Mountain Magic by Sequoyah


Chapter Thirty-five



There is no way around doing a lot of explaining in the next chapter or so about the sweat.

Before we go any further, we need to get the question of how one refers to Indians out of the way. Generally my Indian friends refer to themselves by their tribal names. If they are referring to several tribes or tribes in general, they use the name Indian. I have noticed that the term American Indian seems to be used by Indians from east of the Mississippi. The new museum of the Smithsonian is called the Museum of the American Indian and since Indians had a great deal to do with creating it, American Indian or just Indian seems ok with most. West of the Mississippi I do find the term Native Americans used more often. Several years ago I was at a pow wow and the MC asked everyone who was born in the United States to raise their hand. When we did, he said, "Native Americans, welcome to an Indian pow wow."

That out of the way, I find it necessary to have Matt, Luke and Wes do a lot of explaining as this chapter and the next develop.

In describing what is going on, I have borrowed freely from four books, "Gift of Power: The Life and Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man" by Archie Fire Lame Deer and Richard Erdoes; "Mother Earth Spirituality" by Edd McGaa, Eagle Man; "Sweet Medicine" by Peter J. Powell and "Seven Arrows" by Hyemeyohsts Storm. Bibliographic data is at the end of this chapter. Additionally, I draw on my research, conversations and experience of many years. If I get something really wrong, I guess I'll blame the books and if it's really, really right, it's from my own vast knowledge. Yeah, right!

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Chapter Thirty-five

I was in dreamland when Jason kissed me awake and said, "We need to get on the chores. They have to be done before we go. Well, all except the milking. The cows would never forgive us if we tried to rush them. Granddad has insisted on milking so we can go ahead." We went downstairs and as we walked into the kitchen, Wesley was headed out the back door, egg basket in hand.

After we had finished the chores, showered and got dressed, we packed a gym bag. Wes had told us to bring a couple large towels and a water bottle for each of us and had added, "Dress in wind suits to come over." He had also reminded us to bring sleeping bags.

When Granddad heard about the sleeping bags, he said, "I know you took tarps to cover the sweat lodge, but you'll need some for ground covers as well. Take a couple of hay bale covers." The covers were heavy duty, but lightweight, plastic tarps. "I'll be coming in time to help Tim with the sweat, but won't be needed until then and my old bones like my own bed."

As the three of us headed for the Jeep, Jason said, "Wesley, mind driving?" Wesley grinned as Jason climbed in the back seat and patted the seat beside himself. He didn't have to remind me I had been pretty busy lately and that he missed me. I had missed him.

It was about 5:45 when we arrived at Wes's place. The others were already there. Tom had picked them up in his family's 4x4 SUV. Cody was sitting on the porch, looking a bit lost. Seems Jonathan had asked Wes if he could join in the sweat and Wes had agreed.

As soon as we had greeted everyone, Wes said, "We'll have supper in a few minutes. That will be the last food we have until after the sweat. Matt and Luke are at the sweat lodge preparing themselves. We'll join them after we eat."

Inside, Wes served large bowls of some kind of stew with plenty of corn bread and a green salad. The salad had a lot of leaves I didn't recognize, with an unfamiliar--but great--taste. We had some sort of tea to drink--I couldn't identify it--which was very refreshing. When we had finished with the stew, Wes passed around something which looked very strange--it had some kind of berries crushed together with what I thought might be cornmeal and fat of some kind. As I said, I didn't know what it was and didn't ask. It wasn't bad, but you know how teens generally react to strange food and this was definitely strange. When we finished and had washed up the dishes, we went outside. Wes pointed to a large water jug and said, "Fill your water bottles from the jug," which we did.

We all gathered up our gym and sleeping bags and piled in the tractor's trailer and headed for the river. When we reached the falls, Matt and Luke were waiting for us, dressed in beautiful Indian clothes. After we had greeted the medicine men, Matt asked, "Ready for a hike?" We all said we were and got our things and headed for the sweat lodge.

