My Mother’s Womb
The mysteries of the universe are often powerful and strange.
However none of those mysteries are more wonderful than the experience or mystery of being reborn.
I remember the day well. I was thirteen. My father and Mr. Chips walked up to me as I was sitting on a rock enjoying the morning sunshine rising over the distant bluffs marking the eastern edge of the prairie. It was shaping up to be a very warm day. “It’s time for you to sweat,” My father said. I knew immediately that he was inviting me to take part in the “Inipi” ceremony of the people. My heart began to race with anticipation.
I was led into a stand of cottonwoods that bordered a crisp spring flowing from the mountains.
In the clearing, just eyeing the roaring fire, I could see the skeleton of the sweathouse. The twelve willow branches were freshly cut and peeled. They had shown like gold in the morning sunlight.
The bed of sage that covered the ground looked warm and inviting. Two other boys were also there with their fathers. I could see that they shared my apprehension and excitement.
It was now time. Everyone stripped down naked except for one man who was to bring in the stones with a pitchfork and put the blankets over the skeleton of the Inipi. I could not believe all six of us were going to fit in there. Mr. Chips led the way, followed by my father and me; the rest of the group trailed after. Mr. Chips was holding a bundle of smoldering sweet grass, waving the smoke around making sure everything was pure for the ceremony. Once we were all situated , the glowing stones were brought in one by one and place in the pit in the center. I could tell by the care that was taken in placing them down that each stone had its place.
As each stone came through the entrance, we all repeated Pilamaye (thanks). When all the rocks were in place, the lodge was covered with beautiful blankets. They were arranged so no light from the outside penetrated the depths of the Inipi. The only light was that from glowing hot rocks.
The pipe was then lit and passed. The Inipi started to get hot, hotter than anything I had ever felt. We all smoked the pipe, rubbing the cleansing smoke over our arms and chests, praying to the Great Spirit, Inyan. All the while, the Inipi grew hotter. I started shrinking into myself. As the last person smoking the pipe, my heart began to race, for the time had come. Mr. Chips sprinkled a cup full of icy cold spring water onto the red hot rocks. The rocks let out a hiss as steam billowed upward. The loud shriek of Mr. Chips’ song filled the air, and the very depths of my soul came alive.
I could hear the words of MR. Chips’ song fill my head. “tunka-shila hiyay hiyay: (the heat of the earth power hits you, inhale it, feel it). All of my senses were alive; I could feel the Inipi, and even the ground trembled with the powerful beating of the drum. I felt as one with all things in the universe. I felt very small, yet more alive than ever before. I could feel my body shrink even more into itself. The heat rose as more water was poured over the rocks. In the midst of the singing, I realized my heart was no longer racing. Peace flowed throughout my whole body. At that moment, I finally saw my place in the universe. I was the entwining harmony of all God’s creation, and, all at once, I was so happy.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the singing stopped. The pipe was relit and smoked again. After each of us smoked the pipe, we said a thanks, “mitakuye oyasin” (all of my relatives). After the last person had said this, the ceremony finished.
Crawling out of the Inipi was like coming out of my mother’s womb. I felt refreshed and rejuvenated. I was entering a new world. I felt ready to take on life’s challenges as a new man.