I come from a Native American training background. I studied with the shamans and learned how to reach Spirit. We used “sweat lodges” once a week. Now I use them quarterly to do my spirit work and to reach my ancestors.
I would never recommend a person build and conduct their own lodge. It is sacred and filled with great ceremony that only a “sweat pourer” should perform. However, for anyone who can find a trained shaman to pour sweat for them, its an amazing experience. It can be life changing and perfectly safe when done properly.
I take my group into lodge on a regular basis and they love it. If one would like to know what it is like that is pretty simple — if you can imagine the hottest sauna you have ever been in and multiply that by 5 you may have some idea.
When you enter the lodge you will first stand at the opening and smudge yourself with sage and cedar to remove any negative energy before you enter. Then you will bend down and ask the shaman “grandfather” if you may enter. If he says yes, you will say, “All my ancestors,” and enter turning immediately to your left. All things in lodge go clockwise. Women enter first crawling around to sit next to “grandfather.” The door always faces East so you will be in the East if you are first to enter.
As each additional person enters and takes their space, they will form a circle around a pit at the center of the lodge. Everyone begins by facing the pit, but as the lodge continues they will often lay down. The lodge then will begin with the “fire keeper” bringing in several hot stones that have been baking in a roaring fire for many hours. They will be glowing red. The “grandfather” will scoop them up with a dear antler and place them in the pit one by one. Another person will rub sweet grass on each stone — the stone is called a grandfather as well — this sweet grass offering is to welcome the spirit of the grandfathers into the lodge.
Once the correct amount of stones are brought in (about 9), the “fire keeper” will come into the lodge and take his place by the door. The shaman will then bless the water and say a prayer. He will ladle some water onto the stones and you pull the steam over you to bless yourself. Then they will “go dark.” This is to close the door over the opening. There are 4 rounds each represented by the directions on the medicine wheel. East, South, West, and North. Each round has a purpose. East to welcome the grandfathers, spirits, and yourself into the lodge. The South is to ask to be opened up so that you may receive what you seek in lodge. West is spirit world were visions happen and connections are made, and North is to close that door and to thank the spirit for their wisdom and blessings. In-between each “round” the door is opened and cool air is let in.
There are more stones brought in from the fire and more water brought in and passed around. You will sweat more than you ever thought possible. Wear light clothing and bring 2 towels. The goal is to release the physical discomfort and to welcome spirit … do not focus on the heat. The whole lodge takes between 3 and 6 hours in general, sometimes they can go for days, but that is for shaman alone. Women are more and more welcome in lodge, but traditionally they were excluded.
I love lodge and I would recommend that a person looking into doing one do their homework and find a shaman who knows what they are doing. Never go in fasting. Always let the shaman know if you need help. I have done them for many, many years and never had a problem.