Smudging is an ancient art that is believed to have been practiced by Native Americans for centuries. It’s the name given to the ceremonial, daily act of cleansing and purification which uses a selection of herbs, often sage, which are bundled together with string to form a smudge stick before being ignited.
The smoke that’s emitted from the herb bundle is believed to cleanse negative energy and purify living spaces, as well as people and even objects like tools, furniture, and home decor. Similar to one washing their hands before a meal, it helps to cleanse a person in an energetic bath of aromatic smoke. It’s also believed to release negative ions, which has been linked in studies to a more positive mood and many other benefits. Negative ions are also created by the effects of sunlight and water – you’ve probably noticed a wonderful sense of calm when in nature, such as visiting a beach, waterfall or enjoying a walk in the woods.
In high enough concentrations, negative ions can clear the air of mold spores, pollen, pet dander, odors, cigarette smoke, bacteria, viruses, dust and other hazardous airborne particles.
They do this by attaching to positively charged particles in large numbers which cause the germs, mold, pollen and other allergens to become too heavy to stay airborne. They fall to the floor, or attach to a nearby surface, removing them from the air you breathe while preventing them from causing health problems like respiratory issues.
Due to all of our electronic gadgets, including computers, TVs, washing machines and the like, as well as carpet and upholstery, our homes have become what some describe as “positive ion prisons.” That’s why negative ions that occur from smudging can be so beneficial in counteracting these effects.
Smudging your home, office, or even your body is kind of like taking an energetic shower, or perhaps even spending a day in the mountains, spending time breathing in the fresh air and scent of pine, which offers a direct positive effect on reducing stress levels.
Aboriginal elder-in-residence at the University of Toronto, Cat Criger, says that when done properly, smudging can also be a way to connect with Native American culture.
“To understand the protocol means you have to learn something about aboriginal people. So in a sense the medicines are working in a kind way, saying ‘learn about me and we can respect each other and we can walk together,’ ” he noted.
If you think smudging is just some kind of “woo woo” with no science to back it up, think again. Research published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology entitled Medicinal Smokes in 2006 found that burning smudge sticks has the ability to cleanse the surrounding air of harmful bacteria. The authors reported: “The most frequent medical indications for medicinal smoke are pulmonary (23.5%), neurological (21.8%) and dermatological (8.1%). A very large list of pathogenic bacteria was shown to be absent in an open room after a remarkable 30 days following treatment, leading the authors to conclude, “We have demonstrated that by using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space.”
8 Benefits of Smudging
In addition to cleansing the air of unwanted bacteria, the benefits of smudging, and producing negative ions are many, including:
Increasing your sense of well-being and improving mental focus. Smudging removes the debilitating effects of excess positive ions in the air in a way that’s been described as a natural antidepressant
Clearing negative energy. The smoke helps to change the molecular structure of both the air and energy, which produces a cleansing effect. As the sense of smell is strongly linked to memory and instinct, smudging is very effective for combating feels of anger, fear, anxiety, grief and depression.
“Nature’s antidepressant.” It seems that the negative ions produced from smudging offer serious antidepressant effects – so much so it’s said to be at least as effective as a prescription antidepressant without the side effects. Dr Clarence Hansell, a research engineer who delved into the biological effects of negative ions in the air in the 1930s after noticing that the mood of one of his colleagues changed in response to ions being generated by their equipment, discovered that his colleague was more joyful when the machine produced negative ions and more sullen when it produced positive ions. In a controlled study published in 1998 in the Archives of General Psychiatry, focused on seasonal affective disorder, or SAD, that was an extension of Hansell’s work, researchers found fresh air charged with negative ions was an effective treatment and prevention method of depression, thanks to its effects on serotonin levels, similar to the way antidepressant drugs works.
Clearing the air. In addition to bacteria, smudging can help clear the air of pollen, pet dander, dust, mold spores and other potential allergens to improve allergy symptoms.
Cleansing objects. Not only can smudging cleanse a room, but it can cleanse objects. Whenever you bring a new object into your home, especially something like an antique that’s likely to have been exposed to negative energy over the years, you can use a smudge stick, allowing the smoke to pass over the time to help clear it so that it doesn’t affect you or your environment.
Relaxing effects. Smudging can offer calming, relaxing effects that are known to help lower blood pressure, relieve stress and tension and normalize breathing rates, as the negative ions produced are absorbed directly into your bloodstream – they may even help to fight off damaging free radicals that can lead to premature aging and disease.
Increased energy. Studies have found that the negative ions produced also help to normalize serotonin (that well-known feel-good hormone), in the brain, which can help boost one’s mood, improve focus and create a more positive outlook.
Improved sleep. An Italian study showed that negative ions can help improve sleep patterns, also have positive effects on regulating serotonin production.
