Smudging is used for cleansing. Before a person can be healed or heal another, they must be cleansed of any bad feelings, negative thoughts and emotions, bad spirits or negative energy. This cleansing is to be both physically and spiritually. One way this has been traditionally done was in the purification lodges, salt baths and ceremonies.
Physical and spiritual cleansing helps the healing come through in a clear way, without being distorted by negative stuff from either the healer or the patient. All ceremonies and rituals, whether they be private or public, must be entered into with a good heart so that you can pray, sing, and walk in a spiritual, sacred manner. This enables you to be helped by your ancestors and spirits to enter a sacred space.
While I still purify myself through purification lodges or sweat lodges, it is not always feasible to do this for and/or with every person who comes to me seeking help, health and healing. There are times I take salt baths if I am unable to do a purification lodge in preparation for a major ritual or ceremony.
Many indigenous peoples throughout the world used herbs and various plants to accomplish the cleansing and purifying. One common practice is to burn certain herbs/plants/resins and to take the smoke in your hands and rub it or brush it over your body. Today this practice is commonly called smudging.
In my travels, I have come across certain herbs, plants that are used most constantly in ceremonies. These herbs and plants are Sage, Cedar, Sweetgrass, Copal, Frankincense, Myrrh and Tobacco. For me these are the herbs I use in smudging and rituals. The following is a brief summary of what they are and what yo9u can use them for.
There are many varieties of sage and I have seen most of the them used in smudging. The botanical name for sage is Salvia which comes from the Latin root salvare which means to heal. There are also varieties of sage which are of a species separate from Salvia and they are called Artemisia. This would include mugwort( Artemisia vulgaris) which I sometimes use for cleansing and protection. It is thought that sage drives out bad spirits, feelings, or influences and it also keeps them from entering the area where a ceremony or ritual place.
Sometimes there is confusion about the terms to name plants because in some areas junipers are known as cedars. Cedar has long been used to help cleanse, purify and protect ones belongings, even clothes ( cedar chips, or even cedar chests and drawers). Some rituals use cedar branches, or brooms are made from them to “sweep” to cleanse a home during a house blessing. It is thought that by burning cedar that it too will drive out negative energy but also bring in good influences.
This is the favorite plant to burn for many people as its rich perfume like, musty odor is very pleasant. It is thought that after the sage and cedar or other herbs drove out the bad influences that sweetgrass would bring in the good influences and spirits. You can use it as a way for the good influences to further your work and hold the space where you have just prayed. This plant is getting rarer and rarer today due to the overdeveloping of the land, cattle grazing and wheat fields.
This is a resin, that is used in many Central and South American rituals and ceremonies. Its very powerful sweet, aromatic presence seems to permeate the environment in which it is burned. It is thought that this is a very good resin for removing negativity from all that the smoke touches. Frankincense and Myrrh are both resins also that have been used in Africa, the Middle East and Europe for ceremonies and rituals. I often will burn both as I was taught that when burned together they represent the masculine and feminine and bring balance into what I am practicing or working on and with.
Burning tobacco in ceremonies to help send prayers to the Creator is mainly a practice used in North America. It’s not readily available in many countries.
What To Do
These seven herbs/plants/resins can be obtained at most herb stores, metaphysical shops etc.
The smudging ritual can be done as follows.
Burn the clippings or resin and rub your hands in the smoke. Bring the smoke into your body or rub it onto yourself, especially onto any area that you feel needs spiritual healing. Keep praying all the while that the plant helps you cleanse and purify. Sometimes one person will smudge another, or a group of people using hands or using a feather or wing to lightly brush the smoke over the person.
I personally have been taught to look for dark spots in a persons spirit body / Aura and to concentrate smoke and prayers on that spot. I have a clay bowl that I use for the herbs and a metal brazier I use for the resins since I use charcoal to burn the resins.
In any case smudging is a ritual that should be done with care. We are entering a relationship with the plants and with the spirits of the ceremony and or ritual and as with all relationships there should be respect and honor if the relationship is to work.
Lastly I will leave you some wise words that someone once told me in response to my questioning of “why do we burn incense for smudging?”
He asked me if I knew or noticed the difference in the air after a storm had passed, or after a flight of birds had taken off in front of me. When I said I did he said, that the difference was in the ionization of the air, that when it was thick and heavy with positive ions things cling to us, like the coal when walking through a mine. When the air was clear the air moved freely and our thoughts flowed freely too.
The incense acts like the storm, clearing the air and allowing our thoughts and prayers to flow free. The feathers act like the birds and move the air around us also changing the vibration. I personally have experienced the difference in my thoughts and prayers after I have smudged. So for me truth is in the experience and what works for me. May your truth be also what you experience and works for you.