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January 7, 2011

Smudging, The Sacred Bowl Blessing

Smudging is a ritual or ceremony to remove purify or bless people or places. Smoke attaches itself to the negative energy and removes it to another space. "Cleansing" is the word traditionally used, but you can think of it as a shift in energy from any bits of negativity to a more positive, peaceful state. Smudging can be used to cleanse an object, a place, or your spirit, mind or body. Native Americans often use smudging in association with other ceremonies using only the sacred herbs of that tribe deemed for purification or blessing. The herbs of one tribe may by deemed "taboo" or  "sacred" in another. Hence "smudging" is referred to this practice of First Nation or Native American tradition.

In many traditions, smudging involves a four directions ceremony or prayer. It, thus, sends specific kinds of smoke or prayer into the four different directions. Of course, different tribes have different smudging prayers, but the smoke is typically directed or programmed to do a specific action or a specific direction, aiding in divination. However, in general smudging is used to maintain balance and shield against negative energy. As has been noted above, it is often used as a cleansing agent.

There are many different shamanic smudging ceremonies, and different tribes use a variety of herbs for smudging. There is no specific “right” or “wrong” way to perform it. Smudging is very effective way to remove depression, angry, resentful or unwell, negative binds or after you have had an argument with someone; if you’re going to have a special ritual or ceremony, as part of a general spiritual housecleaning, or to clear your crystals of any negative energy.

You can use smudge sticks (herbs that are tied into a bundle for easier handling), braided herbs and botanicals (like sweetgrass) or loose herbs like mugwort (burned on charcoal or in a firepot). Shamanic smudging releases the energy and fragrance of the herbs and botanicals so they can heal, cleanse and purify.


In a smudge pot or fire bowl, light the loose herbs (using self-lighting charcoal, not the barbeque kind) until it is smoking well. Then, place the fire bowl on the ground and stand over it with your legs spread and feet on either side. Weave back and forth in the smoke until you have been thoroughly cleansed. Clothing is optional for this approach, and smudging in the nude is recommended for a more thorough cleansing. Again, when you're done, inhale a little of the smoke to purify your insides. People often feel more relaxed, lighter and brighter after smudging.

Next, offer smoke to the four directions starting with the East. Then, turning clockwise, offer to the South, again turning, to the West and then again to the North. Also offer the smoke downwards to Mother Earth, upwards to Father Sky and, most importantly, to the Creator or Great Spirit. You may also offer the smoke to the moon, sun, waters, winds and the Universe. Do whatever feels right to you and whatever your intuition tells you to.

Smudging yourself on a daily basis can be very helpful in keeping yourself balanced and maintaining a peaceful state of being. However, you should definitely use shamanic smudging techniques when you’ve been around people who are ill, depressed, fearful, angry or generally emotionally unbalanced; before meditating to create a calm state of being; when you’re feeling blue or depressed; or when you’ve been under a lot of stress.
Charcoal Incense Burner
If you're going to use the smudge smoke during meditation, use a charcoal burner or fire bowl, light the herbs and enjoy the scent and smoke as you meditate. Meditating with these herbs often produces a deeper and longer-lasting state of relaxation and contemplation.

A Personal Clearing

Barred Wing Feather

During a smudging ritual, you may want to include a Personal Clearing for yourself. In some traditions a feather is used or wand. If neither are available your hand my be used to direct the smoke. Breathe in the essence of the sacred smoke herbs, and focus on yourself and your body for a moment, then bend and allow the wand or the feather (or fan) to move the smoke down as far as possible, to your ankles and feet. Move the smoke from that position near the floor slowly up the length of your body to the top of your head. This helps to cleanse your aura of any disturbances you may have experienced that day.

Finish your Personal Clearing, holding the wand, feather or hand in front of you at the level of your heart, and watch the sacred smoke rising up. Repeat any affirmations you say for your own well-being and spiritual purpose. Breathe again deeply, and then complete the ritual.

Smudging Another

Before you smudge another person, an object or a place, you should make sure you smudge yourself first.

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 example "Allow the sacred smoke to cleanse your body and spirit and bring you present and available into this moment" or “Allow the sacred smoke to cleanse your body and spirit, ridding you of all negativity and filling your heart with love and joy”.

Smudging a Room or Space

After smudging yourself, walk about the perimeter or the room or space, giving special attention to the corners and the places behind and around doors and windows. If you’re using tools, smudge them as well. Wave the smudge stick in slow circles or use your hands or a feather to fan the smoke throughout the room.

The most complicated and lengthy sacred smoke ritual most people will ever engage in is the Complete Clearing and Healing of their home environment. This type of Sage and Smudge ritual or ceremony is most often done around the time people move into a new home, to clear out any negative energy that may have been a part of the lives of the people who lived there previously. But it’s also a great way to enhance your spring or fall housecleaning!

