Study: Burning Sage (SMUDGING)

In various Native American cultures, there is a custom known as ‘smudging,’ in which medicinal herbs in the form of loose leaves are burned, and the smoke is left to settle in a room. In a smudging ceremony, Natives believe the spirits of sacred plants are called to drive away negative energy and restore the balance to a particular space.

Depending on the exact desired effect, one might choose from a variety of plants to burn in a smudging ceremony. For example, sage is believed to drive out negative energy, sweet grass is thought to attract positive energy, and lavender is imagined to bless spiritually.

While these beliefs are held by indigenous groups and approached with some skepticism by many outside energies said groups, a study in the Journal Ethnopharmacology has found that the process of ‘smudging’ actually does bring with it many benefits.

The study, conducted by researchers at the Department of Pharmacy and Pharmacology at the University of the Witwatersrand, found a 94 percent reduction in the bacterial count of a room that had been treated for one hour by smudging.

This is not just remarkable news for anyone with an allergy. While everybody knows climate change and pollution affects the quality of the air outside, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has done considerable research on how the quality of our indoor air has been affected.

The agency found that health problems do indeed arise as a result of a reduction in indoor quality due to climate change. The culprits cited for this include everything from increased moisture (and resulting mold) in certain areas as well as evolving bacteria and infectious diseases.

This raises the point that we need to care about the quality of air in our homes and offices. Smudging, as both tradition and now science have argued, is a very viable means of doing so.

What is Smudging?

“Smudging” is the common name given to a powerful cleansing technique from the Native American tradition; however, the burning of herbs for emotional, psychic, and spiritual purification is a common practice among many religious, healing, and spiritual traditions. It is a ceremonial way to cleanse a person, place or an object of negative energies or influences. It is also an effective method for energizing or blessing a person, place or object.

Smudging can be useful when you’re feeling depressed, angry, resentful, unwell or after you have had an argument with someone. It is common to smudge yourself, the space and all the guests or participants before a ritual or ceremony or celebration. You can smudge your home or work space as part of a general spiritual housecleaning, and you can cleanse crystals or other objects of any negative or lingering energy with a smudging ritual.

Herbs used for Smudging

There are many ways to smudge and a variety of different herbs may be used. Sage is probably the most popular herb for smudging, followed by Sweet Grass. When the herbs used for smudging are tied into a bundle and allowed to dry they are called a “smudge stick”. In traditional societies the herbs used for smudging are considered sacred and the smudge stick is treated with great respect.

How to Smudge

Any action undertaken with intention and belief can become a potent ritual, so consider your intention before you smudge and hold it clearly in your mind. Smudging should be done with care, with reverence and in an attitude of love.

A candle flame is recommended to light the smudge stick as it may take a little time to get the stick smoking. Once the stick is alight with flame, blow it out so that the smudge stick is smoldering, not burning – be careful not to blow ash everywhere. If you’re using loose leaves, a candle is still recommended, but the single leaf will light much more quickly – again, you want to blow out the flame so the sage doesn’t burn away too rapidly (you won’t get the sweet sage smoke if it burns rather than smolders). And yes, it is still called smudging if you are only using loose leaves not rolled into smudge sticks.

What is the advantage to using loose leaf vs. smudge sticks? You may need to light more than one leaf for your purpose, but you won’t be relighting a smudge stick that may smell like old ash the next time you need the power of sage. Further, a goodly portion of a smudge stick can be “wasted” in snuffing out a stick. A smudge stick goes a loooooooong way, so it is unlikely that you’ll use the whole thing in only one use unless it is a lengthy ceremony.

Smudging yourself or another

Fan the swirls of smoke around your body from head to toe. You may want to especially focus on areas where you feel there are blockages or where there has been or is physical, emotional, or spiritual pain. Imagine the smoke lifting away all the negative thoughts, emotions and energies that have attached themselves to you. If you are feeling depressed, for instance, you could visualize the smoke carrying away all your feelings of depression.

You may want to speak an intention or a suggestion for the smudging as you do it. Repeat this process with your guests as they enter the space at a ritual, ceremony or special event.

Smudging a room or space

Light the smudge stick as suggested above, and walk about the perimeter, giving special attention to the corners and the places behind doors. You can also fan the smoke throughout the room with a large feather. If you are amenable to the notion, you should state a prayer of gratitude for the cleansing and keep in mind your intention of removing any negatively inclined energy from the area during the ritual.



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