When we reached it, Wes said, "Get the ground covers ready and we'll start preparing for the sweat. Beth, I brought along a pop-up tent. You can sleep in it if you like." In spite of the fact that we had a whole valley, we laid the two ground covers close together.

When we were sawing the oak logs into lengths for the fire, Wes had us cut some stool height. We had arranged them in a circle around a small fire pit, one for a campfire. The campfire was burning brightly when we arrived at the lodge and as soon as the ground covers were in place, Luke called out "Gather 'round, my children, time for bedtime stories."

Beth grabbed up her sleeping bag, folded it into a cushion and sat on one of the upended logs. The rest of us followed suit. When we were settled, Luke said, "I don't know how much you know about sweats or how much you need to know. We could be all night if Matt, Wes and I tried to explain all about one and still not have you know it all. I don't know it all. I will tell you how the Lakota got the Inipi, their word for sweat lodge."

"Now I don't know if it happened this way or not, but the story is true. It seems long ago, very long ago, a woman and her five brothers lived in a hidden valley. They didn't know how they got there, where they came from, but there they were. The People had not yet learned to make things out of flint, so their weapons were made out of wood and bone. Every day, one of the brothers went out hunting and the sister cooked the meat he brought home."

"One day the eldest brother went out to hunt and when night came, he did not come back. The next day the second brother went out, and at night he didn't come back. When the third brother told his sister he was going out hunting and looking for his brothers, she begged him not to go, but he went anyway. On the fourth day, the fourth brother said, 'I am going looking for my brothers and to get meat.' Again his sister asked him not to go but he did and he, too, vanished."

"On the fifth day, the last brother said, 'I must go to get meat and to find our brothers.'"

"'You cannot go,' his sister said. 'If you go, you too will vanish and what will become of me?'"

"The brother said to her, 'If I do not go, we will die because we have no meat.' With those words, he left. When night came, he, as his brothers, did not return."

"'What will I do?' the sister cried. 'I have no meat and I cannot get meat. I cannot find food for myself.' Suddenly she saw a shiny round rock at her feet. 'This will kill me,' she said, as she picked up the rock and swallowed it. After she swallowed the rock, she went to the brook and drank the cold water there. As she drank, she felt the rock inside her begin to move and her belly started growing bigger."

"Four days later, she felt a pain inside, which grew stronger. She thought she was dying, but instead she gave birth to a boy. Since she knew he came from the rock she swallowed, she named him Inyan Holshi, Stone Boy."

"His mother realized Inyan Holshi was not like his uncles and had strange powers. In only four times four days, he was a grown young man--very handsome. One day his mother discovered him chipping flint, making stone arrowheads for the arrows he had fashioned. 'Who taught Inyan Holshi to chip flint?' she asked herself, but did not know the answer to her question."

"One day Inyan Holshi told his mother he was going hunting, but she begged him not to go and told him about her five brothers and how they had disappeared. 'I must go for meat,' he replied, 'and to find my uncles. I would like to meet them.' His mother started weeping and begged him not to go. 'Don't go! You will disappear and I will be left alone again. Stay,' his mother wept and pleaded with him, but he went anyway."

"He walked for four days, seeing no-one and finding no game. He was very hungry when he happened upon an old, dirty, ragged tipi. Sitting before it was an ugly old hag. As the handsome young man approached, she croaked, 'Come inside, Handsome Man, I have good meat cooking and you look hungry.'"

"Of course Inyan Holshi was very hungry and he went inside the tipi with the old hag. Sure enough, in the center of the tipi was a fire and on it were red-hot rocks and on the rocks was meat roasting. It smelled so good and Inyan Holshi was so hungry, he was ready to grab a chunk of the half-cooked meat and eat it, but he restrained himself."

"As he sat, watching the meat, the stones whispered to him, telling him the old woman was a witch and was planning on poisoning him. 'We tell you because you are one of us,' the stones said."

