The Magickal Universe

Where Magick is a way of life!

Smudging

Smudging is a sacred tradition that has its roots in the indigenous cultures throughout the world. It has been passed down via the ancestors and many variations on the tradition exist. However the common thread is that, the smoke from sacred herbs can be used for purification and spiritual preparation.

Smudging is used to clear and ground ourselves and purify our intentions before and after healing, initiation and ritual.

The smoke helps purify our ritual tools and other sacred objects.

Smudging is used to clear rooms and create sacred space.

The herbs can also be burned to give thanks and to aid us in our prayers.

There are many ways to actually perform a smudging.

One ancient way is to start by drawing on the power of the five elements, by burning your smudging herbs in a shell. The abalone shell is considered to represent Water, the power of emotion and change. The sacred herb is seen as a gift of Earth Mother and represents her creativity and strength. The lighting of the herb evokes the element of Fire and the smoke that rises from the burning herbs represents Air, carrying and releasing our cleared intentions and prayers. Through our deliberate thoughts and actions, we ourselves bring the fifth element: ether, spirit or life energy,

The offered the smoke to the seven directions: east, south, west, north and up, down and center.

Returning to center it is time to purify ourself. Start by holding the shell in front of you and gently fan the smoke up to your heart. Pass the shell up along the center of your body, encircling your head. Be aware of how you feel through out this process. Are there places that you feel a desire to clear and honour? It is important to follow your own inner guidance in this.

To cleanse ritual items, passing them through the smoke, in a spiraling or a figure eight motion can clear any residual energy Both are sacred symbolic movements: a spiral represents an ever expanding and focusing energy; a figure eight on its side is the symbol of infinity.

Sacred spaces are created by passing the smoke around the perimeter of the room, moving sunwise (deosil) the directoion of the movement of the sun throughout the sky (please note this differs from northern to southern hemisphere)

As with all Pagan practices - this is only one of the ways that you may perform a smudging. As always trust your inner feelings and allow yourself to create what is sacred and meaningful to you.

Herbs Used in Smudging

There are many herbs and resins used for smudging.

The most common herb used today is sage, but sweetgrass, cedar and juniper are also popular. Resins like copal, frankincense and myrrh are also used in a slightly different manner.

Of the over 200 types of sage, there are only a few generally used for smudge. The most common types of sage in magic are culinary sage, white sage, desert sage, clary sage, and diviner's sage. With so many types of sage, it is usually best to buy based on the scientific name. This is listed in italics after the most common name.

Sages

culinary sage

Culinary Sage

(Salvia Officinali)

Also known as: Garden Sage, Kitchen Sage, Common Sage

This is the type of sage you will find in most grocery stores. It is sometimes used in essential oils, but clary sage is more common for this use. Culinary sage is an acceptable substitute when other types are not available.

Bulk White SageWhite Sage

(Salvia Apiana)

Also known as: Bee Sage, Sacred Sage

White sage is considered sacred by many Native Americans. It is used to cleanse a person or space of negative energies. White Sage may be bundled into a wand or stick, or burned loose. Many Native American tribes still use the stems and leaves as smudge during purification ceremonies. The practice has been adopted by many Pagans for their own spiritual uses. Most traditions consider Sage to be a masculine, God oriented Energy.

White Sage (Salvia apiana) This sage is used just like desert sage, but many people prefer White Sage because of the sweeter aroma it gives off.

Desert Sage BundleDesert Sage

(Salvia Arizonic)

Also known as: Desert Indigo Sage, Arizona Sage

This is commonly used as a substitute for White sage. It is most commony bought in bound bundles, unlike White Sage which is frequently sold loose. The longer stems and smaller leaves of Desert Sage make the bundling process easier.

Desert Sage (Artemesia tridentata). This plant will drive out negative energies, spirits and influences. Use this as a smudge to purify people and places before any sacred ceremony.