How to Smudge Your Living Space
Now that you know why you should smudge your home, you probably want to know how to do it. While it may sound a little intimidating if you’ve never watched someone else perform a smudging ritual, it’s rather simple, uncomplicated and totally safe, provided you follow a few easy steps. Native American practitioners like Cat Criger, say it’s always important to be respectful, and learn how to handle the herbs according to traditional protocols.
“To understand the protocol means you have to learn something about aboriginal people. So in a sense the medicines are working in a kind way, saying ‘learn about me and we can respect each other and we can walk together,’ ” Criger advises. “Native American medicines must be treated with reverence, so once you’ve acquired the herbs, clear out a bookshelf or an honored place in your home that is above waist height to store them. You may want to find birch baskets to keep them in.”
It’s best to do smudging with full awareness, in a slow, mindful manner, so you may even want to practice meditation for a few minutes before proceeding.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- Loose dried white sage, or a white ceremonial sage bundle, sometimes referred to as a wand and bound together by a thin string. You can usually find them at your local health store, herb shop, metaphysical store or even online. If you have a sage plant, you can make your own. All you have to do is bundle it together with a string, tie it and hang it upside down in a cool, dark space until it has completely dried out.
- A fire, heat-proof burning surface, like a clay bowl or abalone shell.
- Matches or a lighter.
Just before you begin, open up a window for ventilation and then place the herb bundle onto your heat-, fire-proof surface. Light it with the matches or a lighter, and then gently blow out the flame, allowing the material to smolder. Focus your energy on the smoke. If a true flame appears, shake the bundle slightly, or blow on it until it turns to embers and smoke. You may need to re-light the bundle a few times during the smudging process.
Once you have a good amount of smoke going, use your hand or a feather to direct it over your body, moving from your feet all the way up to your head and back again, staying connected to your breathing throughout the session. You may also want to visualize the smoke removing negative energy from your life and home. If you feel comfortable with it, you can also repeat the following incantation: “Air, fire, water, earth. Cleanse, dismiss, dispel.”
This is considered to be a sacred sage ceremony that allows you to shift energy at will.
Now you’re ready to smudge your home.
- Move clockwise around your house, starting at your front door. Gently wave the smoke into your air, focusing especially on the corners of each room, as they’re said to accumulate the most stagnant energy. The entire time, envision the smoke clearing negative energy, waving the smudge bundle up and down as the smoke fills the area.
- Don’t forget about closed spaces, like closets and cabinets – open their doors and carefully smudge the inside too. Be sure to smudge all rooms, including your basement, garage, laundry room and the like. When you reach each doorway, ask that the room is sealed and protected from this point on while you smudge the outline of the doorway, passing through it to keep any more energy from passing while you conduct the clearing.
- Move directly into the next room following either the floor layout along the walls. Remember to pass the wand over the edges of each window and door as you continue through each room of the house or workspace. In order for the smudging ceremony to be most effective, the smoke needs to cover every room, closet, door, vent, and window. The idea is to walk to each entrance, clearing every room so that you’re pushing all the negative energy out toward the front entrance. Since you want all of the negative energy to leave your home, think of it as trying to direct a fly outside your door.
- Once you’ve smudged your whole house, allow the herb bundle to burn out. You may want to bury the remaining smudge in your garden, as a sign of completing the ritual.
Cleansing after moving into a new home or an argument
If you’ve moved to a new place, or have had a recent argument inside your home, you may want to take it a step further by preparing the rooms first for additional cleansing. To do so, close all windows, cover mirrors, open cabinet and closet doors, and turn off all of your electronics. Follow the earlier steps by lighting the herb bundle, gently blowing out the flame and then wafting the smoke through the room.
Eddy Robinson, an Ojibwa cultural educator, recommends starting on the left side of the front door, continuing on the left throughout your home while staying connected to your breathing and focusing on releasing the negative energy the entire time. When you get back to your front door, direct the smoke outside and then wait a couple of minutes. Go outside and place the herb ashes onto your doorstep to protect the entrance.
When to smudge
The smudging ceremony should be performed at least a few times each year, or as often as once a week for regular cleansing. You may also want to do it whenever you’re feeling gloomy or have been surrounded by negative energy that can follow after a group gathering when you’ve been affected by a negative person’s energy or have been involved in an argument. It’s also a good idea to do whenever you move into a new place.
Remember, negative energy fields can manifest as scattered emotional patterns, projects or goals which become delayed. Spiritual Influences continued restless sleep behaviors, arguments or disagreements, illnesses, headaches, or visits from undesired guests, can result in us absorbing negative energy, sometimes without even realizing it – though we may feel uneasy without understanding the reason why. All of these times are good times to get out that smudge bundle.