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by Kirsten Houseknecht
Many people smudge (burn sage or other plants) to cleanse or purify a space, but there are all too few real instructions on how to go about it. I have assembled a "FAQ" on smudging, and I hope that it proves helpful.
What do I smudge with?
Commercially available smudge sticks are a tightly bound bundle of herbs. Sage is the primary ingredient in most. Sage is the best all around "psychic cleanser" that exists for under the price of gold, so we use a lot of it. Other added herbs are cedar (another excellent purifier, and a good money draw), Copal (immature amber, elevates the psychic energy in the area), and sweet grass (also elevates energy, and a traditional offering gift to the powers)
Why do I want a dish?
You need a plate or shell or something to hold under a smudge stick, because little hot embers and ash WILL drop off, and then you will need to replace your furniture, or put out your couch. While burning the house down may be an effective purification ritual, it is a tad extreme for most purposes.
What else can I smudge with?
Any smoke/incense will do. Sage loose (leaves or rubbed) burned in an incense container, is just as effective, but less convenient.
Why do people use a feather?
People use feathers to direct the smoke, but you can just as readily use your hand. The objective is to waft the smoke into all corners and cubbies in the room.
How do I start?
You start by meditating, praying, or in some way getting yourself in a good frame of mind. Light the smudge stick, and then let the flames go out, you may need to blow it out. You want it to smolder, not burn. You should see smoke rising from it. You may need to relight the smudge stick occasionally, so tuck the matches in your pocket.
Smudge yourself first. You wouldn't want to be tracking mud around while you are cleaning, right? Same theory! Smudge yourself, especially your arms and legs, and try to wave the smoke behind your back. You don't want to wave the smudge over your head. Inhale the smoke if you can and take several deep breathes to relax. It is time to clean house!
Ok, so I just wave smoke around?
No. Walk in an organized method through your area, making sure you cover every part of the house (including closets and etc) at least once. Most people find a clockwise (or counterclockwise) path to be the most efficient, to insure you don't miss anyplace. Also walk in the same direction through every room, so you don't miss spots in the room!
You want to smudge every entrance and exit, circling the smoke both around every opening, and then across the opening. Picture the smoke driving any negativity out the door (that's why you do the door last) and then sealing the room so that only benevolent energy can enter. Treat mirrors exactly like windows (I do my mirrors twice).
You also want to smudge every piece of furniture. This especially includes the computer, but do not get smoke too close to the fan intake if the computer is on, smoke is bad for it.
Finish by smudging up to an exit (window or door) and then seal that.
So I just wave smoke at stuff?
No, you want to watch the smoke. In the absence of a strong draft, the smoke should rise. If you are smudging a sofa, and the smoke suddenly starts curling to the side, or towards the ground, you have a problem. Or you need to better insulate your house.
Spend extra time smudging that sofa, go over it thoroughly until the smoke rises straight, you are clearing it of unwanted energy. If an object consistently seems to accumulate negativity, maybe you need to get rid of it. You can try a more thorough cleansing, but it may be you just don't like, or have bad associations, with that object, and it will always be negative *for you*, someone else may not have that problem.
So, am I done now?
Not quite, now make an offering of thanks, pray or whatever, and make sure you smudge yourself again and try to wash up, launder your clothes, etc. You don't want any of that nasty sticky energy being tracked back in, right? A proper smudging of a house, or room, is a thorough process, and will take time. It is better to wait until you have the time to do it right, than to try to rush through it. Remember that it is always preferable to smudge while you yourself are in a relaxed, and pleasant state of mind, because negativity attracts negativity.
Many of us appreciate the benefits of a soothing bath or a vigorous shower to cleanse and refresh our body. Equally as effective but on the psychic energetic level is the practice of 'smudging'. 'Smudging' is the common name given to the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing, a powerful cleansing technique from the Native American tradition. However the burning of herbs for emotional, psychic, and spiritual purification is common practice in many religious, healing, and spiritual traditions. It is a ritual way to cleanse a person, place or an object of negative energies or influences. The theory behind smudging is that the smoke attaches itself to negative energy and as it clears it takes the negative energy with it, releasing it into another space to be regenerated.
