This Little Nipple
Went to an Indian Sweat Lodge
By Teenie Weenie Deanie
I had been anticipating the sweat lodge for
quite a few months. Dale had asked me sometime in
the fall if I wanted to travel with him the next
time he visited Raymond, a Shoshone medicine man
who lived somewhere in Wyoming. Sure, I had replied
. . . I mean, the way Dale talked about this guy
made it sound too good to pass up; 'Probably a
stronger power than don Juan,' the now famous
I had read the books about don Juan, had
experimented with some of the same drugs he used in
his rituals, and was familiar with much of his
symbology, through direct experience. But I had
never met anyone who had those kinds of powers. I
was really eager to make the trip.
'Maybe I'll be changed into a swallow . . . 'A
typical cynical response. Dale talks about the
eagle who appears during the sweat. Sure, man, an
eagle. But of course I don't completely doubt him.
Maybe, who knows. Dale tells me later than I am the
first friend of his who has accepted his offer to
go there. Too much hocus pocus for the average
john. (I am, of course, a most different
For the next few months I kept bringing up the
subject of the sweat lodge to Dale, and he always
said that it would happen real soon. But I was
ready to go every time I asked. I didn't quite
realize just how serious Dale was about this place
and this Indian man, that he wasn't up to making
the trip until there was some real reason to
My fantasies were growing larger all the time, the
image of this terribly hot sweat lodge where one
had to give up oneself to the heat or cry to be let
out, where a great medicine man could read my mind
and heal my soul. Where the great spirits of the
American. lindens lived and breathed as humans . .
. and on and on. 'Let's go, man!'
We flew from San Francisco to Salt Lake, where we
were going to meet Eric Short, a Cree Indian from
Canada, who would take us to the sweat lodge 'under
his own pipe.' Eric is a young ex-alcoholic working
with Indian drinking problems, and an up-and-coming
medicine man in his own right. He works with Dale,
and had set up the trip to Wyoming. Jerry, another
co-worker with Dale, had decided to come also, so
there were four of us climbing into the rented car
to make the 350-mile drive to Raymond's place.
It was obvious to me that there were four different
people making this trip . . . Dale was wound up
with his problems, very quiet and sort of removed;
and Jerry seemed also to be on his very own trip.
Between the four of us, not much happened on the
way there. A cold beginning, I kept thinking.
What exactly am I doing here? I really don't know
these people, and maybe I made a big mistake coming
on their trip. But those kinds of thoughts weren't
coming too often to bug me. I was ready for
whatever, and just hoped it wasn't going to be more
than I could handle . . . I was pretty sure that
there wouldn't be much support from my companions
if I needed it, we were all too strongly on our own
trips to be of much help to anyone else.
Very late that night we rented a motel a few miles
from the place, in one of those western towns were
everyone is drunk on the streets after 10 p.m. The
kids were cruising the main street, flashing the
'V' sign, and the cops were busy busting a loud
tavern full of Indians.
Where we are going is actually on the Indian
reservation, but this town is not, and it is here
that the white man still puts his funny trips on
the Indians . . . buy this, drink this, need
I was not feeling in the best of spirits when I
went to sleep that evening, especially after a long
talk with Eric: A total complete male chauvinist
pig; 'All I really want is coffee when I get up and
my shirt to be ironed. If I can't get that, I look
for a new chick.' Wait a minute, I said to myself,
is this man going to be a holy man for his fellow
He can hardly see anything of just about everything
I consider to be most holy . . . freedom,
individual rights, and an end to the 'Mr. Clean'
era of freshly-ironed minds. 'Let's be natural' is
my motto . . . and I had always thought that the
Indians were the essence of Mr. Natural. What is
going on here? My cynical paranoia, always passing
The morning found us all more relaxed, getting'
excited about the coming sweat. We hung around town
until early afternoon, buying lots of food at the
local Safeway for a big feast that evening . . . we
bring the vitals and they provide the fixing.
It was clouding up and threatened snow. A very
strange town, cowboys and Indians, new Ford pickups
and Marlboro smokes. Real Men. And me, one of those
long-hair fairy pinkos from out of state. I was
really feeling like an uptown hipster by the time
we left for Raymond's farm. These people were so
poor, and lived in such terrible houses.
