The Art of Smudging

Smudging is the ritualistic burning of herbs and plants while prayers of gratitude and wellbeing are said aloud. The smoke is traditionally fanned using the hand or a feather directed over a person or throughout a living space. The purpose is to wash away impurities, sadness, anxieties, dark thoughts and any unwanted energies or emotions that may be clinging to a space or individual.

This is often done before a ceremony or special gathering, after an argument (to “clear the air”), when moving into a new home, at the end of the cold season to re-invigorate one’s living space, and on a variety of other occasions.

Before we get started, it’s important to understand the deep symbolism that underlies each of the objects used in a typical smudge.

First and foremost, the materials involved each symbolize and honor one of the four elements.

The shell or clay bowl represents water
The herbs represent the earth,
The feather and wind it creates represent air
The flame used to ignite the herbs represents fire

Sometimes only one specific herb is burned, but often a carefully prepared mixture is created.

The most common herbs used for smudging are white sage, sweet grass, lavender, rosemary and basil.

A Smudging Practice To Try (with a Native Prayer):

A word to the wise: it’s important to hold pure and focused intention while you perform a smudging. Before you begin any purification ritual like this, make sure you’re fully present.

1) You’ll need: a clay bowl or abalone shell, a smudge stick , a flame, and a feather.

2) If you are inside, open the windows in the space you are in, creating a flow of air from outside.

3) Using a match or lighter, ignite the herbs and let them flame for 20 to 30 seconds before sweeping your hand above them to extinguish any fire. (I’ve been taught that using the breath to blow out the fire is not the proper way.) Tendrils of smoke should be steadily rising from the smoldering herbs now.

4) It is customary to smudge oneself first before moving on to others and the surrounding space.Using a cupped hand, draw the smoke around you. Starting from the top, bring the smoke over and around your head, down your torso, all the way to your feet. Make sure to pay attention to your breathing while doing this. Slow and relaxed.

5) Once you are finished with yourself, use your feather to waft the smoke gently into the corners of the room and over any plants or pieces of furniture.

6) Once you have finished smudging, tradition tells us that the ashes of the spent herb should be brought outside and returned to the soil.

A Native Prayer you may want to use while smudging:

Creator, Great Mystery
Source of all knowing and comfort,
Cleanse this space of all negativity.
Open our pathways to peace and understanding.
Love and light fills each of us and our sacred space.
Our work here shall be beautiful and meaningful.
Banish all energies that would mean us harm.
Our eternal gratitude.

Credits – The Medicine Wheel Garden, E. Barrie Kavasch

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