There are spiritual representatives from the Hopi/ Hawasupai (Mona Polacca), Mandan Hidatsa Arikara (Kathy Whitman-Elkwoman), Zapoteca (Epifanio Ramirez and Marta L Mendoza) Navajo (Jerry Nelson, Tony Redhouse) and Tohono O’dham tribes (Rupert Encinas) to join together with Estonians from all walks of life and their families to form one family in a long weekend of sweat lodge ceremony, song & dance, drumming and craftwork.
The first ceremony is the erection of the Teepee. An artform in itself the teepee is a sacred place, for living, meeting and where ceremonies take place. While it is a task traditionally performed by women this time it is the men who put it up under the close supervision of a Navajo chief (Jerry Nelson) situated to face the rising sun.
Men head into the woods to gather materials for the four sweat lodges, built metres from the beach. At the same time the firepit is dug to an exact criteria, a semi circle showing the journey of the sun and a person’s life.
When the lodges begin the evening sun has already set in the sky for hours. Each lodge has it’s guide with a unique approach to the ceremony. A primeval wonder exists within, dark, humid and very hot, a representation of the world, a journey, the beginning of the world and our world. The lodge is the mother’s womb and the heat and discomfort experienced are her pain in giving birth. The essence of the sweat lodge is FIRE-EARTH-AIR-WATER, heated for hours are the glowing red rocks from the Earth and baked in the Fire, there is steam which erupts from them and blasts your skin as water is added. Water is carefully rationed after each session to rehydrate and a prayer of thanks resounds. An overall effect of celebration, prayer, of ritual and healing is overwhelming, songs in Indian dialects as well as Estonian reverberate. Staggering from the sweat lodge and racing to the sea to plunge into the cool waters the feeling of connection, poetry and beauty of the world arrives back into the thorniest of souls.
Appreciation for the simple wonders are revisited until one becomes a part and in awe of nature. The Estonian love of sauna transmutes effortlessly to the sweat lodge and a no alcohol rule is observed in sweat sessions invariably longer than a traditional sauna. The Native American’s intolerance to alcohol is well known, their society has been undermined and penned in through the use of this alien substance, wrecking the fabric of their existence.
Still the Native Americans are forgiving, embracing and accepting a relationship with the earth which goes back thousands of years and today is more relevant and timely than ever.
Everyone is transformed by the sweat lodge, first time visitors pledge to return while for many participants it is their umpteenth year. Our Native American guests are gentle yet firm with the heat, drumming, songs and prayers, running many sessions in a day with serenity and humility underpinned by a presence of mind and strength coming from a connection with nature. Everyone shares in this and experiences, a re-building, re-discovering and understanding of our planet and the environment around us. I realise again many life essential facts and behaviours, am filled with a new joy and respect and arrived back where I belong, as a part of and intrinsic to the source of nature which is all around us. It is so easy to take everything for granted and forget to acknowledge and appreciate. Thank you for the reminder. All my relations.
At the begining of the camp people are curious, there is still a material focus, noticing the differences in appearance, judging and asking questions. People are judging, judging, little details seem important, the mind is running away instead of being in the moment.
Putting up the teepee is a big part of the tradition, how the poles connect, again it is a prayer while erecting it. The teepee is almost a church, it has meaning, a construction for shelter and prayer.
The backbone of the weekend is the sweat lodge, and why it is important for Native Americans and us is because it is a place of deep healing. In the reservations there are always numerous sweat lodges taking place during the week, they are used for healing family troubles, alochol issues, a place to come together as a community and share problems, it is a timeless sacred ritual. Here in Estonina we are lucky that their traditions are being shared with us. Perhaps the only main difference between the ceremony here and in America is that there they know the songs better and they pray openly and talk about their problems more freely.
In America the people talk for a long time when they are in the sweat lodge. They talk about things openly and everyone can then pray for them or themselves and recognise everyone has similar problems, the praying and healing are very important aspects. The Estonian smoke sauna is a tradition and a ritual in its own way, especially the preparation and maybe the birch to beat your neighbours, and putting and some herbs on the rocks. But often no traditional singing comes with this, there are no ritualistic songs for sauna, or such a spiritual aspect, this is more for the camp fire or the song festival. The Estonian smoke sauna captures some of the sweat lodge tradition, it takes time, you have to sit with your thoughts, follow a procedure.
The Native Americans have ritual at the centre of their culture, a certain order is always followed in the sweat lodge ceremony. The person who conducts the ceremony is responsible, he guides the people through it. Everything has a meaning, tradition starts from how the sweat lodge is built, how the stones are collected, the wood that is used. The materials are grandmothers and grandfathers, everything has to be treated with respect, all manner of life, the world around us and other people. When you take a rock, and you put it down in a pile, you put it down carefully, you can pray with it, give thanks. Everything is done in the correct way, with respect and sensitivity, you are involved in a big tradition here made up of many small traditions. It’s important to keep the tradition going. And our guests are keen to share that with us.
The camp is not a holiday for everyone, it is different for every person, if you can help out, and give something from or of yourself then the experience is richer and more possibilities emerge. It can be a hands on workshop, if you have the chance, be willing, everyone can help everyone out. The basic elemets of life are all represented here. You see the connection in everything, how everyone is related and the levels involved. Especially in the sweat lodge you are connected with the elemental world, and realise that it should be respected as such, and that gives you great satisfaction in your life away from the camp as well.
The sunrise ceremony is also another part of the weekend, another part of the whole, a big prayer, where everything is connected. The dancing is letting mother earth know that you are here, you are expressing your love and giving a massage to her with your feet. With singing you sing to the creator and to your ancestors. It’s preferable to pray openly, to pray aloud so the spirits can hear you. Although some people prefer to pray silently and that is OK too.
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The area surrounding the lodges should be quiet, the only people are the water women and the rock men. Men bringing hot rocks to the ceremony master, and water regularly refilled for the gaps in the sessions. Other than that the only sound would be the sound of the prayers and songs within. A job of responsibilty is that of the rock man. A team with pitchforks servicing the sweat lodges, setting the fire, fetching the wood, heating the rocks for hours, then carefully taking the rocks to the tent at the request of the ceremony leader. Following instructions precisely is essential for safety as well as the ritual. There is a rhythm and an order for presenting the rocks. It’s also a job which begins early in the morning and is an honour and privilege, to take care of the people. For the past 10 years there have been 3 of us who have done this job and enjoyed it every year. Our experience has built up in the process, in the past there have been complications, the rocks not hot enough etc. It’s better to pray with heat:-)
During the camp you notice changes in people, the first few days people are not so open, not so easy going….then thanks to the traditions we go through together people are healed, become more like they should be in this world. If people are unaware of their actions it makes you wonder why? How can people forget how to behave? You see the bad habit of commenting, talking, using their opinion, instead of listening. Here there is no importance in opinion, the conductor of the ceremony talks, if he asks you to talk you do, if you want to speak then you ask permission. It is very respectful, very normal.
Is life too serious to be taken seriously? Favourite animal is a dog, called Harry the Lurcher. Now somewhere in space.
America ceremony dance Dineh People Hawasupai Hopi Lahemaa Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Mexico Native American Navajo pray Priit Kuusik ritual sacred Soho sweat lodge Tarmo Urb teepee Tohono O´dham Toomas Urb tradition Zapoteca
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