13 Feb Temezcal: Pre-columbian Sweat Lodge of Mexico
Temezcal: Pre-columbian Sweat Lodge
There are few rituals more famous in Mexico than the Temezcal, a pre-hispanic ritual similar to a sweat lodge. Being the committed investigative reporter that I am, I decided that it was completely inappropriate to live here and never have participated in one. So I slapped on a bathing suit and sarong and headed out to the Charco del Ingenio, a local botanical garden and nature preserve which often has traditional indigenous events, to try it out.
I read up on it, which was smart (if I do say so myself) because normally I’m a big breakfast eater which might well have killed me in the sweat lodge (no, but seriously …) I ate light and drank lots of water as my research instructed me to do. I also set out goals for myself: things I was tired of in my life and ready to get rid of and the new things I wanted to bring into my life to replace them. I was thinking about all this deep, heady stuff about the time we got situated inside the adobe dome and I realized I had to pee. So much for research.
I guess I should have thought about that while we were all sitting on bamboo grass mats breaking apart the myriad of herbs that would make up a tea we would share and bathe in during the ritual, but it was all too interesting. Gustavo Munquia, the leader of the ceremony, was talking at length about the history of the Temazcal and I wondered if I wrote any faster whether my pen would catch on fire. The smell of lavender, rosemary, mint, oregano and chamomile filled the air.
Before we entered the adobe dome a woman holding a ceramic cup filled with a resin called Copal outlined each one of our bodies, cleaning them before starting the sweat lodge. Inside, we sat against the walls leaving the center pit open to receive the smoldering rocks. The smoke hole in the back was covered as was the entryway as we prepared to pass through the 4 doors, or stages, of the ritual. Four times the door would open and rocks would come in. Four times we would sing and sweat and try not to pass out.
Each one of the phases lasted about 20 minutes. The first one was loud; we were singing and excited, thinking about the people who’d come before us. The second one was focused on women and children, and it was full of singing too. The third stage was silent as we thought about all the people we knew and wished them well, sharing cups of cold herb tea.
In the final stage, we flew. What I mean by that is that Gustavo began fanning the stones with a wet t-shirt and I thought I might possibly die. The tea bucket came around and we rubbed our bodies down with the cold, wet herbs, which gave us brief yet needed relief from the heat. Everyone else laid down, but I somehow didn’t get the memo and stayed up right where the air was significantly hotter. Of course, it didn’t help that it was pitch black, or (on second thought) maybe it did, because then you can’t physically see how hot it is.
When we crawled out we were bucketed with cold water, which was amazing. I swear I’ve never sweat so much in all my life. But I walked out re-energized, feeling rejuvenated and ready to face whatever the day had to throw my way. I turned to my friend Cristina and told her, “We’ve got to do this again.”
“Soon,” she said.