"When the meat was done, the old woman took a sharp stick and took pieces of meat from the rocks and put them in two bowls and handed one to Inyan Holshi. When the old woman turned back to the fire, Stone Boy switched bowls and when the old woman ate a piece of meat, she fell over dead."

"Inyan Holshi ate the meat which the witch had prepared for herself and when he finished, he looked around the tipi. When he did, he saw five large bundles leaning against the lodge poles. When he opened one of the bundles, he saw a dried-up body. 'This must be one of my uncles,' Inyan Holshi said. He then opened the other bundles and found a dried-up body in each. 'I have found my uncles,' Inyan Holshi said to himself. 'The old witch poisoned them.'"

"As he was looking at the bodies, the hot rocks spoke again. They told him to build a lodge out of willow saplings covered with the old witch's buffalo hides. 'Put your uncles in the lodge. Then dig a pit in the center and place us in it, then take the witch's water bag and pour water on us,' the red-hot rocks said."

"Inyan Holshi did as the red-hot rocks said and when he had everything ready, he closed the sweat lodge and poured water on the hot rocks. As he did, his uncles seemed to come alive. When he poured water on the rocks the second time, the bodies began to move and stir. He poured water on the rocks yet another time and his uncles began to sing sacred songs."

"When Inyan Holshi poured water on the stones the fourth time, the five uncles crawled out of the lodge and danced and laughed with joy. Now I don't know if it happened that way or not," Luke said, "but the story is true."

I noticed Luke was not laughing, not even smiling.

"Well, that's one story. The other is that Ptesan Win--White Buffalo Calf Woman--gave the Lakota the Inipi," Matt said. "Wounded Hawk, a medicine man who taught me and Luke much, says he thinks Inyan Holshi probably did the first, somewhat crude, Inipi, but it was Ptesan Win who taught us to do it properly, according to the correct ritual. We'll be doing the sweat according to a long-established ritual given to us by White Buffalo Calf Woman. To tell you something about that, you need to know about the four. Four is very important to the Lakota and I guess all Indians, huh Wes?" Wes nodded and Matt continued.

"As you know, of course, there are four cardinal directions: North, South, East and West. Each of the compass points is represented by a color: west black, north white, east red, south yellow. The compass points are also known as the four powers and are called upon in the sweat lodge. There are two other powers, Mother Earth and Grandfather Sky."

"There are four endurances in the sweat and each has a particular focus. The first is the endurance of the west, the black endurance. It is in the west that the spirit beings live, so the first endurance is a time to ask the Almighty, the Great Mystery, for a spirit guide. For some the guide seems to be just for the sweat, for others the spirit guide sent becomes their permanent spirit guide."

"Do you and Matt have a spirit guide?" Jonathan asked. "Well," I could see Jonathan blushing in the firelight, "of course you do."

"Right, sure we do," Matt answered, "but ours were given during a vision quest."

"Can you tell what they are?" Cody asked.

"We are named for them," Matt answered. "Mine is similar to my regular last name, a silver wolf."

"And mine is a fire thunderbird," Luke said. "Maybe we'll talk more about spirit guides and vision quests after the sweat."

"The second endurance is the endurance of the north, of cleanliness, purity and strength," Matt said. "It's a time to consider courage and honesty. A part of that is honesty with yourself. It's a time to seek power and courage to overcome the bad things in the world. It's a time for introspection and contemplation."

"We'll remind everyone tomorrow, but we need to tell you now in case you have qualms tonight. The inside of the sweat lodge will be dark, very dark. The only light will come from the red-hot stones. It will also be close, especially when the steam really builds up. In case you feel you cannot stay, just get up and leave quietly. No-one will think less of you for doing so," Luke said.

"During the second endurance," Matt continued, "I'll pass out sage. Our good friend Taequo sees that we have sage, not enough to cover the floor of the sweat lodge, unfortunately, but enough for burning and using in sweats. You may just hold it or chew on it."

