Smudging is an ancient tradition. Smoke attaches to negativity and clears it away, taking the negative energy to a cosmic compost heap for recycling. Smudging can also bring clarity to things that are hidden, or when we don't understand what is going on. It is also a great relaxation meditation that anyone can learn and add to regular practices.
Ceremonial smudging for clearing, relaxation and meditation
Smudging is a traditional ceremonial ritual, done either individually, or
sometimes in groups at the beginning of an important event. The practice
of smudging can become a very effective way of “checking in” as we pause
to assess our physical, mental or emotional state of being. Smudging can
serve as a tool to bring awareness to what is going on. It can also serve
as a powerful tool for bringing us back into balance and grounding us into
our bodies and a healthier energetic-emotional state.
It utilizes ancient techniques and simple tools: herbs, plants and our
sense of intuition and or sense of smell. Traditional cultures believe
that the smoke attaches itself to negative energy. As the smoke clears,
it carries the negative energy with it, and releases it where it will be
converted into positive energy: like composting.
The sense of smell evokes powerful emotions and memories. The nose
transmits information directly to the brain, more effectively than the
other senses we use. This serves as a safety caution, warning us of
impending danger. Even many of our metaphors show us how subtle but
potent our sense of smell is: something smells fishy. We smell a rat.
In fact, it is the sense of smell that imbues many foods with their taste,
or flavour. Plug your nose completely, and it is almost impossible to
distinguish between an apple and an onion. Pretty amazing!
We naturally like things to smell nice, and sweet. This reassures the
deepest levels of the brain that all is well with the world. It is why
companies go to so much trouble (and believe me, they do:), to make
products smell very certain ways. But this can also confuse the brain,
since it is being “informed” that everything is “happy” and safe, when
perhaps it may not be.
Before we had chemicals to make things smell good, many cultures used
essential oils, perfumes and plants to sweeten the air around them. For
example, in medieval times, “decking the halls” in midwinter was done with
evergreen boughs. It was a way of bringing in freshness when all windows
were shuttered for the winter, and people weren’t overly fond of bathing.
Smudging is a form of clearing the air and restoring the sweetness into
our lives, both literally and metaphorically. Smudging is a term used for
this use of smoke and incense. Churches still do this, particularly for
important or special services. When the priest enters the church, he
carries incense in a container, which he gently waves before him. The
sweet smoke wafts before him and through the congregation. This serves to
clear the air, release negativity and put the soul at ease.
In indigenous terminology this is called “creating sacred space,” or
“opening sacred space.” This ritual of incense or smudging creates a
delineation. Before, we were ordinary, now we are gathered for a purpose.
This reminds us to put aside external thoughts and concerns, the argument
with partner or spouse, car repairs, job related worries; all of those
things are extraneous to what is going in. Instead, we are present in the
In traditional cultures, many different things were used for this purpose.
And often, what was used depended on the occasion. Just as plants have
very different and distinct physical properties and medicinal properties,
they have distinct magical or ceremonial uses.
Traditionally, smudge sticks are bundles of dried plants and herbs that
are wrapped tightly, bound with string. This makes for easier handling,
and a slow steady burn. The Native Americans of North America often use
sage, sweet grass and cedar. Cultures around the world use what is in
their own environment. That is crucial. While sometimes it is good to
bring something from a distance, and appreciate what is not locally
attainable, it is important to work with and create the connections to the
things in our own environments. And thanks to this wonderful resource
known as the internet, identifying plants and understanding their uses is
just a click away.
Personally, I live in New England, and am familiar with a handful of
plants that are readily available and very effective and helpful. For
general use, mugwort, cedar, and herbs are very good. They are like the
base ingredients. They can be used as is, solo, for general work and
support. They can also be combined with other plants and herbs for more
specific and potent effect. It’s a lot like cooking, only the end purpose
is to create something unseen but felt, rather than seen and eaten
So now we have a general, but vague sense of what a smudge stick is, and
the tradition of smudging. But what IS smudging? How do we do it? What
does it do? And how does it work?
