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Feb
19,
2016

The Art Of Smudging – A Shamanic Cleansing Ritual

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If you grew up religious, you probably witnessed the ritualistic use of smoke in ceremony. For me it was frankincense and myrhh being burned during Sunday mass. For others it might be smoldering incense at their Buddhist Temple, or the spiraling tendrils of bukhoor in a mosque.

There is something primordial within us that connects smoke with spirituality.

In Native American tradition, it’s seen as a bridge to the higher realms, a way to bring in good spirits and dispel the negative or stagnant ones. The most common smoke-purification ritual used by the northern tribes is a technique called smudging.

This practice (or some variation of it) is embraced by almost every one of the native cultures we’ve worked with in the western hemisphere.

When we see a unique method used by different tribes across multiple continents or land masses, it’s a strong indication that it yields very real physical and/or spiritual benefits.

Below, I want to show you how to try smudging yourself and also explore some of the wisdom behind this ancestral art.

A Shamanic Cleansing Ritual

smudgekit

Photo by Rose De Dan

Smudging is the ritualistic burning of herbs and plant resins in a shell or clay bowl while prayers of gratitude and wellbeing are said aloud. The smoke is traditionally fanned using the hand or a feather (eagle feathers are treasured for this) and directed over a person or throughout a living space. The purpose is to wash away impurities, sadness, anxieties, dark thoughts and any unwanted energies or emotions that may be clinging to a space or individual.

This is often done before a ceremony or special gathering, after an argument (to literally “clear the air”), when moving into a new home, at the end of the cold season to re-invigorate one’s living space,
and on a variety of other occasions. 

There is much subtlety to this practice, and its potency reveals itself in the experience as you work with it.

Before we get started, it’s important to understand the deep symbolism that underlies each of the objects used in a typical smudge. There are centuries of wisdom woven into this process.

First and foremost, the materials involved each symbolize and honor one of the four elements, a central theme in many Native American rites.

  • The shell or clay bowl represents water
  • The herbs and resins represent the earth,
  • The feather and wind it creates represent air
  • The flame used to ignite the herbs represents fire

The herbs:

Sometimes only one specific herb is burned, but often a carefully prepared mixture is created. The Cree people of Montana and Saskatchewan call this botanical blend a kinnikinnick, and it can contain up to 30 different plants, chosen for certain outcomes or to treat a specific illness.

The most common herbs used for smudging in North American traditions are white sage, sweet grass, tobacco, and cedar. Not surprisingly, these are also four of the most sacred plants in this part of the world.

“Sweet grass grows high in the Rocky Mountains. A gift from the creator, it is said this grass never dies. It is one of the great smells reminding us of the mountains and open air. Sage is the cleanest smell of the desert. It is also a present from the Creator. Tobacco is another gift. Our thoughts and prayers are carried on its smoke. It carries the two great smells of the mountain and desert. It is a visual representation of our thoughts and prayers being transported.” 

– John Joseph, Chinook Shaman

A Smudging Practice To Try (with a Native Prayer):

A word to the wise: it’s important to hold pure and focused intention while you perform a smudging.  Before you begin any purification ritual like this, make sure you’re fully present.

1) You’ll need: a clay bowl or abalone shell, a few leaves of your dried herb of choice (or a blend), a flame, and an open hand or feather.

2) Gently separate any stems or buds from the leaves of your dried herbs (only the leaves or blades are used in this process).  Then place the leaves into your smudging vessel – clay bowl or sea shell.

3) If you are inside, open the windows in the space you are in, creating a flow of air from outside.

4) Using a match or lighter, ignite the herbs and let them flame for 20 to 30 seconds before sweeping your hand above them to extinguish any fire. (I’ve been taught that using the breath to blow out the fire is not the proper way.)  Tendrils of smoke should be steadily rising from the smoldering herbs now.

5) It is customary to smudge oneself first before moving on to others and the surrounding space.Using a cupped hand, draw the smoke around you.  Starting from the top, bring the smoke over and around your head, down your torso, all the way to your feet.  Make sure to pay attention to your breathing while doing this.  Slow and relaxed.

6) Once you are finished with yourself, use your feather or hand to waft the smoke gently into the corners of the room and over any plants or pieces of furniture.  My friend Santiago once advised that we need to be present with the smoke and watch carefully how it behaves and flows around specific people and objects. When we are fully aware, we’ll notice that it moves differently as it touches certain things. There is information there.

7) Once you have finished smudging, tradition tells us that the ashes of the spent herb should be brought outside and returned to the soil.  Call it superstition if you’d like, but many tribes believe that the charred residue carries its own energy and must be given back to the earth.

