Blog February 24, 2023

To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse: What is Smudging?

To Cleanse or Not to Cleanse: What is Smudging?

I have been in Real Estate for many years.  I have people buying homes and they will smudge the homes for different reasons.  Buyers from all different cultures and religious beliefs will do this. 

Other cultures worldwide may burn herbs or incense for spiritual purposes, such as in smoking ceremonies, some forms of saining, or practices involving the use of incense censers. However, these cultures have their own practices, as well as their own beliefs about these ritual actions and the ritual use of smoke.

I have even known Real Estate Professionals do smudging when they list a home in order to help it sell.  This is like burying St. Joseph statue when a home is listed and sold. Bringing in positive energy to be associated with the transaction. 

So let’s talk about Smudging. 

Smudging, or other rites involving the burning of sacred herbs (e.g., white sage) or resins, is a ceremony practiced by some Indigenous peoples of the Americas. While it bears some resemblance to other ceremonies and rituals involving smoke (e.g., Australian smoking ceremony, some types of saining) from other world cultures, notably those that use smoke for spiritual cleansing or blessing, the purposes and particulars of the ceremonies, and the substances used, can vary widely among tribes, bands and nations, and even more so among different world cultures. In traditional communities, Elders maintain the protocols around these ceremonies and provide culturally specific guidance. The smudging ceremony, by various names, has been appropriated by others outside of the Indigenous communities as part of New Age or commercial practices, which has also led to the over-harvesting of some of the plants used in ceremonies. The appropriation and the over-harvesting have both been protested by Indigenous people in the US and Canada.

Native American traditions

In some Indigenous American and Canadian ceremonies, certain herbs are traditionally used to purify or bless people and places. For instance, some cultures use the smoke of burning red cedar as part of their particular purification and healing ceremonies. Sometimes this is done in hospitals to “cleanse and repel evil influence.” However, the same herbs that are burned by one culture may be taboo to burn in another, or they may be used for a completely different purpose. When specific herbs are burned ceremonially, this may or may not be called “smudging”, depending on the culture  Traditionally, when gathering herbs for ceremonial use, care is taken to determine the time of day, month, or year when the herbs should be collected; for example, at dawn or evening, at certain phases of the moon, or according to yearly cycles. Gertrude Allen, a Lumbee tribe, reported that her father, an expert in healing with plants, stated that sage varies in potency at different times of the year.

While sage is commonly associated with smudging and several Native American, First Nations, Inuit or Métis cultures may use forms of sage that are local to their region, the use of sage is neither universal, nor as widespread as many believe. Its use in regions that have not traditionally used sage for purification is largely a result of the Pan-Indian movement, rather than traditional practice. In some cases it may be in direct opposition to what is traditional for that region. Likewise, not all Native American or Indigenous Canadian cultures that burn herbs or resins for ceremony call this practice “smudging“.

While using various forms of scent and scented smoke (such as incense) in religious and spiritual rites is an element common to many different cultures worldwide, the details, reasons, desired effects, and spiritual meanings are usually unique to the specific cultures in question.

Controversy in the Native American Tradition 

While white sage is not currently on the endangered list, the over-harvesting by commercial sellers has severely depleted the amount available, and many fear that it is soon to be endangered or extinct. Native ceremonial people have reported that visits to their traditional harvesting sites in recent years have found them bare, their personal supply of sage taken from the tribe forever by new age, hippie, and other commercial poachers who have “destroyed” the sites by ripping the plants up by their roots.

Some of the terminology in use among non-Indigenous people, such as the American English term “smudge stick” is usually found in use among those who imitate what they believe are Native American sacred ceremonies. However, the herbs used in commercial “smudge sticks” or “sage bundles,” and the rituals performed with them by non-Natives, are rarely the actual materials or ceremonies used by traditional Native Americans. Use of these objects have also been adopted in some forms into a number of modern belief systems, including many forms of New Age and eclectic Neopagan spirituality. This has been protested against by Native activists as a form of cultural misappropriation, and care is needed to distinguish smudging from other practices involving smoke, which have completely different cultural protocols.

Smudging “kits” are often sold commercially, by companies such as Anthropologie, Sephora, World Market, Amazon and Walmart, despite traditional prohibitions against the sale of spiritual medicines like white sage. These may include bundles of a single herb or a combination of several different herbs; often these herbs are not found bundled together in traditional use, and their use is not universal to all, or even most, Native cultures. In some Native American cultures the burning of these herbs is prohibited. Other commercial items may contain herbs not native to North America, or not indigenous to the region where they are being used, as well as substances that are toxic when burnt.

Native American and First Nations students in college dorms have at times faced harassment and been forbidden from burning herbs for ceremonial reasons due to university fire prevention policies that prohibit the burning of candles or incense in college dorm rooms. This has raised issues around the religious freedom of Native Americans.  In another account, a Native American in Cincinnati became ordained by the Universal Life Church in order to fulfill the requirement that only clergy members could perform smudging ceremonies as part of the prayer ritual for other Native Americans in area hospitals.