Smudging is very effective when you've been feeling depressed, angry, resentful or unwell or after you have had an argument with someone. It is also great to smudge yourself, the space and all the guests or participants before a ritual or ceremony or celebration. You can smudge your home or work space as part of a general spiritual housecleaning and you can cleanse crystals or other objects of any negative energy with a smudging ritual.
Many religious and spiritual traditions practice the burning of herbs for emotional, psychic, and spiritual purification. Using a smudge stick is part of many American Indian traditions. Smudging is a ritual way to cleanse a person, place or an object of negative energies, spirits or influences. You might want to smudge when:
In Native societies the herbs used for smudging are considered sacred. Treat your smudge stick with respect, and be respectful about the act of smudging. I find that it is particularly centering to have an intention in mind.
For example, if you are feeling depressed visualize the smoke carrying away all your feelings of depression. If there was an argument imagine yourself and the person with whom you argued being at peace with each other.
If you are clearing your crystals prior to programming them thank both them and the smudge stick for helping you to realize your goals. In smudging your room/house you may want to affirm that your dwelling place is a temple for body/spirit.
There are many ways to smudge and a variety of different herbs may be used. When the herbs used for smudging are tied into a bundle and allowed to dry they are called a "smudge stick". In traditional societies the herbs used for smudging are considered sacred and the smudge stick is treated with great respect. The particular plant allies we call on in our smudge sticks (available to purchase in many metaphysical stores or online, are Mugwort and Lavender. The Mugwort stimulates psychic awareness and acts a strong cleanser of negative energies, while the Lavender restores balance, creates a peaceful atmosphere and attracts loving energy.
How to Smudge
Any action, undertaken with intention and belief can become a potent ritual so consider your intention before you smudge and hold it clearly in your mind. You may wish to invite the spirit of the herbs to join you and guide and assist with your intention.
A candle flame is recommended to light the smudge stick as it may take a little time to get the stick smoking. Once there's a flame blow it out so that the smudge stick is smoldering, not burning. Blow or wave the flame with your hand to put out the fire. Allow the smudge stick to smolder, freeing the smoke to circle in the air.
Fan the swirls of smoke around your body from head to toe. You may want to especially focus on areas where you feel there are blockages or where there has been or is physical, emotional, or psychic pain. Imagine the smoke lifting away all the negative thoughts, emotions and energies that have attached themselves to you. If you are feeling depressed for instance you could visualize the smoke carrying away all your feelings of depression.
It is often appropriate to smudge guests as they enter the space at a ritual, ceremony or special event. Smudge as if you were smudging yourself, fanning the smoke all over their body. You may want to speak an intention or a suggestion for the smudging as you do it. For instance "Allow the sacred smoke to cleanse your body and spirit and bring you present and available into this moment"
Smudging a room or space
Light the smudge stick and walk about the perimeter, giving special attention to the corners and the places behind doors. You can also fan the smoke throughout the room with a large feather.
During healing work
During healing work, the smoke may be fanned over the person either by your hand or with feathers. This clears out unhealthy energies and brings in the special attributes of the herbs. You may also direct smudge to each of the person's chakras and as you do so visualize each chakra coming into balance as it is purified by the smudge.
Cleansing crystals or other objects
Hold the objects to be purified in the smoke or fan the smoke over them. If you are clearing your crystals prior to programming them thank both them and the smudge stick for helping you to realize your goals.
Extinguishing the smudge stick
Have ready a fireproof receptacle such as a shell or a glass or ceramic dish to put the smudge stick in when you've finished. It's ideal to damp the stick out in sand, or earth or you can just press it against the bottom of the receptacle. Always make sure that a smudge stick is out before leaving the room where you keep it.
