Ceremonies cleanse the body and soul
My favorite picture of Northern Ute Elder Clifford Duncan is of him standing next to the Dali Lama.Clifford is dressed in his finest outfit with his eagle feather bonnet highlighted by a beaded headband. The smiling Dali Lama, dressed in his yellow robe and red scarf, is on Clifford’s right side. He holds an eagle fan in his right hand and his left hand holds Clifford’s right hand.What cracks me up is the story behind the photo. The Dalai Lama wasn’t there to give Clifford a blessing, it was just the opposite. My friend had performed a cleansing ceremony for the Dalai Lama with his eagle fan.All human beings no matter what station in life, need an occasional cleansing.The smudging ceremony with the eagle fan goes something like this. Braided sweet grass is often used today, though the traditional Ute material would be juniper bark and sage.A small amount of sage and bark is placed into a shell and set on fire. The resulting smoke is fanned with the eagle wing while praying.Usually the person receiving the cleansing extends their arms outward, and the fragrant smoke is fanned over the whole body.Believing that my need is great for all the blessings I can receive, this ceremony has been performed for me many times.The tribes I’ve had the privilege to work with during my career use another cleansing ceremony regularly, the sweat lodge. I’ve written about sweat lodges in other columns so I won’t repeat myself here, except to say that in the spring the old lodge would be torn down and a new one erected out of fresh willows.Not having access to a sweat lodge or the proper person to conduct a ceremony for me, I had to resort to my own devices recently.Having survived a tough time fighting an upper respiratory infection, thanks to the marvels of modern medicine, I needed a good cleansing.So I climbed into my own sweat chamber. Though it’s nothing like the real thing, it gets the job done.My wife gets all the credit for the idea to completely redo the upstairs bathroom, as well as the ability to find the money to pay for it.A neighbor friend supplied the skills necessary to completely tile the new shower with a built in bench and install a “Mr. Steam” unit.I supervised the whole endeavor.I set the temperature control around 105 degrees. The whole intent is to sweat all the nasty stuff from the body, not end up a boiled lobster.What I miss from the traditional sweat is the four rounds, or doors, as they are called. Certain songs are sung during each set and prayers are made, then the door of the lodge is opened and you take a break.Since I can’t carry a tune, I don’t sing in the shower.But cleansing is the most important thing, and this is a good time of year for cleaning our lives.Having worked with Indian tribes for over 25 years in federal land management agencies, Bill Kight, of Glenwood Springs, shares his stories and insights with readers every other week.
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