General Aztecs Maya Tocuaro Kids Contact 14 Dec 2017/3 Rain
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Aztec ‘temazcal’ (steam bath), from Codex Magliabecchiano

Steam Bath in an Igloo!

‘Almost every dwelling had its bath-house, a little hemispherical building shaped rather like an igloo with a low doorway. (Written/compiled by Ian Mursell/Mexicolore)

Graciela about to enjoy a traditional ‘temazcal’, near Oaxaca
Graciela about to enjoy a traditional ‘temazcal’, near Oaxaca (Click on image to enlarge)

‘Against it was constructed a fire-place, and the blaze warmed the adjacent wall of the bath-house until it glowed red-hot. At this stage, the bather crept into the house and threw water onto the hot wall until the interior was filled with steam. To increase the flow of perspiration and to gain full benefit from the treatment, the bather switched himself with twigs or bundles of grass... Both men and women used the steam baths, not only for ritual purifications and the treatment of certain diseases but as a normal part of everyday hygiene’.

(Image [top R] from the Codex Magliabecchiano, info from "Everyday Life of the Aztecs" by Warwick Bray)

Codex Tudela, folio 62r
Codex Tudela, folio 62r (Click on image to enlarge)

According to Timothy Knab (‘A Scattering of Jades’) the temazcalli was ‘an architectural personification of the warm, moist womb of the mother goddess’. Experts believe that the union of fire and water (two sacred elements) produced steam - ‘apoctli’ in Náhuatl - which symbolised the life-giving (and renewing) powers of a mother’s womb...

Tlazoltéotl - goddess of the sauna! (Codex Tudela, folio 62r)
Tlazoltéotl - goddess of the sauna! (Codex Tudela, folio 62r) (Click on image to enlarge)

Looking rather steamy in the entrance to the temazcalli is the face of the Aztec goddess Tlazoltéotl, ‘Eater of dirty things’, deity of passion, lust and, for want of a better expression, ‘naughtiness...’ All brides-to-be and mothers who had just given birth were expected to go for a thorough cleansing of the body and spirit inside the temazcalli.

Learn more of the history of the temazcal and the Native American ‘sweat lodge’
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