A Native Prayer you may want to use while smudging:

Creator, Great Mystery
Source of all knowing and comfort,
Cleanse this space of all negativity.
Open our pathways to peace and understanding.
Love and light fills each of us and our sacred space.
Our work here shall be beautiful and meaningful.
Banish all energies that would mean us harm.
Our eternal gratitude.

– The Medicine Wheel Garden, E. Barrie Kavasch

I find smudging to be a powerful way to clear stagnant energies and bring a renewed sense of wellness into my living and work space.  Next week, my wife, son, and I will be creating a special smudge stick from some local sweet grass and sage that grows in our backyard.  Another wonderful way to connect with the earth magic that surrounds us!

Stay curious,

Nick Polizzi
Director, The Sacred Science

Leave a Reply

COMMENTS (66)

  1. Terry says:

    I started smudging a short while ago. My main purpose was to clear the pain suffering my wife went through with dying from breast cancer. i feel calmersince the smudging,it seems to work for me.

    • Karla says:

      Terry, your story is long I’m sure…glad you are better. My dear friend has cancer in three places and I would like to do anything I can to help him…I just don’t have any sweet grass…what exactly did you use?
      Thanks

      • Jeff says:

        type your comment here…DrMercola.com has an interesting story today about how vitamins help combat diseases, including cancer. I suggest you see the movie offered there today.

      • Shevona says:

        Karla, I sorry about your friend. You both should check out the website ‘the truth about cancer’ there are a ton of things your friend can learn to heal themselves of cancer naturally as well as supplements they can take while doing conventional methods of treatments. Look up Essias Tea which has cured many people of cancer regardless of type or stage, they can also start using frankincense essential oil and canabis oil which has helped cure lots of people from cancer and other illnesses too. There is an 8 part documentary by Ty Bollinger discussing everything I mentioned and so much more. It was available for free when it first premiered but now you may have to purchase which is still a great investment. I wish your friend everything of the best!

      • Tammie says:

        There are many different choices for healing cancer other than the standard practice of chemo and radiation. Go to The Truth About Cancer, there is some wonderful information there.

      • Tammie says:

        Karla,
        Your friend may want to try Matcha Tea, it is Alkalizing, detoxifying and has 137x more EGCG’s which has been proven to kill cancer cells…..and again, I can’t stress enough to check the link, The Truth About Cancer.

      • Nick says:

        Karla,
        You dont necessarily HAVE to have Sweet Grass as I understand, it may add to the fragrance. A lot of people only use Sage and get results. I have also. You may find some sage smudge sticks already made at a local metaphysical shop near you. Although I have also cut and rolled my own sage sticks that were cut from a friends garden and they seemed to have a more sentimental feel as I was more connected to the process. Grow some of your own in a window, or in the ground if you can

      • Rick says:

        KARLA,
        Also, I’m sorry to hear about your friend. If they are able to eat honey without a reaction to Honey bees. Bee Pollen has shown great effects in fighting cancer. It doesnt take much pollen in addition to a healthy diet either. You can find more info on goodle. Search: “Bee Pollen Mice Cancer Study” I like to drink a half litre of water first thing in the morning, then just add a table spoon to a couple small scoops of yogurt in the morning, drink a couple more sips of water, then finish the rest of a cup of yogurt in which there is no yogurt. It almost completely covers the taste of the pollen, not that its terrible to begin with but it is very earthy and is not a flavor I want to linger around. You can order pollen from amazon inexpensively in bulk. It is advised to eat pollen at least from your continent, but the closer to local pollen you can find the better. Also, there are instructions on beginning doses and such. Its great for you and contains super simple proteins that the body can digest with out much work at all, it is said to be some of the most healthy food available on earth. It can sustain the human body indefinitely, There have been ancient sherpas that passed away from avalanches and were found frozen in the mountains more recently with ONLY bee pollen as a food source!! No kidding! The stuff is AWESOME for you! Good luck to you and your friend!

  2. joan says:

    I love your work, thank you

  3. Louell Crowley says:

    Thanks, could you please contact me at your convenience.

  4. Cindi says:

    I have been smudging for at least 30 years! It brings such peace to ones self, and to all you are sending Love and Light to! I use white Sage and an abolone shell with an Eagle feather that was gifted to me by a Lakota Elder.

  5. Peg says:

    Thank you for the details on how to smudge and to construct the device.

  6. Jeanie says:

    What a blessing to learn the subtleties of this ritual.
    Gratitude, my friend!

  7. Kelly says:

    Excellent overview…absolutely beautiful!
    Mitakuye Oyasin
    Kelly

  8. Alonso says:

    I like this ancestral tradition

  9. Sarah says:

    I love the prayer; very biblical. And so is blessing of people and space and purging of negative spirits through these sorts of rituals.

    Where can we find information on what can be learned by the way the smoke moves?

