I had been sweating with Hawk and Buzzard for about two years, and we were all gathered at a festival we all attended annually. Libations had been poured and consumed for days on end, and things were winding down with only two more days left. It was the night for the sweat lodge. Buzzard had built the lodge earlier in the day, and I had been encouraging him to start the fire. He told me that if I lit the fire, and tended it, he would come and lead the lodge when all was ready, but in the mean time, he was going to continue celebrating the festivities.

I set about my task, and laid three logs down in the fire pit, and balanced all the rocks on them. I stuffed paper and kindling underneath them, and all around the rocks. Sweat fires take a lot of kindling—if you think you have enough, double it at least. The fire has to spread all around the rocks, and cannot go through the middle like it would for a regular fire. Next, I surrounded all the rocks and kindling with good hardwood logs and set it all ablaze. Tending a sweat fire is easy as there is only one rule: If you see a rock, cover it.

The fire didn’t take long to heat the rocks; just about 3 hours. I sent someone to go find Buzzard, and announce that the sweat was about to begin. People started to wander in, and about an hour later, the old Buzzard came stumbling back to our fire ring. “Oh Eric, I don’t think I can make it in with you tonight—too much whisky. You’ll have to lead the sweat.”

Am I qualified?”

“Are you Qualified!?! Are you Qualified?!? Of course you are qualified. In the olden days any brave who needed a sweat made a sweat, and people would come. It didn’t take a shaman…” With that, Buzzard went to bed, and I prepared the lodge. I knew that sweats are sometimes more spiritual in nature, and other times they are more social. I figured I would lead one of the social kinds of sweats as this was the first time I ever tried this sort of thing. The spirit had other plans.

I opened up the fire happy to see that the rocks were still glowing red. I placed several of them in the lodge, and instructed those who hadn’t taken the initiative to get in. I closed up the fire, and added fresh wood on top to be sure that the rocks kept hot, then ran back to the lodge. I said hello to everyone--most of whom I hadn’t really met, skipped the traditional opening prayer, and just started passing the cup around for people to say their own prayers. After everyone was done, I went and got more rocks, and returned anticipating an uneventful next couple of rounds.

The spirits blew out the candle early in the second round rendering everything pitch black. As no one knew many songs commonly sung in the lodge, we mostly talked. I commented that this was the first time I had lead a lodge, and it was the first time many of these people had been in a lodge. I explained the significance as best I could, and conversation continued from there.

I know I am a little late mentioning this, but I had just broken up with my first girlfriend a couple months prior, and she really broke my heart. Somehow this fact began to overcome me in the lodge, and I started crying softly to myself. I apologized to everyone that I was distracted, and had let the temperature drop a little, and received overwhelming support, the elders gave me advice, and my contemporaries consoled me. I was able to share my misery in that lodge and no one held a grudge. I received much healing that day. The sprit refused to allow that lodge to simply be social.

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