What Is A Temazcal Ceremony?
In this article we cover:
- Temazcal Ritual
- Where Did Temazcal Ceremonies Originate?
- What to Expect From a Temazcal Ceremony
Published February 18, 2022
With roots reaching back thousands of years into the pre-Hispanic period, a temazcal ceremony is a sacred ritual where an individual undergoes a spiritual rebirth. In addition, a purification of their body and a release out of any “illness” or affliction takes place.
Pronounced tay-mahz-call, the word Temazcal derives from the ancient language, Náhuatl. The word temazcal finds its origins in the Náhuatl word, “Temāzcalli.” “Teti” meaning rock, “Mezitli” meaning hot, and “Cali” meaning house. Combined, Temāzcalli translates to “a house of burning rocks.”
So what happens once a participant steps into this house of burning rocks? Where did this temazcal ceremony originate? How has it remained a common sacred ritual all this time? What allures people to take part in such a spiritual and physical undertaking? What do they hope to find on the other side, or on the outside, of a temazcal ceremony?
What Is A Temazcal Ceremony?
A temazcal ceremony is much more than a “sweat lodge” that an individual enters to rid their body of toxins. It’s also not an environment one would head to for relaxation, like they would in a sauna. A temazcal ceremony is a deeply provoking yet powerfully healing, sacred ritual. Participants head into a temazcal ceremony looking to be healed in any direction of their life, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual. They enter the dome-shaped hut in search of something deeply profound.
Although temazcal huts of all different shapes have been discovered throughout various archeological sites, they usually resemble a dome. The temazcal structure is made of materials that were harvested from the surrounding environment. This can be volcanic rocks, wood, cloth, adobe, or cement created by the infusion of limestone, sand, or clay. The door of the temazcal is usually oriented towards the East, the direction in which the sun greets us each day. The ground inside a temazcal hut varis, but is most commonly raw Earth, sand, palm leaves, or a petate.
The distinctive dome shape of the hut represents the dome shape of a woman’s womb. (A Goddess’ womb, which we’ll cover soon.) This signifies a rebirth site. As an individual exits the temazcal ritual, they are stepping back into the world, literally reborn.
The temazcal ritual begins before an individual steps foot into the temazcal hut. The sacred ritual begins when the volcanic rocks are being warmed by fire outside the hut. People partaking in the temazcal ceremony give thanks to the forest, the Earth, and set their intentions. They also ask the volcanic rocks for permission to use them to heat the temazcal hut. These rocks represent “grandfather fire” in the temazcal ritual.
Once they step inside the Temazcal, the participant kneels. Then, they kiss the ground beneath them, and pray to the gods. During prayer, they ask if they may take space on the belly button of the Earth. Once participants are inside, the embering volcanic rocks are placed in the center of the hut. The rocks transmute into “wise grandmothers” in the temazcal ritual.
Water is poured generously over the rocks in order to create a thick billowing of steam. This alters the air temperature, allows the inhalation of water vapor, and moisturizes the skin, inducing a sweat reaction. Herbs are added to the volcanic rocks in order to provide a deeper therapeutic effect. These herbs can be sage, resin from the copal tree, artemisia, eucalyptus, calendula, or echinacea.
Every temazcal ceremony has different objectives or durations. That said, almost all temazcal ceremonies are led by a shaman who chants or sings during ceremony. Their shamanic energy fills every crevice of the space.
If a shaman is not present, a temazcalero (professional sweat lodge guide) might be present. The shaman or temazcalero will then add tobacco straight onto the rocks. Then, participant(s) bring their attention and intention to the realm of their life that they would like to improve. This can be an intention to receive guidance, learning, or healing from something.
Where Did Temazcal Ceremonies Originate?
Ancient cultures have their own versions of the temazcal ceremony. We see similarities in saunas, steam baths, and sweat lodges. Cultures north of Mexico refer to their version of this ceremony as an “inipi” or “kiva.” Europeans a “savusauna” or “sudatory.” The Chinese a “桑拿浴” or “bathhouse.” The Russians call it “banya” or “banja.” Each has their own approach, setting, and rituals that are unique to their culture.
