3 Reasons to Smudge

The 3 S’s of Smudging – the science, the scent and the spirit of smudging

How is it, I wonder, that smudging (the burning of herbs) creates positive change?

Smudging is the ceremonial burning of herbs for healing, cleansing, energizing and blessing one’s space, one’s self and objects. Smudging ceremonies are an ancient Native American practice but several other cultures and religions have used the burning of herbs for healing and spiritual rituals for many years.

Let’s walk through this sacred ritual and clear the air as to how herbal smoke wafting through the air can clear, cleanse and bless spaces, people and objects.

Smudging 101 ~ what is it and why bother?

Smudging is a sacred ceremony, honoring customs, herbs and spirits. But you do not have to be a mystic, psychic, shaman or guru to perform and benefit from such a ceremony. You do not have to be of Native American heritage to perform and benefit from smudging. And you do not have to be of a particular religion or honor a particular god to call upon the spiritual entities of smudging. Anyone can practice, perform or participate in a smudging. The more you understand and honor its heritage, its spirituality and its science, the more you will benefit from it. You may feel a bit odd and uncomfortable the first time you set out to do a smudging. But as long as your intentions and respect are pure and humble you will begin to relax during your ritual and reap the true essence of smudging.

Think of smudging as a physical, scientific and spiritual spring cleaning that can be performed anytime, anywhere and on anything. Smudging is done on people, places and things. It is performed anytime you want to clear negative or stagnant energies of a space. If an argument has taken place or heavy emotions have been present, smudging will cleanse and heal the atmosphere. Any time you are occupying a space for the first time or leaving a space you have been occupying, whether that space is a home, an office, a dorm room, performing a smudging will clear the energies of negative emotions and also of negative air particles. If you’ve been feeling under the weather emotionally or physically and you want to energize yourself and uplift and cleanse your body, mind and soul, smudging is a simple but sacred ceremony to enhance that desire. And even on the occasion of happy times when you want to cleanse and bless something or someone, smudging will uplift the spirit and the atmosphere.

To perform a smudging you do not need to take a trip to a particular holy land or sacred place.

A simple smudging ceremony consists of setting an intention for your ceremony, lighting healing herbs (most commonly used is sage) and allowing the smoke to fill the air. You can direct the smoke around oneself, throughout a room or over and around objects. Your mind should stay focused on your healing intention as you perform your smudging and you can pray and chant silently or aloud to stay focused, to emit intentional energies and to call on spirits. At the conclusion of your smudging you would extinguish your herbs, thank the spirits and the plants for their assistance and then discard the ashes into the earth for healing.

If you’re curious as to how lighting herbs and focusing on an intention can clear and heal the atmosphere around and within you, read on to discover the spiritual, scentual and scientific properties of this Native American custom.


Spiritual Properties of Smudging

Herbs and resins have been used for ceremonial practices for many years and in many cultures and religions. When burned, the herbs emit a holy and healing smoke and pleasing fragrance known to clear negative energies, connect us with higher consciousness and spiritual entities. During a smudging you are calling on the spirits of the particular herbal plant.

Everything on the planet is comprised of spiritual energy (ki, qu, chi, prana, etc.) Our physical objects and places of abode, our bodies and our thoughts, are all of spiritual essence. Smudging is a spiritual cleansing of negative sludge weighing heavy on your body, mind, soul which could ultimately adversely affect your health and well-being if not cleansed. Smudging is an invocation of spirits for cleansing, healing and protection. Always remember to treat your smudge stick (or loose herbs) with reverence and respect, to hold the purest of intentions during your ceremony and to end with a prayer of gratitude.

Native American belief is that spirit is living in all things, including plants used for incense. It is believed that as the incense burns the wisdom of that plant is imparted to the person burning it. That is why it is very important to be open, pure and respectful before, during and after a smudging ceremony.


Scent (ual) Properties of Smudging

Herbs have strong medicinal and spiritual properties to them. The aroma or scent of different herbs and resins are used for different healings and rituals. You could delve into the aromatic properties of a myriad of herbs and conduct smudging ceremonies at different times of the year and for a myriad of different reasons. But for general smudging, you will most often find the herb sage to be used. Sometimes a sage stick will be blended with accompanying herbal plants like sweetgrass, lavender and cedar. It is the aromatic properties of each of these herbs, individually or together, that invokes and enhances cleansing, healing, clarity and tranquility.

  • Sage (often sage sticks are comprised in part or whole of white sage). The botanical name for sage is salivia from the Latin root word savare meaning to heal. Sage is believed to assist in the release of mental and emotional concerns, ridding a space of negative energy, purifying and lifting one’s spirits. Sage is said to call forth wisdom and also increase oxygen to the brain, contributing to a state of mental relaxation and physical tension release.
  • Sweetgrass is a tall, wild and fragrant grass often woven together in long braids. Thus, it is said to be the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Sweetgrass is known to attract positive energy and good spirits. It promotes a meditative and open consciousness.
  • Lavender creates a peaceful atmosphere, attracts loving energy and enhances tranquility. Its scent (ual) properties are calming, soothing and balancing.
  • Cedar is an ancient native herb, the spirit of which is said to be quite powerful. Cedar is often used in healing ceremonies. It is used to purify a person or a place, often used in new spaces for clearing of negative energies.

