No doubt you have seen cleansing rituals on TV or in person in a spiritual or religious encounter. They are well-known and widely practiced in some circles to clear the negative vibrations from a space. While respected and praised, they can be mocked by those who do not “get” the principle of smudging or burning. People may ask about the odd or foul smell or complain they can’t breathe. And yes, plants like sage can smell like a fire in your midst. It can be musty and antiquated in nature. This is actually part of the appeal.
Get the bad vibes out
So why is it done? Ceremonial burning with dried sage, for example, can alter one’s mood and sense of well-being in an instant. People particularly susceptible to bad vibes will benefit the most. And most don’t mind the “smell.” It is natural and even pleasant like incense. Some admit that it brings back memories and associations. This is the kind of spiritual connection they seek with Mother Earth during the ritual. It is called “ancestral stirring”, and it may go back for a thousand years. I guess bad vibes have always existed to aggravate men and women.
Detractors see it as a kind of alchemy, while as a cleansing ritual it is no different than a nice shower, burning a candle, or a yoga session. Smudging is meant to restore a space to its sacred essence devoid of impurities. As such it is a kind of metaphysical cleaning of the soul. If you look at it scientifically, you will see that the smoke from the dried plant actually does affect the composition of the surrounding air. At the very least it can reduce stress and anxiety. At the most, it may connect you with the spirit world.
Connect with the Spirit World
Mystics have long sought to reach the beyond to whatever beings exist in another realm. Incense as a form of vapor is a direct path to the spirit world. Don’t overlook the fact that it is used in Catholic rituals. It goes back to ancient Asia and Greece, among other locales around the world. We recognize the use of white sage in our indigenous American culture. Think of the shamans of yore in animal skin attire burning the plant on the central tribal fire. The smoke was meant to absorb conflict and evil and ban it from their territory. In every case, it is a cleansing principle.
We now want to cleanse ourselves to become purified and strong. Some plants are meant to evoke peace, harmony, and love. We look back to the mystical shamans for their arcane knowledge and apply it to our daily lives. There is nothing to scorn in something that makes you feel better with a refreshed aura.
When and Why to Smudge?
While most anytime is right for burning or smudging sage, there are opportune moments when its effects will be particularly powerful. You may be moving to a new home or starting a new career. People do it when expecting guests to arrive. It is apropos before a healing session or a yoga class to prepare the space for a spiritual experience. Before meditation, burning will give you the proper mindset for deep relaxation. If you are ill or anxious, it can relieve your symptoms as it cleanses.
There isn’t just one method of burning or smudging sage, but in general, there are several basic steps that are recognized as essential to the process.
- Start with dried white sage, preferably loose or in a bundle bound by a slender string. You can make or buy them as you like. No doubt you already have a special herb shop or health store where you buy your supplies. There are several good ones online. Yoga and healing centers often carry sage or you may grow your own. Be sure to dry it out completely so it will burn well. Store it in a dark spot away from any heat source.
- Find a heat-proof burning surface to prevent sudden surges of flame. You can use a shell or a purchased vessel, such as those used by Native Americans. Place your bundle on top and light it until it smokes. You don’t want flames, only burning embers. Don’t be surprised if you have to relight it once or twice. Loose leaves are a bit different and you will need a charcoal burning disk inside your container.
- Once the smoke starts to billow, you are ready to continue the ritual by exposing yourself to it and directing it with a feather about your body. It can be carried in a container about a room. Negative energy will disappear in the smoke as will evil thoughts.
Air, fire, water, earth: cleanse, dispel. The ceremony isn’t quite complete without an affirmation or incantation such as this one. There are other possibilities along the same lines. The smoke together with the words are meant to open the gate to the sacred, a realm beyond this mundane material world. It should feel like a shift of energy all around. You can walk about as a human vessel or use a censor or other designated container. Direct the smoke to every part of the room including the windows and doors where evil can enter. Dark, shadowy places are also prone to bad vibes. The ritual can be extensive and repeated if necessary until the smoke is thoroughly diffused.
You will feel it when the space is properly cleansed. Plus, the sage bundle will have burned out. Some people like to keep it and bury it in soil as termination of the ritual. They like to undertake all steps of the process, going full circle from start to finish. Of course, a new smudge bundle is used for every subsequent cleaning.