roles of bath master

Roles of bath master in modern time Lithuanian bath

Presentation for XVII International Sauna Congress, Sweden, 2018.

The bath master (pirtininkas) in the traditional Lithuanian bath (pirtis) was described as
“the one, who has and/or heats sauna”.
The functions of pirtininkas were heating bath, inviting people, also, they were taking care of order, steam and respecting the bathing traditions. Usually, it was an elderly man, who had enough skills to do this work.
Good bath master was a highly respected person.
There were also people, men and women, who could offer healing procedures or herbal treatments, and who were invited to help people in special cases or special occasions. The bath masters of city baths were performing not just what we would call now “a SPA procedures”, a big part of their work were also simple healing procedures, like blood cupping or removing warts.
Modern time Lithuanian bath masters combine all these traditional roles, but on the other hand, it is a new and unique phenomenon, which often needs to be explained. Consciously or not, every bath master leading group or individual bathing process, performs one of the typical roles (or combination of several roles), which are formed by clients requests, requires specific skills and influences the process. On the other hand, it is not always easy to define the role, because bathing is alive process, which often is a kind of “cocktail” of different roles. But one of them is always on top.

“The master of public bath”

Takes care of order and steam in public bath.
Sometimes the baths masters offer some simple procedures (like salt inhalations) – but mostly it is technical work, with not so much contact with clients. The most important skill for such bath master is understanding, how to operate the bath, oven, steam, ventilation and other technical functions of the bath, as well as to keep order in the group of bathing people.
Usually, the clients do not have any special requests or expectations, they are taking care of themselves.

“Soul of the group”

The closest role to the traditional bath masters’ understanding.
The one who has own sauna or gathers friends and close people to enjoy bathing together. We can call him/her family or club bath master. Usually this is a person, who has own sauna or at least have a group of people, who like attending sauna together, a kind formal or informal sauna club. Most important function of such bath master is to make everyone feel comfortable physically and emotionally, to be a connection of the group. He/she may perform or not perform procedures, the clients (in this case they would probably be called friends, not clients) takes care of themselves, but the difference from public sauna master is personal and emotional attitude and attention to the people.
Clients‘ requests:
“Could I join, when you will organize a group of people to bath?”
“Will you heat your pirtis tomorrow? We’d like to come!”

“Entertainer”

Leads group procedures, feasts, celebrations.
Mostly orientates to having fun together, playful group programs, can include group whisking or show elements. It is probably one of the most popular roles, which requires a lot of creativity and good communication skills, as well as working with steam, group procedures.
Clients‘ requests:
“We have a special occasion and want to celebrate it in pirtis!“
“Our company has a team building meeting. We want to include this experience too!”

“Whisker and master of procedures”

Performs whisking and other bath procedures, like scrubs, body wash, massages, etc.
Often combines this role with one of the “group” roles (like “Entertainer” or “Soul of the group”), or works in a SPA. You can also meet such people in sauna clubs. This is an individual work, which requires good skills of whisking and bodywork.
Clients‘ requests:
“I want to get good whisking!”
“Could you heat my back and make scrub?”
“I want to relax and have good treatment for my body!”

“Healer”

Performs physical or/and emotional healing procedures, especially combining bath procedures with other methods (e.g. massage, physiotherapy, body psychotherapy etc.).
The procedures are very effective for people who are burned-out or depressed. This is also a type of individual work, but the difference from whisking and procedures master is the goal: not just give pleasure and enjoy bathing, but solve specific problems of the client, what requires quite deep knowledge and understanding.
Clients‘ requests:
“I feel pain in my back. Is it possible to do something with this?”
“Feel tired and depressed, can’t sleep. Could you help me somehow?”

“Teacher”

The one, who combines bathing and education. The goal of such master is not to make a sophisticated or luxury procedure, but to explain, give to try, educate. The process can be group or, less often, individual. Sometimes can be combined with the role of “Entertainer” or “Soul of the group”. Many people see bathing with a bath master as a kind of adventure, possibility to discover a healthier and more pleasant way to bath, or even as a tool of teambuilding or culture tourism.
Clients‘ requests:
“Could you show how to bath in a right and healthy way?”
“I’d like to learn a little bit, how to make and use whisks…”
“We have foreign guests, could you show and explain them, what Lithuanian pirtis is?”

“Shaman”

Performs special rituals or spiritual practices.
There are people who look for a spiritual experience in pirtis. They see it as a kind of “non ideological form of meditation”, or have a longing for something deeper to connect with their Soul, Source and Wisdom. Consciously or not, people treat bath master as “someone, who knows the secret and have a connection to something deeper”. And often it works… Mostly it is a group work, but sometimes it can be an individual process, which really have a power to inspire and transform.
Clients‘ requests:
“Something is happening in my life. I need support.”
“A special day is coming. We want to get ready for it.”
“I want to connect with myself, looking for a spiritual inspiration.“

Usually there are no clear boundaries between different roles, it is always like a rainbow or cocktail of different tastes, flavors and experiences.

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