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The Art & Practice of Smudging

Young hindu priest with holy smoke - Varanasi, India

Smudging is a term taken from the Native American tradition and refers to the use of herbs and gums to purify and bless people and places. Versions of this practise abound in many other cultures throughout time, where sacred places and temples were commonly purified with herbs common to the local area. For example the ancient Greeks used Hyssop to clear out unwanted energy from their temples, while the ancient Celts used Mugwort. In Native American traditions several plants are used for smudging such as White Sage, Taos Sage, Sweet Grass and Cedarwood (Virginia).

Incense itself has long been used in sacred ceremony, purification rituals and religious rites.

Perhaps most known are the gums frankincense and myrrh which were the gifts the 3 Magi gave to honour Jesus at his birth. These Middle Eastern gums were used also in Ancient Egypt.

In recent times, modern mystics, sensitives and healers have been exploring the use of a variety of herbs and incense, now widely available in our global market, for cleansing negative energy and for healing and meditation purposes.

Like ancient peoples, there is growing awareness in the modern community about subtle energy.

Subtle energy refers to a part of our everyday world that is generally unseen, yet affects us.

For example why do some places simply ‘feel’ cold, dark or bad, while others can ‘feel’ peaceful, joyful and happy? Indigenous peoples who embrace the shamanic tradition understand this phenomenon in terms of good spirits and bad spirits – good energy versus bad energy.

In everyday life, we have our ups and downs and our personal spaces are witness to periodic conflicts and arguments, stress, fear, laughter, joy and sorrow among many others. Strong emotional encounters and events can leave residual subtle energy patterns that affect a place in which they happen sometimes for many years after the event. This issue of subtle energy is complex, because what happens in houses next to ours can also have an effect on our own personal space, and wherever we go in the outside world we are subject to all kinds of subtle energy interactions with people and places, which we carry with us until we let them go.

Numerous herbs and gums are traditionally known to act as energy purifiers, which is why they have often been used in sacred and religious ceremonies. These herbs and gums, when burned are believed to move energy and attract in positive subtle energy vibrations that can transform dark, dense and heavy subtle energies such as unresolved anger, fear and sorrow. Smudging also has the power (especially when supported with heart felt intention) to dispel negative spirits. Simply put, like attracts like, and by improving the vibration of your own energy field or that of your home, it will make you or your home less attractive to interference from dark entities.

Smudging seems to affect the electro-magnetic field of a person or place. Sometimes repeat smudging over several days with different herbs and gums is needed before a distinct change is felt.


How to Smudge

Before you start, set a clear intention in your mind that you want to clear away negative obstructive energy and improve the vibrational* quality of the space. You may wish to make prayer as well.

Using White Sage

White sage can either come bound together as a smudge stick or it can come as a bag of sage leaves.

Smudge sticks tend to produce more smoke at one time and are best suited to sacred ceremony or when a place feels particularly heavy. Individual sage leaves are ideal for smudging the human aura and for ‘maintenance’ smudging practise. Due to a high essential oil content they burn easily: simply light the leaves and allow them to burn for just a few moments before blowing the flame out. The leaves should smoulder and give off a fragrant whitish smoke. Circulate the smoke throughout the space or through the aura of a person, paying attention to dark corners. If using a smudge stick, have a bowl of sand or some water handy to put the smouldering stick out – make sure you have thoroughly dowsed the embers otherwise it can keep burning without your knowing. When using individual leaves, again have a bowl or ashtray handy to put the last bits in before they burn out.

Using resinous gums and charcoal

Charcoal bricks are designed especially for incense burning. They contain a lighting agent, which helps to get the charcoal going. You will need a suitable receptacle to place the charcoal brick into. It needs to be of a low conductive material, which is heat resistant like a clay bowl with a thick base. You can also use a bowl or shell with sand in it, or even a flat stone.

The charcoal produces a lot of heat so bear in mind that the receptacle might get too hot to handle.

Charcoal bricks can be lit with a lighter, the lighting agent should begin to spark and sputter. Use the lighter along all edges of the charcoal until you see some parts beginning to hold a steady glow. The charcoal must be completely glowing before using it or you can easily put it out. Blowing on it will speed this process up.

An alternative way to get the charcoal going is to light it using the gas hob of a cooker. Place the brick into the flame and leave it there until it is well lit and then remove with a pair of tongs or even a pair of scissors. Transfer it into a heatproof receptacle. This method is faster.

Once the charcoal is well lit, place a small amount of your chosen gum or resin onto the charcoal and it will begin to produce a large amount of aromatic whitish smoke, which can be circulated around the room or space you intend to purify. Make sure you avoid putting too much resin on at once as this can put the charcoal out.

Some people use a feather to help circulate the smoke, or you can blow the smoke with your breath.

It is also handy to have a small stick that you can use to remove resin residues from time to time. Some resins like frankincense and myrrh burn beautifully at the beginning, but once the aromatic oil has gone, will burn with a dark burnt smell, which is not desirable. Simply scrape it off the charcoal before that happens and put more resin on. Some resins like copal and dammar burn clean all the way and do not need to be removed.

Smudging with a charcoal is very effective at changing the vibratory feel of a place, but please note it does produce a lot of aromatic smoke which can set off smoke alarms and can confront other people.

It is not essential to build the smoke up in the house, you can open the windows, but leaving the smoke to dissipate with the windows closed can leave a pleasant ambient fragrance in the house.

Choosing the appropriate time to smudge when people will not be disturbed by the smoke is a helpful practise, and makes for a more effective and stress free space clearing process.

* The term vibration comes from quantum physics and the understanding that everything in existence vibrates. In principle dark, dense energy has a low vibration and light, happy, joyful energy has a high vibration.


Examples of herbs and gums used for purification purposes: Sage, Cedarwood, Juniper, Camphor, Frankincense, Copal, Dammar, Pine resin, Dragons Blood (resin), Mugwort, Hyssop, Eucalyptus, Palo Santo, Storax, Benzoin Resin, Lavender blossoms, Peru Balsam, Tobacco Leaves



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