Smudging 101: An Introduction to Smudging

Smudging 101: An Introduction to Smudging

This post is the first in a four post series. The next post, “How to Smudge,” can be found here:

The man lit an absurd amount of white sage in an abalone shell in the middle of the room. As the plant matter burned down, I asked “What are you doing?” “Smudging,” he said “it’s a Native American healing practice.” I’ve got a moon in Leo, and my fire springs up pretty quick. Watching him waste plant matter from an endangered plant that he probably didn’t harvest himself and not follow any tradition I had ever seen in his ‘smudging,’ while blaming that irresponsibility on Native culture really put a bitter, metal taste in my mouth.

Smudging, or the burning of plant matter to use the smoke to cleanse the air and person both spiritually and physically, is an ancient practice found in every culture around the world. This is different from fumigating, which is when you use smoke to cleanse items such as cloth, get rid of bugs, or use these only for cleansing a sick room. Smudging takes into account the spiritual whereas fumigation does not. Smudging is effective, both spiritually/psycho-emotively and physically as science has demonstrated. New age practitioners and others who do not identify with any culture or tradition are often not instructed in smudging practices, and thus we get mostly ineffective, wasteful practices. This hurts my heart because there is so much more benefit in these practices than just burning plant matter. As a consequence, I share the teachings of smudging (as much as I can with outsiders) any chance I get, and so I’ve become a go-to for several healing communities on this subject. I have decided to write some of this down to share with you here so that you can learn, reference this writing, and pass it around for others. Let’s grow together and heal both ourselves and our Good Earth.

An Introduction to Smudging

               Smudging is not a Native American Indian or First Nations practice exclusively. Smudging has been documented in spiritual practices in Greece, Egypt, the middle east, Celtic nations in Britain and Europe, far north traditions in Europe and in Ireland. In Asia, this practice became more focused on the body, and certain plants, by burning them closely to points in the body, create energetic/spiritual change in the body. Interestingly, most of these plants are also the traditional ones found in Europe. There are also many cases of ‘prayers on the smoke’ in Africa and Australia, but this is different. Perhaps these cultures smudge, but they have not shared this with me and so I cannot speak to that. One of the cultural issues we have in America is the over-spiritualizing of certain cultures. In fact, if you look up “smudging” in the dictionary, it will define it as a traditional Native American practice, however, the word dates from middle English, and refers to English medicine practices of the time. This over-spiritualizing is dangerous to the souls of the people because it causes the idea that we need to appropriate something good from a culture while suppressing and shunning the spiritual nature of our own cultures. This also perpetuates the idea that Native American Indian people are objects of spirituality when they are whole human beings with many facets too.

It is interesting to see differences in culture. Smudging in North and South America will show you methods of entering a room, prayers, the like. It is the method that is most developed from what I have seen. In places like Europe, where doing these practices in a spiritual way could mean death, you see more details on the plants used. Because these traditions were preserved as ‘medicine’ and ‘alchemy’ rather than spirituality, these practitioners had to find ways to be just as powerful with plant combinations and plant spirit work without the forms that the American Indians have been blessed to preserve. In other parts of the world, such as the British Isles and Ireland, there were fewer varieties of plants and yet still that same suppression. In these parts of the world (which were also rich in metals), there is a more developed tradition of the vessel used to perform the smudging. You can see how when all these teachings and wisdom is brought together it holds a complete, beautiful picture.

I will not lie to you. I was introduced to smudging by a Cherokee medicine man who had taken me under his wing, and was then taught the Lakota method by a Lakota medicine person (again, who took care of me) before I was able to dig through the history of my blood lines and find extensive smudging practices of ‘my’ people of Britain, Ireland and Europe. These cultures are all valid, powerful teachings. They are equal but different, just like the nations and ethnic groups of the world. In my way, I have combined the best parts of my story composed of these influences and my ancestry. I believe this makes a more complete picture. Together, we learn from each other and we are all made more beautiful.

Now that you know what smudging is, let’s take a look at how to do this simple but powerful practice.

Next in this series, “How to Smudge,” found here: