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The Smudging Ceremony

The Smudging Ceremony

Smudging is a ritual way to cleanse a person, place or an object of negative energies, spirits or influences. The smudging ceremony involves the burning of special, sacred plants and herbal resins, then, either passing an object through the resulting smoke, or fanning the smoke around a person or place. The spirit of the plant then purifies whatever is being smudged.

There are two ways of doing a smudging ceremony. The simplest way to smudge is to use a smudge stick. A smudge stick is a wand made of the leaves of a plant or mixture of plants tied together and dried. To use, simply light the end of the wand and extinguish the flame once it has a smoldering end. Have the person being smudged stand facing you and pass the wand back and forth through the person's aura starting at their feet and moving upwards. When you reach their head, have them turn, clockwise and pass the wand down their back. Sometimes it's a good idea to pay close attention to the heart area. To cleanse a room or house, carry in the lit smudge stick, clockwise around the area, making sure to smudge in the corners and behind doors. The second way of smudging is to use self-igniting or incense charcoal as a source of heat. Light the charcoal and place it in a heat proof container. Sprinkle about a half a teaspoon of smudging herb on the charcoal and fan the smoke toward the object being smudged as above.

Remember that when you smudge, you are asking the spirit of sacred plants for assistance and you must pay proper respect to their healing power.

These are some of the plants that can be used for smudging along with their spiritual properties:

Desert Sage (Artemesia tridentata). This plant will drive out negative energies, spirits and influences. Use this as a smudge to purify people and places before any sacred ceremony.

Cedar (Libocedrus descurrens, Thuja occidentalis). This plant can also be used to purify, especially for negative emotions.

Sweetgrass (Hierochole odarata). This is one of the most sacred herbs used for smudging. This herb is used to bring positive energy in after negative energies are banished by using sage.

White Sage (Salvia apiana). This sage is used just like desert sage, but many people prefer White Sage because of the sweeter aroma it gives off.

Lavender (Lavandula officianalis). This herb will restore balance and create a peaceful atmosphere. It will also draws loving energy and spirits.

Mugwort (Atemesia vulgarus). This herb can used to stimulate psychic awareness and prophetic dreams. The Lakota also believe that when Mugwort is burned it "makes the bad spirits sick", and they move away from it.

Copal (Bereseru microphylla). This resin was used by the Mayans as a food for the Gods. They believe that as the smoke of the Copal would rise, it would carry their prayers to the ears of the Gods. Copal is used in divination and in purification ceremonies. Copal is the Frankincense of the Western Hemisphere.

Juniper (Juniperus ssp.). This herb is also used to purify and to create a safe and sacred space. Juniper was often carried in a medicine pouch or a pocket for protection.

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicus). This herb can be used to purify and to set and protect boundaries. The name of this plant reflects it's nature. Yerba Santa means sacred herb.

Osha (Ligusticum porteri). The root of this plant can be burned as an incense or carried for good luck and protection from bad influences. Osha is also a preferred gift for Native American elders.


Using Sage to "Smudge" is a simple and powerful way to clear your energy field and remove negative energy from the area. You can smudge with sage, cedar, lavender, and many other herbs. Sage comes in several forms but I suggest that white (desert) rather than the green garden sage be used.

Smudging is the process of burning the dried plant and fanning the smoke over your body with sacred intention. You should also smudge the area in and around where you intend to do your sacred work. Smudging is best known as a Native American ritual, but it is found in other cultures as well.

Smudge comes in several forms, the most common is in a bundle or loose leaf white sage. Some people like to burn the sage in a shell. I prefer not to use shells because I don't feel right in burning something in the shell of one of gods creatures. I prefer to use a censer or a piece of pottery. Bundles of sage also come with several kinds of sage mixed together. I don't recommend this because these bundles have sweet grass in them. Sweet grass is a "Nest Builder". It provides a nest for the "spirits" to live in. If the area is not cleared of negative energy, it can build a nest there too. If you are going to use sweet grass, I suggest that you cleanse the area with white sage and then use sweet grass.

To use the sage, place a few leaves in the censer and light them or light the bundle. The flame will go out in a short time and the sage will begin to smolder. Fan the smoke with your hand or feather. The traditional way is to offer the smoke to the four directions first, calling the blessing and protection in. Then you fan the smoke around you imagining it passing through you. It flows through you drawing out all of the junk that you have collected in your aura. Smudge is not like tobacco so you may breath in the smoke and you will feel the cleansing properties.

