Secwepemc people used the sweat lodge for a variety of reasons: cleansing for daily life, in preparation for hunting, or specified reasons such as health and well-being. Infants to elders may be involved. Sometimes fir boughs were used to scrub one’s body. Also medicine water made from soaking red willow and rose bushes might be used to bath with after each round was completed.
There were various styles of lodges used and procedures followed. One style starts early in the dawn hours by preparing the lava rocks, chopping kindling and gathering wood. With the fire being lit and medicine being prepared, participants might enter the lodge when the rocks were red hot. The ceremony might finish after four rounds. A round involve placing the medicine and water on the hot rocks while a prayer is said. Once this is done the door is opened to release the prayer and cleanse the air. The participants leave the sweatlodge and return after new hot rocks have been placed in the pit. Then a new round begins with all sitting in the same position.
Everything at a sweat lodge ceremony is aligned with the east, noting that the eastern direction is the gateway to a new day. The fire pit is in a straight line with the front of the doorway. Everything done during the ceremony goes in a clockwise rotation, just as the sun moves.
When one who takes care of the doorway closes the door, everyone inside the domed structure is engulfed in darkness and warmth. As elder, Loretta Seymour stated, it is like a place of rebirth back inside your mothers’ womb. Those that may fear darkness and confinement can find safety and comfort in the sweatlodge.
Traditionally the sweat lodge was used for a variety of purposes. Sweats may have involved a formal ceremony or they may have been very casual with the participants creating a ceremony which would meet their needs at that time.
Modern day sweatlodge ceremonies may involve traditions of both Secwepemc and other first nations people, For example, some lodge keepers may use one or more of a variety of medicines such as sage, tobacco, or cedar to begin the service. The scent is breathed in by the participants. The smoke does not rise to nothingness, but it arises to the Creator of all things. Some people may only hear confusion when the lodge keeper or others put water upon the heated rocks. The lodge keeper might request that the people inside listen and try to hear the hissing for it may be the answer to prayers, thoughts or even singing from spiritual beings.
It is a very sacred ground. Nothing said or thought goes unheard. The sweat lodge is another means of giving praise and gratitude to the land the Secwepemc people have lived upon since time immemorial.
As an elder said,”You want to hear a story, build a fire.”