And the drive into the reservation didn't get much
better. New Fords for driving down Main Street, and
lowly shacks to keep out the Winter cold. And it
was really getting cold. The road turned from
blacktop to gravel, and then to dirt and mud. Ahead
was a small house, two trailers, some funky shacks
and a camper that fit the back of the pickup . . .
this was Raymond's place . . . and there was the
brand new Ford pickup.
'Oh boy,' I thought, 'are we in for it.'
But no one else seemed to feel my uneasiness, and
we walked into the house totally unannounced.
Through a functional kitchen and into a small
living room with a giant color television blaring
out some football weirdness to some very
funky-looking people. A toothless man with one of
those gray mechanic hats and hip very toothless
wife, I supposed, sitting together glued to the TV.
Sure enough, Raymond and his wife.
This was even more than I had hoped for. Here was
Mr. Funky and his fat wife . . . and then the kids
started coming though, and I had to stand up and
shake hands with each one, so formal and tense, so
unlike I had imagined this 'don Juan' to be. I
really wasn't quite sure what I had imagined, but
it wasn't this . . . and his children. so many of
them for such a small house. And the pictures of
the high-school graduations on the walls. I somehow
felt like this man had completely copped out to the
forces of his white conquerors. But not for
Never had I seen a man so gentle with his children,
yet so firm. And such a warm smile. In fact, he
always had on a smile. In fact, he was always
laughing. And so was his wife. She soon became one
of the warmest people I had ever met. She had 14
children, and 11 grandchildren, many adopted, and
all from different Indian nations. She had a child
from just about every tribe I had heard of, and
they quickly accepted me into their company and had
me outside playing basketball in the snow.
I was starting to get high, from such open
Inside, we had met four of Raymond's daughters,
very plain-looking women starting to put on weight,
all in their teens and twenties, full of giggles
and very shy. Soon they were out playing basketball
too, and we were really moving that ball around.
Everyone was so friendly (the best word I can think
of) and really into playing.
Raymond came out and walked over to a funny-looking
tent affair not too far from the house . . . this
was the sweat lodge, about 12 feet in diameter, and
about 4 feet high, covered with old tarps and
tents, very funky, very fitting with the rest of
Raymond started chopping wood and building a big
fire at one end of the lodge. I started taking
pictures of everything, and he couldn't believe it,
that someone would want to take his photo. But he
told me not to take any of the lodge; it wasn't
allowed. My firs hit of a mystical presence.
Pretty soon he piled large pieces of volcanic rock
on the fire, and more wood on top of them, and we
all stood around the fire trying to keep warm. I
understood why they played such vigorous
basketball, just to keep warm. Looking around the
horizon, it sure was beautiful, open land for as
far as you could see, horses turned against the
cold wind and snow off in the distance.
I started to realize that this was the traditional
homeland for these people for centuries. It was
their land, always had been. I was a visitor from
the United States. They were real goddamned
Indians, and they weren't drunk like most of the
ones I had contact with before. And they were
really honestly friendly, not trying to hustle me
for a quarter for more wine, and they were having
me as a guest at their very important ritual, the
The sweat: It is the purifier, the medium which
brings the four elements of the universe - earth,
air, fire and water -together so that we can pray
for help from these forces, can pay our respects to
them all at once. I was really beginning to feel
something very large happening here.
Soon some of the teenaged boys came running through
the snow in swimming suits, and stood by the fire
to keep warm. It was almost time for the sweat to
begin. On the way to change into our suits, we
three white men from the West Coast stopped
individually to spend a moment with Raymond, to try
and tell him why we had come to the sweat, what we
wanted from the spirits of the sweat.
I told him that I wanted my heart to be opened, for
a better understanding of my heart and its power
with my mind. He no longer looked like the
ex-alcoholic toothless funny old man. When I spoke
to him I was speaking to an ageless spirit, his
eyes were so deep and his feeling so real, no
joking around, a serious moment for both of us.
