Smudging 101: The Vessel

Smudging 101: The Vessel

This is the final post of a four part series on smudging. If you’d like to start at the beginning, the first post can be found here:

The Vessel

                You have probably seen smudge kits with abalone shells in them. There is nothing wrong with using an abalone shell, and it is a workable vessel for the plant you use, but there are many other options that you might want to consider.

One of the keys I hope you take from this reading is that smudging is not a standard one size fits all situations practice if you look at it from a global perspective. Europeans, who used it under suppression, would alter their blends to the sickness a person had and rarely used one plant alone. My exposure to Native American culture in both North and South America has shown me some of this as well as many instances where only one plant is used. The Irish and the British also did the same, but they were rich with metals and metal working once upon a time (thus the rise to the phrase ‘the luck of the Irish,’ where there was gold and silver in abundance in antiquity) as well as different forms of powerful earthen clays and the like. These traditions would probably not use an abalone shell, because the shell carries the nature of the water principal. This balance is helpful for spiritual offerings where balance is trying to be struck, but may not be so effective if a person is sick and needs a more powerful energetic pull to create wellness. When creating an effect for physical healing, an imbalance is sometimes more powerful as it brings in more of the ‘correcting’ energy. Let me give you a few examples with different vessel material types:

Abalone Shell: This carries the energy of the water. Therefore, it balances the fire and smoke of the smudge. It also affects the emotional body. If you are trying to work with grief, high emotions, or trying to help a person learn to cry or something like this, it can be very powerful, especially if you add some dried hydrangea flowers to your mix or use this flower essence along with the practice (as it is better used as an essence than a smudge). The benefits of using a shell is that it’s easy to get and it is balanced with the energy of the elements playing out in the actual act of smudging. You may also see ‘smudge kits’ with a wood stand, the abalone shell, plant matter, and a feather. These are balanced because the feather is the air element, the shell is the water, the earth is the wood stand, and the fire is in the action of the smudge. If you use a feather or wood stand, consider what feather and the spirit of the animal. If you use wood for a stand, consider which wood and the spirit of the plant.

Gold: Gold is a powerful energy. It is not just the sun, but it also stimulates the glands in the head and the energy of the head. If you use gold too much or are around too much of it, you can get what my ancestral background calls “dragon sickness” (a term recently made popular with the release of The Hobbit movies, but which is common in our culture which Tolkien drew from and was a part of), which is a type of mania sometimes experienced by people with too much power for their soul development, or someone who has too much spiritual energy coursing through them then they are ready for. You can in fact overdo it with spiritual energy if you are not prepared. This is why self-healing and self-work is so very vital for practitioners, leaders and clergy persons. Effects of dragon sickness are things like rage, paranoia, war-like mindsets, greed, self-centeredness, selfishness, hoarding, a sense of never being satisfied or fulfilled, and issues around the concepts of home, family, and the like. For most people, it takes a lot of gold to create these problems, but it is worth mentioning that this can happen if you are starting to replace all your spiritual items with actual gold items as I see some in my community doing. In the South American cultures who have helped me become who I am, gold was for the gods and was often an offering. As long as you are not exposed to too much, this metal can push your whole system closer to a more refined state, can increase solar and masculine energy in the body, and can brighten up or increase the natural energetic tendencies that are already in a person. It is worthy to note that dragon sickness is more likely to be a problem if a person has not already refined those traits out of themselves, which is another tip to the idea that it magnifies the natural effects of energy already there.

Copper: Copper’s spirit is very close to love, and thus is thought of as the metal of Venus. Some thus think this is the metal of the feminine energy, but in my practice that energy seems to be more aligned with silver and copper is more the connective energy that is the third gender and current of love. It is a very balancing metal to work with and use for smudging, and is often useful in instances of heart break. In European smudging traditions, iron vessels were sometimes lined with copper for this use if copper was not available enough to make a whole vessel. As this is the third energy principal, I also find this useful for clients who are third gendered. This metal carries the energy of connections, of bringing opposites together, and of reconciliation. It is also the ‘lesser’ feminine metal, that is, the energy of the woman on the earth plane.