Clary SageClary Sage

(Salvia sclare)

Also known as: clary

This is most often used in perfumes and essential oils. It is grown mostly in Western Europe.

Diviners Sage salvia divinorumDiviner's Sage

(Salvia Divinorum [previously Saliva Spendens])

Also known as: Ska Pastora, Shepherdess's Herb, ska Maria Pastora, yerba de Maria, Salvia

Isolated groups of shamans in Mexico are said to use this to induce a visionary state. It is also used to alter consciousness during spiritual healing. Diviner's Sage is generally smokes or chews the leaf to achieve this effect. contains Salvinorin A, a psychoactive chemical that appears to be unique to this plant. While it remains legal in most countries and the majority of the United States, its effects have not yet been accurately studied.

(please check local laws in relation to Salvia as many countries have recently added this to the restricted plants listing. These laws criminalize Diviner's Sage, and many state laws regarding inhalant abuse can apply this as well. This is one of the few herbs whose use I do NOT recommend. If you do decide to use it, do so only under the supervision of an experienced shaman, and only with pure spiritual intent).

 

Other Herbs for Smudging

 

Sweetgrass braidSweetgrass

(Hierochloe odorata)

Also known as sweet grass, buffalo grass, bison grass, holy grass (UK), manna grass, Mary’s grass, seneca grass, vanilla grass)

Sweetgrass, like white sage, is widely used by Native Americans. Sweetgrass leaves are often dried and made into braids for storage and/or sale. Sweetgrass is used most often in peace and healing rituals. Many find it to be a useful aid for entering a meditative state. Sweetgrass is a more feminine, Goddess oriented Energy.

Sweetgrass (Hierochole odarata) This is one of the most sacred herbs used for smudging. This herb is used to bring positive energy in after negative energies are banished by using sage.

Processed Lavender BudsLavender

(Lavandula angustifolia, [also Lavandula spica, Lavandula vera; previously Lavandula officinalis])

Also known as: common lavender, true lavender, English lavender

Lavender is used for dozens of different purposes. Besides being used in food products and in essential oils, it is also a claming addition to smudge. Lavender should not, however, be used by itself for this purpose.

Lavender (Lavandula officianalis) This herb will restore balance and create a peaceful atmosphere. It will also draws loving energy and spirits.

Cedar WandFlat Cedar

(Calocedrus decurrens [also Libocedrus decurrens)

Also known as: Incense Cedar, California Incense Cedar

Flat cedar is used in much the same way that White Sage and Sweetgrass are, and for many of the same reasons. Unlike Sage and Sweetgrass, rather than just purifying, also attract positive energy.

Processed Juniper leaves and stems

Cedar (Libocedrus descurrens, Thuja occidentalis). This plant can also be used to purify, especially for negative emotions.

Juniper

(Juniperus ssp.)

Also known as: Alpine Juniper, Coommon Junip[er, Gin Berry

Although better known for the medicinal and sacred properties of its berries, juniper branches and/or leaves may occasionally be added to purifying adn cleansing herb blends.

Juniper (Juniperus ssp.) This herb is also used to purify and to create a safe and sacred space. Juniper was often carried in a medicine pouch or a pocket for protection.

Mugwort

(Atemesia vulgarus)

Also known as: Moxa, Traveler's Herb, Artemis Herb, Felon Herb, Muggons, Old Man, Sailor's Tobacco.

Mugwort (Atemesia vulgarus) This herb can used to stimulate psychic awareness and prophetic dreams. The Lakota also believe that when Mugwort is burned it "makes the bad spirits sick", and they move away from it.

Yerba Santa

(Eriodictyon californicus)

Also known as: Mountain Balm, Bear's Weed, Gum Plant, Consumptive Weed, and Sacred Herb.

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicus) This herb can be used to purify and to set and protect boundaries. The name of this plant reflects it's nature. Yerba Santa means sacred herb.

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.

