Smudging Materials: Traditions & Choices

No matter how positive a person’s actions and intentions may be, negativity is a reality in all our lives. In spiritual terms, the positive energy you put out may even act as a magnet for negative forces. Smudging is an easy and effective way to block, clear and even counter those negative forces. We’ve already shared some tips on how to smudge. In this article, we’ll talk about the various materials available. Most of these materials can be purchased in a variety of forms: loose-leaf herb, smudge bundle or stick, incense, essential oil or room spray.

The following plant materials are commonly used in smudging:

White sage (Sacred sage, bee sage), Salvia apiana. This plant is native to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico. The native tribes of those regions have burned this sage in purification rituals for many centuries, and it is from them that others have learned its use. Parts of the same plant have also been used as food and as a healing tea. Modern science has confirmed that the plant has strong antibacterial properties. White sage is our generally our first choice when we recommend materials, because it has been proven effective for many people over a long period of time. Its power is strong, and many people claim it’s the most effective plant for driving out unwanted entities. However, people may have a negative reaction to sage smoke, either because of some negative force has attached itself to them (usually without their conscious knowledge) or because of simple personal preference. The good news is that many other options are available.

Desert Sage may refer to Purple Sage (Salvia dorrii) or Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata). Both plants have very narrow leaves, and they burn and smell a little different from white sage. Otherwise, desert sage used for basically the same purpose, but grows in the Mountain and Great Basin states.

Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) & Frankincense (Boswellia sacra): As most of us know from the Christmas pageants of our youth, these substances were used by people in Biblical times for purification. They’re found most often as incense or essential oil.

Palo Santo (Bursera graveolens). The name of this South American relative of the frankincense tree is usually translated as “holy wood,” though “holy stick” would be more accurate. This is said to have been the sacred wood of the Incas, but many people burn it today simply because they love the smell. It can also work for people who are allergic to sage. Otherwise, its uses are essentially the same, although there’s somewhat more of a shamanic connotation to using palo santo. The best way to use it is simply to light a stick of the pure wood, and enjoy its resinous scent as you clear your space.

Juniper (Juniperus spp.) is used for ritual purification, either of a temple space or a person about to partake in some ritual. It’s traditional to carry a few juniper berries in a medicine pouch for protection.

Cedar: Usually either Western red cedar (Thuja plicata) or California incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens). Bundles made from the leaves of these sacred trees are good for forgiveness & emotional balance. The cleansing energy is not quite as strong as that of white sage, but cedar can be great for attracting positive, “bright” energy. It can also create or enhance a positive mood, so this might be an excellent choice for those suffering from depression or other mood disorders. It’s also a good choice for recharging a space that has housed someone who has been ill, or who has died.

Lavender (generally Lavendula augustifolia, though occasionally you’ll find another species of Lavendula)  has a “gentling” effect, opening the heart chakra and creating a relaxing atmosphere. Lavender also promotes healing, and leaves behind an aura of calm protection. Lavender is associated with children, so either pure lavender or a sage/lavender blend could be a good choice for smudging any area associated with children. Take sensible precautions, of course, if you are smudging when infants or young children are actually present; some may be sensitive to any type of smoke. Lavender can also foster good relationships of other kinds, and promote peace.

Sweetgrass, or Holy Grass (Hierochloe odorata), like sage, has a long tradition of use among Native peoples. It is more commonly used for blessing than for protection. One great way to use sweetgrass is as a follow-up to a sage smudging: The sage (of whichever variety) kicks out the negative energy, while the sweetgrass welcomes in positive vibes. Sweetgrass usually comes in a long braid, but you may also find it in mixed smudge sticks, along with other materials. Native tribes regarded this grass is the living hair of Mother Earth; burning it invokes Her goodwill and protection. They also cleansed their bodies and hair with sweetgrass-infused water, and chewed on sweetgrass when fasting for ritual purposes.

Copal, which is actually tree sap in the process of becoming amber, is often used in Central and South American cultures as a smudging material. They identified it as a food for the gods, and so used it as a means of communication and prayer with their deities. Its most appropriate use is for cleansing and blessing sacred areas, such as churches or altars. It can also protect someone engaging in sacred or mystical activities, such as praying or divination. Its golden color is associated with a pure golden light, such as the light which imbues the auras of people who are holy or inspired.

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