May 19th, 2020 Last Updated on: May 19th, 2020
Native American smudging is an act that illuminates something primordial within people, connecting both smoke with spirituality in remarkable ways. This is a common ceremonial ritual amongst the ingenious people, held closely within these cultures to purify, spiritually cleanse, and bless. So, whether you are a Native American yourself, or simply want to know more about the culture to expand your insights, then understanding smudging is undoubtedly an area to not overlook.
What Is Native American Smudging?
In order to fully grasp the concept and potentially do this ritualized act yourself, first we must take a look at what smudging is exactly. By definition, smudging is a ceremony that consists of burning plant herbs and resins in either a clay or shelled bowl while prayers are being done. This results in a smoke cloud formation that is believed to cleanse the air and those within it.
Smudging is, in fact, the most popular ritual used to clear people and places of elements that are not serving them any good. As a whole, smudging is used in nearly every native culture within the western hemisphere and has played an active role for centuries.
Why Are Smudging Rituals Conducted?
There are several reasons why someone would conduct a smudging session, but in general, it is to better the lives of people and the places they live. It is the bridge between mortal life and higher realms, bringing in good spirits and eliminating any negative, stagnant ones. It lifts away any sadness, impurities, anxieties, and remediates poor health, leaving nothing but peace and harmony for both individuals and the environment after the cleansing.
What Herbs Are Used for Smudging?
Before getting into the act of smudging and learning how it is properly done, let’s go over the actual herbs used for smudging so you are fully prepared to either try it yourself and/or obtain the big picture. For reference, most of the herbs that are used for this ceremony have antiseptic features, meaning that when burned, they legitimately do purify the air.
- Sage – Sage, both Saliva Aspiana and Salvia Officinalis are healing herbs used. The term “Salvia” comes from the Latin word “salvare,” which means “to feel healthy and well and healing.” It is also used to offer strength, clarity, wisdom, and often represents the maternal lineage of women.
- Cedar – Cedar is popular for cleaning and purifying, eliminating the evil spirits within people and objects to remediate balance. It is also used to promote positivity and deeply connect humans to the spiritual world.
- Sweetgrass – Known as the hair of Mother Earth, resembling kindness, and widely used by all Native Americans, sweetgrass is believed to carry prayers into the spirit world. The smoke is said to take the words and transition them over. It is also known as “holy grass” and does not produce an open flame, but a sweetly scented smoke.
- Tobacco – Tobacco is a highly sacred medicine plant and is firmly believed to be the ideal bridge between the human and spiritual worlds. It does not need to be smoked, but is still able to provide spiritual benefits. The use of this acts as a human commitment established and supported by the spirit world, showing gratitude for the beauty in life.
Though these are the most common herbs used to begin, conduct, or conclude a smudging ceremony, there are some essential oils that are used as well, such as:
- Desert Lavender
- Yellow Birch
- Carrot seed
- Thuja Oil
- Balsam Fir oil
- Juniper Berry
How to Smudge
Now that the main elements have been gone over, it is time to gather your items for smudging and begin the process. To start your group circle, or private session, gather up the following items:
- A large clay bowl, clamshell or an abalone shell
- Herbs of your choosing, but be sure to remove the stems
- Wooden matches
- Decently sized feather to wave the smoke (or you can use your hands)
Once you have this all set in place, it is time to begin. If this is the first time you are doing this, then I recommend trying to do a session on your own to really get the hang of it and the feeling it delivers. There are several ways you can conduct this ritual by yourself, but here is a simple one that you can do right at home to practice with.
- If you are going to be doing this ritual inside, make sure to open up a window to have a steady airflow. Remember, smoke is the point, but you do not want to get sick from it-or set off your smoke alarms!
- Make sure you are fully present and focused. If you are distracted in any way, it can make the smudging process ineffective or not perform as well as it could have.
- Using the match, ignite the herbs inside your bowl and let them flame up for 20 to 30 seconds before you extinguish the fire by holding your hand above it to deprive the oxygen (using your breath to blow it out is not proper).
- Smoke will begin to rise from the bowl. Use that to smudge yourself first with the feather (head first to your feet) and then move to your surrounding space. Make sure to do this slowly and relaxed and cover very corner and item.
- Once you are finished, bring the ashes outside and return them back to the soil. This signifies the energy being given back to the earth and shows respect.
As you can see, burning herbs holds so much more meaning than simply forming a cloud of smoke while saying a prayer.
Historical Native Americans believed that the power of herbs and healing are the optimal solutions to rid the body or environment of unwanted thoughts, feelings, spirits, and energy to promote a much better wellbeing. The respect of Mother Nature and using the gifts that the earth has provided to heal and promote positive influences is something strongly tied within this culture. Though times have changed and the world has become more modernized than ever, smudging is still a vastly performed ritual and is highly valuable within this culture today, deserving the utmost recognition and respect.
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