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  • Shane Gallagher Coley

Sweatlodge Experience

Updated: May 21


During a trip to the US I was called to follow my intuition and arrange to visit some ancient sites located in New Mexico. I contacted a Native American friend who lived just outside of Santa Fe and asked if she could take me to these places and guide me through them. She agreed and I arranged my flight to Albuquerque. I arrived and was picked up from the airport and as we drove I was told a number of Native American Elders were preparing a sweat lodge for me the next day.


The next day we drove to a location just outside of Taos, here I met with three Native elders, they were Lakota Sundancers, they greeted and welcomed me. They were already preparing the fire and as it burned we sat around it as I listened to their stories. I felt comfortable with them and noticed they all looked familiar to me. One of the elders was inside the lodge setting out the mats and the centre circle, when he emerged he walked towards me saying “We have met before, I recognise you.” My whole body tingled and everything seemed surreal. I sat there as I looked and recognised these men from another time when we had been together in a past life.

Three more male elders turned up and three elder women, two of the women had just come back from completing the four day Sundance Ceremony. Altogether including me there were 11 of us entering the lodge. Before we entered we were smudged with sage and prayers and blessings were said. I was very nervous as I had heard a lot about how hot it gets in there.

I’m not good at heat and can barely handle a sauna or steam room at the best of times. It was the middle of summer and we were standing around a fire in the middle of the desert, I was already too hot. The fire burned huge and hot, heating the stones that would be brought inside the lodge. Sacred items were surrounding the fire in a circle. Ceremony took place as we prepared to enter. We entered the lodge and it was incredibly hot and stuffy already. Once everyone was in they talked to me a little about what was going to happen and supported me in doing my best in there and to just accept the heat. They encouraged me to do my best to not break the sweat as I will gain great benefit from lasting all four stages. I was told to just remember the door ‘will’ open again. As the ceremony began and they started bringing the hot stones in it really heated up. These stones weren’t just red hot... they were beyond white hot, transparent glowing crystals. Pine resin and sage were dropped onto the stones filling the lodge with the beautiful scented smoke. I could hardly breath already as they prepared to pull the door flap down. When the flap on the doorway closed down, the drumming, chanting and prayers from the elders began and soon after I found myself struggling, the heat and difficulty to breathe was very challenging for me. The water which was poured onto the stone turned the air to moisture, my heart was pounding as I gasped for air, the boiling wet air that was almost liquid burned my lips, throat and lungs as I struggled to take it in. I was panicking and tapping on the elder next to me to move so I could get out. He did nothing but continue to chant his words of prayer and beat loudly on his drum creating a sea of vibration that penetrated my soul. I had nowhere to go and toughed it out thinking I was actually going to die in there. My mind was telling me this was too hard and after the first round I almost broke the sweat.

The words and personal stories of encouragement and support from the elders around me helped me stay in there. Each elder one by one spoke and shared of their struggles and their experiences of healing in the many previous sweats they had done. The prayers for our peoples, the prayers to our gods and creator, the prayers for the earth and humanity, the personal healing one goes through during this ceremony is very important. When the second round began things started to change. I struggled again at first but then I remembered to use healing breath, Te Hau. As I began breathing in this manner I found myself settling, accepting the heat, my spirit letting go of my mind and my body for if I stayed connected to this I would continue to struggle.


My mind and my body would fight it. I could see and feel and sense the totem animals of the others sitting with us. One elder had a bear sitting with him. Another elder had a wolf by his side. The elder next to me... a snake. As I noticed the snake I could hear it hissing and then the elder and the snake merged as one. I could feel the spirits of these people called in to sit with us in prayer. I began to receive vision. I could see the mountain ranges of home, snow capped alps of the South Island rising up from the ocean in front of me, the ancestors of my homeland were rising up in support.


I could see spirits coming off the mountain tops and travelling over to me to join us and sit with us in the lodge. I was connecting to home and the spirit of our land. During this I saw a figure of a woman floating above me in the lodge, she had the moko kauae and it seemed she was presenting it to me, showing me. I continued through the ceremony and took in the visions, signs and healing that came with it. Between the second and third round the elder sitting next to me spoke to me, “Our lungs are like gills also, when we were in our mothers womb be breathed the water, feel that in here, your lungs can breath this air.” The third round began and I was becoming a lot more comfortable with letting go and accepting the journey. Each round had more hot stones added to the centre, raising the temperature inside the lodge to an even more extreme heat. During the third round I had a total acceptance of separating from my mind and body. I was beside myself, above myself and in a realm with the other spirits and animals, I had left my body.

Before the forth round began the elders smoked the Chanunpa pipe with me, passing it around the circle. The fourth round held the greatest experience. During this round I had left my body and my spirit began to dissipate, like dissolve into smaller and smaller particles until everything I was had become everything. I was endless, infinite, everything and everywhere. I was the universe, and this showed me what it is like to be one with everything... because we are.

As we emerged I recognised a shift had occurred in me, as they say, “Before entering a sweat lodge take a look around at the world you see, for it will look different when you emerge”. We are being born again, cleansed as we emerge from the womb of Mother Earth, Papatūanuku.

The next morning I received a message from a woman back in New Zealand who in the next month or so I was going to travelling to their to tattoo her moko kauae. She asked if I had astral travelled into her dream time last night, that my presence was very strong. I explained to her that at that time I was in the sweat lodge ceremony. She described her vision that I was floating above her and above me the lines of the moko kauae were glowing, she explained it was as if her ancestors had shown it from the spirit realm to pass onto her. Comparing this with the vision I had in the lodge we knew this connection had happened and we had received confirmation.

After my sweat lodge experience life and the way I saw it was changed. Previously I felt like I was walking in my body, driving my steps forward from inside my physical body, a very physical experience. Afterward I was outside my body, all around me, high above me, and I was guiding myself from there, from everywhere, I had expanded and felt the expanse and possibilities and multi levels of existence. The world had opened up to me. The universe had opened up to me... and I was one with it all.

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© 2020 SHANE GALLAGHER COLEY TATTOOER