The Heal on Earth: Temazcal

El Temazcal

By: Mónica Belén Hernández Bennettz

The alarm clock sounds, as every day it is time to get up.  You ask for a few more minutes; you went to bed a little late and you will spend the whole day attending to pending tasks or whatever arises; you may have children and guide them in their academic activities. You have responsibilities. This is how it goes every day, week after week, month after month, until you realize that the burden of daily life weighs heavily, and you begin to feel everything from which we flee: sadness, anxiety.  It seems that your soul suffers, and your body suffers - more and more recently. It is a fact, you need more than vacations, you need to heal your body inside and out: you need a TEMAZCAL.

In Mexico there is a medicine that the ancients used in a ritual way, called Temazcal. This word comes from the Nahuatl language which means house where you sweat -yes, it is like the steam baths of ancient Rome, but with a difference.  The material construction included stone with mud, adobe (it is a construction material in the form of uncooked bricks, made with a mass of clay, sand and sometimes with added straw, they are dried in the sun. To avoid cracks in the material, straw is added.

Sometimes horsehair is used, which serves as armor for this type of brick) or carved stone. The floor used to be made of flattened or burned earth, stuccoes or paved, with or without drainage. It could be round or square; most of the time it was dug into the ground. In the center of the place, very very hot stones were placed where a preparation of herbs was poured that were collected through a ritual.

Everything inside is darkness.  There is a Temazcalero Grandfather (master in the art of grandparents who contemplates the knowledge of the gods and elements) who prepares all the materials with great respect, makes an offering of corn, and cleanses the people who enter with copal.  Copal is an aromatic plant resin that they extract from trees, it is said to cure diseases of the soul or some witchcraft.  A ceremony is performed asking permission from the four cardinal points through the elements: fire, air, earth and water.  It asks the gods for protection for the journey that will take place inside the steam house. The snail trumpet, called quiquiztli yatecocoli or tecciztli, is played to open the energy channels of all the cardinal points.

This ritual is done prior to entering the Temazcal; you must enter clean and willing to make a trip to the interior of yourself. Once inside, the people are placed around the house.  The Grandfather will carry a drum, and he will be assisted by his apprentice or another grandfather. He will clean each participant with herbs; he will sprinkle the herbal water on the burning stones; he will ask you to close your eyes and breathe softly as far as your strength will give, while he speaks and plays the drum until its sound becomes one with the beat of your heart; you start to sweat, the vibration of Grandfather's voice and the sound of the drum they symbolize.  It asks you to scream, sigh, and move your arms, to exhale everything that has caused you pain; you may cry; you may see inside yourself with your eyes closed; you may curl up; you may tremble cold in the middle of almost 50 degrees Celsius (122 F).  It is as if you were in the womb - this house symbolizes the womb of the earth. Grandpa will take care of you. When you leave there, you will be born again. He will give you tea and ask you to take a shower with cold water; your skin will be cleansed, and you will have lost somebody weight; your lungs will be clean, and your blood will flow with a better rhythm than before.

This ritual has been done in Mexico since before the 1521 conquest.  Currently the tradition continues in the center and south of the country, although in the north there are also places where there are Temazcales with this ritual sense of healing and purification. Its benefits are physical and spiritual. It is part of traditional Mexican medicine, and it is a gift to the world.

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