Temazcal: The Mesoamerican Bath That Purifies Both Body and Spirit
The Temazcal, or ‘Steam Temple,’ is an echo of the mother’s womb and that of the Earth; a purifying ritual that cleanses thoroughly.
For most of the Mesoamerican cultures, those that developed from the Central Mexico and towards the limit of Central and South America, the motherly figure is a cosmogonist protagonist –– she represents the fundamental moment, the beginning of life. This defining archetype, representing both Mother Earth and the woman, uses the womb as an axis, an original basin of existence and our destiny’s cradle.
Among the different expressions that show devotion for the maternal womb there is the temazcal, which comes from the Nahuatl word temazcalli (‘temple of steam’). According to some historians, this concept also refers to the goddess Toci, ‘our grandmother’, also known as Teteo Innan, the mother of the gods, or Temazcalteci, the grandmother of the steam baths.
The practice of temazcal dates back at least 1,200 years, and it has both ceremonial and practical functions. It is a healing ritual for the body and soul. Unlike other steam baths in other traditions, the temazcal uses hot stones previously wrapped in medicinal plants, which are heated until they turn bright red; when water is poured over them they produce a healing herbal steam.
This millennial bath takes place in clay ‘caves’, generally built in a semi-circle, alluding to the maternal womb. The resulting vapor cleanses the respiratory and digestive tracks, and strengthens the nervous system. It is also used to treat bone, muscular and gyneco-obstetric ailments. The bath is a collective activity, men and women can participate simultaneously, in a session that includes singing, praying and silence.
One of the deepest properties of this practice encourages introspection, which endows the participants with the possibility of experiencing a cathartic session. Additionally, it weakens some of the basic axes of our cultural perception, time linearity for example, which enables a mystical experience associated with the awareness of unity.
The temazcal is an opportunity to stop time, to momentarily return to the primal source of life, and to find the original womb again. Independently of its metaphysical benefits, its detoxing and cleansing properties have been scientifically proven.
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