There are two major genii and several varieties of each genus of Sage that are used for smudging. Salvia, or the herb sage used for cooking, comes in two major varieties: S. officinalis, commonly known as Garden Sage, and S. apiana, commonly known as White Sage. 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 heal" or "to save." Artemisia is the genus commonly considered "Sagebrush", and is more common in the wilds out here in California. There are two major varieties to the Artemisia genus: A. californica or Common Sagebrush, and A. vulgaris or Mugwort. 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 Sweatlodge, 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. I would think special crystals could be so protected this way as well.
True cedar is of the Thuja and Libocedrus genii. Some Junipers (Juniperus genus) are also called "cedar", thus complicating things some. Some Juniper varieties are cleansing herbs, especially J. monosperma, or Desert White Cedar. 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 also to bless a house before moving in as is the tradition in the Northwest and Western Canada. It works both as a purifier and as a way to attract good energy in your direction. It is usually available in herb stores in chipped form, which must be sprinkled over a charcoal in a brazier. I like a piece of charcoaled mesquite for this purpose, rather than the commercial charcoal cake.
Very important to the Sioux and Cherokee nations, its botanical name is Hierochloë odorata. In these tribes, the sweetgrass is braided like hair braids. It could be burnt by lighting the end of it, or (more economically) by shaving little bits of it onto charcoal in a brazier. Again, use charcoaled Mesquite (I believe it comes packaged for barbecue use under the brand name "Red Arrow") to burn it, not pressed charcoal tablets. Sweetgrass is burnt after smudging with sage, to welcome in good influences after the bad had been driven out. Sweetgrass is very rare today, and traditional Plains people have been attempting to protect the last of it. Myself, I believe that Cedar, which is not endangered, can safely be used this way. Also Piñon pine needles (used more frequently by the Southwest Teneh, like the Navajo and Apache as well as the Pueblo people and the Zuni) and Copal (used by the Yaqui and in ancient times by the Azteca and the Maya) have similar effect. The three mentioned here are readily available either through gathering yourself or, in the case of copal resin, from any good herb shop.
Burn clippings of the herb in a fire safe container.... If the herb is bundled in a "wand", you can also light the end of the wand that isn't woody and use that. I like the latter way. Direct the smoke with your hands or with a Peyote (feather) wand over the person or thing you wish to smudge. If you can see auras, look for discolored places in the aura and direct the healing smoke towards those places on the patient's body. For cleansing a house, first offer cedar smoke to the four directions outside the house. Then, take a sage bough and go throughout the inside of the house, making sure the smoke penetrates every nook and cranny of the house. It might help also, if you have a power animal, to visualize your animal doing these things, to also dance your animal, and if you have a power song, to sing that too. Then finally, run through the house with a white candle that is well protected, to "light up" the house. Careful not to burn it down when you do it!!!
Smudging should be done with care, with reverence, and in an attitude of LOVE. Show your respect and honor to the plants that the God and Goddess have given us for our healing, and they will return the favor by keeping us well and free from disease and negative energy. Aloe Vera plants, though not to be burnt, are good for the cleansing angle as well. Keep one or more potted Aloe Vera in the house (modern varieties are too tender to plant in anything but full shade outside) in organic (wood or ceramic, never plastic or metal) pots. To honor the plant when you transplant it, sprinkle the roots with corn meal and smudge it with cedar once it is transplanted. The spirit of Aloe Vera is a good protective spirit, and if you burn yourself, can also be used to heal your skin. Be sure to ask the plant's permission before cutting part of the leaf off for the healing juice. If you don't, the protective power of the plant will cease, and you will be left with but an inert houseplant... and perhaps some bad karma to boot.
Smudging has been used since ancient times to cleanse people and places of negative energy, and bring about harmony and balance. We tend to think of smudging as coming from the Native American cultures, but herbal mixtures, thrown onto a fire within a Sweat Lodge, or during a ceremony, have been used by Celtic, Norse and other cultures too. The smudging ceremony we have included here comes from Native America. The Native Americans have strongly earth orientated beliefs and spiritual practices. Their smudging are simple and sacred energy cleansing ceremonies, which include an added dimension of ritual and respect for all the many parts of Creation.
