The Sweatlodge
In memory of Alicja Rozanska,

Uncle Robertjohn Knapp Speaks Out Seneca Ceremonial Leader. I have been running the Sweat since 1975. I was taught by Raymond Stone up in Bishop… Paiute actually…. Big Pine. And I sweated with a lot of elders who offered their two cents. Now I have come to see my own way of seeing. I was taught by one of my elders and I can’t remember which one taught me, but it might have been Pat Chief Stick, one of the kindest people I ever knew when Pat was alive. You have to face your Sweatlodge east (or tepee). What I learned from him was east is preferable, because the Sun rises and we greet the Sun each day. We do our song and prayer then. However, if your lodge is on the edge of a cliff and if you step out the door and go east, you will fall down the cliff, so obviously east is not always the best direction, but maybe the west is near a cliff too, so my point being the energy of the Sun.

That means you could point it at a flower that is the Sun, or you could point it at a rock that’s heated by the Sun; as long as you know what you’re doing, that’s the key… know what you are doing. What you are doing is honoring the energy from the Sun. So that takes away those people who know a little bit, and they’re taught by somebody, or a magazine or a book, and they go around and beat people up with what they know as if they know the one and only true way. When I was young, I was adopted into the Assiniboine and they built their lodges pointing south. They don’t go east and they do different things, they have three doors on their lodge. There’s all kinds of different ways, so you don’t beat each other up because of what you know. If you can’t help people, then you should keep quiet, because power is two elements… healing or hurting. So which one are you… the hurter or the healer? So don’t go to where you’re hurting people, because you can’t do both, you can’t be hurting and healing. At some point you are going to have to choose your path. And it goes on forever, once you get on that path it is very hard getting off it. For me it goes as long as you’re a Being.

The way I learned Sweat was you have to fast for the right to do that and there are reasons for that in our way of life. And I’m not going to get into that, it is the reason to fast. Just like our dances out here… they have to fast for the right to dance. If you want to use different instruments you have to fast for the right to have a bear skin, you have to fast for the right to have eagle feathers, you can’t just pick up these things… like willy nilly. That’s the spiritual context… that’s what fasting is… to meet your helpers. So when you go into the sweat, everybody brings their helpers. Your helpers are to help you, and they work together, they don’t fight each- other. But there are those who have helpers who want to fight you. I Sundanced for twenty-five years and I have seen so many hurt people in the Sundance that were hurting each other. It’s a critical sadness. I don’t like to talk about it. I’d rather work in my own way. A lot of young people want to learn, but I remember the old man. People come up to him and say “Will you help me?” and the old man says, “Yeah”. And you know what happened after that? Then they turn around and say “I want you to do this and I want you to do that”. Then the old man just cut you off and you have to do your own thing. Young people can’t turn around and say “Do this, do that”, it’s better to just shut your mouth and pay attention. We fasted up in the desert hills and in the forests. We used to fast in the mountains. We fasted all over the place and I used to fast some twenty guys at a time and some of them would get it and some wouldn’t. I had one guy fasting with a low lawn chair with a flashlight and his books. So what you put into the ceremony is what you get out of it. Some guys are deathly afraid of animals in the forest, snakes and things. One guy went too fast in the forest with a knife in each hand waiting for something to attack him. But nobody that I knew ever got injured while fasting in my life except one. One renowned elder used to put people in the sweat who were diabetic and take away their diabetic medicine. So there was this young guy who wanted to fast under this elder; so he did and he died there. So the police came and they wanted to arrest him for second degree murder, but nobody would go against this elder because he knew what he was doing. But the police wanted to know if he was malpracticing. But the young guy died because he didn’t have his insulin. So all kinds of things can happen. So you can’t be playing… you can’t pretend to know what you’re doing when you don’t.

I shut down my lodge because I can’t bend down. I can’t even pick up a pencil right now. I am eighty-two years old and I am thinking maybe this is when I stop doing this ceremony. So there are people wanting me to do this and do that… and I know what I am doing. So they say “Let’s go get Jimmie Jones” and let him run sweat, but that’s not the point. He has not fasted and you need to know at least sixteen songs, because I had to know sixteen songs before I was allowed to run sweat. So I knew how to run sweat the way I was taught, not the way I think it should be. The words I say in there are supported by your helpers. You don’t read a text in our lodge, you let your helpers put the words in your mouth. So if you can’t erase some stuff from your head, because the text is from someone else’s mouth, they’re not your own words. The way we were taught was you worked together with the other helpers, helpers from the other guys going in, men or women, so that’s the way it does. So if you can’t trust that and if you don’t have the ability to empty yourself… that’s what all this stuff is about… so that the Spirit World will put stuff in. That’s why we make offerings to the fire. Again offering can be turned down if you’re a Christian. The analogy runs with Jesus who made the offering of himself. If his offering wasn’t any good, it would have been rejected just like anyone else’s. So he had to do it in a humble way; at least the stories I get is that is what he did. So fifty years ago they were saying that Jesus would have been a good Indian. You know why? Because he made an offering and he did it with humility. He knew what he was going into, and if he had the power, which they say he did, he could have stopped the whole thing, but he didn’t. And that was his offering. An offering can be turned down if it’s not offered in a good way. Even if the offering is not presented in a good way.

A lot of people don’t sweat with women or women don’t sweat with men, but we do. Here in California we do, and to us family is more important and so we bring in family, children and women on one side, men on the other. We don’t mix ‘em. It’s really good for men to hear the gentle kindness of women, and sometimes it’s good to hear the real stories of what you’re doing, which they bring out in the lodge. And it’s good for women to hear stories from the men in the lodge. All this has to be done in such a way as dressing modestly. To me, modesty is the best in the lodge. We don’t go to the lodge to find a partner, you do that on the outside. First thing I do when I get ready to run sweat… clean everything up and get the fire going. And the fire has to be done in a proper manner, with prayers every inch of the way. The grandfathers have to be gathered in a prayerful manner and there are ways to do that. Sometimes we go down to the ocean and use ocean water for our sweats. It makes it spectacular.

Then everyone has to make an offering before you go in. The way I do it, because I understand the psyche of human beings, so what I do is I let people come around the sweat lodge and socialize and then I get a talking circle going and give everybody an opportunity to speak and share. These things I was taught too. There are reasons for that. After that, no one gets to talk inside unless you ask permission. Because the rule, I know, is because one person speaks. Because each person speaking is a ceremony… two people talking at the same time, that tells us there are two ceremonies simultaneously, and we can’t do that and have healing. What you get is confusion. You can’t fool around in the lodge, so what happens with confusion is people get hurt and not healed. The earth, air, fire, and water, all work together and you have to be of that mindset. In time you learn songs in the lodge, but the songs are not yours, those songs belong to the person who fasted for them, for the people.