Main page


Lakota Rites

(The Rite of Purification)


Have you read this first?


The rite of Inipi utilizes all the Powers of the universe: earth and the things that grow from the earth, water, fire, and air.

When we use the water in the sweat lodge we should think of Wakan Tanka who is always flowing, giving His power and life to everything. We should even be as water which is lower than all things, yet stronger even than the rocks.

The sweat lodge is made from twelve or sixteen young willows, and these too have a lesson to teach us, for in the fall their leaves die and return to the earth, but in the spring they come to life again. So too, men die but live again in the real world of Wakan Tanka, where there is nothing but the spirits of all things. And this true life we may know here on earth if we purify our bodies and minds, thus coming closer to Wakan Tanka, who is all-purity.

The willows which make the frame of the sweat lodge are set up in such a way that they mark the four quarters of the universe; thus, the whole lodge is the universe in an image, and the two-legged, four-legged, and winged peoples, and all the things of the world are contained within it, for all these peoples and things too must be purified before they can send a voice to Wakan Tanka.

The rocks represent Grandmother Earth, from whom all fruits come, and they also represent the indestructible and everlasting nature of Wakan Tanka.

The fire which is used to heat the rocks represents the great power of Wakan Tanka which gives life to all things. It is a ray from the sun, for the sun is also Wakan Tanka in a certain aspect.

The round fireplace at the center of the sweat lodge is the center of the universe, in which dwells Wakan Tanka, with His power which is the fire.

All these things are wakan to us and must be understood deeply if we really wish to purify ourselves, for the power of a thing or an act is in the meaning and the understanding.

The sweat lodge is always constructed with its door to the east, for it is from this direction that the light of wisdom comes. About ten paces from the lodge, at the east, we first construct a sacred fireplace, which is called Peta-owihankeshni, "fire of no end" or "eternal fire", and this is where the rocks are heated. As we place the rocks and light the fire, we should pray:

"O Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, You are and always were. I am about to do Your will on this earth as You have taught us. In placing this sacred rocks at the four quarters we understand that it is You who are in the center. O sacred rocks, you are helping us to do the will of Wakan Tanka!

"O Wakan Tanka, this is Your eternal fire that has been given to us on this great island! It is Your will that we build this place in a sacred manner. The eternal fire always burns; through it we shall live again by being made pure, and by coming closer to Your powers."

In making the central altar within the sweat lodge, where later the heated rocks will be placed, we should pray:

"O Grandfather and Father Wakan Tanka, maker of all that is, who always has been, behold me! And You, Grandmother and Mother Earth, You are wakan and have holy ears; hear me! We have come from You, we are part of You, and we know that our bodies will return to You at the time when our spirits travel upon the great path. By fixing this center in the earth, I remember You to whom my body will return, but above all I think of Wakan Tanka, with whom our spirits become as one. By purifying myself in this way, I wish to make myself worthy of You, O Wakan Tanka, that my people may live!"

A round hole is made at the center of the sweat lodge, and with the dirt which is taken out a sacred path is made leading out of the lodge to the east, and at the end of this path a small mound is built. When doing this we pray:

"Upon you, Grandmother Earth, I shall build the sacred path of life. By purifying ourselves for the people, we shall walk this path with firm steps, for it is the path leading to Wakan Tanka. Upon this path there are four steps which are sacred. May my people walk this path. May we be pure! May we live again!

Grandfather Wakan Tanka, we have learned Your will, and we know the sacred steps we are to take. With the help of all things and all beings we are about to send our voice to You. Be merciful to us! Help us! I place myself upon this sacred path, and send my voice to You through the four Powers, which we know are but one Power. Help me in all this! O my Grandfather Wakan Tanka, be merciful to us! Help my people and all things to live in a sacred manner pleasing to You! Help us O Wakan Tanka to live again!"

All who are to be purified enter the lodge, the leader first, and as each bows low to enter, he prays:

"Hi ho! Hi ho! Pilamaya! (Thanks) By bowing low in order to enter this lodge, I am remembering that I am as nothing compared to You, O Wakan Tanka, who are everything. It is You who have placed us upon this island. We are the last to be created by You, who are the first and who always have been. Help me to become pure, before I send my voice to You! Help us in all that which we are about to do!"