Silver: Silver, in my way, is the ‘higher,’ that is celestial, feminine energy. Depending on where you are in the world, the feminine energy will be either silver or copper and the ‘neutral’ energy will be the other one. This is part of the reason the place on the earth where you are is important. The energy of the planet matters and the relationship between the earth and the human will affect how this all works. In my part of the world with my people, silver carries the energy of the moon and the energy of the feminine. It also stimulates the body’s ability to perform action (silver taken internally in minute amounts has also been shown to boost the immune system and kill infections, interestingly). This metal carries the holding, intelligent, knowing, intuitive, compassionate, comforting energies. It is much cooler than copper, which can be used for some of these same purposes when warming is also needed. The side effects of ‘too much silver’ energetically can be coldness, withdraw, and depression. Often, if you are working with the soul of this metal spirit, it will prevent those side effects from happening, but if you are not doing soul work with tools like your burning vessel, these are things you should know.

Brass and Tin: It is worth noting these. They are often the replacements for gold and silver respectively, and carry some of the same energy but to a lesser scale. They are more easily affordable and do not carry the same ‘dangers’ that the more highly vibrational metals carry. They are good starters, and are also good to hold the vibration put into them (whereas gold and silver have a tendency to transform the energy that is exposed to them and can be darn near impossible to program because of this). Remember your ethics if you are programming a vessel. In witchcraft, cunning folk, and like traditions, it is assumed that these things are just energies and objects carrying energies, so one of these practitioners often doesn’t hesitate to ‘program’ or ‘consecrate’ an item to a specific purpose. I personally follow a shamanic path, which is different in this regard because it goes deeper than the energy systems to work on the soul level. Objects and metals also have souls and deserve respect as much as the next soul. Therefore, in my way, we do not program or consecrate anything without its permission. This is respect. Again, always in partnership. Whether or not an ‘inanimate’ object has a soul, mental, emotional and like aspects is a debate in our communities around the world. One of the differences between energy work and shamanism is that shamanic practitioners believe these things absolutely do whereas energy workers and other metaphysical people often do not believe this. Besides this, there are some deeper teachings with tin and bronze. First, tin is the ‘lesser’ male metal whereas gold is the ‘higher’ male metal, that is the masculine energy of the earth vs the sky and celestial ways. Bronze is the combination of tin and copper, and it carries both of their energy as well as the energy of unifying these forces within yourself (that is, the forces of the lower masculine and lower feminine).

Red Earth (clay): Using clay is a personal favorite of mine for smudging. I like carrying in the earth element into my work, possibly because I am a double earth sign, possibly because the earth is awesome. Different colors in the earth will affect what the clay does with the person and the effects of the smudge. Red clay is my favorite, possibly because that’s the earth where my sanctuary is and so I have powerful associations with it, and partly because it is the power of the blood- the power of the earth, of ancestors, of protection and warfare, and of the birth/death process. If I am making an offering to the ancestors I will usually use something made of red clay if available. Yellow clay is also common, and if you make your own vessels from clay, you may be able to mix in elements from power places, such as powdered minerals from a cave, sand from a shore, the like. Porcelain is also another earth-based option, though I don’t use this one much as it has a tendency to be very cold and actually brings in the energy of the air when I use it. You may also find stone vessels, which not only carry the energy of where they came from, but also carry the records of all creation and all humanity within them.


I hope you’ve found this overview helpful. I realize this is relatively brief and doesn’t do justice to the powerful, rich and extensive topic and practice of smudging, and encourage you to take what is helpful and useful to you, and use the rest as a spring board to go deeper into your practices. Also, if you found this information helpful, please do share it. That helps this work reach more people, and we are in need of a vast amount of healing as a culture and as a species. Love to you and blessings on your way.

Would you like to read the whole series? Start on post one here: