Smudging - what it is and how to do it
of native America's most 'cross-over'
traditions is that of
smudging. Many people who are completely uninterested in other aspects
of Native American culture routinely smudge their environment to clear
the air and keep the creepy feelings away.
Simply put, smudging is purifying an area or object by the use of
ritual smoke. The smoke of purifying herbs is thought to carry away bad
influences and spirits and make the space hospitible to helpful and
Picture the altar boy swinging the censer as he walks down the aisle of
the cathedral and the billowing clouds of smoke that pour forth.
Smudging is in this tradition.
What are the
While more familiar applications of smoke involve resinous incenses,
smudging uses the herb in its plant form, usually tied into compact
bundles with twine and dried to make 'smudge sticks'. These sticks can
be small, 3-4 inches long, or larger, 7-9 inches long.
various of the types of sage are the most commonly employed smudging
herb. Sage is thought to drive out evil and negativity, and purify
sweetgrass is a tall aromatic plains grass which has a pleasant, sweet
vanilla odor. It is harvested and braided into yard-long braids that
look somewhat like whips. Sweetgrass has such a pleasant scent when
burned that it is credited with attracting and encouraging positive
spirits to join your ritual or simply bless your endeavors.
a 'dual-action' smudging herb - it both repels negative influences and
attracts positive ones, and is thus an all-around 'smudge-all'. Most
common to the Pacific Northwest, smudging with cedar is also known as
Other herbs sometimes used in smudging include lavender and copal, a plant resin with a rich
sweet scent often used in incense.
How to Smudge
Light the smudge stick over a candle flame. A match may go out before
the stick is well a-light. Let it flame for a few moments and then blow
it out, if it hasn't gone out of its own accord. The stick will
continue to smolder, releases billows of fragrant smoke.
To smudge an area - gently move the stick throughout the space to be
purified. A feather fan can be used to direct the smoke into all the
corners. Carry a dish or saucer with you to hold underneath the stick
as you smudge - it will shed ashes, some of which may still be hot and
can scorch your furniture or carpets. Some people use an abalone shell
for this purpose.
To smudge an object - ritual objects, or objects that you just may feel
the need to purify for some reason (ex-husband's favorite tools?), can
be purified by holding them inside the smoke rising from the smudge
stick. Set the stick upright in a can of sand if you need to leave your
hands free to move the object. Pass the item through the smoke several
times until it 'feels' cleansed. You can tell.
To smudge a person - some groups that meet for spiritual purposes
smudge each other before they commence. One person holds the smudge
stick and fans the smoke towards the person to be smudged; the
'smudgee' can either slowly rotate to get fully smudged, or the smudger
can walk around them. Then the smudger hands off the stick and fan to
another so they too can be smudged in turn. In some circles, this can
be a riotous beginning to the group's meeting; in others, a solemn
One smudge stick can burn for quite some time, so you can use it for
multiple occasions. When you are finished smudging for the day, insert
the smudge stick, smoldering side down, into a can or bowl of sand and
leave it to go out naturally. Dousing the stick with water isn't
advisable - this can make the stick hard to light the next time, and
may even cause it to mold or rot if it doesn't dry out quickly.
Sometimes you buy something at a thrift or an auction that just feels
'funny'. Or there's some undefinable tension in your home of no known
cause. Smudging is a good way to chase away those indefinable 'bad
vibes' that may be setting your nerves on edge.
Smudging is also excellent for inducing a spiritual state of mind.
Before meditating, or embarking on a spirit journey, or doing some
ritual drumming, smudging can make sacred the space in which you are
working, and focus your mind on your purpose.