Ozark Herbal Academy which offers training in medicinal and edible plants through hands-on workshops and online courses.

Posted on November 18, 2010, in Plant Intelligence/communication, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.

  1. Thank you very much for sharing this experience, DCoda…I await part II! Brings back fond memories of hot, steaming sweat lodges. 🙂

  2. So very interesting. How many experiences have you had with Inipi? Are there folks who pass out due to the intense heat and just intenseness of the experience in general?

    Thank you for sharing your experience. I look forward to part 2!

    • I’ve only experienced a handful and each was different. There are dangers when someone who isn’t properly trained is in charge. Not too long ago there was a story of a fellow who mishandled the lodge and people died, did you hear about that? In my first experience, with an Apache medicine woman, my heart couldn’t handle it, it was scary and I’ve been very careful about it ever since.

      Wolf is well trained and I noticed that he never let the heat rise to dangerous levels. We even had a 5th round called “the warrior round” on two of the days … no one is allowed out on a warrior round…and I felt confident that I’d handle it just fine.

      In the first part of this article the Lakota give qualifications for who can conduct the lodge. If someone doesn’t have such qualifications the lodge may still be safe, but I’d definitely leave after one or two rounds if they didn’t seem to know what they were doing…I think one sign of that is mismanagement of the heat…another is more subtle having to do with the spirit behind the work. The lodge should push us out of our comfort zones but NOT into health risks.

  3. Hi Dcoda,
    I can across this page a long while back and noticed that you had linked to my note on Rabbit Tobacco at Merry Heart Medicine. But since that forum shut down the link no longer works and I thought you might want a link to the same note posted on a different forum. http://welltellme.com/discuss/index.php/topic,19973.msg243763.html#msg243763
    ~WR

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