Where does smudging come from?
Smudging, or the use of plants, woods, and resins to cleanse or uplift a space, has been used for thousands of years in almost all cultures around the world. The core of this practice is basically the same no matter the culture. What changes are the plants used for smudging, as each region would use herbs, wood, and resins found locally.
The use of smoke cleansing or resin burning is usually done to connect with the spirit world or to purify a space or people in preparation to a ceremony.
In South America, the use of Palo Santo is predominant as this tree is found in those regions and recognized as a sacred tree.
In Mexico, local plants are harvested and used fresh. They are tied into a large bundle and beaten on the body. This practice is also done before a sweat lodge. This process is called a ‘limpia’ (spiritual cleansing) and is part of the curanderismo system (traditional Mexican healing).
In North America, indigenous tribes have used sage, cedar, and sweetgrass as part of their ceremonies and healing practices.
Even the Catholic church burns resin at the beginning of the mass and sweeps the incense around the people as the priest walks down the aisle.
In India, they also burn resins and incense in temples and in-home altars. One of the earliest written documentation on smudging is from Hindu texts written in Sanskrit detailing the use of incense as a healing tool to support recovery from illness and to create a clean, peaceful, nurturing space in which to heal.
I won’t go into all the different practices around the world, but the burning of herbs, resins and woods has been part of almost every culture.
The difference between incense sticks and smudging sticks
Incense sticks are usually used to bring different aromas to a space and to help us enter into a certain state of mind. If one wishes to meditate, they would focus on scent and herbs which help relax the body and quiet the mind such as Sandalwood, Frankincense, Myrrh, etc.
If one wants to increase their creativity, orange and rosemary would be suitable.
Incense sticks are made of a blend of resins and herbs powdered and rolled on a stick or shaped into a cone. However, lower-quality incenses often have minimal plant material and uses synthetic fragrance oils which can trigger allergies and can include toxic ingredients.
What is often termed ‘smudging sticks’ are herbs, flowers, or wood wrapped in a bundle and dried.
If a person wishes to cleanse their space the most important factor is the use of natural herbs bundles, woods, or resins in unadulterated form. Incense sticks are not potent enough to cleanse a space of negative or stagnant energies.
Choosing the right burnable for the energies imprinted in the area (or geared towards your intended goal) is the second most important factor. Sage is only one option in a myriad of others.
Metaphysical Properties of Plants
Angelica – Very powerful protection herb – protects against negative energy and attracts positive energy; creates a barrier against negative energy. Promotes healing. Removes curses, hexes, or spells.
Bay Laurel – Purification, house and business blessing, and clearing confusion. Attracts romance.
Benzoin – Purification, prosperity, soothing tension, dispelling anger, diminishing irritability, relieving stress & anxiety, and overcoming depression. Promotes generosity and concentration. Good to burn while using the Tarot or for success in intellectual matters.
Cedar – Confidence, strength, power, money, protection, healing and purification.
Comfrey – Uses include money, safety during travel, and any Saturnian purpose. Use for workings involving stability, endurance, and matters relating to real estate or property. Put some in your luggage to help prevent loss or theft. Wear for travel safety and protection. Use the root in money spells and incenses.
Copal – Purification, Love
Dragon’s Blood – Protection, energy, and purification. Burn as incense to increase the potency of a spell. Has strong banishing powers against negative influences and bad habits.
Frankincense – Successful ventures, manifestation, cleansing, purification. Burn for protective work, consecration, and meditation.
Galangal – Burn as incense to remove evil spells and break curses. Carry for protection, to improve psychic abilities and to bring good health. Carry to court to make the judge or jury feel favorably inclined toward you. Wrap money around the root and it will multiply threefold.
Honey Amber – Protection from harm, outside influences, and psychic attacks. Mental clarity & focus. Transforming negative energy to positive energy.
Juniper – Banishes all things injurious to good health; attracts good, healthy energies and love.
Lavender – Love, protection, healing, sleep, purification, and peace. Promotes healing from depression.
Mugwort – Place around divination and scrying tools to increase their power or near the bed to enable astral travel. Use in sleep pillow or place in a sachet under your pillowcase to bring about prophetic dreams. I personally have found Mugwort to be very effective for moving spirits.
Myrrh – Spiritual opening, meditation, and healing. This herb has high psychic vibrations. Burn as a potent incense to bring peace and for the blessing of talismans, charms, and tools. Increases the power of any incense it is part of. Usually burned with Frankincense.
Palo Santo – Creativity, Clearing emotions, Curse removal
Patchouli – Use for love, fertility and money. Also helps to ground you and bring your consciousness back to the physical level. Burn to bring business growth.
