Smudging is a ceremony for cleansing that has been used in many traditions throughout history. Widely varying cultures and religions from all over the Earth have discovered power in working with the smoke from burning herbs and incense. Smell is the sense that connects us to a deep, instinctual part of the brain. Certain scents have the power to change our energies and trigger emotions. Beyond that, the Native American smudging ceremony adds a dimension of ritual and respect for all the many diverse parts of Creation.
The purpose of smudging is to cleanse yourself, your objects and/or a place. It can be done before other ceremonies or by itself. According to what we have been taught, certain plants have entered into a sacred agreement with us two-leggeds. In exchange for our respectful treatment of them, they will give up their lives so that we can have their purifying smoke to cleanse and to pray with, so that we might stay in balance and keep our walk sacred. This means we are to pick the plants with honor, asking permission and giving thanks, taking only what we need and not damaging the plant.
Below we share information on some herbs that are commonly used for smudging. Any of the herbs can be combined with any of the others, but we suggest that you try them one at a time at first to better connect with the unique powers of each. For smudging, as we were taught to do it, you will need something to burn the herbs in -- a bowl or a shell perhaps. We have been taught to use an abalone shell, a gift from the oceans. It helps to call in the element of Water, from where life began to balance the four elements in the smudging ceremony. An abalone grows its shells in a spiral, and thus connects us to the first spiral that started all life. You will also need matches (which are less likely to burn your fingers than a lighter) and a feather or fan of feathers. The feather is to acknowledge the winged ones who dwell in the sky and to call in the element of Air.
We have been taught to perform the smudging ceremony in the following manner, which we share with you. You are free to use it, or you may choose to learn another ceremony or create a way that feels right to you. No one way is right or wrong. Place the abalone shell in front of you and thank it, aloud or silently, for the life that created it and for helping you in this ceremony. Place the herb(s) that you will be using in the shell, thanking each as you hold it. They have died so that you could have this smoke. That should not inspire guilt, but rather gratitude for the sacrifice. One day you will give your body for other beings of the Earth.
Next, light the smudge mix. As you bring forth the flame, thank Father Sun, from where all fires arise, and also thank the spirit of Fire for coming to help you with this ceremony. Make sure that some of each plant that you have put in the bowl gets lit. That way the smoke will contain all the energies you have chosen to work with. Fan the fire gently with your feather until the herbs are burning enough to create sufficient smoke. Then use the feather to put out the fire, with one or two quick passes. If the smudge looks like it is going out, fan it vigorously until it is smoking again. If it does go out, it is fine to re-light it.
Now, using both your hands as a cup, catch some smoke and bring it into your heart. Catch more smoke and pass it over your head and down your neck. Then with each hand, one at a time, pass the smoke along your opposite arm and hand. Then, using both hands, bring more smoke into your navel and down your legs to the ground. This process cleanses our hearts, minds and bodies and helps us to be grounded. While doing this, it is good to see the smoke carry away any cares or physical injuries.
You can now smudge any objects that you might want to by passing them through the smoke from the four directions, starting with the East. Ask that the object be cleansed for your use or giveaway. If you are smudging with other people, smudge yourself first and then hold the shell by its edges for the others to smudge. You can also smudge a house or room that needs cleansing. Go around the room with the burning smudge, and using your feather, push any negative energies out through an open door or window. When you are done, let the ashes cool and give them back to the Earth with care. They are now going to be soil from which new life arises, so show respect for this part of the ceremony also, and empty the ashes thoughtfully, again thanking the herbs and the fire.
Many people smudge before any other ceremony, to start the day, or before and after a serious discussion. For us, this is a very real ceremony. After doing it, we feel better, our energy feels lighter, and so the day goes better. And it is good to cleanse your house occasionally to clear out any stagnant energy. Above all, realize that with ceremony it is the sacred intent of us two-leggeds which opens the door for these powers to work with us. Aho, mitakuye oyasin! (It is good, all my relations!)
Sage has the power to drive away negative energies. California (broad leaves) and desert (smaller leaves) sage are used interchangeably, or sometimes even together, but usually people prefer one or the other.
Sweetgrass has the power to call in positive energies. Its sweet smell helps make our objects and us sweet to spirit. It is sometimes called the hair of the Earth Mother and is braided in the field, with love, before it is harvested.
The evergreens -- cedar, juniper and pinion pine -- provide balance and harmony.
Lavender has a calming and relaxing influence.
Rose petals call in the power of the heart.
Osha Root is a powerful herb that is burned in the smudge for protection. It has many other uses.
Copal was used by the Aztecs in many of their purification ceremonies. They burned it in their temples during ceremony. It is very powerful and sweet, so try it in small amounts at first.
Frankincense and myrrh, along with gold, were gifts to the newborn Jesus because at the time they were as precious and hard to find. They can raise your energies in various ways, and are often used to enhance meditation.
Amber, a fossilized resin, has a delicate, earthy fragrance and helps us connect with ancient knowledge.
Sandalwood comes from the heart of certain trees in Asia, including India, where it has been burned for centuries as an aid in reaching a meditative state.
Tobacco is a very sacred herb when not abused. It has the power to absorb our prayers and carry them to Creator. We do not smudge with tobacco, but rather use it in our prayer pipe ceremonies and for making offerings.
Charcoal is a high-energy gift from the Earth Mother. Its black color helps absorb negativity. Light one edge of a charcoal tablet, and after the fire crackles through it, sprinkle just a few grains of resin in the indent in the center.
Note: The gum resins (pinion pine, copal, frankincense, myrrh, amber and sandalwood) need to be burned on charcoal tablets. The charcoal gets very hot so be careful what you put it in for burning. A ceramic bowl with a layer of sand in the bottom is ideal; we recommend against using an abalone shell because the heat might crack it.