One of the questions most asked here at Bagua Center is, “How do I cleanse with sage, or palo santo, or frankincense?”
The act of cleansing with these sacred herbs and resins is called Smudging.
Smudging is a ceremonial practice of burning sacred plants to allow the smoke to intentionally cleanse and bless a space, as well as to elevate vibrations, and to transmute or to dispel negative energy or an unwanted spirit or entity.
This ceremony has been practiced for centuries by a multitude of ethnic groups and spiritual faiths, including Hindus, Buddhists, Maoris, Aboriginals, Balinese, and First Nations and Natives of the Americas.
Because the practice is rooted in spiritual and cultural traditions of Native and Ethnic groups, it is worth noting that non-native people should be mindful of cleansing their spaces in ways that are culturally and even ecologically sensitive.
When the Natives would gather sage, for example, they always leave the root and say a prayer of thanks for the harvest.
Because the use of sacred plants has become so trendy and are in such high demand, several are now endangered. Much of the ones sold online have been unconsciously harvested, often from the wild, without any honor given to the sacred plant in the process.
It is important that these plants have been ethically and lovingly farmed. And more important is that they are used sparsely, also incorporating other healing tools into your home and office cleansing rituals.
What are the tools used in smudging?
In a smudging ceremony, the main tool is the sacred smudge bundle. Smudge bundles come in a large variety of herbs and resins, but the ones we mainly gravitate towards are White Sage, Palo Santo, Yerba Santa, and Frankincense.
Sage or Salvia is used for deep energy cleansing. Due to its potent sanitizing properties, sage is excellent to dispel negative vibrations and energies from spaces and one’s auras. It is also ideal to use after experiencing a traumatic event or undergoing some type of drastic change, to not let the energies become stagnant or even dominant.
Palo Santo or “holy wood” comes from a fragrant tree in South America and has been used by the natives and medicine people for energy clearing, healing and spiritual cleansing. Palo santo is used for healing on all levels, mostly physical and emotional. The smoke of palo santo is equally potent to sage but is gentler and more pleasant to the nose and lungs, thus making palo santo ideal for a daily smudging practice.
Yerba Santa or “holy herb” is used by Natives for its medicinal properties. In smudging, it is used for emotional healing, energy cleansing, also for protection and purification. It can also be used to open psychic abilities and to protect with divine light.
Frankincense is a resin that is extracted from the Boswellia tree. It works in removing negative energy from a space, providing protection, and creating an elevated spiritual awareness. It also reduces stress and eases tension.
Other herbs and resins that can be used are desert sage, blue sage, sweet grass, copal, myrrh, dragon’s blood, lavender, bay leaves, mugwort, rosemary, juniper, cedar, etc.
An abalone shell is used to catch the embers and ash from the burning smudge bundle. The abalone is a type of marine snail related to the oyster and the clam. Abalone shells are considered an offering from the ocean that embodies the nurturing energies of the water element: empathy, compassion, intuition and the Divine Feminine. Inside each shell is a dazzling layer of mother-of-pearl. To protect this layer, place a natural substance like sand or sea salt inside the shell.
A feather is used to help lift stagnant energy during a smudging ceremony by directing or guiding the smoke and energy into the wind to be cleansed. In Native traditions, feathers are considered sacred gifts from the sky, containing a special link to the bird it once belonged to. Many types of bird feathers can be used for smudging, each possessing its own meaning and purpose. But one of the most used smudging feathers comes from the turkey, which represents abundance, pride and fertility.
Why perform a smudging ceremony?
As you may have noticed, smudging is a great way to invoke and connect with the energies of the five elements, as they are incorporated in the ritual: the feather associates us with Air, the abalone shell links us with Water, the herbs and resins with Earth, the smoke and embers with Fire, and the intentions or even the act or practice of smudging connects us with Spirit.
Smudging can be done to cleanse ourselves and our aura before partaking in a ceremony or ritual or even before meditation, to clear ourselves of the energies of people we have interacted with and situations we have encountered, that are no longer relevant.
Smudging is done to cleanse our space and clear the air, when moving into a new home or office space, or when having guests over, so that their energy no longer weighs down in the space.
Smudging is also done to cleanse any object that was previously touched or owned by someone else, like crystals, plants, or furniture.
The smoke released from burning herbs and resins emits negative ions that can cleanse people, places, and objects from negative energy while uplifting one’s mood.
How to perform a smudging ceremony:
Gather all your ritual tools: smudge bundle or palo santo stick, feather, abalone shell, a small handful of sand or sea salt grains to protect the shell from the heat of your smudge bundle, and a lighter.
- Head to the front entrance of the space in which the ceremony will take place.
- Light one end of the bundle and rotate it in a circular motion around the flame
- Gently blow on the bundle after every rotation around the flame so it can light up properly.
- Pour the sand or sea salt into the shell to protect it from heat, then place the smudge bundle inside.
- Gently wave the feather through the smoke.
- Start by cleansing yourself, waving the bundle at the top of your head and around the body., going around each hand, foot, and limb in a circular motion. If anyone is also taking part in the ceremony, they must do the same.
- After you are cleansed, walk with the smudge stick in a large circle, facing East, then South, West, North, and meeting again at the East, to honor the cardinal directions, to open the space and to begin the ceremony.
- Set an intention and visualize it as the smoke reaches the air.
Starting at the entrance, walk along the left side of the space and wave the smoke over walls, doors, windows, and objects that you wish to cleanse and bless. If you are clearing negative energy, visualize its density being lifting away with the smoke.
Continue walking along the left or in a clockwise direction of the space. You may want to pray or chant if you feel called to do so.
Allow the smoke to reach the corners of a room, as well as doorways, closets, balconies, and your bedside, as these areas are focal points in the home where outside energies are prone to getting stuck, and typically require a little more attention to clear them away. Open all closet doors and trace every entryway (windows and doors) with the bundle, also in a clockwise direction.
When you made your entire way around and return to the starting point, run the feather through the smoke one last time to clear away any energies it may have contracted during the smudging.
Say one last word, phrase, or prayer of gratitude to close the space and conclude the ceremony.
Then extinguish the bundle in sand.
Once the ceremony is over, wait for about ten minutes and then open all windows and doors, allowing for the space to be ventilated and for the smoke to carry away all stagnant and unwanted energies.
Then, once your space has had time to air out, close the window to seal in the good vibes.
It is optional to open a window to keep the smoke moving and to prevent activating the smoke alarm. Ideally, though, you would want to perform the ceremony with all windows closed, to make sure the smoke absorbs the energy.
How often should I smudge?
Smudging is done instinctually and intentionally. It can be done once a day, once a week, on every moon cycle or on auspicious days like 11/11. Or when you feel the energy to be heavy in your space.
When using a smudge bundle, burn only the amount that you would need, and save the rest for a ritual or ceremony at another time. It is wise to prolong its use as much as possible. But make sure the intention is truly there. Burning any sacred herb or resin and thinking the smoke itself will clear a space, will not actually do it. It is the user’s intention that brings power to the ceremony. This means being present with the process as it’s happening and being grateful to the sacred plant for allowing us to use their body to heal our space and us.