Smudging – The science behind it
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. People commonly credit smudging as being just a Native American practice, but the use of rising smoke in spiritual rituals has been practiced across many cultures for thousands of years. Smudging is the name given to the ceremonial, daily act of cleansing and purification which uses a selection of herbs, often sage, which are normally bundled together with string to form a smudge stick before being ignited.
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. 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. The smoke that’s emitted is believed to cleanse negative energy and purify living spaces, as well as people and even objects like tools, furniture, and home decor. Similar to one washing their hands before a meal, it helps to cleanse a person in an energetic bath of aromatic smoke. It’s also believed to release negative ions, which has been linked in studies to a more positive mood and many other benefits. Negative ions are also created by the effects of sunlight and water – you’ve probably noticed a wonderful sense of calm when in nature, such as visiting a beach, waterfall or enjoying a walk in the woods.Burning herbs turns the positive ions back to negative ones Click To Tweet
Burning herbs is a popular method of purification in many religions and cultures. Incense is commonly burned in Asia and in Buddhist temples, 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 affectively 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 the memory and quickens the senses. (It is no coincidence that the word sage is also used to describe someone steeped in wisdom and humility.)
In high enough concentrations, negative ions can clear the air of mold spores, pollen, pet dander, odors, cigarette smoke, bacteria, viruses, dust and other hazardous airborne particles.
They do this by attaching to positively charged particles in large numbers which cause the germs, mold, pollen and other allergens to become too heavy to stay airborne. They fall to the floor, or attach to a nearby surface, removing them from the air you breathe while preventing them from causing health problems like respiratory issues.
Due to all of our electronic gadgets, including computers, TVs, washing machines and the like, as well as carpet and upholstery, our homes have become what some describe as “positive ion prisons.” That’s why negative ions that occur from smudging can be so beneficial in counteracting these effects.
Smudging your home, office, or even your body is kind of like taking an energetic shower, or perhaps even spending a day in the mountains, spending time breathing in the fresh air and scent of pine, which offers a direct positive effect on reducing stress levels.
Aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto, Cat Criger, says that when done properly,
smudging can also be a way to connect with Native American culture.
“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
Smudging is often viewed as some sort of magical practice Click To Tweet
‘learn about me and we can respect each other and we can walk together,’ ” he noted.
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.
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. If you think smudging is just some kind of “woo woo” with no science to back it up, think again. Research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology entitled Medicinal Smokes in 2006 found that burning smudge sticks has the ability to cleanse the surrounding air of harmful bacteria. The authors reported: “The most frequent medical indications for medicinal smoke are pulmonary (23.5%), neurological (21.8%) and dermatological (8.1%). A very large list of pathogenic bacteria was shown to be absent in an open room after a remarkable 30 days following treatment, leading the authors to conclude, “We have demonstrated that by using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space.”
Sage Smudge StickThe use of sage is for healing. The smoke is used to bless, cleanse and heal the person or object being smudged. Sage is used to ‘wash off’ the outside world when one enters ceremony or other sacred space. Objects are likewise washed off with sage medicine smoke to rid them of unwanted influences.The plants that are called sage can come from very different families of plants. True sages are in the genus of Salvia; this includes Salvia Officinalis (garden sage) and Salvia Apiana (White Sage), also called California White Sage and Sacred Sage. Many of the herbs called sage come from a completely different family of plants, the Asteracea family. This family brings us the genus of Artemisia from which come New Mexico Sage (Artemisia tridentada), and the sage from the Dakotas (Artemisia ludoviciana), also called Grey sage, Prairie sage, Dakota sage, Lakota Sage and mistakenly sometimes called White sage. All of these sages (Salvia and Artemisia) are used for healing and cleansing. More can be learned from the book Sacred Sage, How It Heals.
This plant is a strongly aromatic, much-branched perennial herb with small silvery leaves and small yellow flower heads. Imphepho has had many uses throughout history, all of them of great interest. Most often, it is simply burned as ritual incense to invoke the goodwill of ancestors. Since Africans believe that ancestors make contact with them through their dreams, they employ imphepho’s aromatic incense in the dream ceremonies that are crucial to their culture. On a related note, one of the more interesting historical uses of this plant is by healers in KwaZulu-Natal, who smoke imphepho either on its own, or mixed with a few dashes of shamanic tobacco. The smoke may also be inhaled as an incense rather than directly smoked.
Cedar is a medicine of protection. Cedar trees are very old, wise and powerful spirits. Cedar is often used to cleanse a home or apartment when first moving in, inviting unwanted spirits to leave and protecting a person, place or object from unwanted influences. Cedar is used as a name for a number of different genuses of trees and shrubs. The primary ones are Cedrus, Thuja, Libdocedrus and Juniperus. The Junipers are not truly Cedars (scientifically) but are used as such by many people. Keep in mind that these scientific names have little meaning to the people using them as medicine in traditional ways. The branches of this evergreen were once used for temple purification rituals. Juniper is especially helpful to invigorate your mind and body when tired. It was also burned during the plague to resist illness.
Also called Seneca grass, holy grass and vanilla grass. This very special herb’s sweet vanilla-like scent is the breath of the Earth mother, bringing the blessing of Mother Earth’s love. Sweetgrass is burned to remind us of essence of the feminine and that the earth provides us with everything we need. Sweetgrass can also be be unbraided or trimmed with a scissors into small pieces and sprinkled on hot Charcoal Tablets. Allow the sacred smoke that follows to wash over the subject of the blessing. The sacredness of the sweetgrass herb then sustains the smudging process. Use a smudging feather if you need to douse the flame or promote more smoke.
Palo santo wood has been used for a millennia as a physical and spiritual purification tool. Priests and homeopaths from ancient tribes that lived in Los Andes and the Amazons used palo santo in each of their rituals. It is a rooted tradition that has prevailed and is still alive today. This sacred wood is used in aromatherapy, alternative medicine and in every day life, inside normal homes, achieving multiple benefits. This sweet aromatic wood is believed to bring many spiritual and material benefits to people. Cleansing during or after any emotional release work
This native of Europe is often used for invitation of the spirits. The name may be derived from the Latin lavare (to wash) or livendula (meaning bluish). In ancient times lavender was an important herb used in mummification. There is a legend that the clothing of baby Jesus was laid upon a lavender bush and acquired the fragrance. Some Christians still regard the scent of lavender as a safeguard against evil. Burning Lavender is best done on Charcoal Tablets.
This is tree sap from Mexico that is similar to Frankincense. When burned it has a crisp, clean, sharp scent that is almost citrus-like. Copal is sacred to the native peoples of Mexico, as it is a gift ‘pleasing to the gods.’ Because copal is the blood of trees, it is offered to honor the enormous gift given to us by all of the tree people of our planet. Burning Copal is best done on Charcoal Tablets.
At one time Frankincense was considered to be more valuable than gold. Used to embalm the bodies of the Egyptian Pharaohs, this tree resin is considered to cleanse and protect the soul. Frankincense became important to almost every major religion in the world and is still used in Muslim, Jewish and Catholic rituals. Frankincense is said to ease depression and promote clairvoyance. Burning Frankincense is best done on Charcoal Tablets.
At one time Myrrh was considered to be more valuable than gold. Used to embalm the bodies of the Egyptian Pharaohs, this tree resin is considered to cleanse and protect the soul. This tree resin is said to help one maintain a state of enlightenment. It also connects one to the spirit of youth and clears the path of debris that stands in the way of one’s truth. Burning Myrrh is best done on Charcoal Tablets.
Who knew people burn dried rose petals for incense? In this form, this beautiful flower retains its abilities with attracting love and enhancing a romantic environment. It is also used for meditation and encouraging peace. Each color has its own meaning:
Red – romance, love, respect, passion.
Pink – Dark pink makes a great “thank you” or message of appreciation (even self-appreciation) while light pink is more associated with sympathy, sweetness, grace.
Yellow – friendship, and also cheering up and get well.
White – the color white is often associated with purity. Innocence, and humility.
