The Lakota Ritual of the Sweat Lodge
History and Contemporary Practice
For centuries, a persistent and important component of Lakota religious life has been the Inipi, the ritual of the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge has changed little in appearance since its first recorded description in the late seventeenth century. The ritual held within, the “sweat,” consists of songs, prayers, and other actions conducted in a tightly enclosed, extremely hot and stifling environment. Participants who "sweat" together experience moral purification and even physical healing. Today, the sweat lodge ritual continues to be a vital part of Lakota religion. It has recently become popular among Lakotas recovering from alcohol and drug addiction and among those afflicted with AIDS.
This impressive study is the first in-depth look at the history and significance of the Lakota sweat lodge. Bringing together data culled from historical sources and recent fieldwork at Pine Ridge Reservation, Raymond A. Bucko provides a detailed discussion of changes that have occurred in the structure and function of the "sweat" ritual over time. He offers convincing explanations for the longevity of the sweat lodge and its continuing popularity. The ritual survives because it is inherently malleable, girded by fixed physical and symbolic forms but continually subject to reinterpretation and creative modification. Consequently, the Lakotas are able to adapt this important healing ritual to meet their changing collective and individual needs.
336 pp — ©1998