There exists a Finnish saying which says: You should be in the sauna as in a church . The exact origins of the Northern sauna are a bit confusing, but originally the word was Finnish and often times the creation of the sauna practice is attributed to them. From their practice, we tend to derive our own.
The sauna was, in fact, a very sacred place in the Northern tradition. It was a place to be cleaned, to stay warm, to relax and to purify the self. In Norse tradition the bathhouses were typically found to be dug into the ground, with a rounded top that had a hole for ventilation.
One important aspect of the sauna, in regards to Northern tradition, is that it serves as a place of transition and played a part in the nature cycle of life and death. It was not uncommon for births and deaths to occur here. Ill people spent quite a bit of time at saunas.
It also served as a sacred space, where magickal workings were done. The sauna was a place where trancework occurred, as some found it easier to reach altered states and journey in this type of setting. Ordeal work often incorporated saunas, as people would test their will and strengthen their soul. Interestingly enough, ancestor worship ties into sauna purification. Raven K says, It was thought that the Dead would return to places they had enjoyed, including the bathhouse, and that the loyly (or sacred steam) held their souls. It is the Breath of the Ancestors- a word which originally meant spirit or life.
The typical procedure for a sauna:
(Note here that I say typical, but that you can always expand off this or modify it to your needs. There's not really a "right"/"wrong" way to go about this.)
- Briefly wash yourself before entering the sauna. Take some time to adjust to the heat. You want to start the sweating process before moving onward.
- Get up, and obtain a bucket of water. Sprinkle some of this on the sauna stones. Make sure to increase the humidity slightly.
- You can make a whisk out of nearly anything. You should have brought at least one with you. A good whisk can last a couple of sauna sessions. Begin whisking your body, starting at the top and working your way down. Focus on the energy and sensation as you do this. Whisking helps get the blood pumping, which is important, so take your time with this. And no, dont beat yourself, thats not the point.
- This is where you wash yourself, and rinse. Take your time, and spend this time focusing on whatever you came into the sauna wanting to focus on.
- Cool the body now. You can plunge it into something cold, like snow, or just have cold water standing by. Allow the body to cool off naturally in air if the other ways make you uncomfortable. Relax like this until the body returns to its original temperature, and then feel free to dress.
- After you leave the sauna you may wish to rest for awhile, consume some nutrients, and reflect.
Diana Paxson suggests this as a simple sauna ritual:
- Enter in silence, and offer your first prayer to the stones and fire.
- Draw the runes kenaz and naudhiz over the stones, and pray to Hoenir, the God who gave spirit to humankind.
- Draw the rune laguz over the bucket of water. When you splash the stones, incribe ansuz in the steam and pray to Odin to breathe in ond, the breath of spirit, with the steam.
- Draw the berkano rune over the whisk, and pray to Lodhurr, who gave sense to the body as you whisk.
- Afterward you may use isa to help yourself cool off.
There are variations to this, of course. Feel free to change it to suit your needs.
If youre interested in building a sauna, read this:
Diana Paxson: Taking Up the Runes
Raven K: Fire and Water
Raven K: Building the House of the Ancestors