Lessons & Ceremonies of the Inipi (1)
By Ghost Dancer
Inipi – Breath of Spirit
Some people have heard of a Native American sweat lodge but have little understanding of what they’re all about. A few may even have experienced the sweat lodge, but still have many misconceptions or concerns. While the traditional sweat lodge originated with the plains tribes, over the years, the practice has been adopted by Native peoples of all nations. While the customs and practices my vary, overall the spiritual depth of meaning and purpose is universal. My sincere hope is to help people of different faiths come to understand the sacred beauty of our Native American religious practices.
I have participated and even conducted traditional ceremonies for decades, but I do not claim to be an expert and I know no one who is an expert! Why? Well first, each experience is different, each time you can learn something new, get a better understanding or even a new understanding of some idea or teaching! Each time you come out of an Inipi ceremony, you should be as a child again and begin to see things as a child and learn as a child and experience again as a child.
In Christianity when a person is reborn, they are a new babe, and have been washed clean. Correct? Well it is like that in the Inipi as well. We go in grown up thinking we know this or that, have these burdens on us, unclean, polluted with negative energies, thoughts, bodies etc. We come out purified, clean, reborn, and beginning all over again to learn as a child. We have to crawl before we can walk!
We only worship the Creator! We give respect to the forces of the elements which are created by the Creator and are, therefore, part of the Creator.
Now, many people think we worship different entities! Wrong.
We respect the sun for the blessing of light and warmth it brings to all life which was created by the Creator. We respect the forces of the four directions which the Creator made and empowered. See, everything the Creator made has been given power too, not just us. Everything! Now since we are all created by the same, therefore we all are related, and are all connected to each other and everything! This is where the term, “all my relations” comes from.
Now, without going into great detail, keeping this in your mind, let’s enter and explore the Inipi – “Breath of Spirit.”
Remember building the lodge is a sacred act; the lodge is built in love for it symbolizes our Mother Earth who truly loves us, and the Inipi represents our mother’s womb. It is everything in the universe, all that has ever existed, all in existence, and all that ever will be.
We come as a child, an empty vessel, because a full cup cannot receive. If the cup is empty, then it can be filled with the water, knowledge, love, and everything of life! We are here to learn from Spirit.
Four Doors of the Inipi
The Inipi ceremony is conducted by a knowledgeable leader with the help of assistants. The ceremony consists of four separate and unique parts, called doors:
Door 1 – The first door is for purification. Prayers are sung for calling and inviting the spirits to come in, calling the four directions to come in. This door is the time for thinking about what you want to pray for, getting your heart right with your mind and preparing your own spirit, because YOU must be right before you start to pray for others. You must have a heart of love, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and humbleness, to feel and see all those you are going to be praying for. You will not pray for yourself until the very last door.
Door 2 – The second round of prayer teaches us to love. The direction is the south which represents the color white which represents purity, love, balance, and peace. The door represents the element water and the adolescent stage of life.
Door 3 – The third door is gratitude for all the sacred gifts that are given to us, such as air, water, earth, fire, feathers, medicine bags, rattles, cedar, sage, holly, corn, corn pollen, etc. We also recognize this is the stage of adulthood.
Door 4 – The fourth door of the inipi is for the North and represents the cold, elderly, wisdom, enlightenment, reflection, new goals, etc. This door is when you pray for the things you need in your life. It is for you.
Brothers and sisters who participate in the inipi ceremony come with good intentions, good thoughts, good feelings; we must crawl as a child when we enter. We must be mentally and physically prepared for what we are about to do. What we do is for our families, friends, loved ones, our people. We sing prayers for every living thing in existence, but not for our selves until the very last.
There are many different types of Inipi ceremonies, but generally, they will be conducted something like this. Before the ceremony begins, a chosen number of rocks are heated outside by the fire-keeper. As each round or door begins, the red-hot rocks for that round are passed inside and placed in a depression in the center. Once the door is closed, the conductor will humble him/her self to Spirit and then open with a prayer. The conductor or the helper will pour the water at this time. It is totally dark inside other than the hot glowing rocks. We listen to the rocks, look to see what they may have to show us or tell us.
The water hits these hot rocks creating a cloud of steam, which is close to the breath of Spirit. We breathe this in and cleanse ourselves from the inside out! This heat is so hot that if you are not concentrating on your prayers and thoughts it will burn and may even cause you to panic. Many who do this for the first time panic thinking they can’t breathe, but they can if their mind is focused! If it is too hot, then a person simply puts their head to the ground and asks Mother Earth to help them, to take pity on them. See, when we enter the Inipi, we must humble ourselves; we must know and understand how weak and little we truly are in the order of life.
If we try to be stronger or make ourselves look strong, or try to make others look weak, then we will receive nothing from Spirit or the spirit helpers. Remember we must come as a child, full of wonder, full of love, full of eager wanting to learn, know, understand, and with humbleness. We must be willing to share, to be generous and to help each other. If we see a brother suffering, we try to share his pain and take it from him. Same as we take the pain from those we pray for! Stop and think, this stone, this little rock can make you cry out in pain.
Many of us fast before we go to an Inipi ceremony. We take no food and no water and we stay in constant prayer. This is not easy; we are offering ourselves up to Spirit, giving up our food, our water, our bodies for the answering of our prayers for others. We do this for those who have asked for our prayers, for those who need our prayers, but can’t ask. We pray for all life, yes even those who hate us, torture us, and imprison us.
With each door we sing songs: spirit calling songs, inviting songs for the spirits, elements, animals, birds, plants, etc. We sing songs to ask for help, we sing songs giving thanks and praise. Our songs are prayers. The vibrations of our voices are all natural, we are all natural. This is the Inipi, the womb of Mother Earth. This is where we are safe, at peace, surrounded by love, and all that exists.
Love you all, Ghost
© Ghost Dancer 2014, 2021
Editor’s Note: In the weeks to come Ghost will give us insights and understanding from actual lessons and ceremonies he has given or participated in over the years in the Sacred Lakota Inipi. Links will be found to each one on Ghost’s Home page. epd