The Art of Smudging
The Smudging Ceremony
Smudging by Elaine Lunham
Smudging: How to do it -- how not to do it
Michelle Chihacou White Puma Klein-Hass
I came across a very interesting article from "Shaman's Drum" which was
reprinted for Vision Quest Bookstore. I will attempt to convey the gist of it,
along with my views, as a student of the Ways of the Teneh, about it. Smudging
is a way of using the smoke from burning herbs as a way to cleanse the body, an
object, or a given area of negative influences. I myself use smudging to
"cleanse" crystals before using them in jewelry projects I may do, and for
protecting my home from some recent "bad vibe"-producing events. (landlord
troubles!) I imagine that the skillful use of the proper herbs could help in
warding and banishing ceremonies as well, if used properly and with reverence.
The three most used plant material for smudging are sage of all types, cedar and
- There are two major genii and several varieties of each genus of Sage that
are used for smudging. Salvia, or the herb sage used for cooking, comes
in two major varieties: S. officinalis, commonly known as Garden Sage,
and S. apiana, commonly known as White Sage. Salvia varieties
have long been acknowledged as healing herbs, reflected in the fact that its
genus name comes from the Latin root word salvare, which is the verb
"to heal" or "to save." Artemisia is the genus commonly considered
"Sagebrush", and is more common in the wilds out here in California. There are
two major varieties to the Artemisia genus: A. californica or
Common Sagebrush, and A. vulgaris or Mugwort. There are many other
varieties of both Salvia and Artemisia, and all are effective in
smudging. Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out evil spirits,
negative thoughts and feelings, and to keep Gan'n (negative entities) away
from areas where ceremonials take place. In the Plains Sweatlodge, the floor
of the structure is strewn with sage leaves for the participants to rub on
their bodies during the sweat. Sage is also used in keeping sacred objects
like pipes or Peyote wands safe from negative influence. In the Sioux nation,
the Sacred Pipe is kept in a bundle with sage boughs. I would think special
crystals could be so protected this way as well.
- True cedar is of the Thuja and Libocedrus genii. Some
Junipers (Juniperus genus) are also called "cedar", thus complicating
things some. Some Juniper varieties are cleansing herbs, especially
J. monosperma, or Desert White Cedar. But for smudging, the best is
Western Red Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and California Incense Cedar (Libocedrus
descurrens). Cedar is burnt while praying to the Great Spirit (Usen', the
Source -- also known to Plains nations as Wakan Tanka) in meditation, and also
to bless a house before moving in as is the tradition in the Northwest and
Western Canada. It works both as a purifier and as a way to attract good
energy in your direction. It is usually available in herb stores in chipped
form, which must be sprinkled over a charcoal in a brazier. I like a piece of
charcoaled mesquite for this purpose, rather than the commercial charcoal
- Very important to the Sioux and Cherokee nations, its botanical name is
Hierochloë odorata. In these tribes, the sweetgrass is braided like hair
braids. It could be burnt by lighting the end of it, or (more economically) by
shaving little bits of it onto charcoal in a brazier. Again, use charcoaled
Mesquite (I believe it comes packaged for barbecue use under the brand name
"Red Arrow") to burn it, not pressed charcoal tablets. Sweetgrass is burnt
after smudging with sage, to welcome in good influences after the bad had been
driven out. Sweetgrass is very rare today, and traditional Plains people have
been attempting to protect the last of it. Myself, I believe that Cedar, which
is not endangered, can safely be used this way. Also Piñon pine needles (used
more frequently by the Southwest Teneh, like the Navajo and Apache as well as
the Pueblo people and the Zuni) and Copal (used by the Yaqui and in ancient
times by the Azteca and the Maya) have similar effect. The three mentioned
here are readily available either through gathering yourself or, in the case
of copal resin, from any good herb shop.
- Using Smudging
- Burn clippings of the herb in a brazier... not a shell as some "new age"
shamanic circles do... it is an insult to White Painted Woman (The Goddess) to
do this, especially with the abalone shell which is especially sacred to Her.
