06 October 2006

The Mysterious Rites of Sauna, Part Two

A number of you—five, to be exact—expressed interest in The Mysterious Rites of Sauna, Part One. A slim majority said they were looking forward to the next installment. So was I.

But a funny thing happened with my weekly pilgrimage to the Nordic caldarium. Now that I know not to expect transcendental enlightenment, the spiritual journey has devolved into a routine—a pleasant routine, but a routine nonetheless. I know to bring my little alarm clock with me, and to deposit my house key at the last station of the cross, the door handle just outside the inner sanctum. I have resigned myself to never laying eyes on Quasimodo, or the Vestal Virgin, or the Tooth Fairy, or whoever it is who attends the sacred flame. Some weeks I find that he or she (hän) has set out the water bucket (kiulu) and ladle (kauha, or kippo) in advance; other weeks I am left to prepare the sacraments for myself. I have learned to do so. I know that I need to bring my own birch branches for self-flagellation. I know how to draw an after-sauna shower that is cold, but not too cold. Good Episcopalian that I am, I have learned to perform these rites and let the theology take care of itself.

I sit, I sweat, I ruminate, I douse the rocks to call forth the holy löyly. I vacate the premises precisely in accordance with the local concept of “on time,” which means a minute early. I shower, I don my vestment, I slouch toward my cell, arriving at 5:40 on the dot. There, I quench my thirst with several chalices of cold water and collapse on my cot until it is time for my wee dram. And I get to decide when that is. Monasticism kind of grows on you.

Click on the title of this post for a link to the Finnish Sauna Society.