Orange – this very energetic color is associated with interest, curiosity, and enthusiasm.
Mugwort is a common name for several species of aromatic plants in the genus Artemisia. In Europe, mugwort most often refers to the species Artemisia vulgaris, or common mugwort. Mugwort is also known as “dream weed” for its unique ability to stimulate dreams. It is renowned as a smudging herb for its subtle, sweet scent and dream-inducing qualities. In some magical traditions, mugwort is associated with divination and dreaming. To bring about prophecy and divinatory success, make an incense of mugwort to burn at your workspace, or use it in smudge sticks around the area in which you are performing divination rituals. Mugwort was also used in Anglo-Saxon Britain to cure people who had fallen victim to “elf-shot,” which appears to be a catch-all term used to apply to people who had become sick at the hands of evil spiritual entities. Sailors often smoked mugwort instead of cannabis or tobacco, and the plant came to be known as “sailor’s tobacco.” North American First Nation tribes used mugwort leaves to rub on one’s body as protection from ghosts. They also wore necklaces made of the leaves to avoid dreams about dead people.
A herb long considered divine which lends itself very well to rites of cleansing, exorcism, and protection. It can be burned as incense (for attracting love, happiness, peace, and money. It also steadies the mind), added to magical herbal sachets, made into an herbal tea for use as a floor wash or room spray, or added to a magical bath. Basil soothes people’s emotions and anxiety making it excellent for general house cleansing. In folklore where there is basil, no evil lives.
You put it in your soups and sauces but ancient Greek priestesses chewed the leaves to receive visions for supplicants at the temples of Apollo. The leaves of the bay laurel are excellent for concoctions for divination and the sight and are often burned or ingested to induce prophetic visions and dreams. Bay also has a long history of being used for purification, banishing, curse reversal, and protection from evil spirits and illness. Add dried bay leaves to holy water when sprinkling a space or object to purify it. Burn bay leaves to aid in curse reversals, the banishment of undesired spirits, psychic power, divination, success, and money. Invoking wish magic; write a wish on a dried bay leaf and then burn it hoping the gods and/or spirits will favour you.
Is held as a scared plant by all Native North American people. It is believed that Tobacco opens the door between the Worlds of Earth and Spirit and used in many ways by Aboriginal peoples all over Turtle Island. If tobacco is offered and accepted, and a request made of the person accepting it, that promise is sacred. It is a commitment or promise not only between the people involved, but with our Creator and the Grandfathers of the Spirit World. It must be honored. Tobacco may be carried around and used as a means of thanking our Creator for his gifts. For example, if you enjoyed a sunset, rainbow, good weather, you might leave some Tobacco on the ground, and say thank you for the gift. If you take a gift, gather Sweetgrass, Cedar, Sage, birchbark, stones, herbs, you might leave Tobacco in the ground to honor the gift you are taking, returning energy and prayer to our Mother, the Earth, and thanks to the Creator. Tobacco need not be smoked. In fact, it should be smoked only by certain people on specific occasions, for example, pipe carriers during ceremonies. Tobacco, or any smudge, may be burned in an earthen-ware bowl, large clam shell, in a fire or fireplace or other object during periods of prayer and meditation. As the smoke rises, so do our prayers rise to the Spirit World and the Creator
Rosemary is a ritual herb par excellence used for just about every magical purpose under the sun including banishing, exorcism, healing, love, protection, and purification. Before our ancestors had exotic herbs and resins for incenses, they had rosemary and used it often. Rosemary can be burned instead of the standard frankincense to cleanse a space before ritual. Burn it also for divination, to receive visions, bring clarity to problems as it is a powerful healer. Place sachets of dried rosemary around your house for protection and under your bed to ward off nightmares. Make a wash with rosemary to cleanse your hands before performing healing work or making herbal healing remedies. Sprinkle rosemary water around a sick room to promote healing. Rosemary mixes very well with evergreen needles and resins as well as juniper berries for a homemade multi-purpose incense which smells like a forest. Instead of more traditional floor washes, use rosemary and lemon to cleanse your home.
