As I describe in the article One Past-Life Regression That Hints Of Another, I know that a past-life experience is what causes me to experience deep anxiety in situations where breathing is a challenge. Luckily this time a Goddess Angel was on hand to help when I needed her most.
The Power Of The Goddess
Sweat lodges are Native American–based ceremonies held within the confines of a small building or tent. Hot rocks smolder in the enclosure, and everyone sits in the dark, sweating away physical and spiritual impurities. Most people have visions and insights during these ceremonies, so I was excited and a bit nervous, as I’d never attended one before. Dressed in swimsuits and shorts, we all stood in a circle around an open fire pit filled with hot stones. Jade threw the herb sweetgrass into the fire to purify its energy. “What would you like to dedicate this sweat lodge to?” Jade asked. “The power of the goddess,” I answered. I wondered whether the dark enclosure would make me claustrophobic. I’d heard stories of people dashing anxiously out of sweat lodges, and wondered whether I’d do the same. Just then, two petite quail birds walked nearby. Their peaceful cooing calmed me.
Jade’s son acted the part of “Raven,” the traditional title of the fire-tender who stays outside during these ceremonies. He would bring hot rocks, water, and various items (a feather to wave the smoke, sweetgrass to purify the air and energy, and a rattle to call upon Spirit) into our enclosure during the ceremony. The sweat lodge was a tent covered with 28 crossbars made of bowed willow-sapling wood, representing the ribs of a bear. One horizontal bar represented the bear’s spine. At the front of the tent, an altar held a bear skull. As we walked inside, I felt as if I were entering a mother bear’s womb. Our ceremony was scheduled for four rounds, meaning that Raven would bring in seven new hot stones four times. Part spiritual journey and part endurance test, I wondered if I’d make it through the entire ritual. Inside the tent, we selected places to sit around the pit of hot stones. I sat as far away from the heat as possible, settling in cross-legged upon towels to absorb perspiration. Jade pointed to the largest stone in the pit. “This is the heart of the bear!” he said authoritatively.
Then he called for the tent flap to be closed. We were enveloped in utter darkness. As my eyes adjusted, I noticed a dot of light from the corner of the tent near me. Oh good! I thought. That means air is coming through as well as light. Unfortunately, Jade saw the light, too. “Raven, my son,” he said, “there’s a streak of light. Please close it up!” With that command, the tent became black and hot. Jade lit sandalwood, and the group began chanting, “So-she-ket-zel,” which I gathered was the name of a being I didn’t recognize and couldn’t pronounce. Unsure of their invocation and wanting to conserve energy, I sat back silently. Jade continued chanting as he ladled water over the rocks. Steam hissed and filled the tent. We each said a prayer, one by one. With each prayer, Jade poured water on the rocks. Soon, the tent was so hot and steamy that sweat poured from my face and body, and my small towel was saturated. My heart pounded and raced, my body reacting as if I were in trouble. How was my physiology to know I’d entered this process purposefully and I wasn’t in danger?
Heart Pounding Heat
Or was I? Perhaps my body knew more than my well-meaning mind. I thought of the students from my mediumship class who had complained of physical ailments stemming from performance anxiety. I remembered how I’d endured similar fears during my first attempts at scuba diving. I laid down on another towel and felt cool air from the corner of the tent that had shed light. I put my mouth near the tiny hole and gasped futilely to inhale the outside air. My heart continued to pound, and I feared having an anxiety attack that would force me to abandon the ceremony. I prayed for assistance to help me endure, and even enjoy, the experience.
I blinked in the dark as a glowing figure stood before me. The tent was too short for anyone to stand upright, yet a woman was standing and looking at me. She was clearly Native American, with long silky black hair, a youthful 30-something-looking face, and a white animal-skin dress with fringe and red beads. She was beautiful, loving, and compassionate. The woman wordlessly conveyed to me that everything was going to be okay. Her message reassured me, but it was her angelic energy that calmed me with its enveloping love. Then I realized that this was the being whom Jade and the group had invoked at the beginning of the ceremony! He’d asked this being—whose name sounded like “So-she-ket-zel”—to watch over us. And she was doing that with me.
