I went willingly, of my own volition, I thought there might be something there for me. I suspected there was. Still, I went with an open mind and tried not to have expectations, just a willingness to hear and feel and learn. I arrived early to help lay the fire. It was solemn work, purposeful work, serious, but not formal. I wanted to learn and I asked questions. I asked if it was okay to ask. I received timeless answers. She explained the why to me...I understood. Other women arrived. Four to light the fire. As it blazed forth we gathered round to fellowship and wait...and prepare. More women. Soon it would be time and we began to ready the lodge, working together to cover it thickly so all light would be obscured once we entered. There would be complete darkness inside though it was only late afternoon and the sun would not set for 3 more hours. Mats were laid, a contemplative quiet began to settle over the women. They began to reach for the quiet...deep breaths, a stillness about them, I watched, then I too began to reach for the quiet. It's time....objects are laid on the alter, all metal, all jewelry, someone's glasses, my hair clip was mentioned. That too? I removed it from my hair and laid it on the alter. She entered and took her place, the pourer. I was next. Stepping up to the doorway, I took a deep breath, exhaled and paused...hesitated, I felt confused, almost afraid. I know this feeling, this hesitation....I shook my head and knelt to enter, extoling all my relations as I passed through the doorway. I was in and I took my place next to her, the pourer, my guide for this first time. I sat cross-legged as others entered one-by-one, sitting cross-legged themselves, forming a circle of women separated by mere inches from my knees to hers, from hers to the next. The fire tender carefully removed heated rocks from the fire we had built and placed them inside the lodge with us, in a pit in the middle of where we now sat, then took her place with us and the door was pulled closed. Complete darkness except for the glowing red of the rocks, but also a sudden intense heat. I felt myself choking on the heat, the smoke, I closed my eyes and involuntarily held my breath. I felt afraid, afraid of the heat and feeling I wouldn't be able to do this. I squirmed and turned my head away, trying to calm myself. I took a shallow breath, then another, then a deep breath and I inhaled the scent of, cedar? I don't recall which herb was placed on the rocks, it may have been sage, but it smelled wonderful, earthy, necessary. I breathed deeply and felt myself settling in. The rocks in front of me glowed and shimmered as heat continued to fill this space, but now it felt right. As water was poured over the rocks the space immediately filled with steam - warm, cleansing steam that filled my lungs and as we began....my fear evaporated into the mist and I joined with these women in a ceremony nearly as old as time.