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Smudging (burning herbs and plant resins for medicinal and spiritual use) has been used since ancient times for healing and to clear the build-up of emotional or spiritual negativity.
Smudging is often viewed as some sort of magical practice, however recent studies have shown that there is scientific evidence that medicinal smoke is a powerful antiseptic that can purify the air of 94% of harmful bacteria for up to 24 hours.
The electromagnetic field (aura) around our body, as well as the energy in our environment, can become blocked with harmful positive ions that can make us feel fatigued, sluggish and burnt out.
Burning sage or other herbs neutralizes the positive charge and releases large amounts of negative ions into the atmosphere. This means that our own energy, and the energy around us, will feel lighter and freer.
It is also the reason that we feel like we could “cut the tension with a knife” during an argument, or if someone is in a bad mood. A build up of positive ions due to stress, anger or any form of tension releases positive ions and causes the energy around us to become stagnant. Burning herbs turns the positive ions back to negative ones, and therefore, the practice purifies and cleanses the atmosphere.
Although smudging and similar practices have been classed as “new age” or dismissed as fantasy or spiritual nonsense by those attempting to discredit them, research is scientifically proving that there are great benefits to the rituals that the Native Americans (along with many other indigenous groups) have inherently known of and practiced with faith throughout time.
Burning herbs is a popular method of purification in many religions and cultures. Growing up with religion, I became accustomed to smudging, as frankincense was burned in churches. Incense is commonly burned in Asia and in Buddhist temples (read here), and the Incas burned palo santo wood. It has been a tradition in South America for hundreds of years.
The Native Americans ritualistically smudge using sacred herbs, and their technique is known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing. The most common herbs used include cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco—and they are known as the Four Manido.
Once the sacred plant is burned, the cloud of smoke that emanates is used to prepare for prayer ceremonies, rituals, and purification. Smudging is believed to heighten the sensitivity of healers, or the medicine men, so that they achieve an enhanced state of mind and can effectively assess and treat illness.
Not only is smudging used in spiritual practices, but it can also have medicinal benefits for those who are affected by poor air quality. This means it can help those who suffer from asthma, headaches, lung problems, and respiratory issues, as well as general coughs and colds.
Sage is one of the most popular herbs used for smudging. The word sage stems from the Latin word salvia, which translates to “healthy” or “to heal.”
Studies have also shown that burning sage increases clarity and awareness, heightens wisdom, improves moods and enhances memory, and quickens the senses. (It is no coincidence that the word sage is also used to describe someone steeped in wisdom and humility.)
How to smudge with sage:
Burning sage is known to dispel negative energy—or to cleanse, purify and protect our body, mind, and spirit, as well as our environment.
Bundled white sage is the easiest to use and is available for purchase online, or from most local herb or health stores.
The smoke from the sage attaches to any negative energy in the air, and as the smoke dissipates and clears, it carries the energy with and transmutes it from negative to positive. Sage changes the ionic composition in the air, so we will sense the difference in the atmosphere immediately.
Before burning sage, we can keep in mind the intention of what we want to achieve. If there is a particular energy we want to erase from the atmosphere, we can focus our awareness on it, so that the cleansing is strengthened and the protection is enhanced.
When we light the sage, a flame might occur. If this happens, we can gently blow on the flame or waft your hand near the flame, until only the embers are glowing and the sage is producing a smoky trail. The smoke is what clears and removes negativity, not the flame. It is common to have to relight sage a few times during the ritual.
Once we have lit the sage, we can first smudge ourselves by slowly waving the sage around our body, starting at the floor, and then moving it up over our head and around us in circles. When finished, the sage can be placed with the burning side facing down in a fireproof bowl. We can allow our intuition to guide us to where the sage needs to travel.
As we walk around each room, we may find we are compelled to remain in certain areas longer than others. This is where the energy is densest. This practice shouldn’t be hurried so allow the sage to remain burning for as long as it feels necessary. Sage needs to be burning for approximately one hour to be fully effective.
When moving with the sage, we can pay extra attention to windows, doors, and any other openings. We should ensure we don’t directly inhale the sage while we are moving around. If we don’t wish to walk around with the sage, an alternative option is purchasing a sage holder to rest the sage in while it burns.
I would recommend burning sage at the beginning of each new week to clear out the old and make way for the new. We can also burn it at the change of a season or at the start of the winter or summer solstice. Leave at least one window or door open to allow the smoke to pass through.
Sage has a masculine energy, and incense has a feminine energy, so once we have burned sage we can light an incense stick to balance the two energies.