"I'd urge you to at least try chewing on it," Wes said. "It's to help overcome the bad things in the world."

"Sure," Luke said. "Try chewing on a bit of it and if you don't want to chew more, don't."

"The third endurance, the endurance of the east, the red endurance," Matt continued, "is a time of prayer. Pray for yourself, for your loved ones, for the whole world. I'll do an opening call for prayer and then individuals may pray."

"Do we have to pray?" Cody asked. "I don't know how."

"You don't have to," Luke answered. "You don't HAVE to do anything, you are a free human being. But I think if you want to pray, you'll find you can."

"As I said, I'll start the prayers and from me, prayers will move clockwise. As each person finishes, I like to have that signified by the person using a Lakota phrase 'Ho. Hetch etu aloh--It is so, indeed.' If you forget or rather not say it, a plain old 'amen' will do," Matt said. Then he continued, "The fourth and final endurance, the endurance of the south, the yellow endurance, is for healing and growth. Again, individuals are free to pray for particular healing."

"When the sweat is over, we'll smoke the pipe, and..." Luke started to speak.

"Do we have to smoke?" Tom asked. "The one time I tried smoking I got sick as a dog."

"Oh," Luke said, "smoking the pipe is not like smoking a cigarette. You just take a puff in your mouth and blow it out, mixing your breath with that of Wakan Tankan, the Great Spirit--not enough to make you sick. Guess we'll need to talk about the pipe later, as well as the vision quest. Kinda rough trying to explain all the Indian ways at once. Anyway, when we finish with the pipe, Matt, Wes, Stone and I will jump in the river. It's a great way to end a sweat but, again, you don't have to. We'll get dressed and if everything is according to plan, there just might be a feast waiting for us."

Matt stood, stretched and said, "Enough for a while, Fire Thunderbird. We have all of tomorrow. I'm ready for bed."

"Still suffering jet lag?" Tim asked.

"Some, I'm sure, but also it's been a long and great day. Add to that the fact that old Bushyhead talked our ears off last night. We finally got to bed about 2:00, I think."

"There is trench latrine over in that direction," Wes said, "for those who need it. If you only need to piss, find a bush away from the fire. Beth, I have a flashlight if you need the john."

"Oh, probably not necessary to say it, but no sex until after the sweat," Luke said. When he did, Matt groaned and then laughed as Luke grabbed him and smacked his butt.

We all headed off in different directions and after taking care of the calls of nature, couples drifted back to the fire and sat, talking quietly for a few minutes before Wes announced we would be getting up well before dawn to greet the sun. "So I am heading for my sleeping bag."

I noticed Matt and Luke had zipped their sleeping bags together and I grabbed Jason's as he was spreading it out, and when he saw ours could be zipped together, he got a big smile on his face. I noticed others had discovered the medicine man trick and soon Tim and Stone, Hank and Beth were in their bags together. When I saw that, I remembered Wes saying the he had no-one to share his beautiful home with. That reminded me that Tom's lover had been killed, Wesley's had used him and turned out to be much less than a lover--just a sex partner, and Cody and Jonathan were... well, I still didn't know about them. I did think it strange that Jonathan had wanted Cody to be part of the sweat and that Cody had agreed. I thought it even stranger that the two had also zipped their sleeping bags together.

Jason and I were soon lying on our backs, our hands under our heads, watching the stars through the leaves of the great tulip poplar under which we were lying. "Me be loving you," Jason whispered.

"Me be loving you too," I whispered back. Only minutes later I was in dreamland, dreaming of something hidden in darkness, something not at all frightening, yet it was.

I was still asleep, dreaming of a drum, when Jason kissed me awake. Turned out the drum I had been dreaming about was real. Wes was playing a small hand drum, waking everyone.

After we all took care of the morning calls of nature and washed our faces in the river, Wes said, "Beth, if you'll look the other way, I want these men to get properly dressed. As a matter of fact, I would appreciate it if, while we are getting dressed, you would refill all the water bottles from that jug over there."

