People commonly credit smudging as being a Native American practice, but the use of rising smoke in spiritual rituals has been practiced across many cultures for thousands of years. The ancient Hindu texts reveal this was practiced 6,000 years ago with the burning of incense. Smoke purification was performed in Egypt, with the burning of aromatic resins for religious ceremonies. It was practiced in Babylonia, Greece, Rome, Japan, Tibet, China, among the ancient Hebrews, and among indigenous tribal cultures around the world, with the native tribes of North America being only a portion. Catholic and Orthodox Christianity, which are an amalgam of pagan beliefs and practices, use incense in religious ceremonies, adapted from the pagan rituals popular when the Christian theocracy was legalized by the pagan-turned-Christian, Roman Emperor Constantine, in 325 AD.
II.The use and when to Smudge
So the use of smoke to purify in a spiritual way is not exclusive to the Native American tradition, although we have them to thank for the wonderful and deeply spiritual practice of burning sage and other sacred plants as a purification practice. This tradition is a very beautiful gift and the most effective method commonly used in spiritual cleansing ceremonies today.
How it Works to Cleanse and PurifySmudging is an intrinsic part of shamanism, the world’s oldest medicine. Shamans recognize that every form of life on this planet has a spiritual purpose and a sacred consciousness. They know that plants have invaluable healing properties. Human animals, as it turns out, are not the top rung of creation’s ladder even though we think we are because we have big brains and walk on two feet. All beings, whether plant, animal, or mineral are divine and have sacred right to life; all have something to offer to the manifest “other.”
To approach a smudging ritual and to be effective in cleansing away negative energy, one must be reverent of the plant being used and even the energies being cleansed. All energy is divine at its core, whether Light or Dark. Respect for all life is essential to any smudging that you undertake. If you cannot feel reverent about this sacred practice, don’t do it. Find someone who is spiritually qualified and energetically prepared to do it for you.
Although many different plants can be used for smudging, indigenous American tribes consider four plants to be especially sacred: sage, sweetgrass, tobacco, and cedar. Each plant is considered to have a special function and this can vary by tribe and tradition. While sage is used for purification, sweetgrass is used to bring in positive energies, and its smoke is considered to carry prayers to the Creator.
When to Use SmudgeIf you are feeling down, negative, stuck, or in a spiritual low place, smudging is an excellent way to change things for the better.
- When your house, your property, or any place or space has been exposed to heavy and negative energies, or painful experiences and even illness, they should be cleansed with smudge.
- When you move into a new location, it should be smudged to cleanse the psychic imprints of previous occupants.
- If you feel the presence of bad energy in your living quarters, or if a solitary room makes you feel bad or uneasy by being in there, it’s time to smudge.
- If you want to create a protective barrier against outside negative influences, such as neighborhood issues, it’s time to smudge.
- If you want to make your prayers stronger and if you want to feel more connected to Spirit, it’s time to smudge.
- If your vehicle has been in a fender-bender or you’ve had a close call in your car, smudge it, inside and out, to remove negative energetic imprints that can attract more negative experiences.
- Cleanse second-hand items with smudge to remove psychic imprints of previous owners.
- You can consecrate and energetically charge your garden by smudging.
- You should smudge to clean yourself and your space before engaging in anypsychic contact or spiritual ceremony.
- You can smudge anytime just to connect to a state of spiritual clarity and harmony! Remember, you “clear the air” in your life with the help of sacred smoke!
Smudging and the Five ElementsApplications of herbs can work on our body, mind, emotions or spirit. The preparation, method of application and the herb used determines the effect of the herbs. These different application forms are connected with the five elements known to the Wise Ones of old, which are employed in many sacred paths, such as magick, Ayurveda, Feng Shui, etc. These elements are: earth, air, fire, water and ether or spirit, as symbolised by the ancient protection symbol of the pentagram, a much misunderstood and vilified sacred symbol -- more about this in another article, which I hope to write soon..
Back to our herbs and the elements: as a general rule, when a herb gets ingested it works on our physical body mostly. The herb, representing the Earth element, gets taken into the physical body (earth). There it may nourish us and build up new cells (creation of matter = earth).
