My alarm went off at 4:30 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, but it was wasting it’s time. I had already been woken up by the sounds of tambours, maracas, and chanting in the distance. I jumped up and quickly got into my bathing suit and beach dress…but I definitely wasn’t going for a day at the beach. I was headed to my first ever Cabana da Purificação … Cabana of Purification.
I had heard scary things about the Cabana. It was a small dome-shaped tent type of deal, with fiery stones in the middle, which would have water poured over them to create massive amounts of steam, causing you to sweat your brains out and release all the toxins and negative energy that you had acquired over the year. It was said to be pitch black, horrifically hot, and the definition of claustrophobia. Many people I had already talked to had had to leave in the middle of the ritual their first time-sometimes it was just too much.
But despite all the rumors I had heard, my 4:30 a.m. self was free of worry, so I walked out into the cool morning air and followed the music.
I arrived at the Temple of Fire to see exactly what I had heard. About 40 people in a circle, faces glowing from the flames. Most had tambours or maracas in hand, and those who didn’t were clapping their hands along with the rhythm, and the whole group was chanting in languages I couldn’t understand, but I sat down excitedly and joined in as best I could, and found it was easy to get lost in these beats. I looked around the circle to see most everyone I knew from Terra Mirim – No one wanted to miss out on the Cabana. Many with feathers and beads in their hair, all filled with passion and intensity.
5:00 arrived, bringing other first-timers and guests, with nervous looks drawn all over their faces. Alba Maria, the Shaman, began her speech, explaining to us what was going to go down in the Cabana.
“You will take a shovel full of hot stones and slide it into the Cabana. Afterward you will get down on all fours and crawl in, to the left, until you are touching the next person. Make sure you are very close to them so we can all fit.” Oh boy, claustrophobia is right.
The entrance began, one after another taking their shovel full of very hot stones and entering into the Cabana. Like a first timer would I messed up a little and went too early in the procession, but all was well. My turn came and I slid my stone into the cabana, took one more breath of fresh oxygen, and crawled inside.
One after another members of the group, now dressed in either bathing suits or birthday suits, entered the cabana until it was completely full. Squished in between a person on either side of me as well as one in front of me, I put my head down and began to try and relax with deep breaths and positive thoughts.
Alba started the ritual with some words of wisdom, and my body started the inevitable drenching-in-sweat process. The flap was closed and the ritual began.
With every bucket of water poured onto the coals the cabana got hotter and steamier, and with every minute the chanting got louder and more intense. Breathing was key. Without keeping your breath steady and in control, you would most likely lose it and have to leave, as 3 or 4 people found out.
But the thought of leaving never even crossed my mind. Despite all the discomfort, I found a way to enter into a new state, into knowing that I was in control of my mind, not my mind in control of me. I could feel the physical toxins, the dirty mental thoughts, and the spiritual negative energies leaving my being. A true purification process.
The sweat and heat continued for what I think was about an hour and half, but then again time changed a little in there. But after some amount of time, the crew began to exit the cabana. Still to the left, and butt out first. I made my way through the line, going towards the most literal definition of the light at the end of the tunnel…
What I found once I entered the light was a perfect picture of “the next life.” The soft glow of dawn lit our space ever so gently. Bodies lay everywhere of the people who had left in front of me, spread-eagle on the earth, steaming into the air from the heat before. I crawled my way over to a perfect patch of grass and joined them, kissing the ground, thanking the grass for being as cool and fresh as it was. My eyes were now opened in a new way. I observed every tiny vein that ran throughout each leaf and flower petal, feeling that after going to a place that almost resembled death, I had a new understanding of what life was. I rolled to my back to watch the clouds drift by, and let myself drift with them for 10 minutes or so.
When I was ready, I followed the rest of the people to the showers near the Temple of Water. We all rinsed the earth and sweat off of our bodies, oh thank God for water. The next step of the process was the Banho das Ervas, or Bath of Herbs. I got down on all fours and was drenched with 2 pitchers of the most heavenly smelling herb-infused water that has ever existed in the universe. The water was cool and cleansing, and basically took my breath away.
After the earth time and baths the group returned to the fire, and proceeded to hug each other, each and every one. The love felt there for people I hardly knew was so strong and real. An understanding of the other, being able to see right into their souls without having to ask any questions. Just love, peace, and understanding.
The experience of the Cabana da Purifcação was like nothing I have felt since January 2nd 1993…my real birthday. I felt I had truly been reborn, and seen things in a way I never could have had I not participated in this cabana. I carry this experience with me now, and will never forget how the feeling of the steam, the sound of the chants, or the smell of the Banho das Ervas made me feel…Purified.