However, Mesoamerican cultures that inhabited the Yucatán Peninsula and Guatemala for centuries are credited with the creation of the distinctive temazcal ceremony. These Mesoamerican cultures, derived from the Maya civilization, date back 6000 BC. Over 8,000 years ago. Sometime between 6000 BC – 1000 AD (1,000 years ago) was the birth of the temazcal ceremony.
The Temazcal ceremony was known by the indigenous people of Mexico as a physical and spiritual healing bath. The indigenous people used the ritual to pay homage to the goddess of medicine, Temazcaltoci. Temazcaltoci, or “the grandmother of all baths,” is an Aztec goddess. She continues to be highly revered by shamans today.
She’s also known as the goddess of cleanliness. She continues to be worshiped today as the goddess who protects us from demonic spirits, energies, or impurities of the mind. Many see Temazcaltoci as a spiritual protection or mentor.
Another important spiritual deity to the temazcal ceremony is Tonantzin, the “Mother of the Gods.” Translating to “our sacred Mother” in Náhuatl, Tonantzin is a symbol of fertility and the Earth. Thus, the archetypal dome-shape of the hut represents the womb of Tonantzin.
What Happens During A Temazcal Ceremony?
There is not a cut-and-dry answer to what happens in a temazcal ceremony. Based on your intention and how receptive you are to the experience, what happens is what you make of it. As participants enter the “womb” of the temazcal hut, they symbolically die and emerge reborn.
Thought to heal you from the inside out, a temazcal ritual provides the space for a living soul to connect with the cosmos. They are encouraged to explore their relationship with Mother Nature. They also hone in through meditation on the spiritual needs they are currently presented with. The body sweats and rids itself of toxins which is necessary for purification of both the body and the mind.
A temazcal ceremony sounds extremely alluring and restorative on its face. However, it’s imperative to note that it can be quite challenging and deeply transformative sometimes. A decision to take part in a temazcal ceremony should not be made in haste.
What to Expect From a Temazcal Ceremony
You may receive exactly what you intended to and heal spiritual/emotional wounds that would have festered otherwise. But, it’s possible to be confronted with a thought, experience, or emotion that you’ve been hiding from, embedded within your unconscious, that can be extremely intense or painful. No matter what, taking part in a temazcal ceremony requires a lot of bravery. That is the commendable and quite beautiful aspect of it all.
No matter your desire or intention for entering a temazcal hut, you may return to the world in ways you can’t even imagine. In ways no one who has taken part in a temazcal ritual has ever found the right words for.
Benefits of a Temazcal Ceremony
Besides spiritual transformations and insights that are unique to each individual, there are other benefits that one can gain from partaking. The atmosphere that the volcanic rocks, water, and herbs concoct aids, for starters. An individual’s body will remove toxins through sweating. This environment also purifies the skin, flushing out any impurities that may be stored in the body. The heat of the temazcal also opens up the body’s capillaries. This aids blood flow and promotes better circulation and raised oxygen levels.
Because of the deeply meditative and contemplative nature of the ritual, temazcal ceremonies are as mentally valuable as they seem. Known to steady the mind, the process can awaken a state of relaxation, inner peace, and provide the bedrock for incredible inner work and spiritual metamorphosis.
Preparing for Ceremony
Too little or too much clothing can distract one from their experience. Many folks like to wear a bathing suit or minimal clothing that they’re comfortable sweating in. When the body needs warmth or coverage, or when exiting the hut, a blanket can be handy. You can also have a small towel if you feel that the profuse sweating may distract or discomfort you.
The night or morning before your ceremony is to take place, make sure you are hydrated. In order to prevent any dehydration or unwelcomed sensations, you’ll want to have plenty of water in your system. It’s smart to have a light meal before a temazcal ceremony, too. Again, this will prevent any discomfort and will give you the stamina you require.
If you start to feel unwell, do your best to remain calm. When/if this occurs, focus on the breath and try your best to adapt to the environment.
In a scenario where an anxious state has fallen out of your control, make the shaman aware. They will know the best course of action to guide you in that moment based on your particular situation. Above all else, know that it is okay if you need to step out of the experience.
If you are someone who is considering a voyage into a temazcal ceremony, this can be an extremely exciting time! We hope you unearth something incredible, or integrate exactly what it is you intended to from the onset. You will simply be in awe of the sacred ritual. We hope you will return from the belly of the hut as a different person than the one you entered.