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A smudging ceremony is the ritual of burning plant resins and herbs in a shell or a clay bowl while intentions and prayers are called forth. For centuries, Native American and Indigenous cultures have practiced smudging rituals to clear away negative energy, to invite in peace and harmony for individuals or environments. The smoke from the herbs and the plant resins are fanned using a feather or a hand and directed like a spiritual cleansing bath surrounding the person or the space.
"The purpose of this cleansing ritual is to clear away anxieties, sadness, impurities, dark thoughts or unwanted energies that may have attached themselves to a space or an individual."
Smudging is most often performed before or as part of a ceremony to clear the environment and the people from certain thoughts or feelings that will not serve the highest good in themselves. For this reason, it is important to set a clear intention while smudging.
As the smudging ceremony is practiced, the smoke rises and so do the prayers to mother earth, the sky, to the sun and the moon, to the plants, the animals and the water. The burning of the sacred plants- palo santo, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass- to name a few, support the connection to the sacred realms between the earth and spirit. Through this connection to spirit the smoke bath lifts negative feelings and energy and creates an opening for prayers and intentions to be heard, therefore bringing positive intention into practice.
What Plant Medicines are Used for Smudging?
Here are a few of the Plant Medicines used for Smudging and the symbolic meaning behind them:
Sage offers clarity, vision, strength and wisdom; it is known as a medicine for Women.
Sage is used traditionally in Native North American, First Nations and Indigenous cultures to represent the life force and maternal lineage of women. Sage can be gathered and bundled to dry in a stick or a smudge stick can be purchased already dried.
Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and it means “Holy Wood” in Spanish.
Palo Santo looks like a small wooden stick and it’s scent is known to raise the vibration in preparation for meditation, creative endeavors and ceremony.
It’s known to bring a grounded and clear feeling when burned and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. It is used the same way as Sage and is burned and fanned with a feather to clear the air and ask the spirits for permission to perform the ceremony.
Cedar is used to heighten positive energy, to uplift feelings and evoke positive emotions.
Cedar holds the medicine to purify and return balance.
Cedar can also be used as a healing tea as it is very high in Vitamin C. It can be bundled, dried, and burned for purification and to heighten the connection to the spiritual realms.
Sweetgrass is on the of the four medicine plants used by all Native Americans/First Nations, the others being sage, cedar and tobacco. Sweetgrass is braided, dried and then burned as a cleansing ritual. As the smoke from smudging rises it is believed that our prayers too will rise up to the world of spirit to be seen, heard, and to be remembered. Sweetgrass symbolizes kindness- as this plant only bends when walked upon and never breaks – may we too remember that if injustices are done upon us may we hold kindness in our hearts and not react with hostility.
Sweetgrass is known as the hair of Mother Earth.
Tobacco is a sacred medicine plant to all North American Indigenous Cultures. Tobacco is believed to be a gateway or a bridge between the Earth and Spirit realms. Historically if tobacco is offered and accepted, then there is a sacred promise sealed. It acts like a commitment made by people and supported by the Spirit World.
Tobacco can be used as a way to thank Mother Earth or the Creator for the abundance and beauty we receive every day.
For example if you saw a beautiful sunrise or a rainbow and you want to give thanks you could leave some Tobacco upon the Earth for this gift of beauty. Tobacco doesn’t need to be smoked.
Copal is a natural tree resin and comes from the Buresa tree family in Southern Mexico. Since ancient times, Copal incense has been considered sacred to the Mayan and Aztec people. Offerings were made to the deities and the gods atop the pyramids and the sacred burial grounds. Copal is considered a medicinal tree to the Mayas and is used to clear the body of diseases.
Using copal to smudge before meditation and ceremony can assist in strengthening peace of mind while removing energy blockages from the body.
Any of these plant medicines – along with any others that you feel called to burn – can be placed in a shell, a clay bowl or the open fire. Take the time to witness the smoke purifying and rising, allow the smell of the herbs and incense to bring you into a place of pure presence. As you call forth your prayers, visions, or intentions stay curious, open and full of heart as you engage in your smudging ceremony.
How to Smudge
Smudging can be done before any kind of ceremony, house cleansing, before yoga, meditation, in a group healing circle and in nature. Before beginning make sure you have these items in place. I suggest sitting in a quiet space for a few minutes to feel the earth below you, to soften into yourself, to take some full deep breaths, and to get clear on the intentions you are calling forth before your smudging session.
A Smudging Blessing for New Beginnings
Smudging is a very powerful practice and can work wonders in clearing away stagnant or unwanted energies in your home, in your heart or your mind. Being intentional, mindful, and calm as you are smudging creates a portal for you to go further into your spiritual work. The ritual of lighting a candle and then smudging yourself or your space allows you to gather presence, to let go of stress and to enter into your yoga practice, meditation, prayer or ceremony with intention. Let us rise up, clean our own energy fields and feed the greatness that lives inside us. Through this state of presence, may we also inspire our communities to live in their own greatness.
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Christine White is a stylist, educator and the owner of Chroma Salon in Sarnia, ON.