When a concoction or a brew of the herb is made which is then drunk it will work more on the emotional body, as liquids represent the element of Water which is connected to the emotions. Herbs taken as a brew or concoction are carried deeper into the tissues.
The burning of herbs and resins corresponds to the fire element which is less solid than the earth and water, and aligned with will. The fire element also rules our metabolic function and fiery qualities such as courage, determination etc.
The inhalation of a herb in powder form, would correspond to the element of air which is connected to the mind. In Ayurvedic medicine certain herbs get powdered and inhaled into the nose. This form of herbal application has very powerful effects on the brain, and mind.
We may also inhale the fragrance released by a herb, such as when inhaling aromatherapy oils. Essential oils are connected to the ether element, and thus to spirit. The sense of smell is very powerful and can often trigger the release of buried memories.
In case of smudging, the herb, in this case white sage, is burned. The burning itself lifts the herb to a higher vibration, from the dense physical earth plane to the subtler realm of fire, which is more closely linked to our spirit. Fire is the most purifying of all elements. The sun's rays, ultraviolet light, for example is a natural sterilizer! Heating an object such as metal, will destroy all bacteria and germs on it. Even a fever is nothing but the body's natural attempt to "boil" the bacteria and kill them off. Therefore the burning of herbs generally has a purifying effect.
The smoke released corresponds to the air element, thus working on the mental state. Sage is said to be ruled by the element of air, thus enhancing the effect. So when you are burning sage and wafting it through the air, and inhaling the scent, it will purify you, put your mind in a peaceful and meditative state and put you in touch with Spirit. You are going from the gross physical and material plane to the realm of will, of mind, and spirit, and align your mind, the individual self, with the cosmic mind, or Great Spirit, if you do it in the right attitude.
Different Types of SmudgeThere are different types of smudge sticks available on the market now. My personal favourite is just plain white sage. All forms of sage are very cleansing and purifying. Sage used to be burned in sickrooms in the old times because it was believed to kill various pathogens and to reduce risk of contamination. (It might be a good idea to do this nowadays as well, especially when facing new man-made diseases such as the Swine Flu.) Sage tea has been drunk for cough for hundreds of years. It helps to dissolve mucus in the lungs. Sage is also used as a kitchen herb for cooking. It is not toxic, unless you were to take enormous quantities -- but that is highly unlikely as it tastes quite bitter.
Likewise, sage smoke is not harmful to health, however some people are sensitive to it and have a reaction. It has been my experience that this type of reaction is often emotional. or tied to entities, Clients who had serious entities quite often hated sage, when the entities were cleared they liked it! As opposed to cigarette smoke which damages the lungs, the smoke of sage is actually beneficial for the lungs. And, the smoke of sage is deadly to certain insects such as mites, which makes it perfect for preserving feathers. Most shamans keep feathers for healing and ceremonial work. But feathers from wild birds often get eaten by mites with time. Simply passing newly found feathers through the smoke of a sage smudge stick will kill off mites and preserve the feathers. Note: never place a newly found not yet smudged feather near your older ceremonial feathers or you may infest all your feathers with mites and lose them all!
Sage smudge sticks are widely available but can be costly in Europe. You can in theory make your own smudge sticks from dried sage. However, it seems that white sage does not grow well in Northern Europe. The best white sage is from America. Other forms of sage can also be used for the smudge stick but the scent will be different and the cleansing effect maybe not quite as pronounced as with white sage.
Cedar is another plant frequently used for smudge sticks. The cedar tree is a sacred tree believed to have healing properties and hence cedar smudge sticks are used in healing and for ceremonial purposes. The cleansing effect of cedar is not quite as intense as that of white sage. But cedar smoke brings in a friendly, healing energy, and is a good alternative for those who have an aversion to sage.
Sometimes lavender is mixed into smudge sticks. Lavender has powers of protection and cleansing. It has traditionally been used in herbal medicine for many infectious diseases and has a soothing effect on the nervous system. Magically it is used for protection and also for love. Lavender brings a positive energy, opens the heart chakra and calms the mind. Again, there are people who really cannot stand the smell of lavender, though I personally find it very pleasant and relaxing.