Osha

(Ligusticum porteri)

Also known as: Liquorice root, Porter's lovage, Porter's licorice-root, lovage, wild lovage, Porter's wild lovage, loveroot, Porter's ligusticum

Osha (Ligusticum porteri) The root of this plant can be burned as an incense or carried for good luck and protection from bad influences. Osha is also a preferred gift for Native American elders.

 

Resins:

           Copal                          Frankincense                       Myrrh

Copal Resin

Franincense Resin

Myrrh Resin

 



 

 

 

All three of these resins have been used for purification in Native American (Copal) or Indo-European (Frankincense and Myrrh) Tradition.

Unlike fresh or dried herbs, resins require charcoal or and existing fire to burn properly.

Copal (Bereseru microphylla) This resin was used by the Mayans as a food for the Gods. They believe that as the smoke of the Copal would rise, it would carry their prayers to the ears of the Gods. Copal is used in divination and in purification ceremonies. Copal is the Frankincense of the Western Hemisphere. Some smudge sticks will have a copal powder mixed into the center or them.

 

Making a Smudge Stick

Smudging is a good way to cleanse a sacred space, ritual tools, homes and people. Traditionally smudge sticks are made of sweetgrass or sage for these purposes.

Smudge sticks are available commercially, and are fairly inexpensive, however it's easy to make your own if you've got herbs growing in your garden, or if there's a place nearby where you can go 'wildcrafting' and by creating the sticks yourself, you can be sure the herbs have not been sprayed with chemicals or hold negative residue from handling during production.

You will need:

  • Scissors or garden clippers (if your going to use scissors make sure they are sharp and safe them for only using when crafting)
  • Cotton string (do not use string coated in plastic - it's going to burn and you don't want toxic fumes!)
  • Plants\material (such as sage, mugwort, rosemary, lavender, or juniper)

Method:

  1. Cut off pieces of the herb in lengths about 6 - 10 inches long. (for leafy plants, make the pieces shorter, but use a longer piece for a plant that has fewer leaves).
  2. Cut a length of the string about five feet long.
  3. Put several branches of the herbs together so that the cut ends are all together, and the leafy ends are all together.
  4. Wind the string tightly around the stems of the bundle, leaving two inches of loose string where you begin.
  5. Wrap a length of string around the base of the branches several times to secure it.
  6. Then, gradually, work your way along the length of branches until you reach the leafy end.
  7. Return the string back up to the stems, creating a bit of a criss-cross pattern. (you will want to wind the string tightly enough that nothing gets loose, but not so tight that it cuts off pieces of the plants or prevents oxygen from getting into the centre - if it is too tight it won't smoulder).
  8. When you get back to the stem end, tie the remainder of the string to the 2" loose piece you left at the beginning.
  9. Trim off any excess pieces so that the ends of your smudge stick are even.
  10. Place the bundle outside in the shade or hang it up inside (a broom closet makes a good drying space for drying). Depending on what type of herb has been chosen to use, how tightly it was bound and how humid the weather is, it may take a couple of days or as much as a week to dry out.
  11. When the smudge sticks are dry, they can be burnt in your rituals by lighting one end allowing it to burn until it begins to smoke then the flame is 'shaken out' (the herbs will continue to smoulder and smoke).
  12. If you have used as much of the stick as needed you can 'butt' it out by tapping the smouldering end into a fire proof bowl until all the burning pieces have been put out - leave it in the bowl to be sure it doesn't have a hidden spark that may catch once you have left the room!

WARNING!! Safety tip: Some plants may have toxic fumes. Do not burn a plant unless you know it is safe to do so.

Important Notes to consider:

  • 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.
  • Avoid smudging in the room when infants, pregnant persons, asthmatic or allergy-prone people are present.
  • Never leave your smudge sticks, candles or charcoal unattended to avoid fire hazards.
  • 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, but should you need to put them out quickly, you can tamp the end out in sand or soil, shaking off the excess.  Using water is messy and not generally recommended.

