In the series of posts titled ”How to survive...”, let me introduce you some tips on how to survive a native American sweat lodge ceremony, known as 'Temascal' or 'Temazcal'.
There is a lot of mysticism around the ceremony, so let's demystify some facts!
The ceremony does not include drinking or smoking any hallucinogenic substances! The tobacco smoked for cleansing purposes is pure, natural tobacco and you can only take a couple of hits or not to smoke at all. I'm sure that the smoke from the bonfire alone is cleansing enough. Do not expect either to have a peek on the private parts of the other participants: I suppose that like us, most of the time in this ceremony people wear their swimwear.
In the beginning, all the participants (we were 11) of this ceremony gathered around a bonfire that had been set up earlier that day. One of the participants was burning aromatic Palo Santo wood and Manush, a Canadian with some North American native Indian ancestors told us stories about how the ceremony usually goes in his tribe. For example, our group consisted of both men and women, but in his tribe it was more common that men sweat in their own group and women sweat in their own. In some cases, warriors form a third group and they sweat apart. The sweat is considered as an offer and the ceremony itself is an offering ceremony to honour the ancestors, Mother Earth and the elements of nature.
Apart from Palo Santo wood, Agua Florida was used for pre-sweating purification. Agua Florida is simply flowered water that is used in many religious ceremonies in South America. I have bought myself a small bottle from the market, because I like the smell. You can find it any market, basically, and it will cost you something like two US dollars for a small bottle. So we just splashed some Agua Florida on our hands and faces like cologne, as a part of the ritual.
Once we were all in and sitting in a circle, we started singing and some participants played instruments too. The ceremony includes four 'doors'. It means that the door of the tent -which by now was closed -was opened for times, each time to bring more hot stones into the fireplace. Each door represents one element of nature: the water, the air, the earth and the fire and the stones represented the spirits of the ancestors, Every time the door open and new hot stones were brought in, we greeted them by saying all aloud 'A-Ho!'. ”A-Ho Ancestors”, ”A-Ho the Great Spirit”!
In between the stones we were singing, and every one could think about someone to offer his or her sweat, either quietly or by sharing with the others, or address a prayer. Anybody could also propose a song. I must admit it's not always easy to sing along in many different foreign languages....But there were two simple songs we were singing probably the most, and in fact, they knd of got stuck in my head for quite a long time, so I will share the lyrics here as I remember (or don't):
Bienvenidos, bienvenidos abuelos (---a part that I don't remember---), mensajeros de la paz
Translation: Welcome, welcome ancestors (---), messengers of peace
Tierra mi cuerpo, Aire mi aliento, Agua mi sangre, fuego mi esprítu.
Translation: Earth is my body, Air is my breath, water is my blood, fire is my spirit.
Before the ceremony I was worried that it may get too hot in there and I would start to feel dizzy, despite the fact that I love saunas and hammams and I am very used to them -being a Finn and having spent quite long periods of time in Morocco- I was suspicious of sitting on the ground in a relatively small tent with some smoke inside made me feel claustrophobic. But there was absolutely no need to worry, and it did not get too hot at all. On the contrary, at some point I had to approach the stones, because I felt cold air at my back, entering from under the tent and it did not feel pleasant. Thinking of it now, that was the only unpleasant aspect of the whole ceremony.
Once we had gone through all the four doors and sitting in a tent for about two hours, it was time to go out. The plan was to go back to the bonfire, rince ourselves with water where some flowers had been cooked for the whole day, then dress up and stay sitting at the warmth of the bonfire. But unfortunately, while we were sitting in the sweat lodge it had started raining (abuelos, you heard us? Did someone in the group pray for the rain?), so we just quickly grabbed our clothes and went inside to take a shower and change.
The ceremony had the relaxing effect of a sauna, and I had the best sleep that night, and quite weird dreams as a bonus. Ancestor trying to communicate something?