Most sage sticks or bundles purchased online or in holistic shops are comprised of sage. However, bundling sweetgrass, lavender, cedar and other herbs together in a single smudge stick provides an aromatic, meditative and spiritual experience.


Scientific Properties of Smudging

In addition to the invocation of spiritual essence and the aromatic healing properties of each individual herb, science has discovered that the burning of herbs releases negative ions into the air enhancing good health and well-being.

Ions are molecules or atoms created in nature as air molecules break apart due to sunlight, moving water and moving air (breezes).

Smudging affects the environmental atmosphere surrounding you by restructuring its atomic or ionic structures.

Mother Earth is an enormous electromagnetic entity. Its air consists in part of ions – negative and positive. Positive ions, though, can be not so positive a thing if there are too many of them in the atmosphere. Positive ions come from things such as dust, mold spores and electronics. Yes, all those lovely, convenient electronic devices that have become like an additional limb to mankind actually have a negative effect on your health. Too many positive ions in the atmosphere cause depression, distress and disease.

Negative ions balance or neutralize the atmosphere by attaching to a positive ion, thereby creating a healthier environment to thrive in.

Science has found that negative ions in the air (those are the good ones) increase the flow of oxygen to the brain which enhances mental alertness and energy. They protect the body from stress, germs and airborne pollutants. And they also produce biochemical reactions that increase serotonin, which enhances our mood, our spirits and our energy.

Burning sage and other herbs (smudging) releases negatively-charged ions

Read about the science behind smoke healing – smudging


Basic Smudging Instructions: Ready to Give Smudging a Try?

What you’ll need:

  • Sage Smudge stick or loose herbs – if this is your first smudge, use a smudge stick
  • Lighter or matches
  • Smudge bowl – abalone shells are very nice but can get hot. Clay pots work well.
  • Feather – for wafting the smoke around the room or oneself
  • Intention – this is as important as the tangible tools needed for smudging. Without pure intention, who knows what you’ll be invoking during your smudging.
  • Small pot of sand or water – to extinguish your smudge stick upon completion of your ceremony

Read more about smudge bowls

Smudging Instructions:

  • Prepare your space by opening all doors and windows (if not possible due to weather then at least open a few windows slightly to allow the negative smoke to exit your space). You can also open cabinet doors and drawers to clear any negative energy contained there.
  • Set your intention – in your own words and from your heart speak your intention for the smudging. For general smudging, call on the spirits of the herb(s) asking each to clear negative energy and fill it with peace, love and harmony. If you have a specific intention then take time to voice your request. Repeat the intention aloud as you go through your ceremony or you can hold it quietly but consciously in your heart. Your heart and mind are very powerful energetic devices. The intention they emit will send out a vibration which attracts and attaches to like vibrations and returns them. So your intention is extremely important.
  • Light your sage stick with lighter or wooden matches. Once it catches fire gently blow on the flame to put it out creating a smoke from the still burning embers of the sage stick.
  • Smudge:
    • To smudge a person or self: Safely wave the smoldering smudge stick around you in a brushing motion. Start at your feet and work your way to your head. Or you can place the smudge bowl on the floor at your feet, a few inches away, and allow the smoke to rise. As it rises you can waft it toward you with your feather or your hands. You can also lean into the smoke and “wash” with it.
    • To smudge a space: starting from the left, walk around the perimeter of the room, slowly and gently brushing the smoldering smudge stick through the air as if you were painting. If you sense a heaviness in an area stay there for a moment, repeat your intention and allow the smoke to fill the area. You can take your feather and brush the smoke about the area as well.
    • To smudge objects: for small objects you can pass the object through the smoke or hold it above the smoke and allow the object to be engulfed in healing smoke. For larger objects you can use your feather to waft or brush the smoke from the smoldering smudge stick toward it. For very large objects you can wave the smudge stick as if you were painting the object.
  • Extinguish your smudge stick – submerge the burning tip of the smudge stick into a small bowl or pot of sand or water. If you use water, allow smudge stick to completely dry before using it for your next ceremony. Or you can take the smudge stick outside and extinguish it into the ground.
  • Discard ashes – take the ashes from your smudge bowl and discard them outside. Leave them on the earth, giving thanks for their clearing and cleansing work


Ignoring negative energy allows it to accumulate around you. A buildup of negative or stagnant energy causes disease, depression and disharmony in your mind, body and energetic space. Clearing your space, yourself and the objects around you regularly is as important as any other health regimen you engage in.

Most importantly, remember, your intention is the most powerful tool in your smudging ceremony. So make sure it is pure, loving, grateful and respectful.

Enjoy the benefits of a healthy, wholesome lifestyle by using the wisdom, guidance and tools of Mother Earth and spiritual essence. Invoke the properties of a smudging ritual and recalibrate and raise the vibration of yourself, your space and your objects.

Enjoy your smudging and come back and share your experience with us here.

About Christine McDonald (87 Articles)
Christine McDonald is a holistic health, arts and entertainment writer, a healing arts teacher and a self-help junkie, sharing stories, reviews, inspiration and information to assist others in discovering simple ways to reacquaint with their spiritual essence and inner voice. You can follow Christine's journey of living a faith-fueled, spiritual lifestyle here at My Little Shangri La Blog, on Facebook and Twitter.

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