The Ancient Art of Smudging
Purify yourself and your home with a traditional Native American practice.
Mystics say the Native American practice of smudging, or purifying a room with the smoke of sacred herbs, can help clear negative energy from a space. And the apparent benefits are steeped in science—when burned, sage and other herbs release negative ions, which research has linked to a more positive mood.
To practice smudging at home, it’s important to be respectful and learn how to handle the herbs according to traditional protocols, says Cat Criger, aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto. When done properly, smudging can be a way to connect with Native American culture, he notes.
“To understand the protocol means you have to learn something about aboriginal people. So in a sense the medicines are working in a kind way, saying ‘learn about me and we can respect each other and we can walk together,’ ” he says. Native American medicines must be treated with reverence, so once you’ve acquired the herbs, clear out a bookshelf or an honored place in your home that is above waist height to store them. You may want to find birch baskets to keep them in.
Before you begin, open a window or door. Place the herbs in an abalone shell, or a clay bowl, and light them with a wooden match. Then gently blow out the flame, letting the material continue to smolder.
“Take that smoke and metaphorically wash your hands in the smoke, take some over your eyes, your ears, your heart, and your brain,” Criger says. “Breathe a little bit in, and waft a little bit over your body.”
Once finished, you can leave the bowl in a safe place and let it burn, filling the room with fragrant smoke. Treat any leftover ashes with intention. A proper way to dispose of them is to take them outdoors and leave them on the earth, says Criger.
“We are not supposed to carry or keep those ashes,” he says. “It’s what’s left over from that ceremony of cleansing yourself. Some of our spiritual beliefs are that what you clean off goes somewhere and it’s contained in those ashes and it should be put out.”
If you have moved into a new place, or have had an argument in your home, you might want to give it a smudge to cleanse the air. To prepare the room, cover mirrors, close windows, open doors (including cupboards), and turn off all electronics.
If burning sage, separate the stems, leaves, and buds, then crush the leaves into a tight ball. Light it with a match, then blow it out, and waft the smoke through the room.
“You start on the left side of the door and you stay to the left all the way through the house or apartment, while praying the whole time. With the smoke you ask for the good spirits to stay and the negative spirits to go away,” says Eddy Robinson, Ojibwa cultural educator and founder of Morningstar River, which provides aboriginal culture education. “When you get to the front, you shoot the smoke out the front door and then you wait a minute or two. Then you go outside and you put the ashes of the sage on the doorstep, and that is to protect the entrance. And then after that you put on a feast for the house.”
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