Connecting with the ancient ways

20 November 2013
Written by Vanessa Kenny
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As Vanessa MacDonald writes, accepting the call to experience a sweat lodge pushed her boundaries, mind and body, but also gave her a renewed feeling of self


Every year for the past five years I have travelled to Taupo to attend ‘Medicine Woman’, a retreat run by the founders and teachers of the New Zealand First Light flower essence range, Franchelle Ofsoske–Wyber and Tony Wyber. 

As part of the retreat we study and work in detail with New Zealand’s native plant essences and experience first hand the healing they provide; it is also a time for growth and expansion for all involved. Last year during Medicine Woman I had the chance to partake in a Native American sweat lodge run by experienced leaders within the beautiful grounds of the Tauhara retreat centre.

The sweat lodge ceremony, which is central to Native American culture and spiritual life, is an adaptation of the sweat bath common to many indigenous cultures throughout the world. The creation of the ceremony was prompted by the negative effect European culture had on indigenous ways. With the introduction of alcohol and the inhumane treatment of native people, the need to re-purify and find their way back to traditional ways of living became evident. The sweat lodge ceremony was the answer.

Personally I have a dislike for extreme temperatures of any kind and when living in Scotland during winter the central heating or wood fire where always a necessary comfort.  I guess I consider myself a bit of a ‘Goldilocks’ when it comes to weather - I don't like mine too hot or too cold, I like it just right.  

I wilt fairly quickly in hot pools and spa pools so the idea of sitting in a very hot tent didn’t fill me with joy. In fact I felt quite the opposite - fearful - yet surprise, surprise I signed up knowing that I couldn’t resist the path of many in my own quest for experiencing these traditions for myself.  Deep down I know I have something to learn and to gain from these experiences and on some level they reconnect me with my ancestors and all peoples, as I believe we are all one.

Sweat lodges are traditionally performed with the help of  medicine men and women and are done to repair damage done to the spirits, minds and bodies of those who participate. The sweat lodge is a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place to get answers and guidance by asking spiritual helpers, totem helpers, the Creator and Mother Earth for the needed wisdom and power.

For my experience we started by covering the lodge with numerous blankets and canvases (originally buffalo and other animal hide) to hold in the heat; our wooden frame had already been constructed. I admit to looking for any gaps that might allow me some cool air and I hatched a plan to sit opposite the door so that the fresh air could filter in towards me, I later discovered this is in fact the hottest part of the lodge. Ha! So much for my cunning plan.

Armed with nothing more than my sarong, towel to sit on and prayers (bundles) I crawled into the lodge and watched with awe as we welcomed in the red hot stones to represent the ancestors; placed gently in the pit and when stroked with herbs they sparkled like the stars. The experience was totally magical with no real words to describe it and even if I could it would take much more than I have room for here.

Feelings of oneness, the vastness of the universe and the smallness of our human existence and of our interconnectedness ensued.

I emerged, as one participant described, feeling like a new-born deer, a little unsteady on my feet, squinting at the light and with a feeling of being reborn. Soon I shall be re-entering the sacred space of the sweat lodge and although I have been there before, I have faith that my spirit will again renew and I will delve even deeper into my subconscious to clear my path to wellness… and Amen to that. 

Ref: Sweat Lodge History:  

  • For Reiki Healing, Therapeutic Massage and Flower Essence Consultations at clinic or via e-mail please contact Vanessa MacDoalad
    email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.  
    phone: 06-364 3992 
    or txt: 027-4930988
  • First Light Flower Essences of New Zealand® were co-created by Franchelle Ofsoske-Wyber and Tony Wyber. In 2008, Franchelle was awarded the New Zealand Health Industry Distinguished Services Award for Research and Development. 




+1 #3 Anna 2013-11-27 18:32
I too am a goldilocks and always thought sweat lodges would be torturous.Your lovely article has me wanting to give it a go. Thank you
+2 #2 Clare Piliae 2013-11-26 14:38
Loved reading this Vanessa. What an amazing experience. WOW!
+1 #1 Colette Maat 2013-11-26 12:03
Such an inspiring article Vanessa! I love the 'Goldilocks' reference - I share your view on this! It was incredibly brave of you to sign up for this anyhow. Beautifully written. Awesome. :-)

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