If the herb is bundled in a "wand", you can also light the end of the wand
that isn't woody and use that. I like the latter way. Direct the smoke with
your hands or with a Peyote (feather) wand over the person or thing you wish
to smudge. If you can see auras, look for discolored places in the aura and
direct the healing smoke towards those places on the patient's body. For
cleansing a house, first offer cedar smoke to the four directions outside the
house. Then, take a sage bough and go throughout the inside of the house,
making sure the smoke penetrates every nook and cranny of the house. It might
help also, if you have a power animal, to visualize your animal doing these
things, to also dance your animal, and if you have a power song, to sing that
too. Then finally, run through the house with a white candle that is well
protected, to "light up" the house. Careful not to burn it down when you do
- Final Thoughts
- Smudging should be done with care, with reverence, and in an attitude of
LOVE. Show your respect and honor to the plants that Usen' has given us for
our healing, and they will return the favor by keeping us well and free from
disease and negative energy. Aloe Vera plants, though not to be burnt, are
good for the cleansing angle as well. Keep one or more potted Aloe Veras in
the house (modern varieties are too tender to plant in anything but full shade
outside) in organic (wood or ceramic, never plastic or metal) pots. To honor
the plant when you transplant it, sprinkle the roots with corn meal and smudge
it with cedar once it is transplanted. The spirit of Aloe Vera is a good
protective spirit, and if you burn yourself, can also be used to heal your
skin. Be sure to ask the plant's permission before cutting part of the
leaf off for the healing juice. If you don't, the protective power of the
plant will cease, and you will be left with but an inert houseplant... and
perhaps some bad karma to boot.
Hi-dicho, it is finished.... ENJU!
THE ART OF SMUDGING
Traditional Cleansing Ceremony
Smudging is the burning of certain herbs to create a cleansing smoke bath,
which is used to purify people, ceremonial and ritual space, and ceremonial
tools and objects. Many differing cultures and peoples have their own methods
and herbal mixtures for this purpose.
Native American Indians use a variety of smudging mixtures in this way. The
principle herbs used are sage, cedar or juniper, lavender and sweet grass. Pure
tobacco is also used by some Plains tribes, and copal in South and Central
The herbs are burnt on their own or in mixtures, depending on tradition and
required effect. Sage (Artemisia tridentia) is not the same as the European
varieties and is indigenous to the Americas. It is used as a cleansing and
purifying agent, the effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies. The
powerful cleansing vibration it emits when burned, is used to purify the subtle
energies of one"s aura, as well as personal and ceremonial space or healing and
ceremonial tools, such as pipes and crystals.
Cedar needles are used in a similar way to cleanse and bring balance to the
emotions and to the male/female (yin/yang) elements. To clear one's actions and
to promote forgiveness, lavender flowers can be added to the mixture to bring
the quality of spiritual blessing.
Sweetgrass, which comes from the northern swamps, and is dried and braided into
fragrant-smelling plaits can also be added to the mixtures, but it is often
burned alone after the sage or smudge mixture has been used. Sweetgrass brings
sweetness and beauty into one's life and surroundings. One can offer a prayer to
this effect as the braid is lit.
The process of smudging involves placing the individual herb or mixture of herbs
into a shell, or fireproof bowl or dish. The mixture can burn quite hot so it is
important that whatever is used can take the heat without cracking. Some
traditions will not use shells as they say the water element of the shell
nullifies the fire element. Others use the shell to bring in the balance of the
elements (i.e. fire, smoke or air, shell for water and the herbs themselves as
the earth element.)
The mixture is lit and helped to burn by the use of a feather or fan. Blowing
into the mixture is not encouraged as it is seen as blowing one's own negativity
into the mixture. the mixture is then wafted around one's self like a smoke
bath. There are different ways of doing this and one finds a variety of
techniques and explanations depending on traditions and teachings. The way for
someone not attached to a particular tradition is a matter of personal
preference and intuition.
One way would be to start at the left foot (left being the receiving side of the
body) and to move the smoke up the left leg with the use of the fan or feather.
proceed up the central chakra line and around the top of the head, back down the
centre of the body, moving the smoke outwards to the sides and around the back.
