Smudging is the ancient practice of bathing in the smoke of sacred herbs such as cedar, sage, pine pitch, frankincense, myrrh, juniper, mugwort, and sweetgrass. These herbs are ritually harvested and prepared with a sacred healing intent – often during a full moon or on an important spiritual holy-day. For an in-depth article on harvesting healing herbs in the wild, please read Wildcrafting the Wise Woman Way).
Most of the herbs used for smudging are high in volatile essential oils, making them fragrant, and flammable. When these oils are heated they release into the air bringing their anti-microbial properties into the atmosphere. While heating to the point of combustion destroys the chemically beneficial properties of these oils, the visible smoke becomes a spiritual salve of sorts connecting our visible existence with the invisible spirit world or higher planes of consciousness.
Smoke is used in many guises to lift our spirits, to make offerings, and to cleanse: sweetgrass is used to cleanse the sweat-lodge; frankincense and myrrh are burnt at Mass; the peace pipe is shared in the elder’s tent; a lit stick of incense is an object of focus for deep meditation; bundled and dried herbs are burnt to cleanse a sick room.
My mother taught me the art of making smudge sticks from my youngest age, and her tradition of twisting multi-colored twine, gathering and drying the herbs and wrapping is one that I proudly continue and pass on today.
Wrapped with five colored string
My mother always used these five colors of twine: white, yellow, red, black, and green (or blue) to wrap a smudge stick. These five colors tied together bring balance and harmony. The twine is measured out three arm lengths and then twisted together. This is done by tying one end to a doorknob or bedpost, or having another person hold the static end, and then walking out the length of the string until it is taut. The five strings are twisted clockwise a certain number of times, folded in half (don’t let go!), twisted clockwise again, folded in half (this is why it’s good to have two people to do this), at which point you let go of the twisting end of the string. It will unravel counter-clockwise into a beautiful and strong rope about two and one-half feet long, just enough length to wrap a 9″ smudge stick.
As you are twisting, it is very beneficial to imbue the braided strings with your most positive, sincere, compassionate, healing intentions. I like to sing this song as I’m twisting:
The finished twine is then wrapped around a 9″ bundle of dried herbs (approximately one and one-half inches in diameter) five wraps up, and criss-crossed five times down. Ascending and descending energy, balance of creative and destructive forces, or whatever unity of opposites you relate to.
The Smudging Ritual
Once the smudge stick is constructed, you may like to let it “mellow” on your altar for a moon-cycle – gathering healing energy, integrating all it’s parts, receiving your healing intentions over a period of time. When it is needed, the smudge stick will be a welcome ally in clearing bad energy, or asking for help with deep healing, especially in chronic or long-term illness.
Light the smudge stick and blow out the flame. It should burn like a big stick of incense with plenty of smoke. Make sure you have a safe place to extinguish the stick when the ritual is complete. One smudge stick will last through many rituals over the course of many years. Gather feathers, if you can, to help spread the smoke and direct it into a space or over a person as you are working. Feathers represent the air element, and with the smoke from your burning smudge stick will help direct your intentions. If no feathers are available, use your hands.
Speak to the spirit energies, or sing a song, or ring a bell, or play a drum. Vibrate the space with your love and intention as the smoke carries your positive thoughts to the heavens.
The Holistic Homestead is not partial to any particular religious or spiritual tradition, we do however acknowledge and encourage honoring the vital role that spirituality plays in our overall health and wellbeing.