There are other occasions when it is appropriate to perform a major purification for the entire residence. This type of spiritual "housecleaning" ritual is performed to acknowledge that one cycle has ended and to "announce" a new beginning - a starting point in your energetic, vibrational and spiritual connection to your world. And since your home is the center of your personal world, it is appropriate to clear the entire space and make it ready for the next cycle.

Here are some examples of times when it is appropriate to clear and cleanse the energy of your entire home:

• When someone new moves into the home to live with current members of the household, bringing their possessions (possibly their children and/or their pets) into the space
• Following the completion of a major home improvement project
• Following a Feng Shui consultation, and after any changes suggested by the Feng Shui Practitioner have been made to the interior (or exterior) of the home - changes that are meant to shift/improve the energy-flow inside the home
• Following a divorce or separation, where one party has moved all of their possessions out of the mutual home and into a new home of their own
• At the time of a major "life-change" for anyone who lives in the home (such as the birth of a child, a major career change, children leaving home for college or to live on their own, retirement, diagnosis of a chronic illness, etc.)
• Following a serious illness or death of someone (or a cherished family pet) who has lived in the home
• Following a natural disaster (like an earthquake, fire or flood)

Whether you are buying a home, renting a home or moving into a new apartment or condominium, you will want to perform a smudging ritual some time during the first month you are living in the new space - preferably around the time of the New Moon. If there is time between when you take possession of your new home, and the time your furniture and belongings are moved into the new home, you may want to do an initial smudging ritual before your furniture and possessions arrive and you start unpacking.

Smudging Before Healing Work

Before healing work, the smoke may be fanned over the person either with 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.

After smudging, it is very important to open your doors and windows for 10-15 minutes to allow the smoke and the negative energy to escape outside.

Extinguishing the smudge stick

Always have a shell, a glass, stone or ceramic dish on hand to put the smudge stick in when you’ve finished. Ideally, the stick should be pressed out in sand or earth, or just press it against the bottom of the receptacle. Always make sure that a smudge stick is completely out before leaving the room. I prefer to put the smudge stick in a mason jar, cover it with foil and allow the smudge stick to extinguish itself but be sure it is before leaving it unattended! When you are finished smudging using sweetgrass, extinguish the braid by damping it against the shell. 
If you are going to select from an assortment of "loose" herbs, you will need several additional “tools” in order to create aromatic sacred smoke. One traditional method is to use a half shell such as Abalone or a Bear Paw Clam shell as the vessel to hold the herbs you have selected to burn. Traditionally, the abalone shell shouldn’t be used for burning since the holy men have said the shell represents Grandmother Ocean and they should be used in ceremonies for water, not burning. However, tools vary from culture to culture. While some of the Native American Shamans prefer not to use a shell and choose other man-made, fire-resistant vessels to use in their ceremonies, those who do prefer the shell believe that using it brings in a balance of the elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water - to a ritual.

You may, instead of a half shell, choose to use a fireproof bowl, plate, ceramic pot, small baking dish, censer, brazier, or other vessel in which to burn your loose or crushed herbs. You can, also, place the dried herbs on burning logs in your fireplace. If you would like to try that, place the loose herbs on a piece of wood that is glowing (not flaming). The scent of the burning herbs will enhance the aroma of the smoke from the fire, and create a healing energy in the room.

How to Smudge

A smudging ceremony can be as simple or as involved as you want it to be. Sometimes, all that is required is a quick waft of the smudging wand to clear the energy. Other times require more time and attention. It is up to you to decide how much to devote to your ceremony.

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.

Before you begin, be sure the area you are planning to smudge is well ventilated because the smoke, carrying the negative energy, must have an escape route. Take normal precautions to prevent an unwanted fire, such as placing your smudge pot or shell on a non-combustible surface.
Gather your smudging materials and a means to light the herbs.
Remove all jewelry and glasses.

Light the bundle or loose herbs and, when a flame appears, blow it out so it will smoulder and smoke, not burn. The idea is to get curls of smoke, not to set the smudge herbs afire. Smudge sticks are sometimes hard to keep smouldering so, when you first light it, blow out the flame after it gets going and then blow into the smouldering embers to really let take hold or else it might burn out. If it does burn out, just re-light it again and keep going. (Special note: Don’t smudge while infants, pregnant women, or people with respiratory diseases are in the room.)

Once the herbs are smouldering, the first step is to smudge yourself. 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 as you smudge yourself. If you are feeling depressed for instance you could visualize the smoke carrying away all your feelings of depression.

Smudging yourself is easy. If you're using a smudge stick, light the smudge stick on a candle flame. Hold the stick in the flame until there is a lot of smoke and the stick is burning well (that’s why a candle is better than a match as it can take a while to get the stick really smoldering).

