Taking a bath to cleanse your spirit is different from taking a bath to clean away the everyday dirt from your physical body.
Ritual water treatments and limpias have unbroken links to ancestral health care practices in many places in the world today. Near lost here in the states with a fascination for ultra-pasteurized ways, thankfully there is a resurrection and a carrying forth in practice among us as we remember and put it all into practice again. We'll begin with the bath.
With this practice of the ritual bath, we are creating beauty and restoration space for gathering up our soul and spirit pieces that can hide from a hard day or experience. These parts of us know these practices as safe and healing and respond quickly to the healing forces we enlist on behalf of supporting wholeness. Spiritual bathing and the ritual bath are meant to cleanse and protect us spiritually as well as within the other subtle and more physical levels. To create the desired effects, there are a few things to consider. When taking a spiritual, ritual bath, you don’t use soaps, shampoos, or do any leg shaving and such. Once the bath is prepared, you are entering a sacred healing experience and space so you’ll want to really think about separating your regular bathing with your spiritual bathing.
When we immerse ourselves in a spiritual, ritual bath, we engage an initiation process to open ourselves up to spirit, or that which we refer to as our Divine.
Ritual bathing implies that water and prayer wash away any spiritual grime — cleansing, clearing, and purifying our body and energetic field. It suggests that we are willing to listen to our higher self and begin to trust something outside of our rational mind and allow the wise inner knowing to emerge. There's an affirmation within the act of planning and preparing that speaks of our openness to ask the universe to assist and transform what we believe needs to be shifted within.
Although spiritual baths can sometimes help alleviate certain physical ailments, especially skin conditions and muscle soreness, they are meant for spiritual healing through release and restore processes. This ultimately affects our physical healing.
If you have open wounds or have just had surgery, do not immerse the wounded area in the water for several days and if you choose to anyway, which is fine for surface wounds, it's wise to sprinkle a few cups of strong herbal infusions and a handful of epsom salt only.
Consider Calendula flowers, Lavender flowers, White pine, Juniper, Oak leaf and bark, Witch Hazel Bark, Rosemary, Roses, Plantain leaf, or Yarrow leaf and flower as infusion choices for skin care to encourage closing wounds. Sea salt will sting any open skin areas with no harm other than it stings. Epsom salts does not. This with speed physical healing and gather the soul and spirit back after such a traumatic event. I suggest a spiritual foot or hand bath for the in-between situations where a full immersion bath must wait or you don't have a bath tub.
Elder Flower, Lemon, Honey, and Coconut Milk Bath soothes everything and guarantees a deep restorative sleep in the wake of anything disruptive. For some practical logistics, keep a fine mesh strainer handy for skimming the herbs out of the tub for composting later. Clogged drains definitely interrupt our sense of peace.
Preparing For Spiritual Bathing
Elder flower sun-infusing in an earthenware pot sits waiting for us. I love to dip fresh bundled wild Mugwort into this sacred Elder infused water and give myself a limpia. Students have reported immediate relief of ailments they come to class with. Love the big "ah ha's" from beautiful simple care skills with deep roots.
Limpias. So what is a Limpia?
A limpia is a spiritual cleansing that is based in the philosophy and practice of many if not all traditional healing practices of indigenous intact, and lost, cultures of humanity. We all have memory within our bones given through our ancestry of each every bloodline to know these practices and feel deeply drawn to them even in some inexplicable but comforting way.
To perform a limpia, the curandera or shamanic practitioner uses herbs, flowers, prayers and songs, and the sacred sound of drum or rattle to help purify a person's mind, body and spirit.
Traditional healers work from a place of knowing that physical illnesses or 'conditions' are 99% rooted in the spiritual body. Fresh plant material is chosen and bundled together and swept over the body gently, and sometimes with a little more than gentle shaking and tapping (to whacking pretty good if needed) on the surface of the body from head to toe and front and back of the body. The herbs are regularly smudged through the process and prayers are softly spoken through the wafting, aromatic smudge smoke. Once completed, the energies are tapped into the Earth for composting and the spent herbs which can look quite black and dingy at times, are buried in a ceremonially reverent way.
