A sweat lodge in the Earthtribe is a healing ceremony. It consists of a gathering of people who seek to deepen their spiritual lives and heal different aspects of their inner council and are interested in healing wounds to their planetary home. Within the lodge the ceremony includes four rounds or prayers or intentions, usually following the four cardinal directions. The people are gathered in a circle around the central pit containing the rocks in the darkness of the inipi’s (sweat lodge’s) womb.
The lodge consists of a round structure of juniper or willow covered with tarps with a central hole in the ground called a sipapu. Rocks are heated in a fire pit called a pita. The fire that is used to heat the rocks represents “the great power of Wanka Tanka (Sacred Mystery). The sun connects to the pita, where the rocks are heated, then connects from there to the central pit of the sweat lodge. Within the sweat lodge herbs are used: sage for purification and sweet grass to bring in good spirits. Other herbs are used in the Earthtribe lodges, as well. The herbs honor the living plants of the earth. Water is poured on the heated rocks. As it turns into steam, it releases negative ions that are physically healing.
How often do you gather for these ceremonies?
In the Earthtribe we gather monthly, usually on a Saturday nearest the full moon.
Where do you gather?
The Earthtribe gathers in natural settings in three different locations: the Flying Buffalo lodge in Wimberley, Texas, the Owl/Eagle lodge at Deer Dancer Ranch near Columbus, Texas. While not formally linked to the Earthtribe, the Hawk/Mouse lodge near Boston, Massachusetts also offers a sweat lodge experience. Directions may be found at Earthtribe.com or Info@Earthtribe.com
Is the Earthtribe sweat lodge a Native American Ceremony? And, if so, am I welcome?
In our culture we generally think of the sweat lodge as being Native American. However, it apparently belongs to many cultures and traditions, some that may predate Native American ceremonies. Tribal people in Siberia use it even today and brought it with them to North America. High in the mountains of Afghanistan the tribal people practiced this kind of ceremony before the Taliban and the post 9-11 bombing. It is not known if they continue.
In the Earthtribe we have created our own process over more than a thirty year period. We have various Native American tribes represented in our midst; however, we have not limited ourselves to any one tradition. As with all of our processes we integrate the insights of modern psychology and the newer sciences with a number of great spiritual traditions, as well as the teachings of the newer sciences. If you are searching for a very traditional Native American sweat lodge, then the Earthtribe sweats will probably not meet your needs. If you want an integration of a variety of traditions, then that is what we are about.
In this crucial time on the planet we propose that any ceremony that is approached with respect can be integrated to facilitate us on the journey. The key word is respect. Central to respect is ongoing practice. We are glad to share our process with other traditions and are willing to train those who want to take it to their traditions with respectful practice. In our experience trying to hold onto a process or to possess it or to control it moves against the larger spiritual endeavor.
How to prepare and attend
We invite you to read Teachings (Will’s blog) on the Earthtribe.com website We also would invite you to obtain and read a copy of his books Natural Mystics and Wild Heart, available on amazon.com.
E-mail Will at Will@Earthtribe.com and he will connect you with an elder to welcome and guide you for the day. Your guide will assist you with a map and answer any questions regarding your needs.
Please note: you will need to sign a waiver and release, including consulting your medical professional about your entering this kind of process. Psychologically, the sweat lodge is a very powerful experience that may bring into awareness trauma, relational issues, addictions, family-of-origin, and religion-of-origin issues. In such situations participants may need a supportive counselor to sort through the experiences. The Earthtribe is a spiritual community and does not offer psychological counseling per se.
Our sweat lodges offer a variety of ways to participate: fire tending, drumming circle and teachings around the fire, hot Sweat Lodge, Spirit Lodge (not physically hot), and an intimate community gathering and potluck lunch. If you are coming to Wimberley for the first time, you will go into the Spirit Lodge. We are blessed with many people at the Wimberley lodge, so REGISTRATION IS REQUIRED. PLEASE REGISTER EARLIER THAN 5 DAYS BEFORE THE LODGE. Do not wait until the last minute to register! If you are coming for the first time, contact Shiila Safer (firstname.lastname@example.org) to inquire about the Wimberley Lodge. Contact Jyl Scott-Reagan (email@example.com) about the Columbus lodge.
What will I need to bring?
We are noted in the Earthtribe for sweating come rain, snow, ice, or desert heat. In over thirty years, we have cancelled only a handful of lodges because of difficult weather. We consider weather as a living being and one of our teachers. Come dressed for the weather in comfortable shoes and layers. You will need your bathing suit or shorts to wear into the lodge and a couple of towels. Bring water to drink and a healthy dish for the communal ceremonial meal.
Does it cost anything?
