First summer days, first long hot nights on a Mediterranean island. The town glows, the streets are filled with burning flames, young and old jump over big piles of burning immortelle. The scent on our bodies and clothes will linger around for days. This tradition usually occurs 4 times in June, in the honour of saints, marking a transition from winter to summer, celebrating light breaking through darkness. But what is it about burning flames and strong incense?
Exploring ancient traditions around the world, I was amazed to discover profoundly spiritual rituals that reminded me of the tradition I grew up with. The one I never understood. Though the term “smudging” usually refers to the ceremony performed by some Indigenous peoples of the Americas, it is an ancient art practiced by tribes, cultures and religions around the world.
Smoke from burning herbs, fanned across the room and over the body using hands or a smudge feather, was believed to purify and protect the body and the spirit.
While some people might look at it as witchery, pagan tradition, or a new-age fling, I personally find smudging herbs to be one of the most sacred rituals for reconnecting with Mother Earth.
Herb constituents are equal to ours, the same five elements arranged in different proportions. As fire transforms the gifts of nature into smoke, the physical form into a spiritual, the memory of my own origin, growth and transformation arises.
Aromatic smoke produced by burning plants or plant material has been used since ancient times. From Native Americans to Jewish, Catholic and Hindu, people understood the sacred healing power of plants. Though the ceremony and spiritual meaning varies and it is unique to each culture and religion, it has often been performed for spiritual cleansing, blessing, healing and protection, for honouring saints and deities, to bless people and places.
Why smudging herbs
- spiritual cleansing
- clarity of mind and sense organs
- clearing the air (from physical particles as well as negative energy)
- religious tradition
- personal experience
- affecting consciousness
In Catholicism burning frankincense raisin is traditionally used in each ceremony. At Mass, funerals, Christmas home blessings and other liturgical services, swinging censers disperse clouds of burning frankincense through the air. It is the smell I carry deeply engraved in my childhood memories. Just as in any other traditional ceremony, burning incense has been a ritual of cleansing and purification, of the space, body and mind. New studies prove for these traditionally used incenses to have antiseptic and disinfectant properties.
When to use smudge sticks
- in religious ceremonies
- for meditation, prayer or contemplation
- to alleviate negativity, heavy and stale energy
- moving in a new place (room, house or apartment)
- on auspicious days (honouring saints and ancestors, full moon, seasonal shifts, equinox, birthday…)
- in the morning to welcome a new day
- when feeling lack of energy, sick or exposed to contagious people or environment
- after heavy conversation or arguments
- in emotionally difficult times, for relieving stress, anxiety and tension
- when seeking clarity and focus of mind
- to ease into sleep (like lavender, but keep in mind that some herbs might be over stimulating)
You don’t have to be a religious devotee to embrace the smudging ritual. Set your own intention deep from your heart each time you lit the flame. Let the aromatic smoke bath your nostrils, entering the gate to your mind, and incensing your body. Let the feeling of relaxation, clarity, love and reconnection with our source, our true nature, pour throughout your whole body. After all, this is the very essence of each tradition, each religion. Being Love.
List of plants commonly used in smudge sticks
- bay leaf
- lemon balm
- sage (common sage or white sage)
- sweet clover
- sweet grass
These herbs are commonly used for making smudge sticks. Nowadays there are plenty of commercially made smudge sticks, often imported from distant locations and sometimes made of low quality herbs. You can easily make your own smudge sticks by harvesting local herbs that grow in your garden or around. You might want to burn a few leaves or a small branch before assembling the stick to make sure you like the smell and the effect of a burning herb.
HOW TO MAKE SMUDGE STICKS
- herb material
- cotton string
Gather the material
- Choose the herbs you would like to use for smudge sticks. Best is to use herbs growing in your area, as well as those that scents you enjoy most.
- Remove any damaged leaves and dirt.
- Layer the herbs on a paper or kitchen towel and allow to dry out for a few hours or a few days if too wet.
Assemble the bundle
- Form a loose bundle by layering the herbs in one hand
- Whether you’re working with one herb or a mixture, make sure you layer them so that the bigger branches are on the outside, enclosing the smaller branches and/or leaves in the middle.
- Cut a long piece of cotton string, 4 times longer than the bundle.
- Starting from the bottom of the bundle, where thick branches are poking, begin wrapping the string tightly around the base of the bundle.
- In a spiral manner continue to wrap the bundle up to the tip of the branches. As you wrap, slightly press the herbs together, forming a compact bundle. Once you reach the top of the bundle, wrap it back down in the same spiral manner.
- Make sure you don’t wrap the bundle too tightly, otherwise there will be no air in the middle needed for proper burning.
- Tie your smudge stick off.
- Trim off any pieces sticking out of the bundle, as well as tops and the bottoms if needed to make the stick neat and compact.
Dry the smudge sticks
- Allow your smudge sticks to dry out in a well ventilated place, such as basket, for a minimum of 2 weeks, depending what material you used and how wet it was.
- Enjoy your smudging ritual!