Ablution, or ritual bathing, is a time honored tradition that has been passed down through the generations. Because of the interconnected imagery both bathing and spirituality bring, it is understandable why ritualized bathing evolved. Nowadays, many still utilize fresh herbs to undergo a practice as old as humanity itself.
The History of the Ritual Bath
Bathing in and of itself developed first. Flourishing throughout the Greek, Roman, and ancient Japanese cultures, elaborate bath houses and public bathing were common constructions. Unfortunately, many of the Roman buildings were also home to rather lewd activities that the growing Christianity condemned, leading to the churches to tell their followers to avoid such places of sin.
As far as the ritual bath is concerned, some of the earliest proof come to us from ancient Jewish culture. Their mikvot, or ritual cleansing baths, have been unearthed in many archaeological digs around the world. Some even date as far back as 1150 CE. They were designed to hold 60 gallons of water so the person undergoing the ritual could be submerged entirely. Muslims are another culture to have bath houses directly linked to spiritual cleansing. Denoted as places of meditation and prayer, those headed to the mosque had to first cleanse themselves at a public bath.
Inopportunely, the 16th century proved to be a hard time for all types of bathing. Because Christianity saw bath houses as a gateway to sin, bathing was shunned altogether. After all, the soul was cleansed on the inside, not the outside. Its prominence as a political and religious power at the time led to an increase in dirt and disease everywhere as plagues spread more easily due to the ban on bathing. The last straw came during the plague of the early 1800s. Many countries finally invested in a better sewage infrastructure to guarantee clean water to all as a way to stem the tide of death. Water was once more seen as a healing element.
Modern years brought about the revival of bathing as a cleansing ritual, using things like mineral, sulfur and Epsom salt.
Herbs and Bathing
Herbs have been used in baths almost as long as baths have existed. Records indicate Romans used lavender while the general European sought plants like rosemary, thyme, mint, hollyhock and chamomile. Basically, so long as the herb had a pleasant aroma, it did well in the bath.
When taking a spiritual bath, this practice becomes much more structured. To begin, you need to determine the purpose of the bath. Many believe each herb has a special quality related to certain aspects of the body. Lavender and chamomile, for instance, are seen as ideal for clearing away stress. Knowing what you are cleansing will help determine the herbs you use. Plants like Espanta Muerto have long been used to dispel jinxes and remove unwanted spirits. Still others, such as Bleo Blanco, maximize peace and tranquility. While dried herbs are often touted as the preferred choice, it can be argued this is only because dried herbs are found at a larger variety of stores. In reality, fresh herbs are the strongest in both aroma and power.
Determining when to perform the ritual depends heavily on your belief system and the plants involved. The Santeria church, for instance, prescribes it through divination or prophetic declaration but also allows for followers to perform their own ablution should the need strike. Still others recommend bathing only on nights when there is a full moon and never 6 or 12 AM or PM. Once you’ve determined what works best with your beliefs, fill the bath tub with warm water. Add your herbs and let them sit for at least a minute to allow them time to begin releasing their aromas. Once in the tub, soak for about 20 to 30 minutes. Another popular method is to steep fresh herbs in boiling water for about 10 minutes. Strain this mixture, let it cool and then pour over your head while standing in your tub. During this time, meditate on your current position in life. Release any and all negative energy and take in the positive. Prayers are also welcome and encouraged during this time. If a fuller cleanse is a part of what you seek, use a soft sponge to add a physical component to the otherwise spiritual activity.
Santeria Spiritual Baths
One of the more common practices of ablution comes from the Santeria Church of the Orishas. To this faith, spiritual cleansing and, in particular, baths are an easy, simple way to flush out negative emotions, clear away bad energy and develop psychic powers. For certain baths, the church will provide gallons of blessed bath water for the user to then take home and bathe in. For simpler tactics, they also have recipes they are happy to give out.