Smudging as a Sacred Practice

‘Smudging’ has become very popular in recent years- so much so that it’s nearly pop culture here in the U.S. Even chain mall retailers are carrying smudging kits on their shelves. So it’s become a widely accessible practice and I’d like to offer some thoughts on it.

Smudging is generally used in the mainstream for two purposes. One intention is to rid a person or space of heavy energies. This can be unwanted Spirits, emotional imprints, and even curses. Another intention is for personal grounding (bringing the consciousness present in the body and/or in the immediate moment and to discharge any negative thoughts or emotions).

However, consider that the spiritual body has an immune system much the same way the corporeal body does. Frequent use of sanitizers can have detrimental long-term effects by subverting the natural immune system. So germaphobes beware! You can over-smudge.

I don’t smudge often for this very reason. I allow my intuition or the Spirits to prompt me when it’s necessary, or if I am asked to do it I am honored to do the work. I rarely burn sage. A large part of this is because my son is hypersensitive to stimuli, not excluding smell. The sage is strong and when burned in a small or closed space it can linger for a long time and even cause headaches, scratchy throats, and anxiety.

There are many different materials one can use to smudge. In some cultures people use flower water (florida water), rashaan (vodka or water infused with juniper and other strong smelling herbs), stick brooms, wood (such as Palo Santo), or various sacred instruments/objects.

My most common method is to harness the power of the wind and to blow. Sometimes I rattle or sing. I find this the easiest way, as it requires no special tools or objects and it can be done spontaneously and anywhere. And that’s the thing with smudging- it’s all about intention.

Not only have I observed this trend in over-smudging, I’ve also noticed that, perhaps because it’s such an accessible practice, it’s too easy to turn smudging into a mundane, ritualized practice. If you use smudging I want to encourage you to approach it with reverence, engaging your heart and mind equally in honoring this ancient ceremony. Connecting with the specific tradition/culture is an important way of honoring the people who taught us the practice, but it also keeps the sacred in sight.

I also want to suggest that it’s important to remain mindful of the specific method of smudging you use. Generally the burning of things is used as an offering to Spirits and/or to communicate with the spiritual realm. Prayers are carried up by the smoke. And Spirits are also attracted to the smoke. So understanding your intention is foundational to any ceremonial practice.

Not only is it important to engage the heart, it’s equally important to engage the power center (what some call the solar plexus). The power and mind must be aligned to the intention. As a spiritual practice smudging doesn’t just rely on the material being used. If you’re relying solely, on say, sage to clear, but are disconnected from the sacredness of the ceremony or are disengaged from the intention and your own personal power then you’re likely making it a mundane ritual and it won’t be as effective, if it’s effective at all. You can damage your spiritual immune system.

The final thing I want to offer here is the idea of sustainable, sacred harvesting. Palo Santo (holy wood), for example, is heavily harvested and is not as sustainable as flower water or rashaan (holy water), which leads me to my final offering: harvesting.

It’s important to know where your product is coming from, and when possible to always make/grow it yourself. Setting intention over the plant, tree, water, herbs is equally as important as the intention of using them in ceremony. When making rashaan for example, one would select a certain number of herbs, would select them specifically with prayer and gratitude, would pray over the infusion, playing the jaw harp to solicit the help of Spirits. This is what makes it “holy.” Likewise, sage should be grown and harvested with the same level of sacred connection and gratitude for the sacrifice. Offerings to the plant Spirit are appropriate in such a case. So sourcing is a very important aspect of this sacred ceremonial practice.

One final note: I do grow and harvest many sacred plants, including tobacco and white sage. Unfortunately, this February 2021 hard freeze we experienced here in Texas froze the life out of the tobacco and other medicinals, so I’m starting from seed or young plant again with all of them. However, the white sage survived and is growing fresh from the root stalk. The leaves (which are the parts burned in smudging) died and dried. I was able to harvest them though, and they are perfectly fragrant and ready for use. I prayed over the plant, singing as I harvested the leaves. If you’d like some sage, I’d be happy to send you some. It will carry the energy of the freeze, which I tend to believe makes it exceptionally powerful.