With the relatively constant chaotic nature of today’s modern world, the need for cleansing and revitalising oneself or one’s space of negative energy sounds appealing. One such practice that has garnered popularity is the ritual of sage burning, also known as smudging.
What is Smudging
Smudging is an important ceremonial purifying ritual in many North American Indigenous cultures that involves purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place. The practice’s long and rich history extends way before it was brought onto Instagram feeds. Before smudging was popularised, it was illegal – at least, for Indigenous folks. The Native American practice of any/all ceremony and culture was illegal up until 1978 – 43 years ago. Many were jailed and killed just for keeping their ways alive. Smudging, therefore, is not to be taken lightly.
According to the Indigenous Corporate Training inc, four elements are involved in a smudge:
- The container, traditionally a shell representing water, is the first element.
- The four sacred plants (cedar, sage, sweetgrass, tobacco), gifts from mother earth, represent the second element.
- The fire produced from lighting the sacred plants represents the third element.
- The smoke produced from the fire represents air, the fourth element.
During a smudge, plant leaves or stems are placed in the container and ignited (preferably with a wooden match). The flames are then gently blown out and the smoke, which heals the mind, heart, and body, is wafted over the person or space, either by hand or with an eagle feather. The person being smudged pulls the smoke to them and gently inhales the smoke. Traditionally, as it is believed that the negative thoughts and feelings have been absorbed by the ashes, they are returned to mother earth by disposing them outside on bare soil. Furthermore, a person can smudge themselves, or, someone can lead a smudge by holding the container and directing the smoke over others.
Is Smudging Cultural Appropriation?
When the dominant culture in society takes aspects, such as ritual practices from another culture that’s experiencing oppression, that’s best understood as cultural appropriation. It diminishes historical persecution while still oppressing the culture it’s stealing from.
White Sage and other smudge products (burning sweetgrass, palo santo, etc. in order to “clear negative energy”) have become increasingly popular among non-native people. However, the practice of smudging and these plants are considered sacred medicine to many Native American/Indigenous Nations. Furthermore, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) states thatwhite sage has important medical benefits. It is used to cure colds and aid postpartum healing and is a crucial part of the surrounding ecosystem. So in practicing smudging, it’s important that the plant be used sustainably. Smudging should always be practiced with intention, reverence, and deep gratitude to those who did it before us.
Another important thing to understand is that continuing to educate yourself on the history and practice of smudging allows you to better appreciate and honour such practices and use them in a way that is respectful, culturally sensitive and with awareness.
‘How’ to Smudge
According to MindBodyGreen, these are the steps to keep in mind when smudging:
To sage your house to clear negative energy.
1. Gather your tools and have an exit strategy.
First and foremost, ensure you have all the above-mentioned tools on hand and that you’ve opened a door or window before lighting up. After all, that negativity (not to mention smoke) needs to have a pathway to get out.
2. Set your intentions and say a mantra.
Intentions are central to the practice of smudging, so take a moment before you light the sage to determine what exactly it is that you’re trying to purify or release from your space. Then, decide on a mantra or prayer to repeat while smudging that encapsulates this intention.
3. Light up.
Once you’re ready, hold the sage at a 45-degree angle, light it with a match, and let it burn for about 20 seconds. After that, gently blow out the flame until you see orange embers on one end. The smoke should now billow up.
4. Slowly walk around your space.
Slowly walk around your space and allow the smoke to waft around. Guide the smoke and the bad energy toward the open windows or a door, so it can escape.
5. Be safe!
Sage burning 101: Always stay present! If you see little embers fall on the ground, stamp them out immediately. Never let the burning sage stay unattended for any reason. Take care not to inhale too much of the smoke.
6. Extinguish the sage.
Once you’re ready to extinguish the sage smudge stick, press the burning tip firmly into your fireproof vessel, dirt, or sand until the smoke no longer rises. Pro tip: Don’t get it wet! “Don’t use water to extinguish the hot embers as it will ruin the tip of the stick and make it harder to light next time. When you are done using the smudge stick, you can keep it in a vessel until you are ready to use it again,” says McCann.
To sage yourself.
If you’re interested in saging yourself, follow the same steps as above, but with the focus on your body instead of your space. Stand in the shape of a T with legs slightly spread like you’re in the TSA line at the airport. Then, keeping the sage stick at an arm’s length distance away from you, work your way up from your feet. Repeat your mantra (either internally or aloud), envisioning the smoke clearing you of lingering negativity.