Using a fan, feather or your hand, gently fan the smoke onto your body, starting at the top of the body and moving downward. Bring the smoke over your head, to your heart, eyes, ears, mouth, shoulders, down your arms, around your torso to your back and legs, and last of all your feet to ensure you walk the right path. Get the back of your body as best you can (it is often easier to use a smudge pot and loose herbs for this). When you're done, inhale a little of the smoke (just a little!) to purify your insides.

If you're using a bundle, 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.

Different tribes and traditions use different herbs for shamanic smudging. Some of the most popular herbs include cedar, sage, juniper, pinion pine, sweetgrass, copal (in resin form), mugwort, lavender and sacred tobacco.
It is also not uncommon for people who are carrying out modern-day aromatic sacred smoke ceremonies - cleansing, clearing or energy healing rituals - to combine loose sage leaves with other dried loose herbs. Many believe that burning two or more of the herbs simultaneously is a powerful way to combine the energy of the different herbs in the ceremony, ritual or process they are performing. You will find people using dried White Sage leaves and Mugwort, Cedar, Sweetgrass, or Tobacco (powder or leaf form) from the Native American tradition of the shamans and people of North and South America. And it is also common to find people combining Sage with Juniper, Lavender, Rosemary or Thyme to create modern day aromatic smoke rituals and ceremonies in accordance with the ancient religions and traditions of their ancestors from other parts of the world.

The following is some information on the most common smudging herbs:

Sage for driving out negativity and for healing, White Sage is preferred. The botanical name for sage is Salvia (e.g. Salvia officinalis, Garden Sage, or Salvia apiana, White Sage). It is interesting to note that Salvia comes from the Latin root salvare, which means "to heal" . There are also varieties of sage which are of a separate species. Included here are sagebrush (e.g. Artemisia californica) and mugwort. 

Cedar Drives out negative energy and brings in good influences. Cedar is burned while praying either aloud or silently. The prayers rise on the cedar smoke and are carried to the Creator. Cedar branches are brushed in the air to cleanse a home during the House Blessing Ceremony of many Northwest Indian nations. In the Pacific Northwest, the people burn cedar for purification in much the same way as sage - it drives out negative energy; but it also brings in good influences. The spirit of cedar is considered very ancient and wise by Pacific Northwest tribes, and old, downed cedar trees are honored with offerings and prayers.

Cedar is primarily considered a fire element, though it is often used for general, four-element purposes. It is known for its sharp, piney scent and is believed to aid clairvoyance, revive the tired mind, body, and spirit, and stimulate contact with other worlds.

Sweetgrass is used for blessing after sage has been used. It brings in the good spirits and the good influences. Sweetgrass is an important part of Sioux and Cherokee ceremonies. One of the most sacred plants for the Plains Indians, sweetgrass is a tall wild grass with a reddish base and perfume-like, musty odor. It grows mainly on the eastern side of the Rockies in Montana and adjacent Alberta, Canada. It also shows up in some small areas of Wyoming and South Dakota. Its botanical name is Hierochloe odorata. Some common names for it are Seneca grass, holy grass and vanilla grass.

On the Plains, sweetgrass is usually braided together in bunches as a person's hair is braided, although sometimes it is simply bunched and wrapped in cloth. Either way, it is usually burned by shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the end and waving it around, letting the smoke spread through the air. Elders teach that it is good to burn sweetgrass after the sage or cedar has driven out the bad influences. 

As with cedar, burning sweetgrass while praying sends prayers up to the Creator in the smoke. Sweetgrass is can also be put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage to purify and protect sacred objects.

Juniper is another ancient herb used for cleansing and shamanic medicine.The plants strong aroma has long recommended it for driving away evil and disease. Also, when you want to cleanse the atmosphere of your space and need something super-heavy-duty, beyond normal white sage smudging, adding Juniper is a good herb to use.

Juniper is used widely throughout Native American tribes and also found in prehistoric Britain and ancient Mediterranean region. It's usage for removing negativity and warding of evil-doers and evil spirits was common; it often burnt to ward-off the plague.


Or Smudge, in simpler terms.


As with any action when done with intention and belief, smudging can become a powerful and uplifting ritual so consider your intention before you smudge and hold it clearly in your mind. You may even wish to invite the spirit of the herbs you are using to join you and assist you with your intention.

In Native societies, the herbs used for smudging are considered sacred. Treat your smudging herbs with respect, as well as being respectful about the act of smudging itself. 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.

Materials Needed:

An assortment of herbs can be used for smudging. Cedar, Juniper, Sage or Sweetgrass to name a few. They can be used loose or in bundles. It would be wise to purchase them from a quality company brand known for selling bundles as many off-shot unauthentic brands will sell poor quality bundles laced with toxins. Smudge sticks and herbs are most easily lit from a candle, match or lighter flame. Long wooden matches are the best because a candle can add dripping wax to the process and a lighter, is well, kind of out of character.
Revised article was written by Freja for Majical Things