I calmed down just as the first round of the ceremony ended, meaning that Jade momentarily lifted the tent flap. The outside desert air was 89 degrees, yet it was much cooler than our tent’s hot and steamy atmosphere. Raven passed a ladle of water into the tent. Each person sipped from it and passed it clockwise to the next person. By the time the ladle reached me, it was nearly empty. When the refilled ladle reached me, I gratefully drank, not caring that others had sipped from the same container. It was the best-tasting water I’d ever had.
The Smell Of Sweetgrass
After our brief respite, Jade announced the second round by lighting sweetgrass. “This makes for a sweet and pleasant residing place for Spirit,” he explained as Raven shoveled in seven more red-hot stones. Down went the tent flap, along with the light and fresh air. I heard the hiss of steam as Jade ladled water into the pit. I felt my fears rise again, but then remembered the beautiful woman. Although I couldn’t see her, I now felt her calming presence beside me, like a wise friend who knew there was nothing to be afraid of. I’d come so far with overcoming fears, and the sweat lodge would be my personal victory over anxiety.
Half Way Through
Jade’s booming voice jolted me out of introspection, and I realized that Round 2 had ended. Hey! I was surviving this after all! We were halfway through, and my energy was still holding up. After we sipped more water from the ladle, Jade announced that the third round would be the most intense in duration and heat. “Bring me the hottest stones you have!” Jade called to Raven, who shoveled huge red glowing rocks into the tent’s pit. Jade placed copal resin on the stones. Copal is also known as “the tears of the tree of life”—sap that Mesoamericans consider to be Mother Earth’s tears. It’s used to purify and protect during ceremonies. Jade explained that the third round’s intensity would help everyone surrender their defenses so that they could bridge their own soul. The heat would draw out old pain and wounds so healing could begin.
I wasn’t prepared for the hot wall of air radiating against my head. I’d perspired all I could in the previous two rounds, so I lay my dehydrated body down and slid my mouth to the tiny hole in the tent’s corner. Sucking on whatever scraps of air I could find, I drew them in rhythmically. I realized that the beautiful Native American woman had returned to my side. As she gently cooed like a dove, her breath cooled me. She then embraced me, and I embraced her back.
When the round was over, I felt elated that I’d endured the experience. As the fourth round began, I felt like I was at the tail end of a marathon. I was nearly done, and would hang on until the end. Jade placed bear root on the fresh supply of hot stones. He explained that this herb was local to the Rocky Mountains and was used as an all-purpose tincture to represent the body of the Earth Mother. “The theme of Round 4 is appreciation and integration,” Jade announced as the tent flapped shut.
Mystery Woman Revealed
When the ceremony was over, we took turns spraying each other with Jade’s garden hose. Giddy with exhaustion and delight, we played in the water like little kids. After we’d all showered and changed into comfortable clothing, we gathered in Jade’s house, with its amazing views of the Sedona peaks. As we shared a potluck buffet of healthful foods, I felt extra relaxed. Having shared this experience with the people around me, I felt comfortable with them all.
I took Jade aside and described the woman I’d seen. “Why, that’s Xochiquetzal!” he exclaimed. “Don’t you remember? We invoked her during the first round of the ceremony!” I asked him to spell the name for me, as I hadn’t heard it before. He pronounced her name for me slowly as “Zo-she-ket-zel,” and I repeated it until I’d memorized the name. “She’s like an angel,” I said. “Who is she?” I learned that Xochiquetzal is an Aztec and Toltec goddess also known as “Flower Feather.” She’s an earth- and fire-element fertility goddess who inspires love and passion. She’s also considered a protective Mother goddess, which she certainly had been for me during the sweat-lodge ceremony.
You can read more about this and similar experiences in my book, Goddesses and Angels