Having walked the path of training to lead a Temazcal (sweat lodge) for the last three years, in the Mexhica tradition, I’ve decided to write an article to explain in detail how a Temazcal ceremony is organized and run.
This is my account of the sacred ritual organization and running, and I share the below lines with the understanding that there are many ways this sacred ceremony can be conducted, as well as that I in no way attempt to prescribe what is correct and what is not through this article.
To do justice to the whole process, I have decided to separate my writing into two parts. In this second part of the article, I will cover what happens during and after a Temazcal ceremony. The first part of the article covers what happens before the ceremony as well as what are the supporting roles during Temazcal, you can find it here.
Inside the Temazcal
Having set up everything for the ceremony, we are ready to enter. Women normally enter first, one by one. They receive the copal (sacred smoke) and then enter the sweat lodge. They move clockwise crawling on all fours and take their position. What I have noticed is that with Temazcal it is the ceremony leader who enters first and leaves last; with Inipi, it is the leader who enters last and leaves first. After the women, men enter next. Upon entering the Temazcal we say our name, for example, Maria, and then everybody inside says – Bienvenida Maria. Todos somos familia! (Welcome Maria. We are all related!).
The Temazcal has 4 moments, or four doors as they are also called, each corresponding to each of the cardinal directions and the energies and symbolism they represent – as explained in the first part of the article. Thus, every door is guided with prayers and songs reflective of the significance it carries.
Except for the fire men, the last to enter is the deer man (or woman). The deer man then asks for the deer antlers and medicines, which are passed inside by the fire man. They are entered into the sweat lodge, touched in the middle of the Temazcal, where the hole for the stones is, and then shown to everybody in the sweat lodge. The deer man holds them up and looks at every participant in the eye, one by one as they move the antlers and medicine so that everyone can see them. This is done so that people can connect with the spirits of the medicines and the deer whose antlers we are using.
Seven grandmothers please, Abuela says next. This is the signal for the fire men to enter seven hot stones from the fire, one by one. The stones are taken out of the fire with a spade fork, dusted with a bunch of pine branches, and brought inside the sweat lodge. Thereon, every stone is lifted by the deer man using the antlers and placed in the central hole. This placing is done in a particular order for the first door, east-west-north-south-center, and then diagonally. For every consecutive door, the first stone is placed in the central circle in the corresponding direction and thereon in a spiral. Once the stones are placed in the central circle, the Medicine Woman places medicines on top, these could be copal, cedar, lavender, bear root (osha), or sweetgrass, to name but a few.
Once all the stones are entered for every door, the water goes inside. In the Mexhica tradition, the name for water is Atzin and in the Lakota tradition it is Mini Wakan, these names both mean Sacred Water. The bucket of water is passed inside by the fire man and is received by the deer man and the sweat lodge leader. Abuela Gloria customarily touches the bucket four times to the stones and upon the fourth time says Hokahey – today is a good day to die. Even if Abuela walks the Mexhica tradition, she uses this warrior call from the Lakota before the ceremony – it does not mean to die as in leave our physical body, she says, it is a call to die to the past, to die to illness and to die to our worries so that we may leave this ceremony reborn with new energy and a new desire to live life well. Finally, the fire men enter and they close the door by pulling down the blankets so that the inside of the Temazcal gets pitch black. And one can only see the red hot stones in the center of it.
Flor y Canto – Flower and Song
During every of the four moments, four songs are sung. Abuela Gloria sings the first one and then she nominates other people in the sweat lodge. She would normally pick the medicine woman, the deer man, and the fire men to sing first. But often she would ask other participants to go first especially if there is someone who has walked the medicine path for a long time, an elder, the person who asked for the ceremony, or a young child.
She would also say flor y canto– which translates to flower and song – but is actually an invitation to share a prayer and a song. Prayers are called flowers, abuela says because they are the most beautiful flowers that come from the heart. The songs usually are related to the energy of the direction we are working with, but if someone feels inspired to sing during the ceremony, they are very much encouraged, and any song that comes from the heart and carries a positive message is welcomed.