During the course of the Inipi the door will be opened four times, letting in the light. This is to remind us of the four ages, and how through the goodness of Wakan Tanka we have received the Light in each of these ages. The man sitting at the west now sends a voice to Wakan Tanka in this manner:

"Hee-ay-hay-ee-ee! (This we say four times whenever we are in need of help, or are in despair, and indeed are we not now in darkness and in need of the Light!) I am sending a voice! (four times) Hear me! (four times) Wakan Tanka, Grandfather, You are the first and always have been. You have brought us to this great island, and here our people wish to live in a sacred manner. Teach us to know and to see all the powers of the universe, and give us the knowledge to understand that they are all really one Power. May our people always send their voices to You as they walk the sacred path of life!

"O ancient Rocks, you are now here with us. Wakan Tanka has made the Earth, and has placed you next to Her. Upon you the generations will walk, and their steps shall not falter! O Rocks, you have neither eyes, nor mouth, nor limbs. You do not move, but by receiving your sacred breath (the steam) our people will be long-winded as they walk the path of life. Your breath is the very breath of life.

"There is a winged One, there where the sun goes down to rest, who controls those waters to which all living beings owe their lives. May we use these waters here in a sacred manner!

"O you people who are always standing, who pierce up through the earth, and who reach even unto the heavens, you tree-people are very many, but one of you has been especially chosen for supporting this sacred purification lodge. You trees are the protectors of the wingeds, for upon you they build their lodges and raise their families; and beneath you there are many people whom you shelter. May all these people and all their generations walk together as relatives!

"To every earthly thing, O Wakan Tanka, You have given a power, and because the fire is the most powerful of Your creations, since it consumes all other things, we place it here at our center, and when we see it and think of it, we really remember You. May this sacred fire always be at our center! Help us in that which we are about to do!"

The leader now sprinkles water on the rocks, once for our Grandfather, Tunkashila, once for our Father, Ate, once for our Grandmother, Unchi, once for our Mother, Ina, the Earth, and then once for the sacred pipe. This is done with a sprig of sage or sweet grass, so that the steam will be fragrant.

It is now very hot in the lodge, but it is good to feel the purifying qualities of the fire, the air, and the water, and to smell the fragrance of the sacred sage. After this powers have worked well into us, the door of the lodge is thrown open, reminding us of the first age in which we received the Light from Wakan Tanka. Water is brought in and the pipe is smoked.

The door of the lodge is closed, and we are in darkness for the second time. The person at the north now prays:

"Behold, O you Baldheaded Eagle, there where the giant Waziya has his lodge! Wakan Tanka has placed you there to control this Path. You are there to guard the health of the people, that they may live. Help us with your cleansing wind! May it make us pure so that we may walk the sacred path in a holy manner, pleasing to Wakan Tanka.

"O Grandfather Wakan Tanka, You are above everything! It is You who have placed a sacred rock upon the earth, which is now at the center of our hoop. You have given us also the fire, and there at the place where the sun goes down, you have given power to Wakinyan, who controls the waters and who guards the most sacred pipe. You have placed a winged One at the place where the sun comes up, who gives us wisdom. And You have also placed a winged One at the place towards which we always face; he is the source of life, and he leads us on the sacred red path. All these powers are Your power, and they are really one. They are now here within this lodge.

"O Wakan Tanka, Grandfather, above all, it is Your will what we are doing here. Through that Power which comes from the place where the giant Waziya lives, we are now making ourselves as pure and as white as new snow. We know that we are now in darkness, but soon the Light will come. When we leave this lodge may we leave behind all impure thoughts, all ignorance. May we be as children newly born! May we live again, O Wakan Tanka!"

Water is put on the rocks again, and the door of the lodge is soon opened for the second time, representing the coming of the purifying Power of the north, and also we see the light which destroys darkness, just as wisdom drives away ignorance. Water is passed around again and the pipe is smoked. The door is closed, and the man sitting at the east now sends his voice in this manner:

"O Great Spirit, Wakan Tanka, I have just seen the day, the Light of life. There where the sun comes up, You have given the power of wisdom to the Morning Star. The winged One who guards this path is long-winded, and with the two sacred days which You, Wakan Tanka, have given to him, he has guarded the path of the people. O you who control that path where the sun comes up, look upon us with your red and blue days, and help us in sending our voices to Wakan Tanka! O you who have knowledge, give some of it to us, that our hearts may be enlightened, and that we may know all that is sacred!

