Sage & Smudging

Apr 10 , 2023

Sage & Smudging

The history of incense itself goes back thousands of years to Egypt in 1530 B.C.E. Israel, in the fifth century B.C.E., devoted separate altars for the offering of incense. Herbal smoke mixtures or incense are burned around the world, from China and Southeast Asia, to India, to Europe and the rest of the Western World. Smudging has been used for thousands of years with a long history in traditional medicine, used by shamans and healers across the world.   Native Americans and other indigenous people have been burning sage (smudging) for a long time as part of their spiritual practices. Often called upon to cleanse spaces, shut out negative energy, and welcome wisdom in.  Different Native communities use different medicines for smudging depending on where they are from, and not every culture uses white sage or smudges. The practice has a long and rich history that extends way before white witchy practices brought it onto Instagram feeds near you. In fact, before smudging was popularised, it was illegal for Native Americans to practice their religion until 1978 in the U.S., and many were jailed and killed just for keeping their ways alive. (see the link to third reference for more info) 

The Sage (Artemisia tridentia) used in smudge sticks, indigenous to the Americas, is not the same as the European varieties, and is the most common herb burned as a smudge stick.  Many cultures have historical and spiritual practices connected to smoke cleansing — everything from herbs and woods to incense and roots. For example, frankincense and myrrh were burned in ancient Egypt for prayer, and rosemary was historically burned in hospitals in France in order to clear the air of infection.   

There is no limit on what places or objects (eg cleansing crystals) that may be the subject of smudging, and people often perform smudging on themselves. In addition, various movements have various meanings. One particular method involves blowing on the embers after the smudge stick has been lit, adding the energy of breath to the fire. Moving the stick over the left side of the body represents the female aspect of life, while the right side represents the male aspect. Moving the stick clockwise represents the circle of life. Moving the stick counterclockwise represents undoing or unwinding, especially in reference to tension. 

When sage is burned, it is said to release negative ions which can help elevate a space and put people in a good mood. Positive ions can build up around us and can block our electromagnetic fields. This can happen for a number of reasons including arguments, stress, or anything that brings bad vibes. These positive ions can block our energy and lead us to feel sluggish, drained, and just downright fed up. By burning sage, a glut of negative ions can be released which will neutralize the positive charge and leave us resplendent in our own energy once more. Some promising studies have also shown that sage does have potential cognitive-enhancing properties. 

Scientists have studied the cleansing elements of sage and found that when this herb is burned, it can clear a staggering 94% of bacteria out of the air. That’s huge. By burning sage, you are quite literally disinfecting the air.  

Smudging is by no means an outdated, archaic practice. It is sometimes used by real estate agents to cleanse houses before they are sold. Indeed, modern science has proven that the aroma of sage increases the oxygen supply to the brain, producing a physical relaxation of muscle tension. In addition, the smoke from some herbs actually changes the molecular structure of air and energy, producing a cleansing effect. As the sense of smell is connected very powerfully to instinct and memory, the burning of smudge sticks has been found to be a very effective aromatherapy agent, especially when combating feelings of depression, anger, fear, frustration, resentment, and grief. 

It’s important to be respectful to sacred communities and ancient cultures when burning sage. The best way to do this is to always enter the act with intention, mindfulness, and with purpose and thought. Smudging holds its roots deep in tradition and is an important part of culture and ritual with certain Native American tribes. To honor the sacred nature of this ceremony see the prayer shared below. 

The act of smudging involves holding the smudge stick and letting the smoke waft through a space so it can effectively cleanse, purify, and change the energy in the room.  Traditionally, people would also use a pearly Abalone (paua) shell and a feather to hold the sage and to waft the smoke.  Whether new to the practice or looking for a little refresher, we have a quick guide to help you stay connected and present when smudging your sage.

Prepare - Gather all that you need to burn your sage such as the sage smudge stick, bowl or a paua shell, a lighter, and anything else you think you need. You will also want to open a window or door so that the smoke (and negative energy) has an exit point to leave the space. 

Set intentions - Intentions are truly one of the most important parts of smudging as it keeps us present and mindful in the ancient act we are undergoing. Whatever prayer or mantra you have in mind, keep it in your mind and be clear on it before you smudge the space. It also helps to repeat the mantra or say it aloud while smudging.  

Light the sage - Hold the sage at an angle and light it with a lighter. It may take a moment to catch. Let it burn for 10-20 seconds and then gently blow out the flame. You should still be able to see embers on the smudge stick and it should also be smoking.  

Smudge the area, yourself, or the place - As the smoke begins to billow you can either walk around the room (if you are smudging a space) and encourage the smoke to flow. If you can - guide the smoke towards the window or the door and show it the way out. Don’t forget to pay extra care to corners, mirrors, and big spaces where negative energy can cling. You can also simply let your smudge stick burn safely by placing it in a smudge bowl or paua shell. Keeping doors and windows open is not only so that the negative energy has someplace to go, but to avoid inhaling smoke!