The Astrology of a Sweat Lodge
I attended my regular, traditional Sweat Lodge this past Saturday night (if you don’t know about them, you can learn about them here: http://www.onacbuckeyefarm.com). While I participated in the singing and praying, and felt the heat from the baked stones a couple of feet away from me (the front row is the best!), I also ended up philosophizing on the zodiac. While there are different points of entry into considering the astrology of a Sweat Lodge, I primarily considered the Signs as they related to the four elements. What follows is the process of my musings during that one to two-hour Sweat. Please keep in mind that my conclusions are very subjective, and are not meant, in any way, to be the final word on this topic.
The first thing I noticed was the hole in the ground, in the center of the Lodge, which receives the hot rocks. I naturally thought of yin Capricorn: the volition of structures and receiver of materials; the birthing of form; the Big Bang itself. The Pourer/Shaman has explained in the past that the interior of the Lodge is a mirror image of the Heavens. So there’s a strong Capricorn presence. However, I decided to whittle the zodiac down to four essential Signs, one for each element. The question was: is Capricorn the best Earth Sign to represent the experience? There was also Taurus to consider, but I wasn’t feeling that Venusian presence so much in these physically stern (albeit heartfelt and communal) conditions. That left Virgo. As the first 13 rocks were ceremoniously brought in by the Fire Keepers (hello Vesta! — more on that later), they were glowing red. As they cooled, they darkened. Later on, after the flaps of the Lodge were closed and the song yelled (the singing in the Lodge is a lot like yelling, but yelling with spiritual fervor and melody), and the Pourer released the water onto the rocks, they cooled more and eventually sizzled in the pool of water covering the bottom of the earthen hole. The rocks are earth, and the rocks were changing — a lot. There are several separate rounds in a Sweat, and with each new round comes a fresh set of burning hot rocks. This movement from hot to cool and hot again is so crucial to the whole Sweat Lodge experience, that I decided that Virgo best represents the earth Signs in this context. This is strengthened by modern astrologers’ tendency to link Virgo with service, which there is a healthy amount of during the day of a Sweat .
One Sign down, three to go.
Next, my thoughts went to fire. Sitting by the heat and being courageous enough to take it without flinching is very Arian and Martial. Sometimes the nostrils burn so that it would seem folly not to cover your face with a towel. However, the overall experience was nothing like the spark of a match, which puts Aries out of the race. Sorry Mars! Considering that the earth Sign was mutable, maybe Sagittarius would be appropriate (it is Sag season after all). It’s true that the heat in the rocks dissipates with time and cools with the water splashing, but the feeling of the heat is constant and unyielding. It feels like Leo. And despite the cooling of the rocks, they never completely cool. The sun shines through those stones and sears the air, heats the body and comforts the spirit.
Next element — water:
The liquid pooling in the bottom of the hole lends itself to Scorpio, with a hot Mars rather than a cool one. But besides that, and the fact that the Sweat is intense and many people in the Lodge are sharing dark themes in a place with no visibility and there is a rebirthing potential, I did not feel that, overall, the Sweat was particularly Scorpionic (others’ experience may differ…). Cancer holds a powerful argument, for the Lodge is literally like a womb! As difficult as it is to dismiss this Sign of embodiment, however, I was determined that only one Sign per element must prevail, which leaves Pisces. At first, I thought not. But when I considered the overwhelming amount of water in all forms and places, the liquid turning to steam, eventually condensing again, and sweat pouring out of the body, I could not ignore the mutability of water in the Lodge. The entire precipitation cycle is present there. Not to mention the obvious spirituality oft-associated with Pisces.
So far we have two mutable and a fixed. What will our fourth Sign be? Will we get a cardinal mode?? Pause here to guess…then read on.
Air. The cardinal Air Sign is Libra. My thought is that of all the signs in the Sweat Lodge, this is the least represented. The strongest argument in its favor is the fact that the four directions, being a fundamental aspect of the Lodge, includes West, which can be correlated with Libra through the geometry of the Sun and Earth. However, that’s not enough. That’s pretty abstract and we don’t need to get into the details. So let’s move on to Gemini. At first blush, it seems like a good option because it’s mutable, and there seems to be a leaning towards mutability so far. In addition, Mercury is the guide to all the worlds, including the alchemical ones which can transform the soul during a Sweat. However, there was no feeling of Gemini in the air. So we have our last Sign: Aquarius. But make no mistake — Aquarius does not win by process of elimination. Far from it. In fact, Aquarius is the obvious choice. First, the shaman running the ceremony is literally a water pourer, just like the person of Aquarius, shown here from an 1825 plate by Jehoshaphat Aspin.
If that isn’t enough, imagine, if you will, the following scene: you sit mostly nude in a pitch-black rounded structure with steam rising invisibly from hot rocks in the center. You know the steam is there because it is everywhere tangible. Then the singing/prayer round ends and the Lodge entrance flap opens. It is December and cold outside, and the chilled air rushes in, heading to the hottest place it can find — for as the heat escapes the hot rocks and boiling water in the pit, the cold air must replace it during an energy transference. As you sit by the fire, turning towards this opening, which also lets in some light, you see the cool air literally become a river of steam floating at head level and heading straight for the center of the lodge, and down into the pit. It doesn’t end. It just keeps coming in and coming in. For the rocks don’t quit their heat easily, and the cold air outside is as vast as space. This river is not “kind of” a river. It is a river. Fully formed and plainly visible. It is beautiful. And it is Aquarius, the water pouring from the jug into a river in the air. It is fixed in its path and overall shape. Additionally, bearing the heat of a Sweat is Saturnian.
You may have noticed there is some symmetry to these choices: if we start in the ancient fashion with Cancer at the beginning, placing Cancer Rising, then the four Signs of Leo, Virgo, Aquarius and Pisces occupy the 2nd, 3rd, 8th and 9th houses. Values, Perception, Clairvoyance, and Spirituality. Two oppositions, two semi-sextiles and two quincunxes. Much could be said about this, but I’ll leave that for another time, except for the following:
Demetra George considers Vesta (the Fire Keeper!) to be a sort of Virgo ruler (not to replace Mercury of course, but just to cast the asteroids into a deeper context). I will just quote what the says in “Asteroid Goddesses” as it links our Leo and Virgo Signs:
The Fire Keeper plays a unique and special role: they cannot participate in the majority of the Sweat (our shaman usually invites them in for a round), since they are responsible for keeping the fire robust and transferring the stones by pitchfork to the Lodge. They are the pinnacle of selfless devotion, focus and commitment, sometimes singeing their eyebrows half-off in the process. The Fire Keeper is a modern manifestation of Vesta, still around after all these centuries. They sacrifice their spot in the Lodge to ensure that the Sweat is hot enough to make us sweat. Thank you Fire Keepers, thank you Water Pourer/shaman, and thank you steward of the land on which the Lodge rests. Aho Mitakuye Oyasin.