We usually ask for a $20 donation or whatever you feel fits your resources. This money goes into a non-profit account to care for the land, supplies, like tarps, and to provide scholarships for people who need assistance in various Earthtribe events and/or counseling. Currently, funds also go into a project with the Huasteca Indians in Tantoyuca, Mexico. We are working with natives there to build housing that offers an environmental model for area residents.
How long does it last?
Plan to make a day of it and stay through the closing circle. We usually begin about 7:00 a.m. for the fire ceremony. We have a gathering and teaching time about 9:00 a.m., then the Pipe ceremony and lodge. Following the lodge we have a ceremonial meal. To conclude we gather our things, help put up chairs, take down lodges and store supplies, then end with a closing circle about 2:00 in the afternoon.
Can I go in the first time I attend?
In most of our lodges we invite you to spend a brief time inside the lodge the first time to see if it fits for you. Your stay will be part of one door (round of intentions). This permits time to ascertain if this process fits for you. Some like to spend a shorter amount of time and let the experience digest. Some people attend often and rarely if ever go into the sweat lodge. Underlying our practice is a wonderful experience of community, and participants benefit whether they actually go in the sweat lodge or not.
What are the spiritual benefits?
The Earthtribe sweat lodge is a cleansing ceremony. Over the course of a moon cycle, a month, we typically absorb toxic energy from our environment into our body/mind/soul. The sweat lodge unclogs our system an allows vital and sacred energy (puha, chi, apu, prana) to flow freely through us.
Briefly, we hold that the individual is an energy system similar to a hurricane, or any spiral band like the Milky Way. The edge of the energy system is where the ego/personality dominates. The great journey takes you from the edge of your personality toward the center/essence of who you really are. If you go far enough into yourself, it will lead you to the center, which is in turn the center of the Whole.
Sweating is a process that melts away the defenses and opens up pathways toward the center of who you are, the eye of your hurricane. In our sweat lodges all inner voices are welcome to be expressed. In expressing these many inner voices eventually you will hear the song of the soul that leads you to compassion for all living things.
The process of bringing forth aspects of the soul can be called soul retrieval. Will Taegel speaks to this issue in his book, The Mother Tongue:
Soul retrieval…occurs best through the mediating space of community, The Nature-based community becomes both the medium through which healing passes and the corrective for individuals whose altered states of consciousness (which occurs in the womb of the sweat lodge or in other events) may or may not serve the larger whole. The task of the community vessel we seek for this journey (in this case the lodge) must learn the subliminal language in the dimension outside of human control.
Are there physical benefits? Are there physical healing?
Sweating is a process that melts away the defenses and opens up pathways toward the center of who you are, the eye of the hurricane. In our sweat lodges all inner voices are welcome to be expressed. In expressing these many inner voices eventually you will hear the song of the soul that leads you to compassion for all living things.
Clogged respiratory passages are opened by heat, giving relief from colds and other minor respiratory problems. Sweating is such an effective detoxifier that some physicians recommend different forms of sweating to supplement kidney machines. The sweating process flushes out toxic metals such as copper, lead, zinc, and mercury, which the body absorbs in polluted environments. The steam from water on the rocks gives off negative ions that balance the excess positive ions we absorb from our air conditioned environments. However, the main focus of the lodge is on the spiritual climate where the body is a fully functioning partner. We honor the body by setting up the ceremony that requires its presence. We have found that much growth work in therapy and many spiritual traditions do not really require the presence of the body. For example, you could go through psychotherapy in most modalities without really paying much attention to your body. In the sweat lodge we celebrate our bodies, and they respond with greater health.
What are the psychological benefits?
We propose that a central psychological condition in our culture is the imbalance of self-esteem in the personality. In some situations low self-esteem clogs the energy system. In other situations, excessive self-esteem creates an illusion that blocks the flow. In both conditions the personality forgets its role in serving the deeper essence of the person. The personality is there to provide protection and safety for soul risks. In many modalities the personality gets stuck on protection and control and doesn’t serve the soul. The sweat lodge is a key facilitator in providing heat and spiritual energy that loosens the hold that the personality has on the system so that the true identity hidden in the soul can come forth.
Sometimes people unused to the manner of the Earthtribe lodge are surprised by the growls, anger, or other expressed emotions that are contained safely within our lodges. These voices come out of our inner council of selves. Will inspires us with the statement, “The sweat lodge offers an opportunity for many of the selves that have emerged…to be experienced in greater depth.”
Will Taegel addresses the issue of clearly seeing our usual behavior patterns from an objective distance, and the freedom we gain in the sweat lodge or on a vision quest from these psychological habits or thought patterns, as follows:
You really can never be satisfied after you experience what it is like to shake loose from the ordinary… The person you were in the circle calls you… If you develop new practices and persist, then you set the stage for a quantum leap. A new center of gravity is not just possible, it is probable. Persist.