Again, don’t directly inhale large amounts of smoke, and ensure the sage remains a safe distance from your body. If you have long hair, pull it back in a bun. Don’t forget to extinguish the sage once you’ve finished smudging.
How often should you smudge?
There are no hard-and-fast rules when it comes to how often you should sage yourself or your space. You are our best guide when it comes to identifying negative energy so pay attention to your intuition. If you feel weighed down by stress or worry, it’s usually a good indication that a cleansing is in order.
Benefits of Smudging
Medically reviewed by Debra Rose Wilson, Ph.D., MSN, R.N., IBCLC, AHN-BC, CHT, the benefits of smudging include:
1. It may be purifying
The most-used types of sage have antimicrobial properties. This means they keep infectious bacteria, viruses, and fungi at bay. White prairie sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) is both antimicrobial and antibacterial. White sage (Salvia apiana) is also antimicrobial and both have been shown to repel insects.
2. It may help relieve the symptoms of some conditions
Though scientifically unproven, burning sage is thought to release negative ions. This is said to help neutralise positive ions.
Common positive ions are allergens like pet dander, pollution, dust, and mould. If this is the case, burning sage may be a blessing for those with asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. But inhaling the smoke during the smudging can aggravate a respiratory condition. Wait until the smoke clears before going into the room.
3. It can be a spiritual tool
Smudging has long been used to connect to the spiritual realm or enhance intuition. For healers and laypeople in traditional cultures, burning sage is used to achieve a healing state or to solve or reflect upon spiritual dilemmas. This may have some scientific basis, too. Certain types of sage, including salvia sages and white prairie sage, contain thujone. Research shows that thujone is mildly psychoactive. It’s found in many plants used in cultural spiritual rituals to enhance intuition.
4. It may help dispel negative energy
Smudging may also be used as a ritual tool to rid yourself or your space of negativity. This includes past traumas, bad experiences, or negative energies from others. This may help you establish a positive environment for meditation or another ritual. Choosing to sit and let go of negative thoughts in a ritual like this sets your intention and dedication to self-improvement. Choosing to engage in a ritual can be the beginning of your change in mindset.
5. It can cleanse or empower specific objects
Burning sage creates fragrant smoke central to smudging’s benefits. You can use this incense to smudge yourself or specific spaces. Or according to some sources, you can smudge specific objects. This can be useful with new purchases, gifts, or secondhand items. However, any item can be smudged. If you have any concern with negative history or energy attached to a new or unfamiliar object, smudging may help bring peace of mind and make the object more sacred to you.
6. It may help improve your mood
Tradition suggests that smudging can lift one’s spirits to banish negativity. Some research supports this. A 2014 study documented white prairie sage (also known as estafiate) as an important traditional remedy for treating anxiety, depression, and mood disorders in certain cultures.
7. It may help soothe stress
If burning sage can lift one’s mood, it could also be a great ally against stress. A 2016 research project for the University of Mississippi established that white sage (Salvia apiana) is rich in compounds that activate certain receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for elevating mood levels, reducing stress, and even alleviating pain.
8. It may improve the quality of your sleep
Smudging has been traditionally used to safeguard against negativity that could interfere with sleep.
Some research suggests that sage contains compounds that could help ease insomnia. Classic garden sage (Salvia officinalis) is sometimes burned like white sage. It’s also been used to improve sleep and soothe anxiety.
9. It may help boost cognition
In addition to dissipating negative energy, improving mood, and strengthening intuition, smudging with sage could also improve your memory and focus. A 2016 review of studies noted that evidence for Salvia’s cognitive-enhancing benefits are promising to treat dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. More research is needed though.
10. It may help boost your energy levels
Ridding the body, objects, and spaces of bad energy can help welcome newer, fresher, and more positive energies. In a way, this could have an energising effect and help with fatigue. Some sagelike species closely related to white prairie sage are also used for smudging. Many have documented antifatigue uses.
11. It can create an uplifting fragrance
For some, this may be the best of all benefits: sage is a lovely incense with a divine aroma, pure and simple. It also works great as a chemical-free air freshener or odour controller.
Learn more sacred rituals in our Cacao Ceremony training. Truly magical experience that reconnects you with your inner self and opens up your hearts to many blessings.
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