Smudge sticks or smudge wands are bundles of herbs that are traditionally burned during ceremony or for purification purposes. I also use smudge sticks and other types of incense/smudge to
- Cleanse and bless homes,
- Clear imprint energy in a space,
- Lift prayers to Spirit,
- Dedicate a space for a particular spiritual purpose,
- Prepare space for ritual, journey work and meditation,
- “Clear the air” after an argument or an intense conversation,
and I have lots of other reasons to work with sacred smoke and the spirits of plants.
If you want to work with local plants, I encourage you to do a bit of research to see which plants and trees work best as smudge; personally I love to work with Juniper (cedar), pine, mugwort, yarrow, rosemary and rose (in loose incense or wrapped on the outside of my smudge bundle) and local resins to burn on coals (or a charcoal disc). I purchase from ethical sources and keep on hand: palo santo, white sage, tobacco and a variety of resins. You can visit Druid’s Garden to learn to make your own smudge sticks: Making Smudge Sticks From Homegrown Plants And Wildharvested Materials.
When selecting plants to work with, I always ask permission before harvesting any plants. If I feel a “no” or a “not this one” or “not right now” anywhere in my awareness, I don’t harvest. I will leave a small gratitude offering whether I receive a yes or a no.
Alabama herbalist Phyllis Light wrote in a Spring issue of Plant Healer Magazine about Pine (and Cedar):
“Cedar is burned at the deathbed to release the spirit of the dying. Pine is burned after death to help those still living to release the dead.
Pine smoke from smoldering branches penetrate the house to cleanse and clear away ghost spirits. It initially burns the eyes but then the vision clears.
My grandmother performed this burning at deaths in the community. I must admit that I’ve been lapse in my adult years with this ritual. But it’s never too late to burn first the cedar and then the pine to release the spirits and ghosts that may be hovering in the corners or at the top of the stairs.”
When working with sacred smoke, each tool that’s used while smudging represents and honors an element. For example, the abalone shell (or fire proof container) represents Water, the flame used to light the smudge represents the Fire element, the feathers represent and honor Air, and the herbs, trees, resins, etc. represent the element of Earth. When these elements are combined via the ritual of smudging, the element of Ether or Spirit is invoked and honored.
I personally begin with a prayer of gratitude and intention, asking the spirits of the plants and the elements and directions to be with me and lend protection while I work. And when I say protection, I’m not just asking for physical or energetic protection. I am asking that my attention stay protected… from me. I want my focus to be clear and steady. I want my prayers to be authentic. I want my intention to be heart-centered. I am asking for protection around all of that.
Next, I smudge myself, clearing and cleansing my energy field and bringing my mind into “right relationship” with my intention. What are my motives? Are my internal processes in alignment with my heart and my purpose? If there’s anything (emotionally, mentally, spiritually) that’s in the way of internal alignment, I ask that the smudge clear it away so that I can proceed in a good way.
Then I offer the sacred smoke to the directions and my ancestral helping spirits. Holy Gratitude.
Next I will open windows (if I am indoors and want to clear space) and possibly doors, and use smoke to cleanse the space, working in a clockwise direction in each area, paying close attention to corners, closets and underneath furniture. If I am not cleansing an entire space, but one particular area, I still work in a clockwise manner, and encourage airflow by opening windows.
If you need to clear a space and you are sensitive to smoke, you can
Make or purchase a smudge spray
Use sound (rattles, bells, etc. to clear dense energy
Utilize Reiki or other forms of energy work to transmute energy in a space
Finally, after any ceremonial work or clearing of an area, I thank my spiritual support, I give thanks to the directions and to the spirit of the plants who gave of themselves for my purpose.
“Bad” energy and “Ghosts”
I’ll be the first one to say that there’s some bad shit in the world. Some of it is generated by humans and some of it is not. If you want more insight around the way I work with energy and ghosts, you may want to consider taking an Earth Medicine intensive. For the purpose of this blog post, though, here’s my basic thoughts on bad energy and ghosts.
Energy is neutral. It doesn’t have a good or bad charge on its own. The good or bad comes from people. If someone feels uncomfortable around an energy, she may think of it as “bad” energy. If someone’s personality doesn’t mesh with mine, she may think I have “bad” energy, when really, I’m mirroring something for her that may make her feel uncomfortable. Energy is neutral. What we do with it puts a positive or negative charge on it. Our intention is what flavors the energy. I’m sure someone can (and will) make an argument for that, but that’s how I process energy in general.
Some indigenous cultures see energy has having a variety of vibrational frequencies. There is light vibrational frequency, and there is the dense, heavy vibrational frequency. Smudging and an energy clearing process is often used to disperse and / or transmute that heavy, dense energy.
I see ghosts as the spirits of the deceased who have not, for some reason, transitioned properly, and they’re earth bound either out of confusion or an inability/unwillingness to resolve issues or beliefs that are keeping them here. Most ghosts are not “bad”, but they don’t have the right to be here; any energy that they use in order to be in this realm is usually generated by the strong emotions of the living. In my opinion, smudge is not what gets the unresolved dead to leave your presence. Your intention, your telling them to leave, and your resolution not to feed them with your emotions is what makes them leave.
Most often, sacred smoke gets rid of what we call “imprints”. Imprints can often be mistaken for ghosts because they can be very strong energy impressions and can sometimes be seen by the living. Imprints are not spirits; they’re more like energetic fingerprints, or they can sometimes be strong emotions left behind by the living. These energy imprints can feel spooky or heavy, or they can leave behind a trail of strong (and sometimes influential) emotions. Smudge is an excellent way to disperse that energy and clear it out of your space.
To clear imprints / heavy energy, I suggest using Juniper (cedar), mugwort or white sage. I tend to lean more toward bioregional plants since white sage is over harvested and working with the plants in my space to balance and clear energy of my space simply makes sense to me.
After I cleanse and clear a space, I like to burn sweet herbs or resins to invite healing and protection and wellness into a space. For this I may choose sweet clover, lavender blooms, roses or sweetgum resin if I want to honor the bioregional model of earth medicine, or I may choose sweetgrass if I feel led to work with it.
One South American tree that I really love is Palo Santo. I work with it sparingly because it is not one of my local allies. I work with this wood primarily in body/mind therapy sessions and to “seal” the auric field of a person after a healing session.
For more awesome information and resources:
The Amazing Cat Torelli has a kickass incense shop on Etsy. Check it out: Forest Druid Creations. Her incense, Florida water and Queen of Hungary water are above and beyond fabulous.
Rebecca “McTrouble” Altman at Cauldrons and Crockpots wrote a very interesting blog post on smudging (from an herbalist’s perspective) called Holy Smoke.
“Killer Germs” Obliterated by Medicinal Smoke (Smudge), Study Reveals
Study ^^ Referenced in the link above ^^: Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria.
Native Tech: Uses of Sweetgrass