Other Important Herbs
An herb that has been used in smoking blends for the sacred pipe, also used as a tea for lung inflammation. Mullein is also called Yerba del lobo, velvet plant and miner’s candlestick.
Red Willow Bark
This is another traditional ingredient for smoking in the pipe. It is not really a willow, but a dogwood. Sioux people call this bark Chanshasha.
This is one of the roots called Bear Root. This plant grows mainly in the Rocky mountains and is used to invite the bear spirit medicine. Osha is an important medicine for people from northern Mexico to Canada, often used for infections.
Called Kinnikinnik by many people, this is another plant used in pipe smoking mixtures. Uva ursi is commonly used as tea for bladder infections.
8 Benefits of Smudging
In addition to cleansing the air of unwanted bacteria, the benefits of smudging, and producing negative ions are many, including:
- Increasing your sense of well-being and improving mental focus. Smudging removes the debilitating effects of excess positive ions in the air in a way that’s been described as a natural antidepressant
- Clearing negative energy. The smoke helps to change the molecular structure of both the air and energy, which produces a cleansing effect. As the sense of smell is strongly linked to memory and instinct, smudging is very effective for combating feels of anger, fear, anxiety, grief and depression.
- “Nature’s antidepressant.” It seems that the negative ions produced from smudging offer serious antidepressant effects – so much so it’s said to be at least as effective as a prescription antidepressant without the side effects. Dr Clarence Hansell, a research engineer who delved into the biological effects of negative ions in the air in the 1930s after noticing that the mood of one of his colleagues changed in response to ions being generated by their equipment, discovered that his colleague was more joyful when the machine produced negative ions and more sullen when it produced positive ions. In a controlled study published in 1998 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, focused on seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, that was an extension of Hansell’s work, researchers found fresh air charged with negative ions was an effective treatment and prevention method of depression, thanks to its effects on serotonin levels, similar to the way antidepressant drugs works.
- Clearing the air. In addition to bacteria, smudging can help clear the air of pollen, pet dander, dust, mold spores and other potential allergens to improve allergy symptoms.
- Cleansing objects. Not only can smudging cleanse a room, but it can cleanse objects. Whenever you bring a new object into your home, especially something like an antique that’s likely to have been exposed to negative energy over the years, you can use a smudge stick, allowing the smoke to pass over the time to help clear it so that it doesn’t affect you or your environment.
- Relaxing effects. Smudging can offer calming, relaxing effects that are known to help lower blood pressure, relieve stress and tension and normalize breathing rates, as the negative ions produced are absorbed directly into your bloodstream – they may even help to fight off damaging free radicals that can lead to premature aging and disease.
- Increased energy. Studies have found that the negative ions produced also help to normalize serotonin (that well-known feel-good hormone), in the brain, which can help boost one’s mood, improve focus and create a more positive outlook.
- Improved sleep. An Italian study showed that negative ions can help improve sleep patterns, also have positive effects on regulating serotonin production.
If you are feeling down, negative, stuck, or in a spiritual low place, smudging is an excellent way to change things for the better.
- When your house, your property, or any place or space has been exposed to heavy and negative energies, or painful experiences and even illness, they should be cleansed with smudge.
- When you move into a new location, it should be smudged to cleanse the psychic imprints of previous occupants.
- If you feel the presence of bad energy in your living quarters, or if a solitary room makes you feel bad or uneasy by being in there, it’s time to smudge.
- If you want to create a protective barrier against outside negative influences, such as neighbourhood issues, it’s time to smudge.
- If you want to make your prayers stronger and if you want to feel more connected to Spirit, it’s time to smudge.
- If your vehicle has been in a fender-bender or you’ve had a close call in your car, smudge it, inside and out, to remove negative energetic imprints that can attract more negative experiences.
- Prior to invasive medical procedures.
- Cleanse second-hand items with smudge to remove psychic imprints of previous owners.
- You can consecrate and energetically charge your garden by smudging.
- You should smudge to clean yourself and your space before engaging in any psychic contact or spiritual ceremony.
- You can smudge anytime just to connect to a state of spiritual clarity and harmony!