my tribe

So I went to a sweat and this is how it was…

OK, so it wasn’t exactly like the picture… but I did go to a sweat at the Potawatomi Reservation over in Kansas. I have been to a number of sweats in the past, so it wasn’t something I’ve never done before. However, the last sweat I went to was 3 years ago, and was pretty hot, and I hadn’t been to one since. So, when I got the invitation for this one, I was just a little bit nervous about it.

All of the other sweats I’ve been at were either do-it-yourself-out-of-a-book run by me, or led by a visiting medicine man, teacher, shaman, etc… and largely attended by New Agers, pagans, and Native American spiritual wanna-be’s. In other words, mostly “white” people.

This one was way different, most of the people there were Native Americans and sweat lodge veterans… we had a fair amount of young warrior types. Plenty of good male energy, that’s for sure. And I started feeling a little bit worried about how vastly different their idea of a nice sweat would be from my idea of a nice sweat. Would it be something like this?

hot versus HOT!!

It was a little bit worrisome. So when we got there, the fire is all blazing hot, nice big fire… you can’t stand within 4 feet of it without getting blasted, and I’m thinking… hey… I need to make friends with the heat.

So I spent some time, standing as close to the fire as I could manage it, saying to the cells in my body “heat is good”, talking to the rocks … saying stuff like “hi, I’m Shirley, I’m your friend” … and at the same time sending all kinds of good vibes to the little Native American guy (Edmore Green) who was running the sweat… Sending him silent mental messages that said stuff like “please don’t kill the white lady” and “I’m not all that white you know, I’ve got Comanche and Chickasaw ancestors” and “please be kind” etc. etc.

But everybody was really friendly and sweet, so I started to relax a little bit, and decided that maybe I was worrying over nothing. As people showed up, they went around and introduced themselves and shook hands, which really really nice.

The lodge itself was like the Taj Mahal of lodges. Nice and big, not real low to the ground, and I took that to be a good sign. The higher the interior of the lodge, the cooler it tends to be, and it looked to me like it was almost shoulder high. The floor of it was covered with carpet, so we wouldn’t be sitting on the bare ground which was also nice. And it didn’t look like there would be a problem with crickets, grasshoppers, or spiders… another bonus!

So, I was feeling really good about the whole thing when we all piled in. There were so many people we had to sit in a double row, and I ended up in the very back (one of the hottest parts of a lodge), but thankfully I was in the back row, not right up next to where the rocks would be, and there was room to stretch my feet out.

The two guys sitting next to me counted the people (27) and then they counted the rocks as they were brought in (28). It didn’t occur to me until later what that actually meant… 28 rocks. Big ones too. That last sweat I was at, the one that was so freaking hot I thought I might die was a 24 rock sweat…

OK.. so there I am feeling all confident and comfortable, the rocks are all in, and they drop the door down and it’s like pitch dark. That lodge was one well insulated little space! Right away it got hot. Really hot. Then he poured some water on the rocks and said some prayers and started singing poured some more water… within 3 minutes I was about to die. I noticed a little bit of sniffling and coughing… and then one guy started really coughing! He was coughing and gagging and puking. At least that’s how it sounded to me.

I was thinking, “Wow!” That guy is really feeling it too. Maybe Edmore will be kind and tone it down a little bit. But no, more water, more steam… It’s fricking hot. And the guy that’s gagging, and coughing and choking and puking doesn’t quit. So, I’m thinking… OK… if he can do it, I can do it. So, I’m sitting there, rocking back and forth talking to myself… it went something like this:

“OMG I can’t stand it!”
“Yes, you can. If he can do it you can do it.”
“No, I can’t.”
“Yes, you can. You’ll get used to it.”
“That guy is going to pass out.”
“Well good… then they’ll open the door and let some of the heat out.”
“I can’t stand it! I really can’t.”
“You have to stand it… you are not leaving until it’s over.”

Finally, the door is opened, and the first “endurance” is over. I was thinking to myself… OK… there’s a reason why they call them endurance’s. He did leave the door open for a really long time, long enough for me to get completely cooled off. And I’m thinking, that now it’s all going to be alright because now I’m used to it, and obviously Edmore is making sure that whoever it is that’s been about to die doesn’t actually die… and if this sweat doesn’t kill that guy, it’s sure as hell not going to kill me.

The second endurance wasn’t so bad. It was hot, but not as hot as the first one. I was like patting myself on the back. Feeling pretty good about it. Like I was somehow “tougher” than the Native American dude on the far side of the lodge. I never did figure out who it was that was doing so much coughing. But he did continue to cough through the second round. And at this point, I decided that it had to just be that terrible kind of cough that makes you gag and choke because I never once smelled vomit, and I think it would have been smelling pretty bad in there if he had actually been puking.

When the door opened after the second endurance, Edmore went and got some medicine and passed it around for anyone who was coughing. A really nice way to offer help to the guy having so much trouble while still allowing him to preserve his pride. I don’t know what the medicine was… I couldn’t see it since it was dark in the lodge… too dark to see anything even with the door open, I think it must have been some sort of herbal chew or something… we passed it around.

