Smudging refers to the ancient practice of using the smoke of smouldering plants to physically and energetically cleanse or purify oneself or a place. It is as old as humanity itself; appearing in the rituals of indigenous cultures that cultivated close relationships with the plants around them.
Plants native to each area, (and later – exotic plant materials carried over land and sea via trade routes), were used in smudging rituals. White Sage, Sweetgrass, Cedar, Tobacco and Pinyon Pine resin across America; White Copal, Pine, Liquidamber resin and Palo Santo wood in Mesoamerica; Eucalyptus leaves and Grass Tree (Xanthorrhoea) resin in Australia; Frankincense, Sandalwood and Patchouli in India; Benzoin, Dammar and ‘Dragon’s Blood’ (Daemonorops) resins across Indonesia; Rosemary and Thyme in the Mediterranean; Frankincense, Myrrh and Kyphi or ‘Kapet’ – a complex recipe of resins, wine, honey and herbs – in Ancient Egypt; Frankincense, Myrrh, Sandarac and Copal across Africa; Lavender, Bedstraw, Birch bark, Thyme, Rosemary, Wormwood and Pine sap in Northern Europe; Agarwood in Japan, Cinnamon, Sandalwood and Styrax in China, Juniper and Cedar in Siberia …
From ancient times to the present, burning plant matter has multiple positive effects – some very rooted in the physical world. Plant smoke has anti-microbial properties that combat airborne pathogens and toxins, literally cleaning the air! In ancient times, smudging practices were often employed as a way of staying clean and free of disease. A study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology in 2007 (i) demonstrated that the smoke from burning Indian medicinal herbs eliminated 94% of airborne bacteria in a room after burning for one hour, and this was maintained for up to twenty-four hours by keeping the room closed. Even when tested thirty days later, a multitude of pathogenic bacteria remained absent from the open room.
Plant smoke also combats excessive positive ions that most of us experience nowadays, especially in and around cities where higher levels of toxins abound. Air pollution, chemicals, mould, fluorescent lighting and the profusion of electromagnetic devices that surround us cause atoms and molecules to gain an extra charge – becoming positively charged. This can affect us in different ways such as: physical tension, shortness of breath, allergies, pain, inflammation and emotional disturbance: stress, anger, mood swings, anxiety and depression. The act of smudging works to create negative ions and restore a peaceful bioelectric field such as that which is experienced in the depths of a forest, next to the ocean, or after a heavy rain.
As well as fumigation and ionic properties, plant smoke impacts us on an energetic or ’subtle’ level. A smudging practice when we feel unwell, stagnant or stuck – whether through sickness or a sense of unease or stress – can be very effective. By setting up an intentional, ritual space, and inviting the smoke energy / plant allies to assist you, big shifts can occur. If seeking connection to etheric realms, perhaps to seek guidance, channel a higher vibration, or tune in to withheld memory, smudging can be very useful. At the very least, it creates the right head space to open to this kind of support. Aromas tap in to our olfactory system, which connects to the limbic system – an ancient part of the brain and the seat of emotions and memory. Have you ever found yourself instantly transported to another place and time through a particular scent? Burning plant matter can be highly effective in dealing with emotions or memories due to this connection.
Using the art of smudging in daily life can be as simple as lighting an incense stick, or as in depth as creating time and focus for a more ceremonial, ritual method. If you’re choosing the second, a good way to begin is to prepare yourself and the space in which you will light your smudge, whether this is resin, wood or herb based. You may want to open windows and doors at the start, to allow stagnant energy to easily exit the space, or keep windows and doors closed, and open them at the end of the ritual.
Whether you want a quick fix or a full experience, setting an intention is important to direct the energy of the process. After tidying and cleaning your space, sit in stillness for a few moments to clear your mind. If using resin incense, you might use the time it takes for the charcoal to light, to breathe deeply and centre yourself. When you feel calm, set your intention – either silently or spoken aloud – it could be as simple as ‘I invite this smudge/incense/frankincense to cleanse me/my space’ – and light your herb smudge or add a sprinkle of incense to charcoal (continue to add more resin whenever it’s needed – but remember a little goes a long way. I generally recommend using a mica plate when burning indoors as it allows for more fragrance and less smoke, although if you want big clouds of smoke and prefer not to use a plate – go for it!).
As the incense burns, let the smoke naturally move up and around you and breathe deeply. You can use your hands to physically move the smoke over your head and body – in the same way that you would use water to wash yourself. If the smudge sits in a bowl or container on the floor, you might ‘smudge’ your feet by holding each one carefully in the plume of smoke. Some may like to use a large feather or a ‘smudging wand’ of bound feathers to direct the smoke. Eagle or owl feathers are thought to contain a particularly high frequency. If using a feather or smudging wand, use a gentle scooping and pushing motion to usher the smoke rather than fanning as you would a fire.
Now you’ve smudged yourself, it’s time for your space! Pick up the heat-proof vessel your smudge sits in, and take it into every room – walking slowly in a clockwise direction around each room and spending some time allowing the smoke to travel into every corner. You might envision white light filling the space as you walk, or cultivate a warm feeling of love within your heart space, radiating out into each room. Once you have visited every room and corner of the house, return to where you started (or you might want to leave the house to finish the ritual outside), place the vessel down and silently or aloud, offer gratitude to the smudge, the plant allies, and anything/anyone else you may have called upon for support in the cleansing of your space.
Now your space is cleansed, full of vibrant fresh energy, you are ready to enjoy it! The difference will be noticeable not only to yourself but to anyone who enters. You may find that blockages and difficulties around relationships, projects, ideas or emotions have shifted. You may feel a renewed sense of inspiration or positivity. The seven Resonant Aromatics incense blends are each made with a specific intention – whether to help create a feeling of peace (Sanctuary), a change in perspective (Paradigm Shift), potent dreams and healing (Kyphi), growth (Summer Solstice), love (Love Prevails), restoration (Winter Solstice) or straight up cleansing and clearing (Clearing Space). To tune in to a particular intention, you may like to choose an incense that vibrates with this motive, or even create your own sequence, burning different incense blends or plant allies as you move through your ritual.
Have you ever experienced a remarkable shift after burning incense in an intentional manner? Or have a favourite plant ally that you use to smudge with? Please share your thoughts below .. I’d love to hear from you!
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