That finished, we hurried to a small cabin to
undress and then ran through the icy wind and snow
back to the fire. And we waited for quite some
time, a bunch of almost naked men and boys around a
fire, laughing and joking and really feeling good.
I really felt good. And I kept saying to myself, 'I
am getting high, brother.' And Dale and Jerry and I
were starting to feel closer, to share longer
moments of eye contact, and a knowing smile that
all was so nice.
Soon Raymond came, and we followed him into the
lodge; I had to squat down to walk around in it to
the spot Raymond pointed out for me, around a deep
pit in the center, I guessed, for the hot rocks.
The inside of this place blew my mind. It was
beautiful, willow branches woven into a frame,
beautiful material covering it, and various little
sacks and pieces of leather hanging from the
Soon the men and boys were in, and it was only half
filled. The young kids were laughing at us, telling
us how hot it was going to get. 'You must be crazy
to come to such a hot place,' Raymond piped in,
starting to laugh again. Soon all the women and
their babies started to come in, and it filled
I was sitting across from those daughters, and
somehow they looked different to me. I realized
that I was just being much more accepting of them,
that I was no longer looking just at the physical,
and was beginning to feel the real person inside
the body. They were very real ladies, and it felt
good to have them sitting with us.
Raymond's wife spoke to us about the sweat, what to
do if it got too hot, and how to use the stalks of
sage we had picked up on the way in. Someone
brought the rocks in, and I was ready. I couldn't
imagine how hot they were talking about, I had been
in many saunas before, but I wrapped my bare
shoulders in a towel just in case, to keep off the
steam. The flaps were closed, just as she was
telling us that if it got too hot, start to pray
for everyone in the lodge.
We were packed in like sardines, the walls of the
lodge up against our backs, the fire pit about a
foot in front. Total darkness, very quiet; I could
hear some water being thrown on the rocks
'Hiisssssss . . . 'and soon the heat began. The
steam rose from the rocks, and flowed across the
roof of the lodge and down the backs of the
participants . . . it was hot, but it felt
Suddenly there was a high-pitched voice penetrating
the darkness, one of the sons was singing 'Hey Hey
Yeh Yeh Hey. . .'and soon some of the women were
joining in, and pretty soon I was singing some
Hindu prayer I knew. The singing took my mind off
More water, more steam, hard to breathe. Louder
singing, such sweet sounds. Suck harmony I had
never heard before.
And more water, sounded like a whole bucket, and
for a moment the heat was too hot to bear. But just
at that moment Raymond yelled something in his
Indian language, and the flaps were thrown open, at
both ends, and the cool air from the outside rushed
through the lodge. I was sweating profusely, and so
were Jerry and Dale, sitting to my right, Eric to
my left was just smiling, and I realized that I was
too, grinning ear to ear.
Everyone was smiling, and there hadn't been one
sound of displeasure from any of the infants
wrapped up in the arms of the women. I felt
incredible, the sweats were supposed to last for
four minutes, with a four-minute break, for four
times. But time seemed to stop, it was not
important. Soon the flaps were closed again.
More water, more heat, and such beautiful singing.
I was praying for Raymond and his wife, and their
beautiful children, and my friends, and the shrill
whistle that penetrated the air didn't seem unusual
with all the singing. This time the final bucket of
water was so hot that I fell forward to find cooler
air to breathe; just as I was falling the flaps
were again thrown open. Such relief, such perfect
timing . . . Raymond, you are too much.
This time as I gazed with a broad smile across at
the women, I saw such beauty in womanhood sitting
in front of me as I had never seen before. Here,
sitting with me, seemed to be the ideal image of a
woman, full of such peace and countenance, warm
dark eyes full of earth, and it almost seemed that
these ladies were growing right out of the earth. I
was completely overcome with such a love for these
people, my body was filled with their spirit.
Raymond prepared a large pipe with tobacco, smoked
some and then passed it around to each participant.
