Smudging or the burning of sacred herbs is a common practice in many healing ceremonies and shamanic traditions.
Its a way of purifying and cleansing a space, person or an object of negative energies or influences. Burning certain herbs is believed to enable access to the power of the plants and that the fragrance releases a higher vibrational energy which protects the physical and spiritual bodies.
Sage is the most commonly used herb in ceremonies. Some of the other herbs used are – Copal, palo santo, sweetgrass, cedar, tobacco.
The herbs used for smudging are tied into a bundle and allowed to dry to make a “smudge stick”. In traditional societies the herbs used for smudging are considered sacred and the smudge stick is treated with great respect. Smudge stick is fanned around the person’s body several times with the intent to cleanse the energy fields.
Let’s look into the five common sacred herbs used for purification and removing negative energies ~
Sage or ‘salvia’ comes from the Latin word salvare, which means “to heal.” Dried sage plants have been used in shamanic ceremonies for a long time as a way to protect, cleanse and purify the sacred space and the people participating in the ceremony. It is said that any conflict, anger, illness or evil was absorbed by the sage smoke is released from the energy field of a person.
The smoke from dried white sage actually changes the ionic composition of the air, and can have a direct effect on reducing our stress response.
You can even burn loose leaves of sage or use a traditional smudge stick or wand before starting your personal ritual or meditation.
The shamans also used dried sage in their ritual to call upon ancestral spirits. Sage also balances chakras, increase relaxation during meditation and cleanse oneself from psychic and emotional trauma.
It is strewn over the floor in sweat lodges, and wrapped around sacred objects such as ceremonial pipes. The use of sage leaves in teas helps to calm, focus and center the mind. It is also antifungal, antiseptic as well as astringent.
Sweetgrass, also called northern sweetgrass, vanilla grass, holy grass, Seneca grass, and alpine sweetgrass, is burnt after smudging with sage to welcome the good spirits of peace and love after the bad spirits have been driven out.
It is one of the “four sacred medicines”, for the north American indigenous people, the other three being cedar, sage, and tobacco.
Sweetgrass is considered by the Natives as the sacred hair of Mother Earth and its pleasant fragrance serves as a reminder of the gentleness, love and kindness she has for us.
This is also why the Natives braid it in three strands representing love, kindness and gentleness.
It is burned as a special offering during sacred prayers, used for many healing rituals including sweat lodge ceremonies, for protection of spirits, and keeping out evil and harm. Sweetgrass tea also has healing effect – it is used to help relieve coughing, vomiting, sore throats and bleeding.
Like Sage and Sweetgrass, Cedar drives out negative energy and brings in good influences. When burned, Cedar acts as a purifier, cleansing the area in which it is burned and emitting a pleasant scent.
It is the main purification herb used at the Lakota sun dance ritual. In sweat lodges, Cedar was offered to the fire to smudge the whole area and people, and cedar branches are used to cover the floor of many sweat lodges. It is believed to aid clairvoyance, revive the tired mind, body, and spirit, and ward away sickness.
Also used externally to make oils and ointments for sore muscles and chest congestion or colds. When mixed with sage for a tea, it cleans the body of all infections, cedar baths are also very healing.
4) Palo Santo
I first experienced Palo Santo during a ayahuasca ceremony, and its uplifting smell cleared my mind of negative thoughts and energies. This is also the reason why shamans burn the Palo Santo stick during ceremonies for keeping the energies grounded and clear.
Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal.
In Spanish, the name literally means “Holy Wood”. Traditionally, Palo Santo is used for relieving common colds, flu symptoms, stress, asthma, headaches, anxiety, depression, inflammation, emotional pain and more.
Copal has long been used as a sacred incense by the Maya, Nahuatl (Aztec), and Zoque people. It is actually a tree resin that is sweet, spicy, earthy, and woody.
The Aztecs burnt Copal in their temples during ceremony and temazcal sweat rituals. The Mayans used as a food for the Gods. Copal smoke can be used for protection, to cleanse the body, and divination.
All plants are sacred, so treating plants with respect is very important. When deciding what plants to use for smudging consider which ones resonate with you and the ones you can align with energetically.
Always set your intentions and thank the plants, telling them how you hope to use them. Whether you are preparing your sacred space for meditation and healing, cleansing your living space, to relax and reduce stress, using sacred herbs is healing for the body and spirit and connect with the source.