After 11 years of living in Mexico, for the first time I participated in this ancient ceremony.
In 11 years, I had no shortage of invitations. But I knew that the right time would come and that the experience would have something more to teach me.
Pamela and Aldo, my Mexican friends, have been going to the Temazcal for 8 years. They were the ones who initiated me in the secrets of this ceremony.
Representation of the temāzcalli taken from the Mexica Codices.
This is my story in a Temazcal
It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon of a cloudy day. We arrived at the Temazcal in a humble house.
All the attendees were from the community. It was not a tourist event, as happens in many places in Mexico. This was a ceremony that is part of the community. This was a ceremony that is part of the community, where people go weekly for health problems or simply to relax the mind.
Temazcal in the town of Comala in Colima, Mexico. Photo by Jassonfoto.
The first door
We entered kneeling, going around the central circle until we sat on mats.
There were fourteen of us sitting around the circle. More glowing stones joined in. With the entrance of each stone, we make a greeting welcoming the stones, called “grandmothers of the earth”.
With the religious syncretism that prevails in Mexico, it is not surprising that the name of the person conducting the ceremony is called Lázaro (Lazarus).
Lazarus took in a fountain of water and with a bunch of aromatic herbs began to stoke the stones from which a hot steam was rising.
At that moment, the door closed, what they would call “the first” door of the four we had to go through.
The ceremony comprises going through four spiritual doors. Over 3 to 4 hours.
When the door closed, the entire space was dark, illuminated only by the red of the stones.
The heat increased, and suddenly the sound of the snail was heard, starting the ceremony.
The sound of the Mexican snail is very spatial. Called Atecocoli, atecocolli (water snail) or Teksispitsali (sea snail), it is used in various ceremonies to invoke or ask permission of the god of creation, Ometeotl.
The sound is like that of a reverberating bugle, with a force that fills any space.
Lazarus played the conch shell while the heat of the stones rose and the bodies sweat. At that very moment, outside, a storm broke out and the sky thundered. We took that sound as a response from the sky.
I could hear the little whips of the wet grasses against the stones that gave off more and more steam.
For a millisecond, my head thought it would be beautiful but impossible to record those sounds. The heat and humidity of the place made it impossible for any electronic equipment to survive the experience.
Lazarus played a drum, and people sang. Simple songs that helped us to breathe and calm the mind. Since I did not know any of the songs, I just listened quietly and accompanied the rhythm with my breathing.
They couldn’t see anything in that darkness, but suddenly blue dancing figures appeared before my eyes. At first, I thought my eyes were closed, but I realized they were wide open.
The heat was such that my skin peeled off I touched my arms and legs and felt like a potato when you boil it.
The perspiration was excessive. The air going into my mouth was as hot as the air coming out.
Lazarus showed that time was up. I don’t know how many minutes we spent at the first door. In unison, we asked for the door to open, and the door opened.
The second door
More stones entered, more grandmothers of the earth.
The door closed. We were already at the second door and I understood that the heat would rise, if that was possible.
At the first door people were talking loudly, at the second door they whispered. Again, in the darkness, I touched my feet because I could not find them. I was a sea of sweat, of water. I had become water.
Now I could see the blue figures dancing among the incandescent grandmothers. I put my hands in front of my face and blew what came out of my mouth was not air, but fire. It was something hotter than what I was breathing. How was that possible?
I felt my hands burning, but it didn’t bother me. I was in another land where discomfort was part of a unique moment and I didn’t feel uncomfortable.
We spent a few minutes in silence. The darkness with the heat was accentuated. The place was completely transformed. There were no references, no geometries. For a moment I thought I was in the center of the universe, in a black hole.
The chanting, drumming and a kind of rattling started again. The sounds could place people in that dark space, but I imagined them floating, singing and floating.
Suddenly three small windows opened and there was a battle between the cold outside and the heat inside and for several minutes the heat won and again in unison we all shouted «door» and the door opened.
We exited the Temazcal and poured buckets of ice-cold water on each other as the rain did the same on our bodies. I felt like my body was not my body for a few seconds.
The third door
We returned to the Temazcal, crawled to the left, and sat down again. The stone grandmothers came back in. The third door had begun.
The heat increased so much that someone asked if this was what hell felt like, and Lazarus in the dark told a story about the origin of this Catholic conception of hell.
The story made sense to me. It reminded me of scenes from different movies, and suddenly I stopped thinking. All that appeared in my mind were little blue dancing fires.
I remember thanking Pamela for taking me, touching her hand in the dark. I remember someone talking about suicide and another about a newborn or someone about to be born. The voices were coming from everywhere, disembodied, appearing in the dark, and I know I wasn’t hallucinating. That’s how acoustic the Temazcal experience is.
The chanting continued, followed by a brief but deep silence.
The door opened for the third time, but this time not only did more stones enter, but we also drank oregano tea to combat dehydration.
The fourth and final door
The door closed once more, and we were at the fourth door. The heat was so intense that hardly anyone was talking. And we all lay down. I felt something going down my throat and into my chest.
I could hear the breathing of the others and my own as if we were inside an egg. I could hear the air coming in through our noses and out through our mouths. At the fourth door, I heard the warmth of the air. “I heard the heat,” coming in and out of the bodies.
The experience lasted three hours, but the time passed differently than on the clock.
Every opportunity has its moment. That is one thing I have learned in Mexico.
Mexico and its people play all the time between these two points, showing your life and death in the most unexpected ways.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most immersive experiences I have ever had in my life.