The Temazcal was a special experience that I wanted to share with my readers, especially if you are interested in undergoing a cleansing ritual. However, I would like to note that this spiritual cleansing ceremony is made available to tourists to help support and sustain the local Mayan community, most likely so they can avoid working for the neighboring tourist economy and develop tourism in a new way. This position recognized, I was told the ceremony was authentic to their tradition, yet, we only did “one door” with four parts of the ceremony and traditionally there are four doors.
The night began with a tour of a Mayan house in Dos Palmas. The land was sparsely populated with these oval shaped wood structures with a thatched palm roof. The newer houses had stone foundations. Next some of the local woman show us how to make tortillas and we got to sample them. This was followed by a lesson in conch blowing, which is way harder than it looks, but a useful tutorial, since it was part of the ceremony.
The Ceremony started around an alter where a Shaman explained a little about what to expect, then he began chanting and calling on good spirits or perhaps the great spirit to guide us. He gave us a delicious cinnamon tasting drink in a fruit shell, I really didn’t know what was going on. He led us to a circular structure with openings that point to the four cardinal directions with a fire pit in the middle. Standing on the outskirts of the circle, the Shaman guided us to summon each direction and the corresponding elements, one by one. We blew the conch for the north: fire, south: water, east: air, west: earth, then to the sky and then to the dirt. We thanked Mother Earth, exited the circle, and walked clockwise until we met the Shaman at the north entrance. One by one or as a couple, the Shaman cleansed us with a mixture of burning herbs, sage, copal, and perhaps others I could not identify. Palms facing up, arms out wide, and heart open to the sky, smoke surrounded our bodies as the Shaman whispered to our ancestors. Once cleansed, we entering the circle and sat around the fire. The shaman continued to call to the sky before giving us crystallized copal resin to throw in the fire as we set in our intentions. We all pondered what it is we are here for, and once comfortable in our thoughts, approached the fire with our copal, closing this portion of the ceremony.
We entered the Temazcal or “house of heat” (sweat lodge) on our hands and knees as we repeated a Mayan phrase paying thanks or respect to Mother Earth. There were two candles lit as we filed in, and as people kept entering, I became more nervous, perhaps claustrophobic. Once settled in, we were given pieces of aloe to rub on our faces or anywhere else we wanted to protect. The Shamans assistant started to bring burning stones they call abuelitas (little grandmas) into the center of the room. With each stone it became increasingly more hot and my anxiety grew as I wondered just how many more would come. I believe there were thirteen giant stones that filled the center of the womb. Traditionally there are four rounds of thirteen stones, signifying the importance of the number four and symbolizing the fifty-two year Mayan century. My translator tapped out as soon as the assistant brought in the last stone, just before the door shut, leaving me without proper translation (though it was never honestly proper). Once the door closed, the candles were blown out and we were left in complete darkness. I should note that we were allowed to exit once the door closed if we could not handle it, but we were strongly urged to try our best to overcome any negative feelings or limitations. The “safe word” was two hard claps and the word “Puerta” or door.
The Shaman led four rounds of this ritual, I began by focusing on my breathing. Not letting fear, of the dark or of the heat, have power over me. He spoke to the ancestors, he sang, there was drumming and a rain stick, as he called on us to participate. I kept my hands on each side of my hips to feel the coolness of the stone below me, staring into darkness, I let the rhythm of my breath calm my mind as I repeated a positive affirmation. Instead of focusing on the negativity I want to release, I focused on the positivity I will gain. I felt calm, as the Shaman threw water on the rocks and the heat intensified. He burned sage, copal, basil, tobacco and perhaps others. My eyes burned worse than the heat felt, so I kept them shut for the remainder of the ceremony. Between proclamations and prayers, the Shaman tossed water at us as well and the unexpectedness of it hitting my face as I was breathing deeply became exhilarating. We all tried to repeat after him, singing in a language we do not know or understand, some people clapped. But synchronized at the end of each round, we all called out “Aho.”
During the third part of this experience, perhaps the climax of the cleanse, the Shaman asked us to perform a release: to cry, to shout, to laugh, or yell, to feel a burden lifted. No one was shy; suddenly the dark, smoky, sweltering womb was filled with wretched screams then laughs, then “Ahos.” This is when I felt lighter, as people continued to scream, I was smiling, eyes closed. Perhaps I could feel the positive energy, even despite the touristy behavior of the other participants in my group. In the last portion, we thanked the earth, we thanked our ancestors, finally the door opened, but we sat a while longer meditating. After exiting the Temazcal the Shaman poured herb infused water over our heads, and sealed the blessing, if you would call it that. I faced my fears, I was able to truly calm the mind, transcend the distractions, and made it through the entire experience. I felt accomplished, or maybe even reborn in the Temazcal.
After the ceremony we swam in a Cenote, or a natural pit beneath bedrock filled with pure groundwater. Stalactites overhead, only a few lights strung above the top of the cave, bats flew around us, but the water felt great. After the swim, we enjoyed a delicious meal prepared for us by the Mayan
women. I ate chicken covered in red spices, rice and beans and drank a hibiscus tea.
The entire night was a one I will never forget, and I hope to have many more like this in the future. Now knowing what to expect, I will definitely participate in another Temazcal and enter it with less fear. I encourage anyone with the opportunity to try this to do so; I also encourage anyone with fear to release it, great things can happen when we make room for growth, we renew the spirit.