"O Morning Star, there at the place where the sun comes up, O you who have the wisdom which we seek, help us in cleansing ourselves and all the people, that our generations to come will have Light as they walk the sacred path. You lead the dawn as it walks forth, and also the day which follows with its Light which is knowledge. This you do for us and for all the people of the world, that they may see clearly in walking the wakan path; that they may know all that is holy, and that they may increase in a sacred manner!"

Water is poured again on the rocks and we sing a sacred chant. In a short time, when the heat has worked all through us, the door is opened for the third time, adn the light of the east comes in upon us. The pipe is smoked again. It is the man at the south who now sends his voice:

"Grandfather, Wakan Tanka, behold us! You have placed a great Power there where we always face, and from this direction many generations have come forth, and have returned. There is a winged One at this direction who guards the sacred red path, from which the generations have come forth. The generation which is here today wishes to cleanse and purify itself, that it may live again!

" We shall burn the sweet grass as an offering to Wakan Tanka, and the fragrance of this will spread throughout heaven and earth. It will make the four-leggeds, the wingeds, the star peoples of the heavens, and all things as relatives. From You, O Grandmother Earth, who are lowly, and who support us as does a mother, this fragrance will go forth. May its power be felt throughout the universe, and may it purify the feet and hands of the two-leggeds, that they may walk forward upon the sacred earth, raising their heads to Wakan Tanka!"

All that is left of the water is now poured upon the rocks, which are still very hot, and as the steam rises and penetrates everything, we sing or chant a sacred song. Soon the leader of the Inipi says:

"The helper will soon open the door for the last time, and when it is open we shall see the Light. For it is the wish of Wakan Tanka that the Light enters into the darkness, that we may see not only with our two eyes, but with the one eye which is of the heart, Chante Ishta, and with which we see and know all that is true and good. We give thanks to the helper, may his generations be blessed! It is good! It is finished! Hetchetu welo!"

As the door of the lodge is opened, all the men cry: "Hi ho! Hi ho! Pilamaya!" (Thanks). And they are all happy for they have come forth from the darkness and are now living in the Light. The helper then brings a live coal from the sacred fire, and places it just outside the doorway of the lodge, upon the sacred path. As he burns the sweet grass upon the coal, he says:

"This is the fragrance of Wakan Tanka. Through this the two-leggeds, the four-leggeds, the winged ones, and all the peoples of the universe will be happy, and will rejoice!

"This is the fire that will help the generations to come, if they use it in a sacred manner. But if they do not use it well, the fire will have the power to do them great harm."

The leader purifies his hands and feet over the smoke, and raising his hands to heaven, he prays:

"Hi ho! Hi ho! (Four times) Wakan Tanka, today You have been good to us, and for this we give thanks. I now place my feet upon the Earth. With great happiness I walk upon the sacred Earth, our Mother. May the generations to come also walk in this sacred manner!"

Moving around sun-wise, all the men now leave the sweat lodge, and they too purify their hands and feet, and pray to Wakan Tanka as their leader had done.

This most sacred rite has now been finished, and those who have participated are as men born again, and have done much good not only for themselves, but for the whole nation.

When we leave the sweat lodge we are as the souls which are kept, and which return to Wakan Tanka after they have been purified; for we too, leave behind in the Inipi lodge all that is impure, that we may live as the Great Spirit wishes, and that we may know something of that real world of the Spirit, which is behind this one.

From The Sacred Pipe. Black Elk´s Account of the Seven Rites of the Oglala Sioux,
recorded and edited by Joseph Epes Brown.


Here is something quite remarkable: towards evening of the 26th, they prepared a sweat, which was followed by a feast. I never saw anything like it in my life. Twenty men entered, and almost piled themselves upon one another. Even the sick man dragged himself thither, though with considerable difficulty, and was one of the troop; he also sang for quite a long time... a sick man on the verge of his death! So the next day I found him in fine condition.

Father Lejeune, jesuit missionary, on a sweat lodge ceremony held in 1637.



Lakota rites:
Nagi Gluhapi (The Keeping of the Soul)
Inipi (Rite of Purification)
Hanblecheyapi (Crying for a Vision)
Wiwanyag Wachipi (The Sun Dance)
Hunkapi (Making of Relatives)
Ishna Ta Awi Cha Lowan (Preparing for Womanhood)
Tapa Wanka Yap (Throwing of the Ball)

Other ceremonies

In concepts  ||  In natural beings
In dwellings  ||  In tools and objects

Complete list


Back to Lakota's main page