The smoke from herbal incense of all kinds has been used since ancient times to cleanse people and places, and as offerings to deities, spirits and non-physical forces.
The term “smudging” has come into common usage within Contemporary Shamanism; and approaches influenced by this; largely through its Native American derivations. Native America cultures, beliefs and spiritual practises hold much appeal – they are strongly earth orientated and respecting, and express an underlying philosophy which is very much earth related. Hence the use of various herbal incenses has become commonly known as “smudging”. However, herbal incenses have been used in sacred ways by all people around the world for millennia, and so this is an ancient and widespread traditional practise.
For example: Neolithic, Celtic, Scythian, Norse, Anglo-Saxon and other Germanic peoples are known to have used herbal mixtures which they would throw onto a fire or onto hot rocks within a Sweat Lodge so that they could bathe and purify themselves in the resultant fragrant smoke.
‘Smudge’ is generally used in two ways: either as a bundle of dried herbs held together with twine which is ignited at the end, blown out and allowed to smoulder, or else as loose dried and semi-powdered herbs and other materials which are burnt on charcoal blocks in a dish of earth or sand. Native peoples sometimes take coals from a wood fire, put that into a dish and sprinkle ‘Smudge’ onto those so that it smoulders and smokes. ‘Smudge’ sticks are also sometimes known as ‘Smudge Wands’.
I find that though bundles and wands are good, there is danger of small, smouldering bits falling off onto people, furniture or carpets – hold a bowl underneath to prevent this from happening. Whichever way you smudge, do be careful.
To Smudge is to purify and cleanse yourself, and to make contact with the spirits – however you conceive them to be. From this we can see that Smudging is a powerful but simple way to use ceremony of connection and grounding in ones life. Smudging is also prayer – many native peoples consider that the smoke of the smouldering smudge mix is taken by the spirits in good ways, and if you make such offerings then the spirits will know you and want to help you in your life. There is a principle that one should only ask for ‘help and healing’ through ceremony of this kind, and so if you need help with problems, need guidance or direction, or ask for healing for yourself or others, then it is fine to ask the spirits for their help in these ways.
Many Smudge mixtures just use herbs that are sacred to Native Americans such as Plains Sage, Cedar, Sweet Grass or even Lavender now. These can be bought commercially, or grown and dried for yourself. Most suppliers of Native American crafts sell Smudge mixtures, and they are easily obtainable. If you seek to set such wisdom within the spirit of your own land, you can also use other herbs such as Rosemary, Mugwort and true Sage as they have strong healing and purifying associations, or you can research herbs to use that have been traditionally used in this way.
Smudging is simple:
charcoal discs to burn it on
Means to ignite the charcoal disc – a lighter is best for this as sometimes they can be long-winded to ignite.
A dish with sand on which to place the smouldering charcoal, or to rest your smudge stick/wand ingood spirit/intentions.
Having gathered all of these things, you simply need to make yourself comfortable, light the charcoal disc and ‘smudge’.
A good way to approach this is to start by offering the smoke to each of the four compass directions in turn, and then to the heavens above, and the earth below. Then follow this by wafting the smoke over yourself so as to purify yourself and your body. You can also waft the smoke around the room you are in so as to purify that as well. In what order you do this is really a matter of personal predilection – some people smudge the place, then the people, and then make directional offerings, and some prefer to smudge the directions first. Perhaps if you are new to smudging you might like to try different ways and see what feels right for you.
Many people use a special fan or feather for moving smudge smoke around as it helps to be able to direct it by fanning. How you feel is best in this, but you will find that a fan or feather does work better than using your hand alone.
Smudge smoke is cleansing, purifying and healing. Many people consider that on its own it is sufficient for minor healing and balancing needs, and I must say that if I am unsettled or indecisive about something, or if my mind is troubled by problems, then a simple smudging ceremony such as I have outlined is often sufficient on its own to bring me peace of mind and calm. I have heard of people smudging troublesome machinery etc.
For healing also, and for people whom are bereaved, troubled by family, relationships and similar problems a simple smudging ceremony often brings balance and calm. Many Shamans use smudging as an integral part of more lengthy and complex healing rituals, and indeed it is used in this way by native cultures all around the world.
Smudging can also be used to cleanse and purify special items such as crystals, Shamanic tools such as rattles, drums, wands etc and other esoteric and magickal items. If you are involved in healing, then you can simply but powerfully cleanse yourself, your tools and your room that you use for such work. It’s good to do this before seeing a client, and of course afterwards to shift any negativity or negative energy that may have been left behind. For this you would simply waft the smoke around the room, over yourself or other people, and pass items through the smoke.
Keep smudging as simple as possible and enjoy !