Part One




Temascal/ Sweat Lodge


Temascal/ Women’s Sweat Lodge


The question you are probably asking yourself even before reading this is why would any one in their right mind even consider doing a sweat lodge ceremony. You may be thinking, I can’t imagine anything worse than squating on a mud floor with a number of other sweaty bodies in the dark. This is claustrophobia at its worst. Add to that hot steam, strange smells from herbs placed on the hot stones and the noise of drums, rattles, chanting, songs and prayers in strange languages.

Maybe this article will change your mind!


The following talk was given  at the beginning of a Sweat Lodge Ceremony in March 2012 by Tata Oso- Grandfather Bear. He was the Sweat Lodge leader. He is an Apache- Mexica Medicine Man and Nagual. This took place as part of the Spring Equinox Ceremonies on the Aguaje de la Tuna Kumiaii Indian Reservation near Tecate B.C. Mexico. The participants were from a number of Native American groups from Mexico and the United States

A special invitation had been given for anyone that had either never participated in a Sweat Lodge Ceremony or had not participated for a long time to attend this particular sweat lodge.  This was the reason for the lengthy explanation. He describes the Mexica or the Mexican Native American way. The Mexica ceremony is similar to the Lakota Sweat Lodge or Inipi (Lakota word for sweat lodge ceremony), the type of sweat lodge ceremony most widely practiced in the United States:

“Our ancestors, on Turtle Island (The Americas), have done the Sweat Lodge Ceremony or Temascal ceremony for as long as we have been here. White Buffalo Calf Woman taught the Plains Indians about the Sweat Lodge. In Mexico we have been doing Sweat Lodge Ceremonies for as long as anyone can remember.

In Mexico, Central America and much of the Southwestern United States the Sweat Lodge is called a Temascal. The lodge we were in was built of willow boughs covered with blankets. Many of the sweat lodges in central Mexico and the Yucatan are built of blocks of limestone in a circular igloo like shape. Some say these are the true Temascals but the word Temascal is widely used for all types of sweat lodges in most of Latin America and much on the Southwestern United States. Some are very ancient. In Mexico all sweat lodges are referred to as Temascales.

When we enter the Temascal or sweat lodge, we touch our head to the ground and say, “permiso para entrar, may I have permission to enter.”  We are not asking the Sweat Lodge leader permission to enter.  We are asking permission of Santa Tierra Madre – Holy Mother Earth for her permission to enter. We are entering the womb of Mother Earth. This indicates that we recognize that we belong to the Earth.  The Earth is our mother and we are her caretakers. We do not own the Earth.

Many also invoked the name Ometeotl.  Ometeotl is the creative force that made the Universe and is the universe. He/She is the Great Mystery (la Gran Misteria.) Ometeotl is not a god but is both the creator and created.

When we enter, the woman and children go in first in single file and sit on the left side of the sweat lodge. Men and older boys then enter and sit on the right.  This recognizes that Creator created a universe of duality, male/female, up/down, light/darkness. In the Temascal all are one and duality is balanced.

The pit in the center when the hot stones are placed represents the molten iron core of mother earth.  The stones that are placed in the pit represent the Sun and the element Fire. The stones also represent the Sun behind the Sun (the Galactic Center) and the Central Sun (the Center of the Universe.)  All three suns are connected energetically to the red hot stones in the pit in the center of the lodge.

Our grandfathers, the abuelos , tell us that fire and stone were once one and that all stones  were once pure energy.  They are now solid but are still made of energy.

The herbs such as sage and copal that are placed on the hot stones represent the plant people.  The smoke arising when the herbs burn represents our prayers ascending to the heavens.

The water poured on the red hot stones is the element water which turns to steam as it combines with fire.  Our elders also teach us that water was also once pure energy.

The red hot stones are brought in 4 times, usually seven, one after another are brought in with each round. The stones represent the 4 cardinal directions east, west, north and south and the 4 winds. The stones are brought in with a pitchfork and are arranged in the pit with deer antlers and carefully placed in the pit in the center of the lodge.

The axis going from the center of the earth through the center of the pit then through the center of the top of the lodge and to the Heavens represents are the Celestial Tree, Cosmic Tree or Tree of Life that connects the center of earth with the sun, the sun behind the sun – the galactic center and the central sun, the center of the universe.

The sweat lodge is constructed in 3 levels with two small horizontal bands of willow boughs. They represent lower, middle, and upper worlds.  The people in the sweat lodge represent not only people but also the animal nations. The animals are our brothers and sisters.

The element air is also present, rushing in when the door is opened. The blankets over the lodge let in air. The participants are mindful of their breath, breathing in light and breathing out stale air, darkness and impurities. Air also represents our speech and prayers as they are sent to the heavens. The Holy Breath of all the participants mixes and is breathed in and out by all. It is very important to be mindful of your breath. Fill your abdomen first, then your chest. Breathe in and out slowly.

The red, hot stones about the size of a man’s head  are called grandmothers or “abuelitas” They are honored when they are brought in by saying “bienvenidos abuelitas” (welcome grandmothers)  This shows that we remember that stones are very ancient and  represent the rock people; part of our Holy Mother Earth combined with fire.

When water is placed on the stones, it combines with fire and turns to steam.  Hot steam causes us to sweat, cleansing the body of toxins, making us more pure and increasing our vibrational level.

We sing many sacred songs and say many prayers to creator and mother earth between the rounds of stones. The leader typically guides the types of sacred songs that are sung and the types of prayers. These prayers and songs bring us closer to the Great Mystery and help to balance our lives and bring us to closer union with the Divine and each other.

