Smudging is a Native American term for the burning of sage, sweetgrass, cedar and many other herbs or combination of herbs to achieve cleansing of body, home, and other sacred spaces. Although smudging and smoking are terms that have been used to describe the Native burning rituals, this practice of burning herbs for various reasons has been world wide in its origin. It is believed that the original idea of burning herbs, in most cultures, seem to be linked to the fact that when something is burned the smoke generally will ascend which to most meant that it would eventually get to the gods. Whether in the Native Americans Sweat lodges, Greek Sanctuaries, Hindu Temples, Pagan Tree Altars, or Catholic Cathedrals, the burning of herbs for Protection, Purification and Honor in many different shapes and forms has been a part of the human race since we began.
Herbs for smudging can be found in bundles tied together, in incense form, or loose form. After one has chosen the herb that they have decided is right for them (please see short guide to our burning options from MBS below), one only need find a vessel for the herb to burn in. The vessel is important in some cultures but the premise is simply to have something that can handle heat and can be easily carried if needed. Some Native Americans choose to use shells as their vessel. Other Natives as well as other cultures have been known to use pottery (some type of earthenware) or a hollowed out rock. Some choose to put soil or sand in the bottom of the vessel to keep the vessel from getting to hot when the smudge is used for long ritual or cleansing.
Once the herb and vessel are found the only things yet required are flame of some sort (matches, etc) for lighting the herb on fire, and most important, pure intention and an open heart. We have told people time and time again. None of the people listed above from the Natives to the Catholics "need" herbs for protection or purification. It is a tool to keep one in ritual. Humans are easily distracted and the smoke and the sacred nature of the herb from Mother Earth keep humans on task so to speak. We could cleanse with only an open heart and the desire to do so. These tools called sacred herbs make the process much easier and ritual is very important for the connection we have to one another and the web of humankind. The added bonus is that some of these herbs have been used for actual healing
benefits as well.
Once the herb is set on fire one should wave, with either a feather or hand, the flames out so that it continues to smolder with smoke instead of flame. (Some cultures frown on anyone blowing on the herb to get the flame out. It is claimed to be disrespectful of the herb. I disagree with that theory as the breath of life, in or out of a human, is sacred and how can that be considered disrespectful? Still, this was added for your knowledge so that you do not create unrest within groups and it is important to show respect for other cultures when in their presence. As many traditions began it may have been more for safety as the embers could be easily blown to something else flammable.) Waving a feather fan or your hand upon it is effective for igniting it further so that it keeps smoking and it is beneficial in spreading the smoke throughout a room or area to be cleansed. It is common in some cultures, especially Native to call on the four directions. This is not necessary for individuals not of the Native cultures, but a nice addition to the ritual. Have a mantra or prayer ready to say as you walk around the area, or pass through the smoke, that which is to be cleansed. When the "smoking" is complete the herb can be put out in the soil or sand in the vessel, or it can be put out with running water and put away to dry for the next ritual. The leftover ash or herb that is not stored should be taken out and given back to its Mother the Earth (of course after it has been safely cooled).
There are many herbs used in burning for ritual. Below find the list of herbs available at Mind Body & Spirit for common smudging and cleansing and what they are used for specifically in some cultures, as well as some common uses for these same herbs in non-burning healing. (Keep in mind that there are many herbs used for burning and many are found at the shop, these are only the most common used.)
HERBS FOR SMUDGING
White Sage (Desert Sage): Creates change, cleansing space of negative or foreign and unwanted energies. Steeped to make tea for headaches, and inner cleansing.
Sweetgrass: Used commonly in sweat lodges to call in Ancestors, grounding and protection energy, making sacred space, attracting positive energy after clearing negative. Steeped tea for easing sore throats, and calming nerves.
Cedar: Creates Sacred Space, Connects one with Spirit helpers, including spirit animals, and other guides. Also used in coming of age ceremonies. Steeped tea for colds and flu.
Lavender: Restores Balance, Calming and Soothing energies. Great aromatherapy addition for sleep.