Finish off by wafting the smoke down the right leg (right being the giving side
of the body) and out and away from the right foot. Some traditions would do this
four times, as four is the number of balance and harmony.
Feathers and wing fans aid in the cleansing process and have the effect of
combing the human aura, therefore adding to the cleansing. Particular feathers
bring in the qualities and medicine of the bird of origin. Some would insist
that the movement of the fan should be in keeping with the movement of the
particular bird's wing in flight.
Cleansing ceremonial or ritual space before and after the event is an essential
part of spiritual hygiene. The initial smudging is for the purpose of purifying
the space and participants and for banishing any unwanted energies. The final
smudge is to cleans any negative vibrations and energies attracted or created
during the proceedings. It is also a good thing to do on a regular basis for
both one's self and one's living space, to maintain individual and domestic
Some native teachers of my acquaintance have been very surprised to find that
many healers, masseurs, therapists and others involved in similar occupations do
not use this or similar cleansing techniques in their workspace and for
themselves, both before and after healing consultations. One commented that she
had visited a so-called healing room that was more like a psychic sewer, due to
the lack of any such cleansing.
Good practice for the use of smudge when healing is to smudge the space, the
people in the space, including one's self, the patient and any tools, (such as
crystals). When the healing is completed, smudge self, any assistants, tools,
patient and finish with the space. In this way one deals with negative energies
and vibrations in much the same way as antiseptic and disinfectant deals with
Smudging mixtures of several varieties are available on the British market, both
from shops and mail order. Some are sold in the form of smudge sticks, which can
be easier to use, although they have a tendency to lose their vibration after
being used a few times. The smell of the mixture is wonderful and the effects
are almost instantly noticeable. Happy smudging.
© Copyright Sacred Hoop Magazine 1993
The Smudging Ceremony
Adrienne Borden and Steve Coyote
Our Native elders have taught us that before a person can be healed or
heal another, one must be cleansed of any bad feelings, negative thoughts,
bad spirits or negative energy - cleansed both physically and spiritually.
This helps the healing to come through in a clear way, without being
distorted or sidetracked by negative "stuff" in either the healer or the
client. The elders say that all ceremonies, tribal or private, must be
entered into with a good heart so that we can pray, sing, and walk in a
sacred manner, and be helped by the spirits to enter the sacred realm.
Native people throughout the world use herbs to accomplish this. One
common ceremony is to burn certain herbs, take the smoke in one's hands and
rub or brush it over the body. Today this is commonly called "smudging." In
Western North America the three plants most frequently used in smudging are
sage, cedar, and sweetgrass.
There are many varieties of sage, and most have been used in smudging.
The botanical name for "true" sage is Salvia (e.g. Salvia officinalis,
Garden Sage, or Salvia apiana, White Sage). It is interesting to note that
Salvia comes from the Latin root salvare, which means "to heal." There are
also varieties of sage which are of a species separate from Salvin Artemusia.
Included here are sagebrush (e.g. Artemisia californica) and mugwort
(Artemisia vulgaris). We have seen both Salvia and Artemisia
sub-species used in smudging.
Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out bad spirits,
feelings, or influences, and also to keep bad spirits from entering the area
where a ceremony takes place. In Plains nations, the floor of the sweat
lodge is frequently covered with sage, and participants rub the leaves on
their bodies while in the sweat. Sage is also commonly spread on the ground
in a lodge or on an altar where the pipe touches the earth. Some nations
wrap their pipes in sage when they are placed in pipe-bundles, as sage
purifies objects wrapped in it. Sage wreaths are also placed around the head
and wrists of Sundancers.
There is some potential confusion here about the terms used to name
plants, mainly because in some areas, junipers are known as "cedar" - as in
the case of Desert White Cedar (Juniperus monosperina). This doesn't
mean that J. monosperina wasn't used as a cleansing herb, though; in
the Eastern U.S., its relative, Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus virginia),
was used ceremonially. However, in the smudging ceremonies we have seen or
conducted ourselves, Western Red Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and
California Cedar Incense (Libocedrus descurrens) were used ... not
varieties of juniper.