It can get very hot in the Temazcal, and combined with the pitch black darkness the energy that is created is very particular. Temazcal can bring about deep emotional release and it is not uncommon for people to cry during the ceremony. The heat, darkness, prayer, and song also create a great emotional/energetic opening that moves us, restores flow, and generates this sensation of purification, both physical and spiritual. This is why Temazcal also symbolizes rebirth. We go inside to be purified, let the past be the past, and emerge purified and renewed.
The ceremony is completed after the fourth door and upon finishing everybody leaves in the same order as the one they entered, meaning those who entered first exit first and those who entered last exit last. From the supporter team, first, leave the fire men, then all participants, then the medicine woman, the deer man, and finally the ceremony leader.
Upon leaving the sweat lodge everyone picks up a handful of tobacco from the basket we originally placed our tobacco prayers, puts it in the fire, and then tries to stand in the way of the smoke so that they may receive the blessing. But even if you don’t do that, the smoke is considered to get the prayers to where they need to go. After this, there is a moment to clean ourselves with water and sometimes also Abuela prepares a plant bath that is poured over our bodies right after going out.
The last step to close the ceremony is closing the ceremonial fire and this is done by the fire man or men. The penultimate step is to take a piece of burnt wood and leave it out of the fire to be placed inside the fire for the next ceremony – this piece of firewood is called the memory, and in this way, the continuity between the consecutive sweat lodges and the prayers is maintained. Once the ceremony elder has placed their tobacco in the fire, the fire man places in the fire any remaining tobacco from the basket, the butt of the tobacco used to start the ceremonial fire, as well as the bunch of pine used to clean the stones before entering the sweat lodge. With this, the ceremony is closed.
Final Moments and Reflections
Once everyone has changed into their clothes, we have a moment to share some of the foods people bring as part of their offing before the ceremony. Normally there are fruits, nuts and other healthy snacks. While sometimes people bring chocolate and other not-so-healthy sweets, the idea is that having just completed a process of purification we want to keep our bodies clean and avoid processed foods and lots of sugar.
The moment of sharing the food is also a moment for people to share about their experiences and connect with others. As participants in the ceremony enjoy this moment with the snacks and sharing, the helpers usually attend to undressing the temazcal, folding all the blankets, and cleaning up and putting back all the materials used during the ceremony. These actions help maintain the order of the space as well as the order of the energy of the ceremony and the people.
Some important reflections and principles of the sweat lodge are that being part of the ceremony is not about demonstrating how much heat we can take and how strong we are. Sometimes if we are having a difficult moment, it is ok to lie down and breathe in some cooler air closer to the ground. It is ok to feel doubt and desire to leave, but it is exactly these moments that allow us to confront our mind and our limiting thoughts, surrender the thoughts and decide that we will remain, that we will persevere, despite the noise in our heads.
And this is one of the ways that sweat lodge teaches us about life, by allowing us the possibility to experience our turbulent thoughts and remain calm in the face of our mind going all over the place. It is the ability to remain focused on our prayer and intention in the moment of turbulence that is an invaluable skill for life. And by going to sweat lodge repeatedly we expand our capacity to withstand pressure and tension and we expand our ability to respond rather than react to any situation that might come up in the ceremony of everyday life.
Sweat lodge also teaches us to be humble, teaches us to lie down, when we need to, and to ask for help when we need it. This ceremony further teaches us that we are stronger than we might think and it teaches us not to trust everything we think. It teaches us faith, concentration and surrender. I love sweat lodge because I really connect with the prayers, nurturing the relationship with spirit through expressing openly from our heart. Strengthening our faith and directing our thoughts in the direction we would like and towards the energy we would like to create with!
I hope you found the two articles on Temazcal useful and that they give you a fuller picture of everything that goes on before, during, after, and around this ancient ceremony. If you would like to join our next sweat lodge, or any other of the ceremonies and retreats we host, do get in contact and we would love to talk to you.
If you’re interested in learning more about Abuela Gloria’s work and her upcoming Temazcals, take a look at her website, abuelagloria.org.
May your path ahead be full of flowers and may you have the courage to follow your heart. Life is short and you have the power to create a reality that is full of beauty, take this opportunity!
Aho Mitakuye Oyasin (for all of my relations)