You can smudge with anything that creates smoke or incense. Sometimes you
might know why you are smudging. Maybe you had a hard day, an argument
with a friend, a romantic breakup, job-loss, or death. Note we can also
smudge to celebrate or keep a good thing safe, new job, relationship,
birth etc. these are clear indicators. Sometimes there are things amiss
that we cannot put our finger on. Something just smells fishy. This can
be a good time to smudge.
Smudge acts like a light, or insect killer on the energetic-emotional
levels. Things that do not belong will scurry away or be killed/ removed.
Smoke from smudge is like throwing a cloth over the invisible man. We
cannot see the invisible man, but we can see and sense the shape and
movement under the cloth. And when we are energetically compromised, it is
like our nose is plugged. We cannot always tell the difference between
apple and onion. Smudging clears the energy field, the bubble. And then
we can differentiate what needs to be removed from our bubbles, and our
Smudging is like a meditation. We may or may not have something specific
going on. It can be like dusting off furniture. We may know what is
going on, and learn to sense where it is hiding within our bubbles (the
energy field around our bodies), or we may do a smudging ceremony as a way
to spend some time in our bubbles, and explore it, clearing out things
that we find as we come across them.
It is also possible, and also recommended, to smudge spaces, as well.
Smudging a room or building removes the negativity from the areas around
us. After an argument, smudging can release the tension from a room.
When moving into a new home or apartment, smudging can clear out remnants
from past tenants: just like painting the walls, smudging serves to make
the space yours, with your energetic and emotional imprint.
Okay, so how do you actually do this already? On with the show. Set
aside a little bit of quiet time. This is like a meditation and you
should be present in the moment. Especially in the beginning, while you
are still learning how to smudge, and what works best for you. Take your
smudge stick and hold it quietly for a moment. Set your intent, do you
know what you are looking for, trying to release? This time is somewhat
like creating an action plan. What do you want to accomplish? And even
if you do not know or have a very clear objective, you want to be focused.
Maybe you just think something is weighing on you and want to try to
clear it out, or bring clarity to something that is elusive. As you
become more experienced, this is not as arduous as it sounds.
With this done, light your smudge stick. Blow your breath into the smudge
stick. In practical terms, this gets the smudge stick lit, with a solid
ember so that it will create smoke. In energetic and emotional terms, you
are blowing your intent into the smudge stick. It is a bit like quantum
entanglement; and the smudge stick is the bloodhound. You are giving it
the scent it is looking for. Then you have to trust it to hunt or and
find its prey.
Wave the smudge stick gently within your energy bubble. Your bubble
extends about arms length around you in all directions: round, like a
bubble, front, back, sides, top and bottom. You may have some ideas
already about where something is hiding in your bubble. You may need to
work your way through your bubble methodically. Using both hands can
help. One holds the smudge stick, the other explores the bubble just
ahead of the smoke. In this work, it is very much like a blind person
reading Braille: a very light and delicate touch to sense what the eyes
cannot see. Is there a place where your fingers catch slightly? Does your
hand slow down? Perhaps an area may feel slightly warmer or cooler. Trust
your intuition and engage the intuitive imagination. Perhaps you will get
recollections, as memories work their way to the surface. You might
imagine hard areas, like rocks, sticky areas or even vacant areas
When you find those spots, where something may be lurking, use the smudge
stick and smoke to cleanse the area. Like window cleaner on glass or a
mirror, swiping and swabbing at the dense area. Work your way all around
the space in your bubble. Explore close to your body, and out all the way
to the edges.
Spend a little extra time on the three energy centers, the forehead area,
which represents wisdom and thought, the heart center which represents
emotions, and the belly, which represents actions and physical aspects.
Tend to each and any area and aspect as seems right in the moment.
Imagine it is your patient, or child. What does it need in order to be
whole, happy and moving energetically. Most things and people want to
belong, feel safe, loved and protected forward? Fill that need.