A few years ago I attended a sweat lodge ceremony in Mesa, Arizona. The sacred ceremony was full of tradition from fire building to the heating of the volcanic rock, to the prayers led by the Apache Medicine Man. Fortunately for me, there were only a handful of people attending that evening in July. With attendance low, we had just enough room to place our heads near or on the ground if the heat was too much to handle sitting up during the ceremony.
Following the sweat experience, I spent time getting to know the Medicine Man and the other attendees. Everyone had a story worthy to be shared, listened to, and respected, but I was most interested in the Medicine Man’s. He shared with me that he was being called to get closer to Mother Earth – to take his shoes off and walk off the pavement. His feet needed to touch the ground, the soil, the earth. This connection would “ground” him and perhaps cleanse him in a way that the sweat lodge was able to help other people.
The next week I was invited by the Medicine Man to help build a sweat lodge near the base of the Santa Catalina mountain range in Tucson, Arizona. I love stories and rituals. The experience was full of both. He faced the east, said a prayer, and sprinkled yellow powder (from a flower?) over the earth before beginning the construction of the sweat lodge.
The foundation of the wikiup consisted of willow branches and saplings, which were anchored in the ground and tied together with scraps of cotton fabrics. The ties were mostly purple and yellow, which I compared to the Solar Plexus and the Crown Chakras. By the end of the building of the wikiup structure, we had run out of fabric and began using strips from the tree branches themselves. The Medicine pointed out that we began with fabric, which was manufactured, and ended with pieces of the branches, thus finishing it with what’s closer to the earth. The process brought us back closer to the earth.
Once the dome was built, it was then time for another prayer before layering the blankets, quilts, and fabrics over the structure. What caught my attention was that one “fabric” used was the American flag. The American flag represents freedom and sacrifice, something the Native Americans know much about, from their own nations to participation and role of the Code Talkers in winning WWII. This wikiup was full of balance of Native Americans and “white man” from the foundation through the final touches.
That Medicine Man was able to ensure there was balance in our tiny piece of the universe that day in Tucson. Prayer and laughter, cotton fabrics and strips of willow bark, handmade quilts and the American flag, Apache Medicine man and “white man” – he created balance in our lives.