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Smudging and Smudge Bundles

- by Jane Alexander

Smudging is wonderful. Truly. Try it and you’ll become a convert, I’m almost willing to bet. I love it because it’s the simplest yet most incredibly effective form of space clearing available. It takes just five minutes to learn the basics and you’re off. Obviously the more you do it, the more sophisticated you become, but it really is entry-level metaphysics, esoteric practice condensed into a few fool-proof actions. Most importantly it really works.

My most powerful experience of smudging came when I visited shaman Leo Rutherford in London. I had moved out of the city quite a while before and had totally lost the "street savvy" sense you have when you live in a big city. Consequently I was feeling pretty nervous about stepping out into an unknown (and slightly rough) neighborhood on my own at night. Leo must have guessed my apprehension, because he said, "Hold on, Jane. Just need to give you a quick smudge before you go." I stood, in my coat and with bag in hand, in his hallway while he wafted smoke around me with a huge eagle’s feather. It felt like having an energy shower – tingles ran all over my body in waves. I breathed deeply and it was as if someone had fired up every one of my chakras. I gave Leo a hug and walked out, totally forgetting my fears. I walked through the dark streets feeling totally invincible. It was as if I had a cloak of power surrounding me.

If you’re not familiar with it, smudging is the common name given to the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing, a powerful cleansing technique from the Native American tradition. Smudging calls on the spirits of sacred plants to drive away negative energies and put you back into a state of balance. It is the psychic equivalent of washing your hands before eating - and used as an essential preliminary to almost all Native American ceremonies.

I use smudging to cleanse myself (particularly if I’ve had a lousy day or have had to deal with difficult or unpleasant people). I use it as a prelude to all kinds of spiritual and magical work (it’s like a kind of spiritual power shower). I use it to cleanse my home and office. I use it to mark the seasons and as part of other rituals. Basically I use it all over the place, at all kinds of time – it is totally adaptable and practical, a really user-friendly soulful tool.

But how does smudging work? The answer lies in the sub-atomic world of subtle or spiritual energy. Homes and bodies are not just made of purely physical matter; they also vibrate with subtle, invisible energy (you might know it as qi or chi, prana, quwa etc). Cleansing a space or our bodies with techniques such as smudging clears away all the emotional and psychic "garbage" that may have gathered over years or even hundreds of years. It’s like spiritual spring-cleaning.

These ideas are not new-fangled nor are they airy-fairy New Age waffle. Native American tradition dates back millennia and most traditional cultures, from the Zulus to the Maoris, from the Chinese to the Balinese, have age-old forms of cleansing and blessing ritual. Even the West retains relics of it, although we have long forgotten the true purpose behind many of our rituals and ceremonies. The incense wafting through a church or temple is cleansing the atmosphere just as surely as the medicine man’s bowl of sacred smoke, or smudge. The bells that ring out on Sunday morning were originally intended to purify the whole parish through sound and lead the community from everyday space into worship - just as the shaman’s drum can lead us on sacred journeys into the world of the spirits.

OK, I’ve gone on about how wonderful it is for long enough. Let’s get smudging. These exercises come from The Smudging and Blessings Book, a simple DIY guide to get you started.

BASIC SMUDGING FOR SELF-CLEARING

There are many ways to use smudging. I suggest this as a simple way to get started. As you become more proficient, you may well find you want to use different words or actions. That’s fine – just be guided by your intuition. But always treat smudge with great respect.

YOU WILL NEED: smudge stick, matches, a small ceramic or stone bowl, or a large shell (a saucer will do), a large feather.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Light the end of your smudge stick and let it burn for a few minutes until the tip starts to smoulder. You may need to fan the flames for a while to get the smudge really smoking. Then extinguish the flame so the smudge stick smokes.

  • Call on the spirits of the smudge to cleanse and protect you, saying: "Sacred Sage, drive away all negativity from my heart; take away everything unworthy and impure."

  • First waft the smoke towards your heart. Hold the smudge stick away from you and use the feather to waft the smoke towards you. Then take the smudge smoke over your head, down your arms and down the front of your body. Imagine the smoke lifting away all the negative thoughts, emotions and energies that have attached themselves to you.

  • Breathe in the smudge, visualizing the smoke purifying your body from the inside. (Note: be careful if you suffer from asthma or respiratory difficulties. Experiment cautiously).

  • Now bring the smoke down the back of your body towards the ground. Visualise the last vestiges of negativity being taken back into the earth, away into the air.

  • Repeat your smudging once again, this time calling on the spirit of Sweetgrass in this way: "Sacred Sweetgrass, bring me the positive energy I need to do this work. Help me to come into balance. Purify my soul." As you smudge, imagine yourself being surrounded by gentle, loving energy. Breathe in positivity, courage and love.

USING SMUDGING FOR SPACE CLEARING

Smudging not only cleanses people: it can also clear a room or area of any old or stagnant energy. All rooms need cleansing - just as much as they need physical cleaning. If your life feels stuck or things just aren’t going according to plan, you may just find that simple space clearing solves the problem. Clearing the space around you is also an important part of most rituals and ceremonies.

