Most people are familiar with sage, Palo Santo, and other herbal bundles used in smoke cleansing rituals. But that doesn’t mean they understand what the ritual is for, how to properly use the bundle for cleansing, or even the many uses behind each herb. I’ve been burning incense, sage, and other herbs for years, and I still have a lot to learn.
“Smudging” is the form of smoke cleansing that is most familiar. Indigenous peoples in North America have long used white sage, as well as other herbs such as cedar, tobacco, yarrow, and sweet grass, in traditional medicinal and spiritual ceremonies. The term smudging itself is deep rooted within the culture of Indigenous peoples in North America. Before the Religious Freedom Act of 1978, these practices were only retained and passed down through the generations in secret. Brave practitioners kept these traditions alive at great risk to themselves and their communities.
Since then, the commercialization of smudging has had many unfortunate side effects. From cultural appropriation, to irresponsible wild harvesting, to negating the many other forms of smoke cleansing rituals, some of the true meaning of these practices has been watered down in the wake of them becoming popular with people outside the Indigenous Nations.
It’s ok to be interested in the goals and outcomes of smudging, but it can be done without appropriating another culture’s sacred practices. Some practices focus on connecting with the spirit world. Others provide purification or help with eliminating negative energy. Still others are performed to create a sacred space.
Burning botanicals, resins, wood, and the like for health and spiritual purposes is an ancient practice, and it can be found in a wide variety of cultures and faiths around the world. The extensive records of smoke cleansing in cultures throughout the world makes this practice inclusive and accessible.
Interested in smoke cleansing rituals? I highly recommend looking at your own individual culture, community, faith, and heritage to identify herbal allies that are more aligned with the self when seeking out smoke cleansing.
Lately, I’ve been obsessed with mugwort and verbena. Mugwort was initially introduced to me in tea and tincture form. I fell in love with it for it’s properties that are said to encourage dreaming - especially lucid dreaming. This plant, native to the British Isles, found its way into many cultures for many different uses.
Some Native American peoples have used mugwort on their bodies to keep away ghosts, or worn it as a necklace to keep from dreaming of the dead. Roman soldiers used it in their sandals to keep their feet from getting tired. There are even stories of John the Baptist adorning himself with a mugwort girdle for protection.
Verbena has resonated with me lately as I find myself on a journey to deepen my connection to self and the world around me. Verbena was introduced to England in the 1700’s, and the deciduous bushes flourished. In its native Peru and Chile, verbena is reported to help us connect with our raw emotions, as well as facilitate strong communication and trust. Burning verbena helps purify and protect an area. Also known as vervain, verbena has strong antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s easy to see why this herb has been an important part of herbal rituals and ceremonies!
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