When I first moved to Mexico in 2015, I had no idea that the ancient indigenous tradition of a healing Temazcal would be so prominent in that season of my life. I had never heard of Temazcals and had no previous knowledge of the ancient traditions. I had never done a sweat lodge, so I didn’t even have that to compare it to. “Temazcal” comes from the Nahuatl word temāzcalli, meaning “house of heat”. My first traditional temezcal was in Sayulita in the middle of the jungle.
What is a Temazcal?
A temazcal is an ancient ceremony that originates from indigenous mesoamerican people (Aztec, Mayan, Olmecs). The ancient ceremony and rituals are said to hold many healing properties that cleanse your body, mind and spirit. To participate, you gather around the ceremonial grandfather fire and your guide (shaman, temazcalero/a) will typically burn copal to bless the four directions. The fire is representative of the great Grandfather spirit, and the Temazcal itself is to represent the Mother Womb. The ritual will usually be in either Spanish or an ancient dialect. Depending on the ceremonial ritual or if that specific day has a special meaning for a different God on the Mayan calendar, the prayer / blessing may be different. Each sweat celebrates different occasions, seasonal changes, days of recognition, moon cycles, etc.,
Once the prayer is over, everyone participating will line up and one by one the shaman will be blessing you, your body and spirit. Crawling on all fours and going clockwise, you will find yourself siting in a small temazcal.
Inside the Temazcal
As the temazcal is to represent the Mother Womb, as you enter, you bow forward and give the affirmation, “Strength for all my relations, Aho!” As everyone comes in, the shaman will enter with a drum, or some musical instrument, and a large pot of water that has been boiling next to the fire. Inside the large pots of water are herbs and flowers that not only help cleanse the body, but the spirit as well.
There are four rounds to the cycle of the ceremony, and each cycle or “door” is representative of something special. During the ceremony, there tends to be singing, affirmations or those asking for prayers and strength. The shaman may ask everyone to mention their names and any specific blessings they would like to offer. Depending on the size of your group, your temazcal can last anywhere from an hour to several hours. After the final round, one by one you leave the sacred temazcal, feeling fresh, renewed and hopefully a little less “heavy” (in the spiritual, emotional and physical sense of the word).
I was invited to attend the last day of a women’s workshop focusing on healing the sacred feminine soul. That afternoon was one of the most challenging and most healing experiences of my life. The entire workshop was in Spanish and it was clear all these women had known each other well before the workshop. I felt nervous, scared, a little light headed. What was going to happen? During the beginning of the ceremony the shaman welcomed all of us, and mentioned this Temazcal was to heal our sacred feminine spirit, and since many of these women were mothers- they were asked to also release themselves of the traumas and challenges and wounds and burdens that so many mothers carry. Prayers for sons, daughters, nieces and nephews were encouraged.
Offerings were brought to the altar in between the Temazcal and the fire. As we all stood around the fire, the shaman held up a cup of burning copal. The smell of copal was absolutely intoxicating. I felt as if I was taken back to my ancestors. The smokey, rich smell of wet earth and notes of sandal wood tickled my nose. Our Temazcalera gave offerings to the four directions. After each blessing, three men blew the Conch shell and I could hear it echo throughout the jungle. It was mesmerizing.
We sat inside and I could feel the hard earth beneath my knee length skirt. After four people came in after me I could already feel the heat rising. The man helping with the fire brought in the first set of rocks. As 5 large volcanic rocks came into the temazcal, the man would shout, “Hot Rocks of the Earth” and we would respond, “Welcome grandparents”. The hot volcanic stones being heated from the fire represent the grandmother and grandfather spirit. Copal is placed on each rock as it was put into the middle of our sweat lodge in a 2 foot deep hole. More rocks would be added to the Temazcal after every “cycle”. The thought of this kept my mind racing and anxiety building up.
“I’m not going to be able to do this….”
As we all settled in, our shaman asked us to go around the circle, say our names, where we’re from, and what blessings or words we would like to share. Immediately I did a head count inside and realized there were 13 of us, and I was number 6. I then realized this was going to take a while. I immediately felt a sudden surge of judgement and equal parts fear. “I’m not going to be able to do this”, I kept thinking.
As it was my turn to talk, I just felt this urge to cry. Bawling in English I just cried and felt this sense of sadness. I jumbled my words and couldn’t get the last words out. I kept thinking, where is this coming from? Most of the women had no idea what I was saying. As I spoke, the shaman just kept putting more and more water onto the hot stones. Hot steam brushed upon my face and made my body feel instantly hot and cold. I realized at that moment this was going to be an extremely difficult and emotional purge for myself.
Is a Temazcal for Everyone?
The short answer to this question is, yes. If you have found that an experience has found you (yes, please read again, the experience and healing has COME to you), the medicine is there to help you. I would caution those who are very claustrophobic, have high blood pressure, or may have a lot of emotional blockages and traumas they are not ready to heal. The temazcal, as a result, holds many beneficial healing modalities.
If you’re looking and desperately seeking out spiritual enlightenment or trying to find some kind of “experience”, you may not be ready for what the experience has to fully offer you. For those who are looking and ready for major shifts to happen, or are seeking answers, or simply looking to connect to spirit and source- a Temazcal may be an experience waiting for you.