Smudging is the burning of herbs to create a cleansing smoke for the purpose of purifying people, ceremonial and ritual space, ceremonial tools and objects.
There are specific smudging herbs used within various sacred indigenous cultural ceremonies and rituals, with the burning of herbs or incense for cleansing, purifying and protecting the physical and spiritual bodies, and banish negative energies.
Many differing cultures and peoples have their own methods and herbal mixtures to achieve this, and when done correctly smudging can restore physical, spiritual and emotional balance.
The term Smudging originated in the Native American culture. Native American Indians use a variety of smudging mixtures. In olden times, the end of the smudge stick or braid was lit from the central or cooking fire.
Not everyone views the practice of smudging in the same way and different herbs may be used for different purposes, with many different herbs used for smudging:
Sage (Artemisia tridentia) differs from the European varieties and is indigenous to the Americas.
There are two major genera and several varieties of each genus of sage that are used for smudging. Culinary sage (Salvia) comes in two major varieties: garden sage (Salvia officinalis) and white sage (Salvia apiana). Salvia varieties have long been acknowledged as healing herbs, reflected in the fact that its genus name comes from the Latin root word “salvare”, which is the verb "to save." Artemisia is the genus commonly considered Sagebrush and is more common in California.
There are two major varieties to the Artemisia genus: Common Sagebrush (Artemisia californica), and Mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris). There are many other varieties of both Salvia and Artemisia, and all are effective in smudging. Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out evil spirits, negative thoughts and feelings, and to keep Gan'n (negative entities) away from areas where ceremonials take place. In the Plains Sweat lodge, the floor of the structure is strewn with sage leaves for the participants to rub on their bodies during the sweat.
Sage is also used in keeping sacred objects like pipes or Peyote wands safe from negative influence. In the Sioux nation, the Sacred Pipe is kept in a bundle with sage boughs.
Cedar: Cypress and Juniper
True cedar is of the Thuja and Libocedrus genera. Some Junipers (Juniperus genus) are also called "cedar". Some Juniper varieties are cleansing herbs, such as Desert White Cedar (Juniperus monosperma), but for smudging, the best is Western Red Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and California Incense Cedar (Libocedrus descurrens). Cedar is burnt while praying to the Great Spirit (Usen', the Source - also known to Plains nations as Wakan Tanka) in meditation, and to bless a house before moving in as is the tradition in the Northwest and Western Canada. It works both as a purifier and to attract good energy in your direction.
Sweetgrass (Hierochloë odorata) is very important to the Sioux and Cherokee nations, in these tribes, the sweetgrass is braided like hair braids. It could be burnt by lighting the end of it or by shaving little bits of it onto charcoal in a brazier. Sweetgrass is burnt after smudging with sage, to welcome in good influences after the bad had been driven out.
Bay leaf is traditionally used to protect against colds and flu.
Fennel is effective in repelling negative energies and calms the nerves.
Pine, Fir, Hemlock, and Spruce
Pine, Fir, Hemlock, and Spruce are burnt for their purifying and cleansing effect. They are most effective in combination with other herbs.
Yerba Santa has many uses medicinally. Burn it to nurture and protect that which is ancient, sacred and wild within yourself. Use it when you need encouragement or courage.
Smudging may be done alone or in a group, used by itself or in combination with other herbs and is associated with many different rituals and methods. Smudging can be used regularly to cleanse people, rooms, and psychic tools such as crystals.
Many initially smudge to purify spaces and people from unwanted energies, such as before moving into a new house to remove any lingering energies that may be residing there, however, it is also a good thing to do on a regular basis for both one's self and one's living space, to maintain harmony.
Smudging is practised before and after any ritual work, and is considered an essential part of spiritual hygiene. The final smudge is to cleans any negative vibrations and energies attracted or created during the proceedings.
Smudging itself takes many forms. Sometimes herbs are tied in a bundle called a 'smudge stick' and allowed to dry. Some herbs lend themselves to braiding. Loose dried herbs may also be placed directly onto the burning wood in an indoor fireplace or crumbled between the fingers over a piece of charcoal. The container used for the charcoal and herbs needs to be fireproof. Ceramic or glass bowls with a layer of sand or salt work well. Especially nice is an abalone shell with a layer of coloured sand in the bottom. Remember that the container may be come warm enough to scorch a surface or burn your hand.
Remember that all things are created from some form of electromagnetic energy/ aura and can merge to bring balance or imbalance. The aura and souls of the plants/herbs and people can merge to this end when smudging.
Smudging is often used by healers. During the healing the smoke may be fanned over the person by the healer either using their hand, feathers or a fan to clear out unhealthy energy and bring in the special attributes of the herbs. There are various invocations, chants, and prayers used during the healing.
A spiritual connection is thought to be made between the person and his spirit guides - and between the person and the spirit of the herbs to join and guide in sacred/higher frequency work. Part of the spiritual work of the plant is to work with human spirits. When you have the intention to be partners, it enables them to work actively with you and much more of their magic manifests in their lives.
THINGS TO AVOID
The idea behind burning herbs is to release their energy and fragrance, not to fill the room or your lungs with smoke. Make sure the bowl/vessel you use can support the heat that will be produced so it will not crack.
Burning excessive amounts can lead to respiratory distress or problems, therefore, avoid smudging in the room when infants, pregnant persons, asthmatic or allergy-prone people are present. And, never leave your smudge sticks, candles or charcoal unattended to avoid fire hazards also.
Blowing into the mixture is not encouraged as it is seen as blowing one's own negativity into the mixture. The mixture is then wafted around one's self like a smoke bath.
When burning a smudge stick or braid, they will eventually go out on their own (although you must never leave them unattended), but should you need to put them out quickly, you can stamp the end out in sand or soil, shaking off the excess. Using water is messy and not generally recommended.
Penelope Espinoza Hallett, Naturopath
BHsc (C.M.) AdvDip. Nat/N.D, Dip. Aroma, Dip. C.H., Cert. R.M., Cert. R.M., Cert. SBM, mNHAA