Friday, July 11, 2014

Smudging Basics

I work at a wonderful metaphysical book and gifts store, Body Mind & Soul in Houston, TX. And one of our biggest selling categories, and most frequently asked about, is our smudging department. Smudging is a space-clearing practice involving the smoke of sacred plants. Often cited as a Native American practice, smudging is not limited to any one indigenous culture, but something we see utilized in one way or form across many cultures. However, the white and desert sage bundles we most commonly associate with smudging are indeed native to North America.

The simplest way to smudge involves lighting the end of a dried herb bundle and allowing the plant to burn as you fan the smoke around the room, building, or property. For safety's sake, it is important to carry your burning bundle in some kind of heat-proof dish, so that embers do not drop and burn your floor or catch on something. The traditional abalone shell and feather for a dish and fan are common choices for this task that are linked to ancient Native American practices. Truly, there is no limit to the combination of plants and herbs you could utilize for smudging, though it is important to do your research and be sure you aren't burning anything toxic (i.e. the fumes from burning Oleander, a highly toxic flowering plant, are indeed poisonous to breathe). Here is a rundown of some of the most common herbs used in smudge bundles.

Sage: Whether it be the white (native to California) or desert (native to the rest of the United States) variety, sage is often the ideal choice for smudging and smoke rituals because of its superior purifying and cleansing properties. Sage is not only believed to rid the body or space of negative energies and entities, but it is likewise documented as having healing and medicinal properties, and has been used throughout history to treat fevers, improve memory, and fight liver disease, among other uses. Traditional wild-harvested sage is the most common choice, but even garden varieties will do well. Magickal uses: purification, wish granting, wisdom, protection.

Sweetgrass: Another North American native throwback and common smudging choice, sweetgrass is believed to draw positive energies as well as purify. Sweetgrass restores energetic balance, uplifts, and renews. It is a common choice for prayer and attracts positive entities. A medicinal plant as well, sweetgrass has been used to treat coughs, sore throats, and infections. Magickal uses: blessing, calling spirits, divine communion.

Cedar: Unlike sage and sweetgrass, cedar is a medicinal tree rather than an herb. Sacred not only to Native Americans but cultures across the world, the name cedar comes from the Hebrew word Qatar--"to smudge". Cedar trees are evergreen, linking them to prosperity and abundance. Cedar is naturally repellant to many insects, and likewise is believed to repel negative or harmful spirits and energies. Cedar wood has been used in the construction of holy sites and temples, and can also be burned in incenses or loosely to create sacred space. Magickal uses: offerings, sacred space, wealth, guardianship.

Lavender: Soothing lavender is another herb often seen in combined smudge bundles and sometimes on its own. Lavender's unique smell makes it a favorite the world over, and it's abilities to quiet and calm are well documented. Lavender is closely linked to sacred feminine energy, and has been used for centuries in a variety of healing ways. Lavender essential oil can be beneficial in treating insect bites, viruses, anxiety, insomnia, headaches, and a host of other ills. Magickal uses: peace, love, blessing, health, good luck.

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