Before you begin you need to get together the tools you will use. These include the herbs that you will use for smudging, a lighter or matches to light the herb, a container to rest the smouldering herb in (this can be an Abalone shell, a fire-proof bowl or charcoal block) and a feather to fan the smoke. You can use loose dried herb, or a stick of herbs held together with twine. Sage is the herb most often used to clear away negative energy, and Sweetgrass has the power to call in positive energies. These tools represent the four elements in nature, Fire, Air, Water and Earth. Whenever you are smudging, do be careful, as you are using smouldering herbs.
When you have decided to do a house or space clearing, prepare yourself. Begin by drinking a glass of water and thanking the spirit of water for helping you with your ceremony. Then sit down quietly and meditate on the clearing, and your specific intention for the room or space to be cleared. After you have prepared yourself, you are ready to open to the energy of the space around you. Then take the Abalone shell (which also represents the element of water) and place in it the herbs that you will be using. As you light the smudge you can give thanks to Father Sun from whom fire rises, and thank the spirit of fire for assisting you in the ceremony. Then fan the fire with your feather until the herbs are smouldering gently, rather than burning fiercely, and creating smoke. Thank the spirit of air for assisting you.
Now, using both hands, catch the smoke and bring it towards you, first to your heart and then over your head and down your body. Using your hands, bring smoke to your arms, your torso and your legs down to the ground. This is to cleanse, connect and ground your energy. While you do this it is good to visualise the smoke carrying away any negative energy, balancing and healing. After this you offer the smoke to each of the four directions in turn, beginning with the East, and to the heavens above and the earth below. Then you can smudge the room that needs clearing. Go round the room in a clockwise direction, starting in the eastern corner or the door. Hold the burning smudge in its container, and using your feather to direct the smoke, push negative energy out through an open door or window. When you have finished, let the ashes cool and then return them to Mother Earth, thanking the spirit of the earth for offering its herbs for you to use.
This simple smudging ceremony can bring balance and calm, clearing away the negative and drawing positive energy into your space. You can use smudging for balancing energy in people too. It can be a great help after arguments, upsets or bereavements, and is wonderful to use after unwelcome guests as well! If you are a healer you can use smudging to cleanse your energy, and your consulting room, before and after seeing a client.
Most of all remember that in these types ceremony it is your intention which is most important. At the end of the ceremony visualise, again, your positive wish for the place, calling in positive energy and perhaps dedicate a stone or crystal to maintain those good intentions within the space.
The New Moon is a perfect time to clear out old stale or negative energies. Although most well known in Native American cultures, Smudging and the burning of sacred herbs belong to many spiritual cultures. Burning of these hallowed herbs for the purpose of cleansing and sending out prayers is universal.
On the New moon, open all doors windows of space to be cleared, the old stuff HAS to have a place to go.
You will need:
1. Light the end of your charcoal tab and let it burn for a few minutes. Sprinkle the herbs on charcoal; you may need to fan the flames with a feather or your hand.
2. Call on the spirits of the smudge to cleanse and protect you, saying:
"Sacred herbs, remove all negativity from my heart; cleanse me, bless me."
3. First waft the smoke towards your heart. Hold the vessel away from you and use the feather to waft the smoke towards you. Then take the smudge smoke over your head, down your arms and down the front of your body. Imagine the smoke lifting away all the negative thoughts, emotions and energies that have attached themselves to you.
4. Now bring the smoke down the back of your body towards the ground. Visualize the last remains of negativity being taken back into the earth, away into the air.
5. Go through each room and in clockwise fashion circle and waft the smoke about, seeing it exit the window or door, along with any “bad” energy. Chanting,
"Sacred herbs, remove all negativity from my home, cleanse my home, bless my home."
End at your front door and sprinkle a bit of your unburned herbs to welcome positive spirits to your home. A white candle can be used during this “cleansing” by keeping it lit in the center of the home or space.
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