My teacher Rocio, a born and betrothed shamanic healer from Ecuador, has traveled extensively teaching the power of daily limpias as part of one’s care for their body, mind, soul, and spirit. For times when the gardens sleep, there are the aromatic pines and fresh culinary plants which carry profound support for daily limpias. Rosemary and Thyme are favorites of mine.
Daily limpias are considered part of self care in many cultures and it's common to see limpia plants available in markets in other countries who retain this honoring of spiritual healing through profound, simple and sometimes daily practices.
Another essential element of the limpia is the smoke of copal, palo santo, white sage, or other plant you consider deeply clearing and protective for this kind of work. Copal is a dried resinous tree sap, palo santo is an aromatic wood that is burned in many different Central and South American ceremonies, and white sage grows here in the states. Do consider tiny amounts for smudge as each of these plants are experiencing threatened existence due to over harvesting. A little goes a long way.
The Simple Acts of Self Care
So it's winter. How do we enjoy a plant limpia in winter? We can. There's always a way. So you have two components here: a bundle of fresh plants, and a bowl of infused water.
We could Sun or Moon infuse fresh aromatics or any dried plant material that calls to us and place them in a beautiful bowl set in a window for as long as feels complete. With dried herbs, these can be slowly simmered for 10 minutes and stirred with spoken prayers before placing in the sun or moon light for cooling and infusing. Crystals, flower essences, essential oils, or drops of plant tincture can be added to the water. Do a little bit of research on crystals as there are some that are best left next to the bowl of water for infusing. Follow your intuitive knowing. My midwife gathered tiny bottles of ocean water from different places around the world. She added 1/4 of the bottle with vodka to preserve it, labeled them and had they lined up near here bathtub to as add to a ritual bath or certainly here for making your waters for a limpia. For the record, one can just do a limpia without the water as well. So you decide what's needed.
Make a fresh plant wand for the limpia. It's simple. Bundle a handful of fresh plant material together, such as fresh soft needled pines, flowers that call, and aromatics such as any fresh spices or mint trimmings that you're growing or have purchased at a store. It's pretty easy to get organic Rosemary , mints, Oregano, Thyme and more these day. I also love parsley for my Yemaya ritual to honor the Ocean.
Then simply work out your logistics of bringing your infused water and plant bundle with you. You can decide to have infused water as part of this or just sweep the fresh bundle through your smudge smoke or essential oil mist and work the fresh plant material over your body. Bring your fresh plant medicine bundle and bowl of infused water to:
If you've not experienced such things as this that may seem strange, know this practice is ancient and the knowing and memory of administering and receiving of such medicine is within each of us. Many are comforted and take to it quite easily. The aromatic plants release their oils for immediate relief and healing as they waft directly through our sinuses to assist the nervous system that is often atrophied or ramped-up and on edge. When participants studying the medicine plants come to class with me, we do this together each morning. Should intensity arise during sharing we may all move to the Mugwort patch and do another limpia on ourselves or pair up and help each other. There are many giggles among those new to this old medicine way but all take to this quickly and feel shifted near instantly. The plants can do this for us when we arrive in their presence open and receptive. I find my Plant Limpias alone or with Sacred Bathing take my self care just a little bit deeper than a smudge sometimes because sometimes life is that intense and demands a bit more from us to stay well.
This is an excerpt from a lesson in "Birthing an Herbalist in 13 Moons" online herbal course. I hope you found this informative and helpful and do send along questions if you need clarification. The rules are rather simple. Follow your intuitive connection with the plants, trust and enjoy. Thank you for coming into my world for a bit today. Much Love, Jen
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Jennifer Costa, Herbalist, Teacher, BS, RN, CST, and Founder of ElderMoon School of Herbs & Earth Medicine