Ancient Mesoamerican teachings tell us that life and death are closer than most modern people believe. At times, say the ancient teachings, a thin veil separates the living from the dead, and we can invite our departed loved ones to be with us.
Join us for a day of ancient teachings and ceremony for you to experience the connection between life and death in a visceral, body-centered way.
About the Teachings
Ancient Mesoamerican thought conceived of a highly complex and sophisticated understanding of our universe and how human beings fit into it. In part one of our day together, we explore this conception in greater detail as well as their understanding of life and the destination of death understood as an underworld called Mictlan. We also share the meaning of each of the four sacred directions and how they are addressed in ceremony.
About the Ceremony
1. Construction of an altar dedicated to the dead. Together we construct an elaborate altar dedicated to the dead. It addresses our departed loved ones and includes the foods they once enjoyed, the beverages they liked best, their photos, as well as candles and flowers.
2. Calling in the spirit of the four directions. We stand in a circle and use copal (sacred incense), prayer and sound to invite the guardians of the four directions as well as the spirits of our departed to join us. Each person is then smudged or purified using copal smoke.
3. The temazcal. The word “temazcal” comes from the ancient Nahuatl language and derives as follows:
•Temaz means vapor
•Calli means house
So temazcalli or temazcal is the house of vapor. It has been in use since early times and has been found in ancient ruins going back thousands of years.
While similar in some ways to the North American sweat lodge, the temazcal is not as intensely hot, and is designed to be therapeutic because of its use of heat, vapor and aromatherapy where the goal is each person’s healing and personal growth. It uses a variety of ceremonial styles, but in this very special temazcal of the dead, it is a sacred place of heat and darkness in which to commune with the spirits of our departed relatives and friends. In the dark, moist, warm environment that represents the womb, we invite the spirits of our loved ones to unite with us in song, prayer, laughter, tears and ceremony. It is a place to heal past wounds and to speak with and listen to our loved ones in ways we might not have been able to while they were alive. We then invite in the spirit of death in order to learn the lessons that illuminate the meaning behind the mysteries of life and death.
At the end, we share a potluck dinner with fellow participants as well as the dead who have assembled with us.
This program is open only to those enrolled in the Integrative Thanatology Certificate Program.
Robert Vetter, M.A. is a cultural anthropologist whose life work concerns the intersection of spirituality and healing in diverse indigenous cultures. His original fieldwork focused on Native North American medicine, especially that of the Southern Plains. Along with his adopted uncle, medicine man Richard Tartsah Sr., he authored the book Big Bow: The Spiritual Life and Teachings of a Kiowa Family. Following his studies in the traditional Mesoamerican healing system called Curanderismo with teachers both in the United States and in Mexico, he maintains a healing practice as well as a community temazcal (Mesoamerican sweat lodge) in Long Island, New York. In making traditional healing methods relevant to modern audiences, he teaches workshops on curanderismo as it relates to subjects including healing emotions to balance the mind, body and spirit; grieving practices; death and dying; as well as sound healing. Robert is a featured curandero in the book Curandero: Traditional Healers of Mexico and the Southwest by Eliseo Torres and Imanol Miranda. He is an instructor at University of New Mexico’s annual conference on Curanderismo, as well as Coursera’s online course entitled “Curanderismo: Traditional Medicine of Mexico and the Southwest.”