The Sweat Lodge Story

Sandy sat at the round table. The person to her right handed her the talking-stick.
Friendly smiles all around. Steaming mugs with bits of leaves and sticks poking out of them. Oat and raisin cookies laid out on plates.

“It’s your turn Sandy. Say whatever you like. The floor is absolutely open.” somebody said.

“ I… I…” she looked into a few of the expectant eyes around the table, then shifted her gaze to objects around the room. The dangling dream-catcher, the mandala tapestry, the array of sea-shells, crystals and pinecones on the mantelpiece.

She caught the gaze of the Swedish man who-was-not-in-charge-but-really-was. He wore a wide, pursed-lipped smile and his eyes feigned friendly affection, while they pierced right into Sandy, examining her.
“Go on” he encouraged.

“I’m… I’m just happy to be here, is all…” she said. “All three of us are.”
She glanced over to her two young children who were sitting on the floor next to the fireplace playing with wooden figurines. She looked back and was met by a table full of warm, smiling faces. She felt a cozy feeling fleeting inside of her.

Next, a spirited discussion about the building of a sweat lodge ensued.
Sandy looked forward to a cigarette.

The next day, Sandy was walking with an older member of the community named Deirdre. Deirdre was yapping away to Sandy about the New.World.Order. and The.General.State.Of.Things. She was one of those people who neither listened to others nor recognised if others were listening to her. For those kinds of people, Sandy concluded, talking was more of a cathartic method. A way of getting to the zone, a trance-inducing rap, a grooving with reality… Sandy on the other hand, didn’t need to do anything. She was already there. Most of the time. If you saw her. you would think she was soaring on Ketamine or floating on MDMA or whacked out of it by something or another. Sometimes she was, but mostly she was just riding the daze.

Deirdre and Sandy walked past all the caravans and yurts, through the orchard, down the side of the potato field and into the little grassy clearing where stood the Hawthorn tree. A number of men were standing there with hands on their hips, listening to the Swedish man expatiate about the construction project. He seemed to Sandy, to be a similar type of person to Deirdre, with one crucial difference. He paid attention to whether or not you were listening, and by God did you want to be seen to be listening!

It took him a moment to notice the newcomers. “Ah Sandy! Deirdre! Hello!” he said. “Boys, it looks like we have some help, huh?”. He hobbled over to the pair of them while pointing back to the Hawthorn tree. “We have decided we will cut down this old tree and make way for a permanent sweat lodge. It is excellent, yes, because we can use the timber to make fires to heat the lodge and also use some of it in the construction.”. 

Sandy wasn’t overly interested, but she dutifully listened as he explained how the construction would be carried out and how marvelous it would be. Suddenly she glimpsed something impossibly fast, dash towards the tree.

She tore herself away from the Swede’s fishhook gaze to peruse the surrounding scenery. Trees and wildflowers and bees and… a very small man! Perched on a low branch of a tree at the other side of the field was an odd man with gangly limbs and a salt-and-pepper beard that reached his elbows. He wore clothes that looked like they came out of an 18th century story-book.

He seemed to be listening keenly to the discussion about the tree felling.
When his eyes met Sandy’s, he immediately vanished into thin air.
Sandy missed a breath. “Was it – ?”

“Hellooo. Hello? Sandy? Are you there?” the Swedish man was saying, while waving a hand in front of Sandy’s face.
“Cuckoo Cuckoo ‘Earth to Sandy!’”he said, laughing, concealing his obvious dismay at having been ignored.

“I don’t think we should cut this tree down” Sandy declared.
Still staring at the spot where she saw the man just moments ago.
“It belongs to the faeries.” Sandy said.

There was a pause.
A torrent of laughter ensued.

Sandy tried again. She knew enough from her Grandfather to take the threat of the faeries seriously.

“Bad things will happen…! It will be terrible…! My Granda – he – he – he almost died at their hands!”

The crowd lapsed into a snicker-puckered silence.

Eventually one of the men snorted, in the way people do when suppressing a fit of laughter, soon they were all chortling.

Sandy flung her arms down and surprised even herself by saying “Fine! Build your freaking sauna, but don’t come moaning to me about it when there’s trouble!”
She stomped off.

It was announced a few days later that the sweat-lodge was complete and the first ceremony would take place that evening at Sunset. It would be a completely naked affair. 

About a half hour after sunset Sandy took her two young ones down to have a gander at the ceremony. The sky was a deep, lustrous orange. The children were relishing the June-time weather and experiencing a bit of a sugar high, from the (dairy!) ice-cream Sandy had surreptitiously given them back in the mobile home. 