This process only takes a few minutes and when you are done you will feel the clarity of the room and the area you are in. You can rub out the sage stick or just let it burn out on it's own. The stick may be used many times. Leaves are just let to burn out on their own.

Sage may also be used to clean crystals before their use and always smudge crystals after their use to remove the negative energy they many have absorbed.

Smudge is one of the most powerful tools that we have available to use. It should be used prior to any spiritual event that we undertake. Meditation, Reiki, Crystal Healing, Tarot Readings should all have smudging prior their use. Any time we open our self to energy transfer, we must be sure that negative energy is cleared from the area. Smudge is the easiest way of doing that.

Traditional Cleansing Ceremony

Smudging is the burning of certain herbs to create a cleansing smoke bath, which is used to purify people, ceremonial and ritual space, and ceremonial tools and objects. Many differing cultures and peoples have their own methods and herbal mixtures for this purpose.

Native American Indians use a variety of smudging mixtures in this way. The principle herbs used are sage, cedar or juniper, lavender and sweet grass. Pure tobacco is also used by some Plains tribes, and copal in South and Central America.

The herbs are burnt on their own or in mixtures, depending on tradition and required effect. Sage (Artemisia tridentia) is not the same as the European varieties and is indigenous to the Americas. It is used as a cleansing and purifying agent, the effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies. The powerful cleansing vibration it emits when burned, is used to purify the subtle energies of one’s aura, as well as personal and ceremonial space or healing and ceremonial tools, such as pipes and crystals.

Cedar needles are used in a similar way to cleanse and bring balance to the emotions and to the male/female (yin/yang) elements. To clear one's actions and to promote forgiveness, lavender flowers can be added to the mixture to bring the quality of spiritual blessing.

Sweetgrass, which comes from the northern swamps, and is dried and braided into fragrant-smelling plaits can also be added to the mixtures, but it is often burned alone after the sage or smudge mixture has been used. Sweetgrass brings sweetness and beauty into one's life and surroundings. One can offer a prayer to this effect as the braid is lit.

The process of smudging involves placing the individual herb or mixture of herbs into a shell, or fireproof bowl or dish. The mixture can burn quite hot so it is important that whatever is used can take the heat without cracking. Some traditions will not use shells as they say the water element of the shell nullifies the fire element. Others use the shell to bring in the balance of the elements (i.e. fire, smoke or air, shell for water and the herbs themselves as the earth element.)

The mixture is lit and helped to burn by the use of a feather or fan. Blowing into the mixture is not encouraged as it is seen as blowing one's own negativity into the mixture. The mixture is then wafted around one's self like a smoke bath. There are different ways of doing this and one finds a variety of techniques and explanations depending on traditions and teachings. The way for someone not attached to a particular tradition is a matter of personal preference and intuition.

One way would be to start at the left foot (left being the receiving side of the body) and to move the smoke up the left leg with the use of the fan or feather. Proceed up the central chakra line and around the top of the head, back down the centre of the body, moving the smoke outwards to the sides and around the back. Finish off by wafting the smoke down the right leg (right being the giving side of the body) and out and away from the right foot. Some traditions would do this four times, as four is the number of balance and harmony.

Feathers and wing fans aid in the cleansing process and have the effect of combing the human aura, therefore adding to the cleansing. Particular feathers bring in the qualities and medicine of the bird of origin. Some would insist that the movement of the fan should be in keeping with the movement of the particular bird's wing in flight.

Cleansing ceremonial or ritual space before and after the event is an essential part of spiritual hygiene. The initial smudging is for the purpose of purifying the space and participants and for banishing any unwanted energies. The final smudge is to cleans any negative vibrations and energies attracted or created during the proceedings. It is also a good thing to do on a regular basis for both one's self and one's living space, to maintain individual and domestic harmony.

Some native teachers of my acquaintance have been very surprised to find that many healers, masseurs, therapists and others involved in similar occupations do not use this or similar cleansing techniques in their workspace and for themselves, both before and after healing consultations. One commented that she had visited a so-called healing room that was more like a psychic sewer, due to the lack of any such cleansing.

Good practice for the use of smudge when healing is to smudge the space, the people in the space, including one's self, the patient and any tools, (such as crystals). When the healing is completed, smudge self, any assistants, tools, patient and finish with the space. In this way one deals with negative energies and vibrations in much the same way as antiseptic and disinfectant deals with germs.

The smell of the mixture is wonderful and the effects are almost instantly noticeable.

Happy smudging!


Sacred Hoop Magazine Issue Number 1 - © Copyright Sacred Hoop Magazine 1993

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