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Smudge Sticks: Not Just Blowing Smoke

From the Ojibwe tribes to the south and the Cree to the north along the Upper Peninsula and parts of Canada, smudging has been a long standing tradition that has been integrated into the New Age community with open arms.  The ritual has long been revered as a symbol of purification, and is traditionally used in conjunction with a sweat lodge (such as during the Inipi ceremony performed by the Lakota people) to purify the soul.  Modern smudging is often used in the interest of purifying houses of evil spirits and negative energy.

The traditional view of smudging was that it disrupted negative spirits in the environment, allowing for them to be cleaned in a  ritual sweat lodge.  The modern interpretation of smudging is that during a ritual, such as the spiritual house cleansing ritual (similar in some respects to a catholic exorcism) the smudge stick is carried through the house and its smoke wafts up and attaches to everything it touches.  It then draws out the negative energy in these locations and transports it elsewhere, where it is replaced by positive energy.

Contrary to popular belief, shamans and medicine men object to using the breath to blow smoke, as the human breath is considered disrespectful and imperfect.  They suggest using a feather or large leaf to fan the embers.  Other tips are to use a large seashell to hold the smudge stick in, turn off electric distractions while smudging, meditate, and cleanse your own mind prior to engaging in this (or any) ritual.  Though it is commonly used as a ritual cleansing of negative energies and spirits, some shamans also suggest you use smudge sticks when you meditate on important future events, when you are depressed, when you are inexplicably feeling a negative “vibe” about your surroundings, and after you have spent time with someone who is sick.

Common sage (salvia officinalis), a member of the mint family, is often used in smudging rituals, and has been documented as a mild antibiotic as well as an astringent, estrogent, antifungal, anhidrotic, and antispasmoid.  Other commonly used plants are white cedar (a tradition in Ojibwe tribal rituals), Pine (known to alleviate hunger), Lavender (used since pre-Roman days as a cleansing agent), Sweet Grass (also known as hierochloe odorata meaning literally ‘sweet holy smelling grass), mugwort (to be used with caution as it contains a toxin known as thujone which in large amounts can be harmful), and finally Copal.

In exorcising ghosts, smudging has often been reported with great success at first, but persistent ghosts often find their way back to a house that was cleansed only once using smudge sticks.  This could be largely because smudging is primarily used as a cleansing ritual, and ghosts (as we understand them) are not merely entities that can be cleansed from a location through chemical means.  There is also, however, magic in intent, which should be more effective in guiding spiritual entities to their final destination.  This has been seen as a more effective means of “cleansing” for haunted houses, as it gives all occupants involved a sense of closure.

A smudging ritual typically involves binding the smudge stick, lighting it in a vessel of some sort (such as a large seashell), moving to every room in the house, and using a fan to billow the smoke out into the room.  Some obvious precautions should be implemented, however, when using smudge sticks.  Obviously ensure every room is well ventilated.  Smoke inhalation is bad news for everyone, and tar is produced with the burning of any leaves, even spiritually cleansing ones.  Pregnant women should not be around burning mugwort as the thujone previously mentioned is particularly dangerous to them when implemented in large amounts.

Smudging, if done properly is a powerful cleansing ritual that can help maintain a positive environment, but it is not the spiritual cure-all that some advertisements would have you believe.  If used in conjunction with powerful spiritually positive choices, meditation, and a spiritual attitude, it can be an effective symbol to help bring peace and prosperity to its users.