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I married myself in a shamanic ritual in Mexico—here’s what happened


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Photos: Kathryn Romeyn

How many people can say they’re married to themselves? It sounds crazy, I know. But when I heard that a third-generation shaman at Rosewood Mayakoba in Playa del Carmen was performing these mystical Mayan ceremonies, I was intrigued. I told my sister I was going to do it.

“Don’t tell our parents—they’ll think you’ve given up,” she warned me, only half-joking. Yes, I’m currently single, but that’s not actually a prerequisite for marrying oneself. You can do it while married, engaged, divorced, single—whatever. It’s about making a commitment to love yourself unconditionally. And can’t we all use a reminder of that once in a while?

Yes, I’m currently single, but that’s not actually a prerequisite for marrying oneself.

Self-love as a movement—in many forms—is having a moment. Even model Bella Hadid recently shut down dating rumors by writing, “in a committed relationship with myself,” on Twitter. I figured, why not make that promise official, at least as official as one can at a heaven-on-earth Mexican resort. For a second, more professional opinion, I reached out to Well+Good Council member Jill Blakeway, DACM, who researches energy healing and rituals around the world: “I do think shamanic ceremonies are relevant to today’s world,” she says. “That’s why so many people seek them out. At some level, we feel a need for this work because our spiritual lives receive less attention than our emotional or physical welfare.”

I’m absolutely guilty of that, dedicating time each day to caring for my body—but rarely my heart, soul, or spirit. “Shamans put themselves—and usually the client—into an altered state in order to interact with the spiritual realm,” explains Blakeway. “One way of achieving this is through ritual, which is why people report feeling profoundly different after taking part in a ceremony. A good shaman can read and affect the biofield (electromagnetic field) around someone and extract information from it, or subtly change it in a way that can even put someone back on their life path,” she says. A ceremony to marry oneself can heal past pain and powerfully affect one’s emotional life and attitude about themselves, she adds.

Would I have to tell potential future dates I’m already married…to myself?

Off I flew to Mexico, not knowing what I was getting into. Did I need a white dress? Was my best friend, who was meeting me there, going to be matron of honor? Would I have to tell potential future dates I’m already married…to myself? What actually happened was nothing like a traditional wedding, but left me feeling so positive, optimistic, and almost giddily happy that I would recommend it to anyone, no matter their marital status.

From the moment I met Fernanda Montiel, I felt her penetrating warmth. She looked every bit the shaman of my dreams in a long white caftan and braided hair. I immediately trusted her ability to nurture, inspire, and lift people’s spirits. She led me—fresh off a long, soothing massage, drenched in lavender—to a wooden deck beside an isolated cenote (pronounced say-no-tay), a natural sinkhole that forms when limestone bedrock collapses, creating a mineral-rich oasis in which people can snorkel and scuba dive. A breeze rustled the trees softly as sunlight danced on the water. A stool sat surrounded by palm fronds, yellow blooms, and scattered red rose petals, with maracas, a giant conch shell, and various other accoutrements laid out carefully. I inhaled the scent of copal incense burning in a chalice, which Montiel used to smudge me, purifying and balancing my energy as she hummed and sang in a gentle mix of English, Mayan, and Spanish that would dance in my head the rest of the day: “Welcome to your heart; welcome to your love.”

“This ceremony is about existence and unconditional love,” she told me as I sat in my spa robe. She explained that the first element we’d address was grandmother water, representing the element that creates us in the womb, and gives us the ability to flow. “Today, we offer this water to the east, west, south, north, heaven, earth, and the heart of the universe,” she said, urging me to slowly sip water from a coconut shell as she played a beat on a wooden instrument and sang a tune about water.

Before I knew it—they say weddings fly by, right?—it was time for vows.

We circled through all the elements this way as Montiel explained their meaning, history, and relevance. She sang about each: grandfather wind, represented by a breathing exercise; grandmother earth, whom I honored by savoring a few big, juicy strawberries to represent her bounty; and grandfather fire, embodied in a candle. “Grandfather fire is in your heart in my tradition,” Montiel told me. “In other places, they call it shakti, or chakra. We ask permission that your heart can talk to your heart.”

Before I knew it—they say weddings fly by, right?—it was time for vows. Montiel told me, “It’s time that you express to the universe the commitment you’re making—your intention. What do you want? What do you expect? What is the love you’re expressing to yourself? Aloud, please—all the universe is listening to you!”

With her encouragement, I quietly began speaking, to the cenote, to the trees, to the universe, at first feeling shy, then becoming empowered. I told them how deeply and unconditionally I promised to love and respect myself above all, and how I wanted to give and receive love from those around me with the same positive energy and open hearts. She picked up her instrument again and sang, seemingly strengthening my message and sending it out into the universe.

She crowned me with flowers, and dropped seven cacao seeds in my palm to represent abundance and the seven directions I committed to. She then said, “Through the message of my ancestors and her ancestors, we introduce this beautiful woman, powerful and energetic, to the east direction, where the sun comes every day. Thank you, east. We introduce Kathryn to this path of light and ask permission to open her eyes every day, forgive, and love everybody and everyone forever.” Again came a crescendo as she sang joyously. With each direction we faced—the salutation to the points is called a medicine wheel—she spoke passionately, sharing knowledge and reminding me of how I’ve manifested my dreams of traveling the world. I also thanked my grandmothers, mother, sister, and women in my life, for the feminine energy of the planet.

“Please remember that your life is about practicing unconditional love, starting with yourself.”

Montiel then sang a protection blessing, followed by a loud cry of “ahow!” and played the conch, a deep, serious sound that seemed to announce me officially to the world. “Now, it’s time to sign,” she said, gesturing to the sky. She drew in the air, signing with a flourish as a witness, and asked me to sign my name. “Please remember that your life is about practicing unconditional love, starting with yourself.”

I realized all it takes sometimes is one beautiful moment where you’re totally present to remember what matters in life. To connect to the elements and remember love is what comes first. At the conclusion of the ceremony, I was inexplicably overflowing with pure happiness, and I returned to my villa and bestie with a silly grin on my face and flower crown askew on my head. I was totally blissed out on the love I was radiating both inward and out.

I was totally blissed out on the love I was radiating both inward and out.

Those joyous, living-my-best-life emotions magnified the next morning when I again met Montiel by the cenote, first for an energy reading that involved her poking body parts gently with a wooden arrow to assess issues and strengths, which turned out to be wildly intuitive and for the most part spot-on. She reminded me of all I have to share, and wrote a comprehensive well-being plan that included recommendations for reading, dancing, and breathing exercises. We discussed the importance of living in the present, which I still think about daily thanks to her illustration—a story about her grandfather, also a shaman, teaching her that very lesson.

Finally, there was a steamy temazcal ceremony in the sweat lodge loaded with fiery volcanic rocks and herbal medicine. Our sweaty, cleansing time together consisted of a rebirthing ritual with a soulmate ceremony—which her family performed before she met her husband—thrown in for good measure. Perhaps the best thing about being married to yourself: There’s still room for another great love.

If you’re ready to get out of town on your own, check out these affordable wellness retreats, and don’t miss this story about why you should try solo travel