In many ancient cultures, including Native American traditions, herbs were burned in the ritual cleansing of a physical space, objects or individuals. The idea is they by burning certain herbs in a space, the smoke generated attaches itself to the negative energy and as the smoke dissipates, so does the negative energy. This burning of herbs can also be used for individual cleansing, after a particularly energetically depleting day or experience, for example or on crystals or personal objects used in ritual to ensure that they are not holding any negative energy.
People often cleanse themselves and their space after difficult events, when communication problems seem to be arising, when their feeling down or depressed, during times of meditation or other ritual. Deliberately clearing space of negative energy is a custom as old as time. To some, this is spring cleaning, a house warming party, or merely the creation of order our of chaos. Some associate this cleansing with ritual on a deeper spiritual level. Smudging is also excellent to practice prior to a gathering or ritual or as people arrive and before commencing a ritual or celebration. This leads to open minds and hearts and the eradication of any lingering negativity. Clearing space also renews old and stagnant energy in a space or person and replaces it with a lively vibrancy.
There are several herbs used commonly in “smudge sticks” or “smudge wands.” In such a stick or wand, the herbs are bundled together and often tied with string. In ancient native American traditions, special smudge bowls were used but now, most smudging herbs come in wants or sticks that are easy to use. Common smudging herbs include:
Sagebrush (confusingly, the “sage” used in most smudge sticks, is not culinary sage but sagebrush): transforms energy and brings change.
Sage (the culinary herb): brings wisdom and is calming and healing.
Sweetgrass: attracts positive energy.
Lavender: restores balance and creates a peaceful atmosphere. Lavender also attracts loving energy and spirits.
Cedar: deeply purifying, especially for clearing negative emotions and for healing and as a way to attract positive energy. Also used to bless a home before taking residence there, a tradition dating back to the Northwest and Western Canadian Native Americans, and believed to aid clairvoyance, revive the tired mind, body, and spirit, and stimulate contact with other worlds.
Mugwort: stimulates psychic awareness and prophetic dreams. It also banishes evil spirits.
Juniper: used to purify and create a safe and sacred space.
Yerba Santa: used to purify and to set and protect boundaries.
Rosemary: a powerful healer that brings clarity to problems.
How to Smudge
Firstly, any cleansing ritual must start with a clear and simple intention. Focusing on clearing out the negative energy and pushing it out of your space and mind is of paramount importance. Space clearing is most successful when your intention is clear. Open every door and window in your house, and turn on fans if you have them.
Once you have your intention clearly in your mind, light the herb wand and then blow out the flame which allows the herbs to smolder and smoke without actively burning. Using a candle is recommended rather than a match or other lighter. I often find that I have to re-light my sage bundle a few times during the ritual process. If you are burning loose leaf sage, the best method is to use a charcoal burning disk inside of a censor or small cauldron.
If you are cleansing a space, walk around the room or rooms slowly and focus on cleansing and clearing negative energy. You should focus on corners, behind doors and make sure you also smudge closets.
If you are cleansing an individual, fan the smoke around yourself or the other person and ask them to focus on pushing the negative energy down through their feet and into the earth. Make sure to fan the smoke from head down to the feet to aid in the process of moving the negative energy out. The other option is to have them focus on pushing the negative energy into the air and into the smoke.
If you are working with a particular chakra or energetic location, make sure to focus some of the smoke in that area while you are working. Healers often use smudge before working with reiki or other healing techniques. Healers can use feathers to fan smudge smoke to ensure and even distribution and to work towards creating balance in the body.
Some people also find it helpful to speak an incantation, a thought or to chant during cleansing but you can also be silent and simply focus on your intention and inner voice.
If you wish to cleanse an object, including a crystal or wand, hold the crystal or object in the smoke or fan the smoke around the item. Also, if you are cleansing an object before a specific ritual, focus on your intentions around that ritual as well as on the cleansing of the object to imbue the object prior to your work.