When Beth left to do that, Wes said, "I have breech cloths for you. Strip, and Matt will show you how to wear one." He handed each of us a soft leather strip, I guess about eight inches wide and four feet long. A second strip was maybe three inches wide and four feet long. Matt and Luke removed their leggings and we could see a narrow strip tied around their waist and a wide strip passed between their legs with the ends pulled under the narrow strip, forming a pouch. With a crowd of gay men you'd think we'd all be busy checking each other out, but I guess we were too absorbed in what the day was about, because it didn't happen.

After all had on a breech cloth and had gotten everything adjusted, Wes said, "Ok, put your wind suits back on. It's pretty chilly in just a breech cloth." We got back in our wind suits and went to where Beth was waiting with full water bottles. Wes said, "We are going to take a little hike to the top of that peak over there--well, since the trees have leafed out you can't see it from here--anyway, we're going to greet the sun. Actually, Beth, we are going to run. If you think you can handle that, you are welcome to come with us. If not, wait here."

Clearly, Wes didn't know Beth. She had been a runner since late grade school and ran cross country for Coldsprings, usually placing first.

"Let's go," Wes said, leading off.

The peak was about a mile away and I thought all of us were in good enough shape to take it in stride, but I guess I neglected to take into consideration how steep the trail was. Wes stopped before we got to the top and when we all caught up with him and Beth, we were breathing hard--panting even--but we made it. "Hank, I tell you, you have got a fast woman."

"He's not got me yet," Beth laughed. "He hasn't been able to catch me!"

We had taken our jackets off on the way up and Wes told us to put them back on and cool down gradually. We jogged in place, stretched, and gradually our breathing became normal again.

We were all drinking from the water bottles Beth had refilled. As I drank, I felt as though something was flowing throughout my body, tingling, making me feel really alive.

After we had cooled down, Wes said, "Shuck down to breech cloths." Beth stripped down to running shorts and halter. When we were ready, Wes led the way to the top of the peak. We walked out on a rock ledge at least two hundred feet above the trees below. The view was spectacular, even though sunrise was still some time off.

We all stood at the edge of the ledge--someone with a problem with heights would have had a dozen anxiety attacks--facing the east as the first faint light announced the pending sunrise. Luke and Matt were standing on the very edge of the ledge and the rest of us were back a couple feet. As a rosy finger seemed to shoot across the sky, the two medicine men lifted their arms and started chanting in a language I did not know.

No-one had to tell us to lift our arms; it seemed the perfectly natural and only thing to do. As we raised our arms to the rising sun, Matt and Luke continued their chanting. Then I realized I understood their chanting! No, I didn't understand the words, but that didn't matter. I understood their chant. It was speaking to every fiber of my being.

When the sun cleared the horizon, we stood, our arms still extended, for several minutes, then the medicine men turned to us. For the first time I realized I was chilly, and was glad when Matt said, "Get your pants and jackets on before you get chilled."

As we walked back to sweat lodge, Matt and Luke talked about being at one with the earth, living in harmony with the universe. "About half of the year I am traveling, gone for a couple weeks at a time if I'm in the US, a month at a time if I leave the country. I'm running from concert to concert. It's hard to maintain a balance in your life when you live in a world that is all rush, rush, rush. After college, when I was getting myself established, I thought I could put things like greeting the sun aside. Then, one day, I realized I had put aside that and much more."

He was walking with his arm about Luke's waist. He pulled Luke to himself as he said, "I was neglecting Luke as well. My music was becoming work and not pleasure. Luke saw what was happening and finally called my agent and told him I was taking six weeks off. We went to Wounded Hawk, a medicine man, and spent four weeks getting ourselves back in harmony--with ourselves, each other and Mother Earth. Now we both watch to make sure we are not slipping into disharmony."

"End of sermon," Luke laughed and kissed the top of Matt's head.