Cedar is burned while praying either aloud or silently. The prayers rise
on the cedar smoke and are carried to the Creator. Cedar is also spread
along with sage on the floor of the sweat lodges of some tribes. Cedar
branches are brushed in the air to cleanse a home during the House Blessing
Ceremony of many Northwest Indian nations. In the Pacific Northwest, the
people burn cedar for purification in much the same way as sage - it drives
out negative energy; but it also brings in good influences. The spirit of
cedar is considered very ancient and wise by Pacific Northwest tribes, and
old, downed cedar trees are honored with offerings and prayers.
One of the most sacred plants for the Plains Indians, sweetgrass is a
tall wild grass with a reddish bas and perfume-like, musty odor. It grows
mainly on the eastern side of the Rockies in Montana and adjacent Alberta,
Canada. It also shows up in some small areas of Wyoming and South Dakota.
Its botanical name is Hierochloe odorata. Some common names for it
are Seneca grass, holy grass and vanilla grass. We have been told that a
variety of vanilla grass grows in North Central California. But, how similar
it is to the Plains variety we don't know.
On the Plains, sweetgrass is usually braided together in bunches as a
person's hair is braided, although friends have said they have seen it
simply bunched and wrapped in cloth. Either way, it is usually burned by
shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the end and waving it around,
letting the smoke spread through the air. This latter method is how we were
taught to burn sweetgrass in the sweat lodge - allowing the purifying smoke
to get to all parts of the lodge.
We were taught that it was good to burn sweetgrass after the sage or
cedar had driven out the bad influences. Sweetgrass brings in the good
spirits and the good influences. As with cedar, burning sweetgrass while
praying sends prayers up to the Creator in the smoke. High Hollow Horn says
in the The Sacred Pipe "This smoke from the sweetgrass will rise up
to you, and will spread throughout the universe. Its fragrance will be known
by the wingeds, the four-leggeds, and the two leggeds, for we understand
that we are all relatives; may all our brothers be tame and not fear us!"
Sweetgrass is also put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage
to purify and protect sacred objects.
Sweetgrass is very rare today, its territory severely cut by
development, cattle-grazing, and wheat fields - and tradition Indians in the
northern Plains are trying to protect the last remaining fields. The best
way for most folks to get sweetgrass is to buy it at Native American retail
outlets. This gives support to Indians who can help the fields from being
To do a smudging ceremony, burn the clippings of these herbs (dried),
rub your hands in the smoke, and then gather the smoke and bring it into
your body, or - rub it onto yourself; especially onto any area you feel
needs spiritual healing. Keep praying all the while that the unseen powers
of the plant will cleanse your spirit. Sometimes, one person will smudge
another, or a group of people, using hands - or more often a feather - to
lightly brush the smoke over the other person(s). We were taught to look for
dark spots in a person's spirit-body. As one California Indian woman told
us, she "sees" a person's spirit-body glowing around them, and where there
are "dark or foggy parts," she brushes the smoke into these "holes in their
spirit-body." This helps to heal the spirit and to "close up" these holes.
Recently we did a "light" house cleansing for a friend. We use the term
"light", for this is a relatively simple ceremony as opposed to some that
are more lengthy and complicated. Our friend had some serious emotional and
relationship problems, and he felt they had left a heavy and dark
atmosphere. First, we prayed together to the Creator and to the spirits for
help. We then, burned sage, purified ourselves, and took the sage to all the
corners, closets, and rooms of the house. We pushed the smoke with our hands
to cleanse every bit of space - lingering over dark or cold spots that
We used sage first in order to drive out the bad influences. Then we
purified ourselves with cedar and, then repeated the cleansing process
throughout the house with that. Then sweetgrass was used in the same manner
to bring in good influences. All the time we prayed for help in this
cleansing. Finally, we took a candle over the whole house and pushed its
light into every corner. The People of the Pacific Northwest Coast taught
this "lighting-up" of a house to us. We've been doing this type of house
cleansing for ten years, and it never fails to "clear the air."