    • Rick says:

      The smoke may move or wrap in a certain way almost as if there were an object in the way, but you may not see anything there, also, smoke may move as if something just walked/moved through it. If that happens, continue casting smoke in the direction of movement and continue this prayer or the lords prayer, or continue casting smoke where you get the feeling it might need it, like in corners, under tables, nooks and crannies, behind you, above you, anywhere a cat or dog or other pet may hide at… I believe he’s trying to communicate that things unseen may not wish to remain in the smoke and/or cannot tolerate it, things you, the other person, or maybe an object such as crystals, are trying to release, hence the open windows… Also certain energies may be transmuted from a negative energy and spun into a new positive energy or idea. All the best to you!

  10. Kelcey says:

    The rising smoke from burning incense in the temple ritual of ancient Israel was a physical symbol of prayers ascending to heaven. It was a physical symbol of something spiritual. Without the prayer it was an empty ritual. The ritual itself did not provide healing, it was the prayer that was the healing aspect of the ritual. It is so important when performing any ritual to focus on the spiritual symbolism of the ritual.

  11. Mary Anne says:

    I read that first you smudge with sage, then smudge with sweetgrass, but don’t burn together. The sage removes negative energies while the sweetgrass welcomes in positive energy.

    • Lynn says:

      I think that is correct. I have used the sage to clear my home of negativity after certain people have been there. It works for me. Also when moving into a new place.

  12. Gerri says:

    This is nteresting

  13. Sharon Carson says:

    I am a gardener that grows as many medicinal herbs as possible . I am looking for a source of sweet grass plants or seed to establish here in the mid atlantic region of the east I heard there is a different variety of sweetgrass for the east . I grow many native food seed as well as herbs

  14. Mary says:

    I love to smudge.. Out have given me more information om how to in a better light. Thank you! Love your information on all that you share with us,

  15. Nancy says:

    I have been curious about smudging. Thanks for this!

  16. Michael says:

    Thanks for your work and this blog. I use Palo Santo each morning in a smudging ritual incorporating a prayer of gratitude and protection. I will integrate some of the info here into the ritual. mlk

  17. Alethia McIntosh says:

    Thank you for sharing.

  18. Dahana says:

    I was taught by, a shaman in New Mexico many years ago. It is exactly as you described. I was unaware of the 30 herbs used by the Cree nation. It was a good reminder for me to smudge.

    Waho

  19. Roz says:

    Many thanks for sharing , I love the prayer. Although I already smudge , I’ve learnt something new from you today ,
    With gratitude.

  20. Cathy says:

    I am wondering what herbs would be correct for Northeast United States.

  21. ineke monster says:

    Thank you for sharing!

  22. Marilyn Wilson says:

    Wonderful article validating my teachings and practices as I create circles and ceremony for women. We always smudge!

  23. pat says:

    Beautiful! thank you, I really like your messages!

  24. Maria Roqueta says:

    I found this article to be magnificent!!! Wow- I did not know all these things about smudging.
    How to do it properly, the history of it, the intention behind it, different herbs for smudging, and more. Thank u for sharing such great knowledge.

  25. Carmen says:

    My beloved gives me red roses every week. I collect white sage locally. I dry the rose petals and then bind them in fresh picked sage and hang to dry. They have the lovely sent of roses mixed with the sage as well as the continued love offering from my beloved. They burn quite well. I make smallish bundles so that I may use an entire stick for each smudging. I smudge all the interior of my home and then the perimeter after. I’m sure my neighbors wonder, but I do it weekly for my well being. I can really see when there is a build up of stagnate or bad energy because they burn ferociously. I also use aromatherapy misters daily and burn palo santo, frankincense and piñon pine in a small cauldron.

  26. […] Source: The Art Of Smudging – A Shamanic Cleansing Ritual « The Sacred Science […]

  27. John says:

    Thank you for clarifying aspects of the smudging ritual. Particularly returning the ash to the soil. At times I have felt the need to smudge my apartment area and have used sage.

  28. Mirri says:

    Hi Nick
    We are so blessed by partaking in this ancient ritual. Take time and feel where the energy lies around us and in our homes. The television is a huge energy source and I have found needs smudging as often as you can to lift the energy that accumulates around it. I am not one to have it on often but I share my home so find lifting that energy is my answer. A peaceful home car body is a beautiful way to go. I always enjoy your articles. Thank you. Mirri

  29. Theresa says:

    Love this article. Thank you for sharing.

  30. Cody chatfield says:

    I think you haven’t given incomplete or incorrect information here in the blog and if I may suggest doing a bit more research. To many of the native people (I speak more about Saskatchewan and Alberta) your prescribed use of sweet grass goes against beliefs as I’ve been told.