They could spot the glow of the fire against the pine, as they approached the meadow. The sky was a deep, lustrous orange. It was definitely a good night for a ceremony.
When they arrived the Swedish man greeted her.
Sandy sensed that he was being even more self-righteous by not acting self-righteous.

Sandy took a seat in the long grass where wildflowers were growing and midges were swarming. Everybody was naked now. Her children ran loops around her, occasionally pointing at “the willies” and sniggering.

Her mind was elsewhere. Thinking of her Grandfather, the stories he used to tell her when she sat on his lap. Thinking of the fathers of the children, what would they think of her living here? Not they would think much, or really care… Her parents… when was the last time she spoke to her parents?

She watched as the community were shepherded into the steaming hut, by none other than the grey-bearded, naked, Swedish man holding some kind of large crystal in his raised fist. There was a hum of chatter and laughter, then the drums started. Big, booming, shamanic drum sounds prolifered the previously serene meadow. 

Sandy’s gut felt like a lottery jumbling-machine.


She could see quivering, delicate ash trees and a row of shivering pine. A flock of flapping birds emerged from the canopy of trees beyond.


The orange sky was fast filling with dark, smokey nimbus clouds and inky stains of navy-blue.


What had minutes before seemed like paradise was rapidly becoming like the gateway to hell.


There was a scream.
The drums stopped.

Before Sandy could even register, she could see the fifteen or so naked bodies piling out of the hut. “Hot!” one howled. “What’s happening?” cried another. “My whole body is cramping up!” yelled another.

Sandy spotted one, two, three – faery men running out of the sweat lodge with hurleys in their hands. They were laughing maniacally, revealing their yellow gravestones of teeth, set into their ancient crinkled faces.

“What’s happened in the hut Mammy?”

She watched as the Swedish man raised the crystal and addressed the community. She couldn’t make out what he was saying but he looked riled up. Suddenly he shouted “RUN!”. With that, the crowd leapt across the field after the old, leather-skinned man holding up a crystal like how his ancestors might have held up a head in battle.

Sandy’s eyes panned the field following the crowd of naked creatures running into the night. The crowd of naked creatures ran towards the pond and one by one, jumped in. Sandy had remembered looking into that pond the day prior and not being able to see her own reflection.

She looked back over to the sweat-lodge where she could see the faeries with their hurleys battering the place up.

“What are you looking at Mammy?”

The following morning an urgent circle time was called. Everybody was stinking of the filthy pond water, despite the showers they had taken. Tea was not made. Biscuits were not laid out. 

Everybody wore grave expressions that resembled that of a tightrope walker meeting a gust of wind. The Swedish man commenced the meeting, holding the talking-stick. He cleared his throat loudly then he cut to the chase. “We have all decided, Sandy, that it is best if you do not stay in the community. You have twenty-four hours to depart.” The stick was passed around in case anybody else had something to add. Nobody had the guts to. Finally the stick was passed to Sandy whose face looked like a page of a book erased. “Fine. I’ll go pack my things.” Her chair screeched diabolically as she retreated from the table. The Swedish man was urgently gesturing for somebody to pass him back the stick.

“Oh Sandy?” he added. “We won’t let your witch nature pollute our brothers and sisters around here. We have contacted all the other communities we know of, to inform them of your sick skulduggery. They won’t have you.” he said.

At once, Sandy’s mind flooded with the sounds of her children crying, the dribbling of cold-showers, of car-engines pulling away… In flew images of the three of them at the side of a road holding out soggy paper cups, of herself scraping the stodgy rice from the bottom of a saucepan, of a body falling falling falling from the sky…

An unearthly shudder quaked throughout her entire body.

She stood facing the door. Her back to the room.
In an instant, all words left her. All warmth left her. All feeling left her.
All sympathy she had for the broken hearts of society, including herself, gone without a trace.

She noticed that her mouth had opened.
She noticed that her fists were clenched.
She noticed that a grotesque, piercing, ululation was ejaculating from her mouth.

The world around her started to spin. Her eyesight was dimming. Things turned black, then blue, then nothing.

Five hours later Sandy’s muck-splashed Nissan Micra pulled out of the commune. The two kids sat in the back waving goodbye to the community members with a sorrowful sort of confusion. They drove away.
“Mammy where did these hurley sticks come from?” one of them said.
Sandy turned around. She gasped.

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