He also talked about how there was this bad cold stuff going around, and that he had planned for a really hot sweat to break up the congestion and stuff since so many people there had gotten the flu….

Right after that, he passed around a cow horn full of water for us to drink… each person taking a few swallows … and passing it on… It’s a good thing I don’t believe in germs. Because I was drinking that water! Every time he passed it around, I had some. That horn went around 2 or 3 times each time the door opened. I kept telling myself… “Shirley, you don’t believe in germs.” and “That water was blessed.” and “Water! Thank you God! I love water!”

So, come the third round and I’m pretty sure I’m going to live through it just fine. Having had my confidence boosted by that milder second round, and by the fact that I had lived through the first one. Then they shut the door…

And people are praying, and Edmore is singing, and it’s really cool, and sacred, and communal, and hot… really really hot. The prayers go on and on and on and on. The guy with the coughing problem keeps on coughing, he sounds just terrible. And I’m saying to myself. “If he can do it you can do it.”

Every now and then I start having anxiety, but I just go with it, doing all this self talk, and the whole time I am really deeply appreciating that guy who is having so much trouble. I’m like blessing him and thanking him. If it wasn’t for him, it might be way hotter, I might be the one puking and dying… so I’m like LOVING this guy! I feel like he’s saving my life in some obscure way.

After what seems like hours … we finally come to the end of the third round. Just one more round to go. OK… so far so good. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. And even though I know that the last round is usually the hardest one, I’m feeling like the worst has got to be over. He’s going easy on us because he doesn’t actually want to kill anyone, and I’ve made it this far… and I’m saying to myself “How bad can it get?”

Ha ha.
Don’t ever ask yourself that when you are in a sweat lodge filled with Native American men who like a nice hot sweat. Trust me. Just don’t.

The first thing I noticed is that the dude that was coughing … has stopped coughing. Totally stopped. And the lodge gets hotter and hotter and hotter and hotter. I start to feel really anxious, like what if I can’t breathe or something. So I open my mouth to take in a nice deep breath… and the air is burning hot. I started to imagine blisters popping up all over my lungs. So I said “Shut up with that shit.” And turned off my mind.

And then I tried putting my towel up to cover my head but that only made it worse. Like it stirred up some dormant corner of hell and sent it swirling around me. Ever heard the expression, “fanning the fire?” Well, that’s what if felt like if I moved. So I stopped moving, except for my compulsive rocking back and forth, which is keeping me calm and stopping me from clawing my way out through the wall.

Finally, the prayers are completed and Edmore starts singing his shaman songs. And all the while, it’s getting hotter and hotter and hotter. And Edmore is singing this song and that song, and dumping more and more water on the rocks, and my head is starting to hurt, and my eyes are burning, and I’m just rocking back and forth doing my silent mantra. Around and around in my head, I was singing my own shaman song. It was very silently dramatic and went something like this:

  • (Red = hysterical silent screaming)
  • (Green = tone of voice useful in dealing with lunatics and hysterical children)

Shut the fuck up and open the door!” “You’re OK, Shirley. No resistance. The heat is your friend.”  I’m dying back here open the frickin door!”  It’s OK everything is OK you are OK no resistance just relax.”  Enough already with the singing! Shut up! Open the fucking door!”  Everything’s going to be OK. Just relax now. Keep breathing.”  Who’s going to take care of my dog if I’m dead? Huh? Huh? Huh?”  We’re almost done. You’re not going to die.”  Hey, coughing dude start coughing again please!”  Be calm. It can’t last forever.”

Finally, he stops singing, and throws the door open. The heat and the steam goes billowing out the door. I’m toasted. But I made it… then everybody gets out their pipes, and pipes get passed, pipe songs get sung, and I’m just happy to be alive.

Important note: I shared this story on my old blogger blog way back in March of 2008. Totally forgot about it. Just saw it today. So much fun!!

“When one defines oneself as Pagan, it means she or he follows an earth or nature religion, one that sees the divine manifest in all creation. The cycles of nature are our holy days, the earth is our temple, its plants and creatures our partners and teachers. We worship a deity that is both male and female, a mother Goddess and father God, who together created all that is, was, or will be. We respect life, cherish the free will of sentient beings, and accept the sacredness of all creation.”

~Edain McCoy

I found a great blog post about shamanism at a pretty cool website called Blue Planet Shaman. The whole thing is worth reading – I just pulled the juicy part out for posting here. It’s a list for the basic requirement for a person to be a good Shaman. And hey, I think I qualify! And I’ve gotta say, I like this guy!

  • You need to come from a dysfunctional family.
  • You need to understand abuse, alcohol, drug, sexual, physical, mental, verbal, the more the better.
  • You need to have a fast mind. This is usually shown through a quick humor and/or problem solving skills.
  • You may have a thought that nothing is sacred nor should it be.
  • You will probably have a very strong sex drive.
  • You may think some things are funny while other people severely disagree.
  • You have the ability to teach without formal training.
  • Even the most introverted people will instantly open up to you.
  • You can make friends with the most vicious junk yard dog because you can relate.
  • You had the “visits” from the other side at an early age.

