Smudging is a ritual of burning sacred herbs that indigenous tribes have used for thousands of years to remove evil spirits and make room for uplifting, healing energy. The use of smudging techniques has been established as a Native American cultural and tribal practice in tribes such as the Lakota, Chumash, Cahuilla, and numerous others—though it is important to note that it is not practiced in all tribes.
Smudging practices can also be found in other cultures all around the globe. What each of these cultures and traditions share is the basic belief that smudging can help clear a person or space of negative energy. Thus, its practice allows for positivity and healing to take place.
Why Is Smudging Important Today?
Today, smudging continues to be used to help individuals or families purify themselves, an object, or an entire space—but what makes smudging so important? Cultures that practice smudging believe that throughout our day-to-day lives, people encounter others and experience a variety of situations. These encounters cause us to carry energy from space to space. After some time, this energy transfer can lead to a build-up of stagnant energy, which is what leads to feelings of impeded inspiration or apathy.
Stagnant energy can cause us to feel stuck, which can eventually lead to feelings of anxiety or depression. Smudging helps to remove stagnant, negative energy to make room for more positive energy. So, how can you get started? When it comes to smudging for beginners, there are a few smudging basics to consider. These include your choice of smudging herbs or resins, setting your intentions, the process itself, and the completion of the smudging event.
Before you can begin smudging, there are a few basic tools you will need. You’ll find that some of these are optional, and your choice of tools truly depends on what your intentions are regarding the smudging ritual. In general, you will need:
A sage bundle or smudge stick
Sage is commonly used for smudging but is not a necessity. Often, the herb you choose depends on your intentions and what you are looking to achieve through smudging. Technically, any plant or flower could be used since they all have specific medicinal elements. However, when it comes to smudging for beginners, we’ll frequently refer to sage since this is the traditional herb used. Traditionally, smudgers frequently use either white sage (salvia opiana) or white prairie sage (estafiate).
A seashell or a bowl made of ceramic, clay, or glass
This highly recommended tool for smudging is used to capture ash produced during the process.
Matches tend to be preferred over a manufactured lighter and are used when lighting your sage bundle.
Feather or fan
This is another optional tool. Using a feather or fan can help to disperse the smoke and move it around the person or space intended.
To support and respect the cultures that developed the practice, you are encouraged to purchase sage and other smudging tools from native gatherers, crafters, and artists.
Setting Your Intentions
One of the most important smudging basics is the process of setting your intentions. You must have a clear focus in mind regarding what you intend to get out of the smudging ritual. By setting your intentions, you help to strengthen the practice of what you are doing. You can begin by asking yourself, “what do I want out of this?” Then, make an effort to understand your specific needs. Many consider the process of tailoring your intentions to your specific needs the “smudging prayer.”
Once you have your purpose in mind, remove any animals or people from the space you intend on cleansing. It is also important that you leave a window open before, during, and after smudging so that the smoke has a place to escape. Many believe that the smoke is what takes the impurities and negativity away from their original location, so it is important that the smoke can leave your environment.
The Smudging Process
Once your intentions are clear, other people and animals have been removed, and you have a window open, it is time to begin the smudging process. The exact process can vary, but we’ve outlined the general procedure in five steps and tips:
1. Light the Sage
You’ll want to take your match and light the end of the sage bundle. You’re looking for a slow burn, so if the bundle does catch fire, quickly blow out the flame.
2. Direct the Smoke
The tips of the leaves within the bundle should smolder slowly, releasing a cloud of thick smoke. You’ll want to direct this smoke around your body, an intended object, or the intended space you are targeting for removal of negative vibes. Direct the smoke around your body and space with one hand (or use a feather if you choose) while holding the bundle in the other. Small spaces tend to hold stagnant energy, so be sure to direct smoke around doors and windows, into closets, and into corners.
3. Let Your Intent Guide You
Take your time with the process as the smoke spreads and allow the incense to linger on areas of your body or surroundings that have drawn your focus. This is where a fan or feather can prove helpful. While moving throughout your space, many recommend moving clockwise around your home, finishing where you started. However, your path can vary depending on your cultural understanding of the purpose, as well as your specific needs. While you are smudging, this portion of the process relies on intuition and letting what feels right guide you.
4. Prevent Stagnant Smoke
Preventing stagnant energy is why it is so important to keep your space as open as possible. In particular, be sure to leave at least one window open. The goal is to keep the smoke moving throughout your home. There should be a light haze drifting through the spouse versus dense clouds of smoke. As you are moving throughout the home or around the person, allow the ash to collect in the shell or bowl.
5. Never Leave Your Sage Bundle Unattended
Once you’ve completed the smudging process, you may still have some of your sage bundle left. Many people prefer to be sure that the sage bundle is completely extinguished. This can be done by dabbing the lit end against the bowl. Others prefer to let the sage burn out naturally. Once completely extinguished, storing any remaining sage in a safe, dry place that is out of the sun. Regardless of how you complete the process, take care to never leave a lit sage bundle unattended.
Benefits of Smudging
There is a reason smudging has been used for centuries and continues to be a frequent ritual for many today. In fact, smudging offers a wide range of benefits.
One of the driving factors behind smudging is the purifying qualities this process can offer. Most of the herbs used in sage bundles are thought to have at least some antimicrobial properties. These properties may help to combat harmful infectious bacteria, viruses, and fungi. Others work to repel insects. Smudging may also help relieve symptoms of asthma and allergies, as it appears to work to neutralize positive ions such as pet dander, pollution, dust, and mold.
Dispelling Negative Energy
Negative energy could include recent bad experiences or even past traumas that a person may carry with them. Ridding yourself of bad energy can help to open the doors to newer, fresher, and more positive energies. Many have found that removing negative energy has helped them reduce fatigue, as well as anxiety and depression.
Improving Sleep Quality
Dispelling negative energy is thought to improve your quality of sleep. In a traditional sense, smudging was used to safeguard against negativity that could interfere with sleep. We are often considered vulnerable in our sleep, so smudging provides an additional layer of protection long after the smoke has cleared.
Smudging as a Spiritual Tool
Smudging has been used traditionally to help people connect to the spirit realm or enhance intuition. This connection was often made by healers and laypeople in a variety of cultures to help solve or reflect upon spiritual dilemmas. The spiritual aspect of smudging can partially be attributed to thujone, which is found in certain sages. This mildly psychoactive compound is commonly used in spiritual rituals to enhance intuition.
Smudging is also used to cleanse or even empower certain objects. Smudging around an object can help to cleanse away any negative history or energy attached to it. Smudging an object can also demonstrate its importance to you, empowering the object to a certain extent.
Start Smudging for Beginners
While smudging is a deeply-held cultural practice, the process doesn’t have to be complicated—especially for beginners. You can use this resource to help guide unpracticed users through the smudging basics. Keep in mind that what matters most is understanding your intentions behind the smudging process.
With clear intentions, you’ll have a guided focus throughout the process. Success with the smudging ritual relies on intuition and listening to the energy inside of yourself. When you proceed with the proper internal guidance, you’ll find that smudging has numerous benefits that can impact all areas of your life. With the right tools and intentions, you’ll soon begin to experience healing and positivity.
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Jenny Weatherall is the co-owner and CEO of Eminent SEO, a design and marketing agency founded in 2009. She has worked in the industry since 2005, when she fell in love with digital marketing… and her now husband and partner, Chris. Together they have 6 children and 3 granddaughters.
Jenny has a passion for learning and sharing what she learns. She has researched, written and published hundreds of articles on a wide variety of topics, including: SEO, design, marketing, ethics, business management, sustainability, inclusion, behavioral health, wellness and work-life balance.