Just about every culture has some type of purification ceremony involving the use of steam. Even among First Nations people there are variations in how the lodges are built and facilitated. Some tribes dig underground holes similiar in concept to storm or food cellars. Some peoples use vapor caves and other naturally occuring distributors of steam, some use long houses or other structures made from natural materials. The type of lodge used is a function of the natural environment in which the people live.
[vsw id="4zpOMDAHrGg?fs=1& " source="youtube" width="425" height="344" autoplay="no"]
The type of lodge that I am the most familiar with is that of the plains people, specifically the Lakota people. It is tradtionally called, the Inipi, or “The place where Spirit Breath is made.” These lodges are made from 12 to 16 willow poles and are covered with blankets, sheets, canvas tarps or other breathable material. Stones are heated in a fire pit outside the lodge then carried into the lodge. The faciitator then pours water onto the rocks to create steam.
It generally takes three people to facilitate the lodge. These are: The facilitator, whose job it is to pour water and talk to and interpret for the spirits who enter the lodge, the singer who leads the people through the rounds of songs, and the fire keeper whose job it is to keep the fire alive during the ceremony, carry in the rocks and manage the other materials necessary to complete the ceremony.
Once the rocks are in the lodge, the door, or flap of the lodge is closed and the lodge begins by the facilitator invoking the spirits and powers to come into and bless the lodge. Water is poured on the rocks, the singer begins the songs and the people begin singing spirit calling songs. This time ends when the facilitator calls for the door to be opened.
The period between the opening and closing of the door to the lodge is called a round. There are four rounds in a purification ceremony. Each round is dedicated to a specific energy; for example a specific age group or a specific group of Powers and to a specfic cardinal direction or purpose. The first rounds is always for invoking Spirit. The ceremony ends after all four rounds are completed and the spirits are released.