Traditional Cleansing Ceremony

The following is taken from: Sacred Hoop Magazine Issue 1.

Traditional Cleansing Ceremony

Smudging is the burning of certain herbs to create a cleansing smoke bath, which is used to purify people, ceremonial and ritual space, and ceremonial tools and objects. Many differing cultures and peoples have their own methods and herbal mixtures for this purpose.
Native American Indians use a variety of smudging mixtures in this way. The principle herbs used are sage, cedar or juniper, lavender and sweet grass. Pure tobacco is also used by some Plains tribes, and copal in South and Central America.

The herbs are burnt on their own or in mixtures, depending on tradition and required effect. Sage (Artemisia tridentia) is not the same as the European varieties and is indigenous to the Americas. It is used as a cleansing and purifying agent, the effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies. The powerful cleansing vibration it emits when burned, is used to purify the subtle energies of one"s aura, as well as personal and ceremonial space or healing and ceremonial tools, such as pipes and crystals.

Cedar needles are used in a similar way to cleanse and bring balance to the emotions and to the male/female (yin/yang) elements. To clear one's actions and to promote forgiveness, lavender flowers can be added to the mixture to bring the quality of spiritual blessing.
Sweetgrass, which comes from the northern swamps, and is dried and braided into fragrant-smelling plaits can also be added to the mixtures, but it is often burned alone after the sage or smudge mixture has been used. Sweetgrass brings sweetness and beauty into one's life and surroundings. One can offer a prayer to this effect as the braid is lit.

The process of smudging involves placing the individual herb or mixture of herbs into a shell, or fireproof bowl or dish. The mixture can burn quite hot so it is important that whatever is used can take the heat without cracking. Some traditions will not use shells as they say the water element of the shell nullifies the fire element. Others use the shell to bring in the balance of the elements (i.e. fire, smoke or air, shell for water and the herbs themselves as the earth element.)
The mixture is lit and helped to burn by the use of a feather or fan. 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. There are different ways of doing this and one finds a variety of techniques and explanations depending on traditions and teachings. The way for someone not attached to a particular tradition is a matter of personal preference and intuition.

One way would be to start at the left foot (left being the receiving side of the body) and to move the smoke up the left leg with the use of the fan or feather. proceed up the central chakra line and around the top of the head, back down the centre of the body, moving the smoke outwards to the sides and around the back. Finish off by wafting the smoke down the right leg (right being the giving side of the body) and out and away from the right foot. Some traditions would do this four times, as four is the number of balance and harmony.
Feathers and wing fans aid in the cleansing process and have the effect of combing the human aura, therefore adding to the cleansing. Particular feathers bring in the qualities and medicine of the bird of origin. Some would insist that the movement of the fan should be in keeping with the movement of the particular bird's wing in flight.

Cleansing ceremonial or ritual space before and after the event is an essential part of spiritual hygiene. The initial smudging is for the purpose of purifying the space and participants and for banishing any unwanted energies. The final smudge is to cleans any negative vibrations and energies attracted or created during the proceedings. It is also a good thing to do on a regular basis for both one's self and one's living space, to maintain individual and domestic harmony.
Some native teachers of my acquaintance have been very surprised to find that many healers, masseurs, therapists and others involved in similar occupations do not use this or similar cleansing techniques in their workspace and for themselves, both before and after healing consultations. One commented that she had visited a so-called healing room that was more like a psychic sewer, due to the lack of any such cleansing.

Good practice for the use of smudge when healing is to smudge the space, the people in the space, including one's self, the patient and any tools, (such as crystals). When the healing is completed, smudge self, any assistants, tools, patient and finish with the space. In this way one deals with negative energies and vibrations in much the same way as antiseptic and disinfectant deals with germs.

The smell of the mixture is wonderful and the effects are almost instantly noticeable. Happy smudging.


© Copyright Sacred Hoop Magazine 1993

Sources and Resources

Lady Rohanna Ravenswing BOS (1994)