Temazcal - The Womb of Mother Earth

The word temazcal is nahuatl for steam house and it is how the Aztecs called their steam bath with medicinal herbs.

Throughout the history the steam bath has been present in many cultures around the world. In all of them the steam bath has had a ritual & therapeutic significance, however the Mesoamerican case is remarkable because it was practiced in a daily basis both as a preventive therapy and as a cleansing bath.

In the Mesoamerican tradition, the grandmother is in charge of preparing the temazcal chamber and choosing the herbs for the whole family daily bath, because she’s the most experienced one in herbalism. The complete ritual is related to Grandmother Goddess, the healer’s patroness, the underworld, the moon, the birth and renewal of all beings. Thus, the structure often resembles a pregnant womb.

Some temazcales are built completely in stone or brick, however the most common and traditional ones are built in adobe or clay-covered palm-leave mats which are placed over a wooden framework. The entrance is always facing east and in the opposite side there is a small volcanic-stone wall, a wood oven placed just behind heats the stones before the bath. Then, during the ritual, the guide sprinkles water over the stones to produce steam.

The temazcal ritual is always held in-group. Once the people start sweating, each participant helps to circulate the steam by shaking and massaging a bunch of herbs over their bodies, as well as rubbing their skin with a river stone. At the end, some cold-water cubes are placed in so everyone can rinse their sweat. Everybody gets out completely covered by blankets and goes to a room close-by to relax.

When the Spaniards arrived in the New World this custom was practiced all over Mesoamerica. However, they banned it because it was done by men and women together with almost no clothes. By the end of the colonial period it was almost extinct but it has been rescued and promoted successfully in recent years.