Once upon a full moon Wednesday in the Andean Sacred Valley, we took part in a Temazcal. A sweat lodge ceremony to cleanse and chant for the pachamama and the full moon. We celebrated these two magnificent female forces in a small tent in its full capacity (12 to 15 people), in which I was the only female present. It was a beautiful, soothing, intense physical, emotional and spiritual experience. We were hugged inside pachamama’s womb. Surrounded by earth and leaves.
At around 4 pm we showed up to the camp site where a fire was already set, with big river stones inside to absorb the intense heat directly in the fire. The shaman himself was setting the fire up, and delivered tasks for us, and the people who were already present, to help organize the ceremony. We collected fresh eucalyptus leaves from around the site, cleaned the inside of the tent -both the roof and the floor, of humid earth- throwing the leaves that had been part of the previous ceremony to burn in the fire and exhale the wonderful eucalyptus smell while we worked.
The tent was round, with only one small semi-circle opening through which we crawled inside. The floor was plain humid earth and had a hole in the middle, deep enough to fit about a dozen big river stones, which were also collected that same day. Outside, thick blankets covered the round tent, forming a colorful mosaic pattern. A few meters in front of it, people sat around the fire to warm up after the thick cold rain that left the grass shiny.
After seating and enjoying the heat of the fire for a while, the shaman took a shovel, filled it with burning coal form the fire, and placed two big palo santos on top. He went around the circle, spreading the delicious smell of palo santo onto everyone’s bodies. Soon he announced the participants should change and get ready to enter the tent. He went inside it first, with the palo santo, murmured a few words, and was ready to let us in, holding the blanket that covered the small entrance.
Once inside, seating in a circle, on eucalyptus leaves, knee touching knee with the neighbors, pitch dark and feeling the humidity of the wet soil under our feet. The shaman came in and asked us to help him call the hombre fuego, which when we did, by screaming it together, resulted in a man calling “aho!” to the door of the tent and bringing in the abuelitas – the heated river stones, which the shaman placed in the hole in the middle of the tent calling “aho pachamama!’, to which we all answered “aho!’.
He called the stones abuelitas, the ones who had lived long and accumulated virtues that we were to ask them to share with us during the ceremony. The shaman encouraged us to call out virtues we would like to focus on during the ceremony. Love, courage, wisdom, patience… we sang hymns to the pachamama, our voices, drums, the fire outside.
2 hours and a half passed by like half an hour. The smell of humidity, earth, sweat and eucalyptus was inebriant. It was so warm there that wasn’t an inch of my body that remained dry. Whenever we needed fresh air, we would take a leaf of eucalyptus from the floor or hanging above our heads, smash it between our palms, and take a deep breath. The fresh smell was enough to refresh and stay longer inside, breathing the heavy hot air.
Once we finally got out of the tent, there was a spectacular view waiting for us. The moon at its fullest, white and silver, shining upon the huge mountains around us. Although it was a bright night, there were still so many visible stars that revealed the shape of the mountains.
We sat for what it felt like hours around the fire again, this time completely wet, feeling the cool air of the night, the heat of the fire, admiring the intensity of the moon, and letting our skin dry at the natural air. Letting the experience soak in, not knowing how to interpret all these sensations, and at the same time knowing it is ok to not understand it all right away. Just feeling. Breathing. Smiling. Thanking all living things we could feel and admire.
Participating in ceremonies that bring us back to ancient times has a profound effect on how I see the daily life. It brings me perspective. Reminds me of feelings and a deep sense of wisdom that are buried within, somewhere, waiting for its chance to shine amidst the daily routine. There is magic in ritual, an understanding of the wonderful things we can accomplish if we just sit together as a group and take action for our spirituality. Believe. Feel. Give the energy a chance to be our priority. It felt wonderful. It felt like coming home – within.
As we left, we wanted to sleep and see what messages would our unconscious bring through our dreams. We slept with the smell of eucalyptus in our skin and dark earth still attached to our feet. I welcomed a deep sense of rest, satisfaction, into my being.