Instead of a neighborhood barbecue with beer and brats, here in San Miguel de Allende one might be invited to a Temazcal Ceremony on a Sunday afternoon. A Temazcal Ceremony makes use of a sweat lodge. There are no mind altering substances involved and certainly no booze involved. In fact I would think it impossible to mix any of those things in with this ceremony, which is a handful to get through without any artificially induced handicaps at all.
In the last few years Temazcal has become a sort of New Age craze. It is billed as a “purification, detoxification, and rebirth experience.” Last fall the practice became the subject of much discussion after two fatalities near Sedona, Arizona in connection with a session conducted by self-help guy, James Ray. He was charged with manslaughter this past February. We can set that all that aside as an aberration given the facts that have subsequently come out about that incident. What those people got involved with was insane.
The photos here are not my best efforts. Perhaps they will help to illustrate what I am trying to describe nonetheless.
This is a northern plains Indian ceremony that has been imported into many Latin America countries. The Mexican people have embraced it in particular. It is indeed a ceremony. To stage one correctly–and safely–one needs officiators who know what the hell they are doing.
My acquaintance, Terresa, had been planning hers for weeks. She lives in a permaculture operation to the east of town in the midst of a sizeable stretch of chaparral. Her friend, Chris, the Belgian backpacker, was the male master of ceremonies. Chris has gone totally native and embraced indigenous American culture so thoroughly that he is more indigenous than the indigenous are. . .or were. During his time in Canada, he studied with a native American shaman.
There were eight women and five men in at the start of this particular ceremony. Only two of us were first timers, both of us men. You are free to leave at any time, but if you wish to drop out, you are encouraged to try to hold on and drop out at the next break. Men drop out. Women do not. This has come to be a ceremony with a very strong female bent. Women love this.
The female mistress–pardon me–master of ceremonies was a Mexican friend of Terresa named Betty. Betty is approximately thirty-plus and sweetly, stunningly beautiful. I must admit that it adds a certain flavor to the proceedings, particular when I end up sitting on the ground right next to that woman for four or five hours while we sweat our asses off together in swim suits.
Just because Betty is a veteran, however, does not mean that she did not suffer. She suffered. Young Maria, who is around 21, suffered, too. But she displayed some real grit and completed the four sessions. There was also a Ukrainian woman present who knew the ceremony and was very informative during the breaks. Tough as nails, too. Veteran or novice, everyone suffers.
As for the structure of the ceremony, suffice it to say that it consists of four sweat sessions with short breaks in between to cool off and to add more glowing hot rocks to the hole in the middle of the sweat lodge. One does not get out of the lodge during the breaks. The doors are simply opened.
There are a lot of drums and shakers, a lot of singing, and a lot of prayer involved. I was the eldest male present, and therefore, I had to do everything first. That is not bad duty when it involves drinking the herbal water first or eating the fruit first. However, I was also cornered into leading a song once. The song I chose was Cost of Freedom by Crosby, Stills and Nash. That worked out okay. Kinda. I am very short on Lakota songs in my repertoire.
This photo was taken the morning after. Here Terresa has spread some of the straw mats outside in the sun to dry. These straw mats become soaked with sweat.
A large wood fire is maintained outside the sweat lodge by assistants called “firemen.” The firemen stay outside the entire time. The firemen carry hot rocks from the fire to the sweat lodge on shovels and slide them in the door after each break. Then the door flaps are closed, and a new session starts.
Each of the four sessions is a bit hotter than the last because there are more and more rocks. During a session water with herbs in it is occasionally sprinkled on the rocks, and the aromas are part of the experience. Betty did not smell all that badly either–kind of lemony or orangey or something citrusy–in her hair, I think.
I made it through the entire ceremony in the sweat lodge. It gets hot in there toward the end. It is painfully hot during the fourth session.
You fast before a Temazcal Ceremony and feast afterward. What a feed after this one! I was able to recognize rice here and beans there and bananas burned to a crisp and chocolate with strawberries and the like. Not all of it was readily identifiable, but it was all delicious. Then I went to my tent, laid down, and slept. And slept.
This is an entirely different sweat lodge that I photographed down south in Tequisquiapan in someone else’s back yard.
And so, one might ask, what conclusions have I formed about Temazcal based upon my experience? I am not sure yet. I would do it again though in an effort to figure that out. It is not simply a glorified sauna.