The History of Smudging and How To Do It

The History of Smudging and How To Do ItWhen people speak of smudging, they usually are referring to burning sage to purify their homes and themselves. Some commercially available smudge wands contain various herbs, but there are some which are traditional. Smudging can help create sacred space, and is also useful in self purification. It is a Native American practice which many people in other spiritual communities have also adopted without recognizing their original intentions, ceremonies, or purposes. So this article is to help those who would use this practice to become more aware. Native teachings are a way of life, and not simply a practice.

Choosing Medicines

The traditional Four Sacred Medicines are Tobacco, Sage, Sweetgrass, and Cedar. As with all sacred herbs, it is worth the effort to purchase your spiritual supplies which have been grown and harvested in proper spiritual way, with respect, and without damage to the environment. Do seek out your purchases from the Native community for this reason. They must have integrity. Deliberately choose the Way of Earth, and the Sacred. If you pick them yourself, take only what you will need, with permission of the plant’s spirit, and with as little damage as possible to permit the plant to continue to grow and thrive. In many places these wild plants are becoming endangered.

Items To Use

Some may wish to use a fan or feather to both encourage their burning and direct the smoke, but you can use your hands. The bird people are close to the Creator, so a feather fan is appropriate to send on your prayers through the smoke. Be careful here too in how the feathers were taken – this too needs to have been done in a sacred way. Sacred items are customarily made from remains of the living world that have passed on naturally – without having caused harm to a living being. A shed feather, an empty shell on the beach, or a flat stone are appropriate for sacred use. Fireproof ceramic is also acceptable. When burning the medicines, you may wish to place a bit of sand or earth underneath to keep a shell or bowl from cracking and overheating when carried.


Keep your sacred medicines (herbs) in a safe dry place. Traditionally, you should wait four to seven days before touching the sacred herbs if you have used alcohol or drugs. I keep a special box with my items for smudging, including a Native wing fan that was gifted to me, and a small horsehair fired bowl. I chose the horsehair bowl as horses are especially sacred to me and it was made by Native hands. They are kept wrapped in red felt until they are used – a sacred color. You might wish to have a Birch box or basket just to keep your medicines in. Tip – a silica packet in the container that you keep your herbs in will keep them dry and fresh longer, and makes them burn easier.

The Ceremony

“The beginning is purification, that’s the first step. And purification means purification of body and mind. You don’t purify the body without cleansing the mind; that’s the way it works.” –Rolling Thunder, CHEROKEE

The Elders teach that all ceremonies must be entered into or begun with good intent. Part of this process also means taking care of our bodies and minds, because everything is interconnected. Purification begins before smudging through prayer and meditation, keeping thoughts pure. Our bodies should be kept healthy with sleep and good food, and staying away from substances that harm the body – such as alcohol and drugs. Smudging is a ritual cleansing of the mental mind, physical body, and emotion, but the spiritual direction of the act enables the cleansing to happen. It is recommended to smudge after healing work, having arguments, are depressed or not feeling well. Smudging disinfects the air as well as removing negative energies.

The ways and customs this may be used can vary. Some burn smudge within a shell, some a fireproof contained dedicated to that purpose, and in the case of a bundle, it may be allowed to burn out. Although some like to burn smudge on a charcoal tab, I prefer not to. It may take longer for the herbs to light and care for them to stay lit, but I feel the integrity of these plants should be maintained and kept in as pure a state as possible. Medicines are typically lit with a simple match. Do not blow on the smoldering herbs, as this is seen to blow away the special properties of the plant, and contaminate its pure energy with negativity from the mouth.

Make sure the smoke permeates the body when you smudge with your hands, feather, or fan; taking the sacred smoke into the nose, the eyes, the ears, the mouth, the hair, the hands, the heart, the body, and the bottom of the feet which walk on sacred Mother Earth. Some choose to pull the smoke over their backs, to ‘lighten their troubles.’ When smudging yourself, a group or space, offer the smoke to the four directions first, beginning in the East – calling the blessings and protection in.

The prayers are carried to the Creator along the smoke, but in addition to purification, one of its main purposes is to bring vision, aided by the aroma produced through burning. They bring us into a different state of mind permitting us to open the soul and go deeper into ourselves; awakening us and gaining new direction. Good spirits are said to like the scent of the medicines and are drawn to them, opening a doorway for them to lend their healing powers. It is used to create sacred space for ceremony, and to bless special items for ceremonial use.

When you are done smudging, you can let it burn down. As with candles, never leave anything burning unattended. Do not keep the ashes, as these are the remains of ceremony and any impurities are contained in them. Dispose of the ashes by giving them back to the Earth. You can also sprinkle them at your door, to protect the entrance to your home.

Again, this is just a small introduction to the practice of smudging. Be aware that practices vary from one Nation to another, but the sacredness of this practice and the herbs is universal.

Be sure to read part 2 of this article next week on the Four Sacred Medicines.

Be well! Many Blessings! Guest post by Alicia Rose.

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