It was a small ritual, but it strengthened the bond
between all of us; we were all sharing the same
pipe, the same space. Then darkness, the flaps were
The third sweat was totally timeless. It could have
lasted for hours, I was so high and praying like I
had never prayed before. I was laughing and
singing, yelling, trying to harmonize with the
Indian songs, never quite making it, but it didn't
matter. Even the heat was singing, and the lodge
was filled with the sound of people slapping
themselves . . . Raymond's wife had said earlier
that if it got too hot, just slap where it was hot.
I tried it, and the heat seemed to get worse. Must
be something the Indians know how to do that I
I was spinning in joy when the flaps were opened
for the third time. The women came from the
universe, and their children, their children were
the most beautiful I had ever seen, so light, so
joyful. Raymond turned to us and said that the
spirit had spoken to him, and had told him that all
of our prayers would definitely be answered, if
only we would be good. We felt so good, the spirit
had come, everyone was so happy.
It was only much later that someone told me the
spirit had entered during the second sweat, and
that he had blown his own loud whistle upon
entering. The whistle . . . no one in the lodge had
a whistle, who could have blown it? I know now that
it was the spirit.
Darkness again, for the last sweat. I started to
sing, but soon realized that I was being drawn to
chant a mantra I had learned from the Maharishi
Mahesh, one that I had used daily for over six
years. I was going into deep meditation,
transcending the heat and the darkness.
There was a strange noise to my left, the sound of
a bird flapping its wings, and just then I felt the
wing of a large bird rub up against my mouth and
around my face. 'Far out,' I said, 'I just got
rubbed by a bird . . . ' And then it flew on to my
right. More chanting of my mantra, more heat, more
incredible singing, such a sound, I could hardly
believe it was really human.
Then I thought to myself, wait a minute, what is a
bird doing in this place? How did it get in? It
wasn't possible for anyone to be running around
inside, there just wasn't enough room. And before I
knew it, the flaps were opened for the last time. I
turned to Jerry, who was next to me on my right. He
was wiping the weirdest-looking stuff off of his
forehead, almost looked like the stuff you blow out
of your nose. But coming from his forehead. And his
forehead had a bright red line running across
Everyone was so high, hard to believe. Slowly we
filed out of the lodge, to the left of a mound of
dirt at the opening with an animal's skull sitting
on top, everyone laughing and oblivious to the
falling snow. Dale, Jerry, Eric and I walked slowly
the 200 yard to the cabin, the snow melting as it
hit our skin.
As we dressed I asked Dale if he felt a bird flying
around in the lodge, and he laughed at me. 'Man,
that was an eagle.' I told him how the bird had
rubbed up against my mouth. 'Maybe he was telling
you something old buddy.' More laughter by
everyone. and I said, 'Maybe I use my mouth too
much.' I spoke the truth.
Dale said that the eagle had stopped in front of
him and had blown cool air into his face. And once
before the bird had only appeared to Raymond's
wife, and he had heard her praying and thanking the
spirit for visiting her. By the time we were
dressed we were in that blissful place so desired
yet so seldom experienced during life, and we all
knew it. We marveled at how high we felt, how
beautiful everything was, and on and on.
Back inside Raymond's house a giant banquet was
waiting lot us, fried chicken, roast beef and all
the goodies we had brought from town. What a feast,
the whole family sitting together at the table.
Clyde, the 10-year-old, finished first, and sprang
up to a chalk board behind the table. He wrote
'Love is happiness. Some bring it by coming and
some bring it by leaving.' And then lie laughed,
having put in his two-cents-worth.
We literally floated through dinner, agreed that we
felt good enough to try and make the drive back to
Salt Lake, said many, goodbyes to these warm
people, and set off from this Indian household late
at night, in a driving snowstorm, for the trip
Eric drove us through and over a most incredible
snow-covered road. In fact, there was no road to
see, and the falling snow seemed like strobe lights
hitting the windshield. We passed over an h000-foot
pass, totally dangerous, without a hitch . . . we
all knew that nothing could go wrong. We had the
power, whatever it wat .
Back to Salt Lake for a few hours of sleep, and
then we caught an early morning plane to San
Francisco. Into a car and on the freeway to our
homes in Santa Cruz . . . Man, I had sat with an
eagle. We had all sat with an eagle, and we knew
it, and what does it mean? I hope to sit with an