We invite our ancestors and spirits of the ancient ones to join us in the fire.  We invite the angels and archangels to join us.  This gesture indicates that we realize that life is eternal and there is no reason to fear the spirits of our ancestors and the visitors from the spirit world.

In the Sweat Lodge, we are all one.  Souls are united as one. This greatly increases the power: the power to heal, the power to have mystical experiences and again come into unity with all that is.  This is Indigenous Alchemy.  Fire, earth, water, air, and spirit become one. They are in balance.  We can work with any elements that appear to be out of balance during the sweat lodge ceremony and return them to balance.

This is the most Holy Spiritual ExperienceThis is not a religion.  It is a spiritual experience that returns us to balance and again fills our heart with love and appreciation for all it is.

Part Two







The participants line up outside the circle of stones (see diagram).  Men stand on the left and women stand on the right.  Woman and small children enter first.

Upon entering, the participants are smudged with sage and copal (pine resin) and other herbs. Immediately upon entering the circle the participants take a pinch of tobacco from a jar, say prayers and toss the tobacco in the fire. The participants then circle the fire clockwise and come to the entrance of the sweat lodge.  They get down on their hands and knees and as they are entering and touch their foreheads to the ground in prayer saying “Santa Tierra Madre permiso para entrar” In English, it is “Holy Mother Earth, may I have permission to enter”.  Many participants also say Ometeotl which means the Creator, the Great Mystery.  The Plains Indians of United States and many other Native American groups say the Lakota, words Mitakuye Oyasin (all my relations) indicating that they recognize we are all related to Mother Earth, each other and all that is.  On entering, the participants circle clockwise on their hands and knees and then sit on the ground in a circle.  Woman and young children sit on the left. Men and older boys sit on the right.  In Mexika ceremonies woman wear long ankle-length white dresses and may hold small children on their laps.

The men typically wear shorts or swimming suits. Nudity and immodest clothing are not allowed.  Jewelry is not worn because of the heat.  The floor is dirt or mud and may be covered with sage leaves.  The leader first welcomes the participants, prays and gives a brief explanation about how the ceremony is going to be conducted and what the rules are.

Participants are always allowed to leave if they get too hot or feel ill. This is typically done between rounds of stones, but people are always allowed to leave if they are very ill.  All they need to do is to say “permiso para salir” – “may I have permission to leave”.  The participants are reassured that there is nothing wrong with leaving early.  This is a sacred ceremony and not a warrior thing. People who leave are typically asked to remain outside of the sweat lodge and pray until the ceremony is over.

The red hot stones are brought in four separate times or rounds.  Typically a total of seven stones are brought in one after another for each of the rounds a total of twenty-eight. Each round represents one of the four directions. The stones are brought in on a pitchfork one at a time and are placed in the pit with deer antlers in specific positions.  When the red hot stones are brought it, the participants say “bienvenido abuelita”, “welcome grandmother”.

After the stones are brought in, a small amount of sage, cedar, copal or other herbs are placed on the stones.  They frequently burst into flames.  The smoke and scents coming from the plant people ascend to the heavens as prayers.

Water is then added with a ladle in increments to the stones creating steam which immediately fills the sweat lodge. The sweat lodge becomes very hot. You can see almost nothing because of the steam.

Typically, 4 songs are sung with each round. Prayers and spiritual talks are given.  The participants maybe asked to speak.  They say “permiso para hablar” –“may I have permission to speak” Songs in sweat lodges may be sung in several languages.  The last one I attended, there were songs in Paiute, Mexica, Lakota, Yaqui, Spanish and English.  There may have been other languages too.  The entire group maybe invited to pray simultaneously for their families, themselves, their ancestors, for Mother Earth or Creator.

The door (puerta) is opened when the stones are brought in and maybe opened in between times if it gets too hot in the sweat lodge. Prayers and songs are often accompanied with rattles and drums or flutes.  When the participants leave, they leave in a clockwise directions starting with the woman and children.  On leaving, they again touch their foreheads to the ground saying, “permiso para salir”– “may I have permission to leave”.

The sweat lodge ceremony may last two to three hours.

Visions, mystical experiences, and spontaneous healings are common. The Spirits of Ancient Ones’, Spirit Guides and ancestors often appear to the participants in the sweat lodge.

Woman who are having their monthly periods, “mujeres en la luna” typically are not allowed to enter. They may have a separate sweat lodge.  Special, shorter sweat lodges are often done for the children.  The sweat lodges I have attended, the average age is 20-40 with many children including young children and teenagers.  This contrasts with churches in the towns where most of the people attending the services are older people, particularly woman.

The young Native Americans and others are rediscovering the sacred spirituality of their ancestors.  They are finding once again who they really are and why they are on the earth. All are welcome because We Are All One.  There is no difference between us.

How wonderful it is that many lights of love are beginning to burn, illuminating the Earth and gradually dispelling darkness.

The Via Roja‑ the Red Way is being discovered by many people, not just Native Americans.  This is not a religion or part of a religion. It is a profoundly spiritual experience. I encourage you to try it!

This is a Spiritual Path. All are welcome, regardless of religion, color or national origin.

All Are One in the sweat lodge.


Reference: Honoring the Medicine, The Essential Guide to Native American Healing, by Kenneth Cohen


Dr. Arthur Cushman, Arturo Luminoso,

Quetzal Tlaneztia

Tata Kachora and Arturo