Sometimes we can seem like a twisted bunch, but everyone wants to come to our parties.

They can be all the things that you would never expect a Shaman to be in places that seem so unholy or spiritual. Normally you won’t find them in some air conditioned classroom teaching someone else’s bullshit because the have an “I passed a Shamanic course” paper on the wall.

Shamanism is getting into life and everything that goes with it. Shamanism is about experimentation and testing your theories before you try to teach something. A real Shaman will let you know you are a fucked up individual and not try to dress it up with some white lighter justification. A real Shaman will help you develop who you really are, not who everyone thinks you should be. A real Shaman understands that some things just can’t be fixed and may take a temporary job as a sniper in a third world shit hole.

So Shamanism has evolved a long way from telling the story of when the Great Raven flapped its wings seven times and created the universe, or how some chic that was fucking around on her husband said God knocked her up. Shamanism became the reality show that HBO won’t even air.

“The people you see on this show are real. Their names and identities have not been changed, no one is protected. The situations are real and there are no co incidences between what you see in Shamanism and real life you dumbass, new age flake.”

Personally, I really don’t want to hang with anyone in Shamanism that doesn’t have some kind of bad reputation or rumors. People make mistakes. Or do they? Maybe it’s divine guidance for our higher learning. Yeah, that’s it. I channeled that.

Shamanism is about being yourself, being honest about it, and being ok with that.

Shamanism is living a life that will make a great true story that will be told as a teaching implement. Live it. Don’t leave any blank pages. One day the book will close.

If I was to say there was only one sin, it would be not living true to your nature. A Shaman will live according to their true nature and that’s the main reason they usually don’t fit in. So goes Shamanism through the ages. It will always be one of those places that the out of ordinary people go to fit in with the other black sheep of humanity that people look to for spiritual guidance.

Full Disclosure: I actually wrote this way back in, I think, 2010… so the website mentioned has changed since then, and the original post about shamanism is no longer there. This post is from my old blogger blog.

I was clearing out my inbox today – and found this little gem. It’s old news, (Published on Friday, December 21, 2007 by Rapid City Journal -South Dakota)and apparently nothing much came of it, and I wanted to post it here to, in my small way, promote the idea.

Political activist Russell Means, a founder of the American Indian Movement, says he and other members of Lakota tribes have renounced treaties and are withdrawing from the United States.

“We are now a free country and independent of the United States of America,” Means said in a telephone interview. “This is all completely legal.”

Means said a Lakota delegation on Monday delivered a statement of “unilateral withdrawal” from the United States to the U.S. State Department in Washington.

The State Department did not respond. “That’ll take some time,” Means said.

Meanwhile, the delegation has delivered copies of the letter to the embassies of Bolivia, Venezuela, Chile and South Africa. “We’re asking for recognition,” Means said, adding that Ireland and East Timor are “very interested” in the declaration.

Other countries will get copies of the same declaration, which Means said also would be delivered to the United Nations and to state and county governments covered by treaties, including treaties signed in 1851 and 1868. “We’re willing to negotiate with any American political entity,” Means said.

The United States could face international pressure if it doesn’t agree to negotiate, Means said. “The United State of America is an outlaw nation, we now know. We’ve understood that as a people for 155 years.”

Means also said his group would file liens on property in parts of South Dakota, Nebraska, North Dakota, Montana and Wyoming that were illegally homesteaded.

The Web site for the declaration, “Lakota Freedom,” briefly crashed Thursday as wire services picked up the story and the server was overwhelmed, Means said.

Delegation member Phyllis Young said in an online statement: “We are not trying to embarrass the United States. We are here to continue the struggle for our children and grandchildren.” Young was an organizer of Women of All Red Nations.

Other members of the delegation include Rapid City-area activist Duane Martin Sr. and Gary Rowland, a leader of the Chief Big Foot Riders.

Means said anyone could live in the Lakota Nation, tax free, as long as they renounced their U.S. citizenship. The nation would issue drivers licenses and passports, but each community would be independent. “It will be the epitome of individual liberty, with community control,” Means said.

To make his case, Means cited several articles of the U.S. Constitution, the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties and a recent nonbinding U.N. resolution on the rights of indigenous people.

He thinks there will be international pressure. “If the U.S. violates the law, the whole world will know it,” Means said.

Means’ group is based in Porcupine on Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. It is not an agency or branch of the Oglala Sioux Tribe. Means ran unsuccessfully for president of the tribe in 2006.

Lakota tribes have long claimed that the U.S. government stole land guaranteed by treaties — especially in western South Dakota. “The Missouri River is ours, and so are the Black Hills,” Means said.

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in 1980 awarded the tribes $122 million as compensation, but the court did not award land. The Lakota have refused the settlement. (As interest accrues, the unclaimed award is approaching $1 billion.)

In the late 1980s, then-Sen. Bill Bradley of New Jersey introduced legislation to return federal land to the tribes, and California millionaire Phil Stevens also tried to win support for a proposal to return the Black Hills to the Lakota.

Contact Bill Harlan at 394-8424 or
© 2007 The Rapid City Journal

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