He explains further, “These troublesome emotions in our personality capture us, so we tend to move away from and disown them. Yet, if we move into them, listen to them, bring their point of view into our awareness, we have the possibility of transcending them.” He then notes the following about encountering the psychological wounds:
Such wounds separate you from the Ground of your existence. If you persist, you will eventually discover that aspect of your soul, your hidden identity, that knows how to connect deep with the Source of Life. In a Shamanic paradigm, this movement from the edge of the circle that is dominated by fixation/compulsions to the center core of Spirit might be called soul-retrieval.
The sweat lodge, the vision quest, the Earthdance that lasts through the night are traumas. These traumas aid in softening the ego and creating space for an encounter with the inner essence. That opens the doorway to possibility and transcendence. Sometimes, participants may need the services of a mental health counselor to sort through the experience.
Are you a cult or a representative of Satan?
Cults encourage all of the participants to accept a certain belief. We encourage all to enter the process to find your direct access to the Sacred. We encourage you to question everything that you feel like questioning. Your best authority resides in your connection to the larger Whole. As to the Satan part, we hold to the Unity of All. We hold that the best way to overcome the Satanic is to look at your own inner darkness and evil. Bring the Light to your own shadows! That is what this work is about. We hold that judgment greatly restricts the journey. When we face our own fear, greed and attachments, darker energies fade.
Bear Heart, in his book, The Wind Is My Mother, eloquently addresses the Earthtribe’s universal journey. We come together as a community. We wonder about our purpose, our role in life, “because of it we can get glimpse of what it means to walk what we call the Spirit Road…universal love is gathered together on that one road.” It is not determined growth from a particular denominational, world religious or cult perspective.
The caring and love that we generate from our hearts into (our lives) and the lives of others can carry us forward…In our struggles we may think we can’t go any further not realizing that is is merely a turning point in our life…It’s time to stress the things we have in common… We might be surprised to find we are really all brothers and sisters in this universe, and most important; that we have to maintain that relationship in order to survive.
What do I wear inside the lodge?
Generally, you wear a bathing sit or some other loose fitting clothing. We celebrate the integration of body/mind/soul and acknowledge the value of sweating in the nude. We do that on occasion for all male or all female sweats, but as a general rule we wear bathing suits. We reached this decision based on feedback we have received fro participants who have been through abuse early in their lives. Out of respect for their vulnerability, we take this approach.
Who are the leaders in the sweat lodge?
Leadership in the lodge is provided by Earthtribe elders who go through an eight-year process of training as Pipe carriers. Honorary Pipe carriers also provide leadership. There are usually two Pipe carriers in each lodge. Leadership tends to gravitate toward those who do the hard work of preparing the lodges, cutting the wood, and who make this a consistent practice. The leaders are taught to be constantly aware of your personal safety and will be checking in with you throughout the sweat lodge ceremony.
Can I leave once I go in if I don’t like it?
You can ask to leave at any time, and it is not a disgrace. Part of the learning is for you to take care of yourself. Even seasoned veterans leave the lodge, depending on their energy state. Sweating is a vital ceremony not a warrior contest. It is a healing lodge to bring harmony and balance to all.
What is your policy about alcohol and drugs related to Earthtribe practices?
In the context of our ceremonies of the sweat lodge, vision questing, and Earthdancing we do not use alcohol or drugs. In pipe ceremonies there is a small amount of nicotine at times, but other mind altering substances are not used. Participants always have the option of touching their shoulders with the pipe without a puff. People engaging in sweat lodging, Earth Dancing, or Vision Questing are invited to engage the deep resources of Nature to alter consciousness. Some indigenous peoples are experienced and find value in the ceremonial ingesting of powerful plants, and we respect those practices. However, we choose other pathways to enlarge consciousness.
Will I be asked to sign or commit to anything?
You will be asked to sign a legal release for participating in the lodge. In this release you take full responsibility for what happens to you on the land and in the lodge.
What is the history of the Earthtribe?
In 1968 Will Taegel gathered a small group of people in a wilderness retreat to talk about pathways that would integrate spirituality and psychology. That group formed into the Center for Creative Resources (CCR). Experiments in psycho/spiritual development led Will to doctoral studies and eventually back to his Native American roots. He received eight years of training with a Native American shaman who commissioned him to begin these events and other ceremonies. By 1980 he and his life-partner, Judith Yost, who had joined him in shamanic training, led sweat lodges that resulted in the CCR community evolving into the Earthtribe. Judith and Will are generally held to be grandparents of the Earthtribe.
How do I join the Earthtribe?
If you love the earth, work on your awareness, and show compassion, you are already a member.
Other Earthtribe books to consider and available on Amazon.com
Christianity and Nature-based Spirituality: An Integral Approach to Christianity and the Medicine Wheel by Lillie Rowden
Born of the Earth: Your Journal, Poetry and Meditations in Nature by Shiila Safer
The Many Colored Buffalo by William Taegel
Nature and Intimacy by Judith L. Yost and William Taegel