On the way back, the couples were all walking arm-in-arm, talking quietly. Ahead of me and Jason were Jonathan and Cody, also arm-in-arm. As Jason slipped his arm about my waist he said, "I tell you, I just don't understand those two."

When we reached the sweat lodge, Matt said, "We'll start the fire and then talk more about what we're doing, but refill your water bottles first. You need to make sure you are drinking plenty of water."

When we had refilled our water bottles--most of us had just about emptied ours on the trip back from greeting the sun--Wes went to the fire pit, removed the tarp covering it and said, "If a couple of you guys will pass me the rocks, I'll place them." Wes had Matt and Luke supervising as he placed the rocks. It took half an hour to get them placed to their satisfaction.

When the stones were in place, he added several more layers of wood then took flint and steel from his pocket and started striking sparks. He directed the sparks to a small pile of dry material and it soon started smoldering, then burst into flames when he blew on it gently. He started several long, thin pieces of fat pine burning from the flames and used them to ignite the fat pine at the bottom of the fire pit. In a matter of minutes, the fire was burning well, extremely well!

While the stones were being laid and the fire started, Jonathan, Tom and Cody had built up the campfire which had been allowed to burn down during the night. Both fires going, we all gathered around the campfire.

When we had done so, Matt said, "Lone Eagle, speak of plants."

Wes said, "There are three plants we will be using today: cedar, sweet grass and sage. Lakota have access to all the sage they could ever want, we don't--well, not the sacred sage of the Lakota anyway. Same with sweet grass. But Matt told me of other sages to use. A few years ago I decided there was no reason I couldn't grow my own. Some told me only cooking sage would grow here and that sweet grass never would. Well, it's taken a while, but I have grown sweet grass and found a sage that will also grow here."

"We'll be doing a smudging ceremony to begin our purification and to purify the lodge using sage and sweet grass for that--both dried and tied into bundles. We'll also use cedar chips. Dried sage is used for both smudging and later chewing, but this time I have enough sage to put on the floor of the sweat lodge since I now have a decent sage patch. As I said, I have no trouble getting sweet grass to grow and, of course, we have eastern cedar. I have some dried and bundled sage a friend of Matt and Luke's sent me--Taequo's his name--for chewing. I brought some I gathered last year from my own patch, but we'll gather some fresh sage to add to it for the floor."

When we were ready to go gather sage, Beth stayed behind to be instructed by Matt and Luke. Tom, Jonathan and Cody stayed behind also, to care for the fires, and the rest of us went with Wes to gather sage.

The sage patch was some distance from the lodge and much larger than I expected. The plants had just put out new leaves, so gathering enough for the lodge took a while.

When we got back, those who stayed behind had just finished covering the lodge with the blankets and old quilts we brought last week. After spreading the sage on the floor of the lodge, it was mid-morning and the lodge was ready and the rocks were heating.

When we had all finished, Matt laughed, "Drag up a chair and sit." Once we were seated again, Matt asked, "Any questions?" and laughed as just about everyone stuck a hand in the air.

Finally Wes said, "Ok, I guess I need to direct traffic. What's your question, Jonathan?"

"I've been wondering about this pipe smoking. Tom said he got sick when he tried smoking and I sure don't want to be sick again."

"Guess most people your age have already tried smoking," Luke said. "You all heard of a peace pipe?" We all nodded. "Well, a pipe is a peace pipe from how it is used, not the pipe itself. It was given to the Lakota by White Buffalo Calf Woman and therein lies a story."

"I don't know if it happened this way or not, but I know the story is true," Matt began.


Fire Lame Deer, Archie and Richard Erdoes. Gift of Power: The Life and Teachings of a Lakota Medicine Man. Santa Fe: Bear & Company Publishing, 1992.

McGaa, Edd, Eagle Man. Mother Earth Spirituality: Native American paths to Healing Ourselves and Our World. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1990.

Powell, Peter J. Sweet Medicine, 2 vol. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1969.Storm, Hyemeyohsts. Seven Arrows. New York: Ballantine Books, 1972.