One more note about smudging. It is very popular among many novices to
use abalone shells in smudging. There are many Native elders who are pleased
to see so many new folds smudging themselves, but - some are concerned that
abalone shells are being used when burning the herbs. On the Pacific
Northwest Coast, for example, some holy men have said that abalone shells
represent Grandmother Ocean, and that they should be used in ceremonies with
water, not burning.
We know enough Native elders in the Northwest, the Plains, and
California who don't use abalone shells - but instead clay or stone bowls -
that we don't personally feel comfortable using a shell.
In any case, smudging is a ceremony that must be done with care. We are
entering into a relationship with the unseen powers of these plants, and
with the spirits of the ceremony. As with all good relationships, there has
to be respect and honor if the relationship is to work.
--Adrienne Borden is of Chippewa heritage, and Steve Coyote is of
Smudging by Elaine Lunham
Virginia Graverette Pigeon, Tribal Elder of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe,
member of the Cedar Women's Society, Elder of the Mide Lodge. With these
credentials, I realized that Virginia holds a lot of wisdom, guidance, and
For as long as I can remember, I had heard of the Anishinabe people
smudging with sacred herbs such as tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar. I
always wondered the meaning behind it (though I had my own ideas).
One day I went to Virginia, seeking answers to my questions, trying to
gain insight and knowledge so that one day I could pass this on to my
children and their children. Virginia began by saying that some people
follow the Traditional Way and some follow the Christian Way and that one
way respects the aspects of both ways. Both know one God.
Virginia said that there are a lot of stories and legends that have been
brought down from generation to generation. She said that there are a lot
of reasons why we should smudge and that it is a good thing to smudge,
either with one of the sacred herbs or all of them together.
She said: In the first place, tobacco (a-say-ma) was a gift of the Four
Manido (Spirits of the Four Directions). It was the father of Nanabush who
gave the tobacco (ah-say-ma) and shared the custom of smoking with his son
after their epic battle in war, as a symbol of peace. Nanabush in turn
passed on the custom to the Anishnabe as a ceremony. Thereafter, the
Anishnabe smoked the Pipe of Peace before great councils, after war, and
before other ceremonies. The Anishnabe adopted the custom and made it part
of their daily lives to compose their minds and spirits. It is said that it
will chase away feelings that are bad or negative and bring on thoughts that
are good or positivie.
In the second place, tobacco (ah-say-ma) was in the nature of an incense,
sweet to the taste and fragrant to smell. No other plant is endowed with
such qualities. Cedar was offered to the fire to smudge the lodge and
people. It is also used to waft the smoke to ward away sickness.
There are no absolutes with sage and sweetgrass.
In the above medicine wheel which we convey as the wheel of life, there
are Four Directions. When we are born, life begins in the East. The
teenage years are in the South. Then mid-life is in the West. When we
reach the North, we are grandmas and grandpas and nearly ready to go to the
Spirit World as we have done our many deeds on Mother Earth. The journey
does not end in the North because we go to the Spirit World and then the
We gain knowledge with our tobacco (ah-say-ma) and we grow spiritually.
Our hearts feel and our spiritual eyes have to see what our Creator wants us
to learn. We feel the knowledge in our soul, and we know it comes from our
Creator. When we pray, we get answers, then we are nurtured and we grow
Smudging helps us center ourselves with the four sacred herbs mentioned:
tobacco (ah-say-ma), sweetgrass, sage, and cedar. We begin by using a shell
or bowl with a fan or feather. We then smudge the room, slowly walking
clockwise around the perimeter of the room, fanning the smudge pot, keeping
it lit and wafting the smoke about. Smudge any medicine tool you will be
using such as pipe, jewelry, outfit, etc.
It is a good practice to smudge each person in a group, circle, ceremony,
and lodge. Starting from the East and holding the smudge pot lit, each
person can bathe themselves in the smoke. Many people smudge the heart area
first, next the head area, and then the arms, then downward toward the
legs. This isn't the only way you can smudge. It isn't wrong to smudge
another way. We can purify and cleanse fairly regularly in this day and age
with so much sickness and bad feelings around.
For more information on legends and stories, a good book to read would be
Ojibwa Heritage by Basil Johnson or ask an elder and offer tobacco.