Sweet grass is a traditional Native American herb that is also sometimes burned for smudging. However, sweet grass holds an energy of blessing rather than cleansing and should ideally be used after smudging with sage, to bring in positive energy after negativity has been released, rather than on its own. Sweet grass usually comes in a long braided strand rather than as a smudge stick.
Choosing a Smudge StickWhen buying a smudge stick consider that loosely bound sticks will burn much faster, giving you less value for your money. Also, loosely bound smudge sticks may crumble and shed a lot of burning embers, or even fall totally apart. When you do smudging outdoors in windy conditions a smudge stick can burn away very fast, even more so if it is loosely bound. When working indoors you have to watch out not to burn or singe carpets and textiles with dropping embers. To avoid burning holes into your carpet, your sofa and cushions I recommend using the smudge stick together with a bowl.
The Smudge BowlUsing a bowl to hold the smudge stick and to put it out after use makes smudging that much easier and safer. Simply hold a smudge stick in one hand and your bowl in the other beneath it. This way any dropping embers will fall in the bowl saving your carpets and textiles. A bowl is also useful to put out the smudge, and to store it when not in use. I personally use a cast-iron smudging bowl, which has the advantage of being fireproof. Its toughness makes it perfect to extinguish smudge sticks in.
Alternatively you can also use an earthenware bowl for smudging. Earthenware pottery works beautifully for smudging because the energy of Earth goes well with herbs and earthenware is fireproof. If you know how to do pottery you may even make your own sacred smudge bowl from clay with your own hands and decorate it with your personal power designs.
Abalone shells are another option and are very popular for smudging. They certainly look pretty. However, there is a lot of controversy about abalone shells. Some Native American tribes apparently believe that using a seashell, such as abalone, to burn something in, is an insult to the Ocean Mother. It makes sense, as the fire and the water element clash. You may also have environmental considerations about the excessive harvesting of abalones. Whatever you decide, it is not very practical to extinguish a smudge stick in an abalone shell because the smudge stick gets extremely hot and the heat can damage the delicate shell. Never leave a burning smudge stick in the shell either, as it may crack the shell or darken and damage it.
Lighting and Extinguishing SmudgeIt has been said that smudge is very difficult to light, but once it burns it is hard to put out again. You will find it almost impossible to light a smudge stick with a match and an ordinary lighter is not the ideal solution either. It just takes too long to light smudge that way. The best way of lighting smudge is to either use a blow torch lighter -- if you like technical gadgets -- or just hold the smudge stick over an open flame such as over a candle. The only way to extinguish a smudge stick is by suffocating the flames. Traditionally the smudge stick is put out by pressing its burning surface firmly against stone until no more smoke rises. This method is ideal for outdoors. Indoors you can can easily and safely put out your smudge stick in a metal or earthenware bowl. Keep it in a fireproof bowl and check after a few minutes that it is really fully extinguished. If it still smoulders and you are unaware of it, burning pieces may fall on the carpet or other inflammable material and start a fire! So be careful!
Smudging a HouseFor a quick yet efficient cleansing of the energy in your home, sacred ritual space, teepee or healing room, light a smudge stick and go around the place while waving the smudge stick through the air. Do this gently because if you wave it too vigorously it will cause many embers to break off and fall. To avoid damage to your home hold a bowl or a fireproof vessel underneath the smudge stick so that falling burning embers cannot damage furniture and surfaces.
Do this is an quiet meditative state and allow yourself to be drawn to areas of heavy energy and negativity. You will soon get a feel of it. Typically, where the energy is heavy and negative you will be drawn to smudge longer. Sometimes the smudge stick will burn more intensely, when there is negative energy around emitting large quantities of smoke or making loud cracking sounds. When there is resistance to clearing or strong negativity the smudge stick may go off several times and may need to be relit. Move around the whole room or house smudging every corner and nook and cranny until you feel the energy is clear. Warning: in some houses this may set off your fire alarm. So take care of of your fire alarm before you begin.
Smudging is a wonderful cleansing ritual in itself or it can be used as the final phase of a more complex exorcism of banishing ritual.