YOU WILL NEED: smudge stick, bowl or shell, feather, matches.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • To cleanse the space in which you are working, light your smudge stick as described above (Self-clearing) and smudge yourself and anyone with you.

  • Walk around the room wafting smoke into each corner. Call on the spirit of Sage as in the Self-clearing to drive away all negativity from the room. Then repeat, asking the spirit of Sweetgrass to bring harmony and balance to the room.

  • Come to the centre of the room and stand quietly for a few moments. Turn to the East of the room and fan smudge out into that direction four times, saying: "Spirit of the East, Great Spirit of Air, cleanse and inspire this space."

  • Turn to the South and smudge four times, saying: "Spirit of the South, Great Spirit of Water, strengthen and bring peace to this space."

  • Now turn to the West and smudge four times, saying: "Spirit of the West, Great Spirit of Fire, energize and protect this space."

  • Turn to the North and smudge four times, saying: "Spirit of the North, Great Spirit of Earth, ground and cleanse this space."

  • Return to your original position and look upwards, sending smudge up to the ceiling four times. Say: "Great Father Sky, guard this space from above."

  • Now finally squat towards the floor and send smudge down to the floor four times, saying, "Great Mother Earth, nurture this space from below."

  • Put down your smudge stick and stand quietly with your eyes shut. Visualize the great spirits you have summoned standing guard around your room. You could imagine them as the great archangels or the four animal spirit keepers of Native American tradition (Buffalo - North; Eagle - East; Coyote - South and Grizzly Bear - West.) Visualize the loving energy of the Mother and Father Spirits above and below you. Give thanks to all of them.

  • Note: You should also smudge anything you will be using for your blessing - i.e. crystals, candles, flowers, stones etc.

MAKING YOUR OWN SMUDGE STICKS

Although smudge sticks are now readily available from this shop or New Age and Native American artifacts, you can make your own. Making your own smudge allows you to make a deeper connection with the spirits of the sacred plants used in smudge - and so can make your rituals and ceremonies even more meaningful. I think it’s a great idea to use plants which are local, plants you know and with which you have a connection. I tend to use sage, lavender and rosemary a lot – as they are herbs which grow around my house and which have powerful cleansing properties as well. They also smell gorgeous.

YOU WILL NEED: A selection of your chosen herbs - see list below; colored cottons (embroidery threads work well); a little tobacco or cornmeal; candle and matches.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • You really need to be able to pick your plants, or at least the mainstay of your smudge stick, fresh from the wild. It is unusual to find the length of herb needed from shops - and dried herbs will flare too easily. However you can combine fresh and dried herbs if necessary.

  • If you are picking your herbs from the wild (or your garden) ideally you should gather them as they come into bloom during a waxing moon. Approach the plant with respect and ask its spirit for its permission to be used in your smudge. When you feel it is right, cut the plant with a sharp knife (you will need pieces around eight to twelve inches long). Only take what you need and give a pinch of cornmeal or tobacco with your thanks.

  • Gather your materials together. Light the candle and quietly center yourself, asking the spirits of the plants you have gathered to help you make a powerful smudge stick.

  • Take a sturdy stick as a base. Arrange the other stems around it. If you are using a combination of fresh and dried herbs, keep the dried, more fragile herbs on the inside.

  • Take a piece of cotton or hide and tie it around the stick, starting at the bottom. If you want to add dried herbs which are powdered or crushed, you can add these on the inside of the smudge stick as you start to bind the bundle.

  • Tie your smudge stick quite firmly - the cotton should reach about half way up the length of the stick. Now hang your smudge stick up by its bottom end (the tied end) somewhere warm and dry until the plants are almost dry - but not totally moisture-free.

MAKING A SACRED SMUDGE BOWL

Native American shamans do not always use smudge sticks: equally common is a loose smudge mixture, which is placed in a bowl or shell and lit. This is easy to make and especially useful if you do not have access to fresh herbs. It also has the advantage that, as you become more experienced and intuitive, you can alter your mixture to fit each individual ritual.

YOU WILL NEED: your choice of dried herbs and resins; a shell or bowl; self-igniting charcoal blocks; candle and matches, feather, sea salt.

INSTRUCTIONS:

  • Sit down with all your ingredients. Light your candle and center yourself. Ask the spirits of the plants you are using to give you their help.

  • Take a bowl or large shell - it needs to be able to withstand the heat of the burning charcoal. Ensure it is clean and cleansed by washing it in water to which you have added a little sea salt.

  • A basic smudge mix would include a tablespoon of crumbled sage (either sagebrush or culinary sage) plus a teaspoon each of cedar bark and lavender. Mix the herbs together. See below for other ideas.

  • Place a charcoal block in your container and light it. Wait until the charcoal stops sparking and has turned white-grey.

  • Add a few pinches of your smudge mixture. It will readily smoke.

  • Use your smudge bowl in exactly the same way as you would your smudge stick - hold up the bowl and use a feather to direct smoke towards you, someone else or out into the area in which you are working.

  • You will need to add more smudge from time to time.

Reprinted from "Smudging" - by Jane Alexander

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