    The use of sage is primarily for cleaning, to cleanse oneself before spiritual practice, to cleanse yourself before ceremony or before starting the day, or to cleanse a space, I understand some B.C. First Nations people will also use a candle to “light up” a space in addition to sage. But mostly I believe the smoke is to displace negative energies.

    The use of sweet grass is used primarily to create a link or open channel to a “creator” (or God or whatever your word for higher power is). This would be used at a funeral, in ceremony after sage is burnt to cleanse the space first, or if you were in despair and seeking to channel higher realms. it would be disrespectful to higher powers and to the sacredness of the sweet grass to burn it for the purpose of making the room smell good, or for simple practice, often meditation wouldn’t be deemed the right time, but that varies from community.

    White sage is used as well as Buffalo grass sweet grass and other varieties.

    Tobacco has a wide variety of uses, but its primary I believe is to send wishes or words to the creator in the heavens through the smoke from the tobacco pipe.

    Again, this is what I have learned from the indigenous people in sask, I do not speak for them all

  31. Alina says:

    Thank you! This reminded me of what my abuela used to do ,long ago
    In Havana,Cuba.She said the smudge would “clear the air”.
    and the herbs were so fresh and aromatic!I am going to try this
    Tomorrow.Namaste.

  32. Nicolette says:

    thanks Nick for that native prayer, it’s beautiful!
    I’m into smudging and will use that now.
    With love and light
    Nic
    Om Om Om

  33. Myrna says:

    How are you planning on creating your special smudge stick? Thank you for your clear direction on preparation and performance of the smudging process.

  34. Sophia Roy says:

    loved this

  35. shirley says:

    I have attended smudgings but never performed one myself. I now have the supplies and you have given me the knowledge and the confidence. Thank you

  36. Emy says:

    THANK YOU so much for your inspiring, loving mails dear Nick

  37. Elsa says:

    Where does one find sweet grass, white sage and an eagle feather? Can another type of feather be used knowing each bird signifies a particular meaning.

  38. Nancy C. says:

    I learned to smudge 25 years ago when I began to participate in Lakota Sioux ceremonies. White sage was used to smudge the people, the pipe, the area. Sweet grass was used inside the sweat lodge before the ceremony and then when the ceremony began cedar was gently placed on the hot stones as they were placed on the fire pit. The cedar is spiritual protection. Sweet grass invites all spirits. Cedars protects and insures that only high-intentioned spirits enter the lodge.

  39. Margaret says:

    Thank you for sharing the cleansing ritual and the prayer

  40. levent erdinc says:

    l like to know what is Native American name of Cleansing Ritual

  41. Nicole says:

    Just what I needed! I am new to smudging – never done it before but have a smudging ‘kit’ & am anxious to clear any negative energies in our new home! Thank you!!!

  42. Donna says:

    Thank you for sharing this… please let us know how the smudging goes with your family next week.

  43. ceane says:

    Thankyou for sharing this deep profound and wise knowledge. IM Aboriginal to Australia,and we use the gum leaf to smoke ourselves,people and others in the same manner. Its a very purifying experience.

  44. cheryl says:

    I try to smudge on a daily basis. It helps me when i have all these negative thoughts. It helps my anxiety level go down when i am nervous about things.

  45. Marian says:

    Thank you for sharing this entry. I have been using white sage for decades in my morning meditation and quiet time, occasionally along with a singing bowl. It clears the space and allows for a smoother entry into the inner world for me. Besides, I like the smell and play of the smoke as it rises in the air.

  46. Theresa says:

    I truly enjoy the information you shared. I’ve been smudging for years now and wasn’t aware you could release the ash to the earth. I was taught to burn it in a sacred fire. Thank you for the additional knowledge. Aho

  47. Agnes says:

    Thank you, this is great information, I learned a great deal.

  48. Ibeth says:

    Thank you! It is finally clear to me how to do a smudging. I love this pieces of wisdom that you share with all of us. May you always be inspired!

  49. Nya says:

    I had just been thinking that as spring is upon us and I am clearing out all the clutter and drew stuff in my life. I feel that smudging is exactly what is called for. I do have some copal from my aunt from Mexico and sage. Thank you for the reminder. Peace. Nya

  50. Anna says:

    I don’t know why but just reading about this gives me peace. Would love to start doing this how do I get all I need.?

  51. Katherine says:

    Have done this several times.Most intense was at a Drug and Alcohol facility. ..many Spirits came forth..was a Native environment. Sent many to the LIGHT.Many stayed. Incredible experiences.

  52. Terry says:

    Thank you for the beautiful wisdom you are sharing. It is important to keep these rituals alive.

  53. Marisol says:

    Thank you very much for sharing your knowledge. I am from Bolivia, and I found that Native American and Southamerican people have similar costumes.