Arachnae's Metaphysics

Smudging - what it is and how to do it

One 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.

What is Smudging?

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 positive spirits.

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 smudging herbs?

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.

Sage - various of the types of sage are the most commonly employed smudging herb. Sage is thought to drive out evil and negativity, and purify ritual instruments.

Sweetgrass - 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.

Cedar is 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 'cedaring'.

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 ceremony.

Ending the Smudging

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.
Why smudge?

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.