What does smudging do?

Smudging is traditionally a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place. There are four elements involved in a smudge: The container, traditionally a shell representing water, is the first element.

So what are the four elements of smudging?

In some cultures, four elements are represented in parts of the ceremony: fire in the burning of the sacred herbs, earth in the herbs themselves, air in the feather used to fan the smoke or the smoke itself, and water in the vessel to carry the herbs.

Is incense a type of smudging?

Incense is still used today in the Roman Catholic Church and other religions for purification. Native elders teach that the smoke of dried sage clears negative energy and restores harmony.

What to do during smudging?

How to cleanse your house or space to clear negative energy

  1. Gather your tools and have an exit strategy. 
  2. Set your intention and say a mantra or request.
  3. Light up. 
  4. Slowly walk around your space. 
  5. Be safe. 
  6. Extinguish your sage.
  7. Tip ….. You may be wondering what’s the best time of day to sage your house. You can sage your home at night or during the day. What’s most important is that you sage your home when you feel it needs to be done, or if you feel negative, sluggish, anxious, or stressed.

Smudging 101

Smudging is a way to energetically cleanse a space to invite positive energy. When smudging a space, you burn plant material (but there are alternatives if you can’t tolerate the smoke). The smoke fills and purifies the environment. As the smoke rises, it takes your wishes and intentions and mingles them with the universe as a way to connect heaven, earth, and humanity. Burning aromatic herbs and resins was practiced in antiquity and is found in many cultures and spiritual religions. Smudging, though, is primarily associated with Indigenous traditions in the United States.

Gather Your Materials

Before you begin the ceremony to sage your house, it’s important to take a couple of other steps. First, tidy up your home. Then, take your time to gather materials for the ritual. The mindfulness of a smoke ritual begins when you collect your supplies, so practice this with ease and care. Do your best to slow down and not rush through this first step.

Keep the ritual materials sacred by using them only for space clearing. You can store your other materials on your shrine or altar. If you are gathering materials to sage your house from negative energy for the first time, look for a smudge stick that has bundled materials that appeal to your senses, such as rose, mugwort, rosemary, and more. Besides a smudge stick, here are more supplies you will need to sage a house.

Candle and Matches

It’s recommended to have a candle nearby to relight the smudge stick during the smudging ceremony. Matches or a lighter is used to light the candle. You will light the smudge stick with the candle flame.

Fireproof Container

It’s useful to have a fireproof container like a small clay bowl to hold underneath the smudge stick to catch any ashes or embers. It’s tradition to use an abalone shell for this, which also brings into your home a beneficial water element that’s important for good feng shui. The container (bowl or plate) or shell should only be used for smudging ceremonies.

Bowl of Sand, Salt or Dirt

A bowl of sand is a must. It is used to properly extinguish the smudge stick safely after the ritual is complete.

Before You Begin the Smudging Ceremony

Allow enough space and time for the ritual so you don’t feel rushed. If possible, meditate for at least five minutes to calm your mind and heart. 

It’s calming to smudge a home by yourself. But, if anyone else is present during this smudging ceremony, you can include them in the ritual. Prepare some other space-clearing tools that they can use while you are smudging. For instance, they can work with sound and ring bells.

Remember when performing a space clearing, your intention is key. Take some time to contemplate what your wishes are for your home and family. When you clear your house, there’s a vacuum that’s created. You want to welcome your intentions into the newly cleared and open space.

Smudging the Space

Now that you have all your tools and preparations in place, you can begin the smudging ritual. 

Start at the front door of the home and light your smudge stick. Then, begin to move slowly around the home. Move mindfully and with care, walking clockwise around the entire interior perimeter of the home. Be sure to allow the smoke to drift into even the hidden spaces, like inside closets, basements, and dark corners. If there are stairs, just go up or down when you encounter them so you can smudge the upper or lower levels in the same manner. Then keep moving clockwise until you meet the stairs again. Then continue to go down or up the stairs and resume smudging on the main floor. 

Moving around a space like this is called “circumambulation.” It’s a practice that’s been done for centuries in ancient cultures to make a space more sacred.

If you feel comfortable doing so, there are things you can say when you sage your house. It’s helpful to chant a mantra or a prayer that is meaningful to you as a way to fill the space with more cleansing vibrations.

Closing the Ceremony

When you arrive back at the front door, chant your final mantra or prayer. Visualize the entire home filled with bright white sunlight. Then speak your intention one last time to close the smudging ceremony.

A smudging ritual is a beautiful and effective technique to clear a space. You’ll know if smudging worked because you will likely feel better after each ritual. A smudging ritual can be done annually, once a season, or more often. It’s especially powerful to perform a space clearing as part of the cleaning process when you first move into a new home.