Pine – Promotes clean breaks, new beginnings, prosperity, success, strength, grounding, and growth; Also used for cleansing, purification, and repelling negativity. Great for house and business blessing.
Prickly Ash Bark – Safe travel, fertility, removing spells and breaking hexes.
Rose – Divine love, close friendships, domestic peace/happiness, and lasting relationships.
Rosemary – Good health, improving memory, love/lust, protection
Sandalwood – Protection, helps in healing by aligning the chakras for better energy flow. Good for meditation, healing, and manifestation. Facilitates concentration.
Sage – For self-purification and dealing with grief and loss. Improves mental ability and bring wisdom. Promotes spiritual, mental, emotional & physical health and longevity. Removes negative energy.
Sweetgrass – Peace, Unity, Harmony
Sunflower – Energy, protection, power, joy, wisdom, and wishes.
Vetiver – Draws money and prosperity, love, and attraction; Overcomes obstacles, breaks hexes, and repels negativity. Place a small amount in cash registers to increase business. Burn to overcome evil spirits.
White Willow Bark – Brings blessings of the moon into one’s life and guards against negativity & evil forces. Used for lunar rituals, drawing or strengthening love, healing, and overcoming sadness. Willow is considered a sacred wishing tree.
Yerba Santa – Beauty, Healing, Intuition, Protection
Other Accessories Used in Smoke Cleansing
While it is not necessary to have, most people enjoy using an abalone shell and a feather as part of their smudging ritual. Rituals are often performed with the acknowledgment and calling forth of the elements (Air, Water, Fire, Earth). By using an abalone shell, you are bringing and representing the element of Water, the feather represents the Air, the smudging stick the Earth and the candle or lighter that lits your smudging stick represents the Fire element. The fifth element, Spirit, is represented by you as you open your heart and set your intention for the Ritual, calling forth Divine blessing and protection upon you and your space.
Other Tips and Suggestions for a Thorough Space Clearing
It is wise to open windows before smoke cleansing as a way to let the negative energies escape from the space. It can also get a bit smoky so it’s advisable to have some air circulation.
Some people like to smudge in a counterclockwise motion. Counterclock motion represents clearing and reversing, and so it assists in anchoring that intention during your ritual.
I also suggest after your space clearing, a second ritual for blessing and inviting the type of energies you wish in your space. To do this, you would select a gentler plant such as sweetgrass, rose, or lavender, and go around your space in a clockwise motion. This invites in love, peace, harmony (or any other intention appropriate for the space) to fill the void that has been created by the clearing of the stagnant energies.
It is important to spend a bit more time in areas of conflict or where we experience intense emotions. Soft fabric, carpets and mirrors also tend to anchor energies more easily as well. So going over your couch, bed and bathroom mirrors with more intention is often required. Please be careful of ashes dropping over soft furnishing.
Let’s also not forget our floors. We tend to bring in negative energies from outside or may have guests leaving undesired stuff during their visit, so including the cleansing of your floor once in a while is recommended. For that, I suggest using a bit of Florida water and an Anil Blue square in a bucket of warm water and mopping that stuff out!
When Should You Smudge?
I do not follow a regimented schedule, so you could smudge daily, weekly or monthly according to what goes on in your space. However, you should smudge after :
- Someone has been ill
- After a conflict or emotionally charged exchange
- When bringing new or used furniture into the house
- When moving (smudge your old space and your new one)
- When experiencing a string of bad luck
- At the end of the year or at the end of a certain period to close things and welcome a new cycle
Instructions for Space Clearing
1 – Gather your tools:
Smudging stick, dish or abalone shell to catch the ashes (and/or resins, herbs and incense burner for loose leaf)
A little bowl of sand if you need to extinguish the bundle. Do not extinguish with water or you may not be able to light the bundle again.
Lighter or matches and a tea light candle.
2 – Open the windows.
3 – Light the candle and do a little prayer or invocation of benevolent helping spirits to protect you and help you during the purification process. Set your intention (in other words, your wish or desired outcome)
4 – Light your bundle over the candle and allow the flame to burn 15-20 seconds, then blow the flame out.
5 – Using your hand or a feather, sweep the smoke around yourself and the space you are clearing. Move around the room or house counterclockwise, with the intention of sweeping away all the non-beneficial energies out a door or window. Re-ignite as needed. The smudging stick may stop burning on its own or you can extinguish it by pressing it in the sand.
6 – Optional* Mop the floors with Florida water and Anil Blue
7 – Optional* Using a different plant, such as sweetgrass or vetiver, go around the room or house in a clockwise motion and invite peace, harmony, and love to fill the space.
Gather Your Tools