Let’s start out in our exploration of sage and smudging by talking about cultural appropriation.
I know, so exciting!
The use of sage to smudge and remove negative energies and influences comes directly from Native American Plains Tribal traditions. The white sage so famously used in smudging ceremonies is Salvia Apiana, and it grows in the Southwest of the US, and Northwest Mexico. The seeds, leaves, and stems are all edible, and have been a staple part of the Pacific Coast tribe’s diets for decades if not centuries. The leaves and stems, burned to create smoke, have been used in purification ceremonies for just as long. And recently, that use of the plant, to create fragrant smoke, has been co-opted into neo-pagan and Wiccan ceremonies.
Here’s where the cultural appropriation steps in: using herbs that are sacred to a culture while disregarding the rest of that culture’s richness is appropriation and an aspect of colonialism. The word “smudging” distinctly refers to Native American traditions, and the use of white sage, sweetgrass, cedar, or other herbs common to Native tribal people can be thought of as tainting your energetic working.
How do we get around the colonialism and appropriation, while still taking part in a ritual practice that does provide positive things to us?
Super simple: we call it what it really is, instead of using language and props from cultures we don’t belong to. At the heart of it, smudging with sage or sweetgrass is a smoke cleansing. So, call it that: smoke cleanse.
A smoke cleanse or use of fragrant smoke to clear and purify spaces and bodies has been a long valued tradition all across the world, in many cultures.
Incense is used in Catholic churches, there’s the flame of the candle at the front of the Universal Unitarian altar, and using smoke to waft away negative forces can be found in syncretic religions all across the world, as well as pagan faiths from every continent. The use of smoke is a common thread to all human populations, dating back thousands of years and near universal. As soon as we had fire, we had smoke, and watching it waft up and slowly disappear into the sky above lead directly to the belief that it could carry away negative forces for us.
How can you use smoke and incense to cleanse yourself and your space?
If you’re a seasoned practitioner, you already know how to visualize as well as how to raise and manipulate energy. But the odds are good that you’re not well seasoned, and are looking for a primer on how to get started learning to cleanse well. To start out, you need something to burn that creates a nice thick, fragrant smoke. Stick incense, pressed stick incense, loose resins and herbs meant to burn over a charcoal, and even bundles of various herbs are all possibilities. Research your choice before you use it to ensure that your intent lines up with the known effects of the burning herbs/resins. Avoid using known psychoactive compounds when you’re just staring out because you’ll never know if you really moved energy or if you just got high and thought you did. You’ll also want either a plate with some sand in it for setting your burning bundle on when you’re done so it can burn out, or a water source to douse your bundle. Fire safety is important, because it will do you no good to cleanse your home and then set it on fire.
Some neo-pagan and Wiccan sources will tell you that you shouldn’t light your burning herbs or incense directly from a lighter, because mystical reasons. If that appeals to you, that’s perfectly fine: some people like a lot of ritual. Light a candle, and then use that to light your working tools. Because smoke cleansing can be used at the beginning of a greater working or ritual, it’s often a good way to help bring yourself and your mind to a state of calm readiness. The act of lighting the smoke cleanse, the motions of the rite, all help to create that perfect calm yet aware state that magick requires.
As with all magickal work, intention matters a whole lot. And smoke cleansing is no different.
Hold your intent in your mind: you intend to cleanse negative energies away, leaving only positive forces behind. The smoke will lift away negative forces, carrying them away to be cleansed and revitalized back into the world, away from where you are. The smoke is your ally, the herbs or incense burns in sacrifice to your will. Honor the sacrifice, the consumption in fire that bends to your intent.
Visualize that as the smoke rises, it brushes past your physical body, penetrating your etheric body, your energy aura. As it moves through and past you, it lifts out negative forces, carrying them away. Visualize the same as you move the burning smoke cleanse throughout the space, doors and windows and walls, or around the people you’re cleansing. The smoke lifts the negative and carries it away from you.
It’s very important that when you do a smoke cleanse, or attempt to cleanse an aura, that you complete the visualization with the negative energy moving away from you. A freshly cleansed person can become an energy vacuum, and wind up pulling all that negative energy back into themselves. You can wind up pulling negative energies from your friends and family, your coven or group, and taking them all into yourself. The smoke carries it all away, lifts it and takes it for you, so that you don’t have to.
At the end of your smoke cleanse, if you feel drained or empty, you can opt to call energy to you.
Remember that your visualization and intent must be clear and firm. The energy you call to replace what has been spent or lifted away should be positive, clear, and affirming, from a clean source. If you’re working in a group, you can ask that the group raise energy at this point, and take what is freely offered and raised together. Try not to blindly reach out and pull energy from whichever source is closest, because those sources would be your fellow practitioners.
Smoke cleansing, sage smudging, using incense and raising energy to clear a space are all excellent techniques.
Start simple and small, and build your visualization and energy moving muscles. And remember that if you get stuck or confused, you can always drop me a line and I’ll do my best to help you out. Happy smoke cleansing!