Burning herbs and resins (aromatic tree sap) is one of the oldest form of incense. Long before there were sticks and cones, people would add fragrant botanicals to fire to create beautiful smelling smoke to entice their deities or to please themselves. It is believed this is one of the most powerful means of working with herbs to imbue a space, an object or a person with holy qualities.
Any of these plant medicines mentioned below can be placed in a shell, a clay bowl or an open fire. Take the time to witness the smoke purifying and rising, allow the smell of the herbs and incense to bring you into a place of pure presence. As you call forth your prayers, visions, or intentions stay curious, open and full of heart as you engage in your smudging ceremony.
Here are a few of the plant medicines used for smudging and the symbolic meaning behind them:
BURNING SAGE — also known as smudging — is an ancient spiritual ritual.
Smudging has been well established as a Native American cultural or tribal practice, although it isn’t practiced by all groups. We have the traditions of many Native American peoples to thank for its use. This includes the Lakota, Chumash, Cahuilla, among others.
Many other cultures around the world share similar rituals. Smudge incense sticks are used for purifying the atmosphere, dispersing negativity, protection. Smudges put out a lot of soothing smoke. Very refreshing, relaxing, clearing ... like traveling through the clouds...Potent and purifying. To burn a smudge stick -just light the tip, blow it out and either waft in air with a feather or place in a glass or metal container (one that will not burn) with sand or salt placed therein to hold the smudge upright. To extinguish, invert smudge into the sand or salt to smother.
Juniper has one of the most extensive ranges of any tree and can grow in a varied temperature. It's native to the northern parts of Europe, Asia and North America as well as northern Mexico. Juniper is known for protection, love, exorcism, good fortune, health/healing, creating a safe, positive healing space when negative energy is removed.
Cedar is used to heighten positive energy, to uplift feelings and evoke positive emotions.
Cedar holds the medicine to purify and return balance.
Cedar can also be used as a healing tea as it is very high in Vitamin C. It can be bundled, dried, and burned for purification and to heighten the connection to the spiritual realms.
Sweetgrass is on the of the four medicine plants used by all Native Americans/First Nations, the others being sage, cedar and tobacco. Sweetgrass is braided, dried and then burned as a cleansing ritual. As the smoke from smudging rises it is believed that our prayers too will rise up to the world of spirit to be seen, heard, and to be remembered. Sweetgrass symbolizes kindness- as this plant only bends when walked upon and never breaks – may we too remember that if injustices are done upon us may we hold kindness in our hearts and not react with hostility.
Sweetgrass is known as the hair of Mother Earth.
Tobacco is a sacred medicine plant to all North American Indigenous Cultures. Tobacco is believed to be a gateway or a bridge between the Earth and Spirit realms. Historically if tobacco is offered and accepted, then there is a sacred promise sealed. It acts like a commitment made by people and supported by the Spirit World.
Tobacco can be used as a way to thank Mother Earth or the Creator for the abundance and beauty we receive every day.
For example, if you saw a beautiful sunrise or a rainbow and you want to give thanks you could leave some Tobacco upon the Earth for this gift of beauty. Tobacco doesn’t need to be smoked.
BURNING RUDA RUE
Ruda Rue destroys evil and evil intentions. It transforms negativity into the power of victory. Carry a small piece of Ruda leaf in your wallet to attract money. It is commonly burned in smudging practices as a purification and protection herb.
BURNING DRAGONS BLOOD
Dragon’s blood resonates with the element of fire and brings a wonderful sense of grounding and protection. It also helps to give your magic an extra boost. Dragon’s blood is a powerhouse against negativity and will amplify your spiritual work. It enhances tenacity, heals, protects, and is excellent for clearing energies.
Copal is a natural tree resin and comes from the Buresa tree family in Southern Mexico. Since ancient times, Copal incense has been considered sacred to the Mayan and Aztec people. Offerings were made to the deities and the gods atop the pyramids and the sacred burial grounds. Copal is considered a medicinal tree to the Mayas and is used to clear the body of diseases.
Using copal to smudge before meditation and ceremony can assist in strengthening peace of mind while removing energy blockages from the body.
BURNING PALO SANTO
Palo Santo is a mystical tree that grows on the coast of South America, and it means “Holy Wood” in Spanish.
Palo Santo looks like a small wooden stick and its scent is known to raise the vibration in preparation for meditation, creative endeavors and ceremony.
It’s known to bring a grounded and clear feeling when burned and is related to Frankincense, Myrrh and Copal. It is used the same way as Sage and is burned and fanned with a feather to clear the air and ask the spirits for permission to perform the ceremony.
Additional information about Palo Santo:
The name Palo Santo means "Holy Wood", and what a fitting name that is. The magic of Palo Santo is in the alchemical process that happens after the death of a limb or a tree. You see, in order for the Palo Santo to gain its magical and medicinal properties it must die, but not just any death only a natural death of a wise old limb or tree. The Palo Santo trees live for 80 to 90 years. After this death the tree must remain in its natural habitat for 4 to 10 years to complete its metamorphosis. Only then do its sacred, medicinal and mystical properties come alive.
Palo Santo has been used for thousands of years in Peru and Ecuador by shamans and healers. Travel today through the Andes Mountains you still find shamans, curanderos, and healers using Palo Santo as part of their ceremonies and healing rituals, evidence that its use more alive than ever in their culture. Increasingly the healing properties of Palo Santo are finding its way into the rest of the world as one of the truly great resins of Mother Earth. It has capacities in both physical and metaphysical realms. Palo Santo has even caught the attention of western scientific researchers for its chemical properties which include limonene and monoterpene's that are being studied for their anti-cancer properties. It is truly amazing that this Holy Wood can at once, through its healing scent and sacred smoke, provide energetic protection, remove bad energy, uplift the spirit and bring good luck as well as ethno-botanical uses.
Aroma Description: warm, delicately sweet, rosy-woodsy
Element Association: Air
Magical Associations: Luck, Protection
Astrological Association: Gemini, Virgo, Aquarius
Planetary Association: Mercury
Mixes Well With: benzoin, copal-black, copal-gold, copal-white, frankincense, iris root, lavender, myrrh, oakmoss, sandalwood, tolu balsam, tonka beans, vanilla, etc.
Smudge Ritual Blessing
Place the dried herbs in the container or bundle them together. You may already have a prepared "smudge stick", or bundle of herbs which can be used for multiple ceremonies. Otherwise, place a small handful of the dried plant material into a natural container, such as a clay, stone, or abalone shell bowl.
Burn the herbs to produce smoke, not fire. You can light the plants with any source of fire, although some people feel more in touch with the ceremony if they use matches rather than a lighter or torch. Let the fire catch hold for about 30 seconds, then blow it out so the herbs are only producing smoke.
Walk around the perimeter of the house or room, wafting the smoke to each corner and outside. Use a feather to push the smoke to each place in the house, or use your hands. As you pass by an open door or window, you may use the feather to push the smoke outside, carrying with it the negative energies.
Let the ashes cool, then return them to the earth. Thank the earth for providing a sacrifice of plants for you to use and thank the plants and fire as well. Ashes will provide nutrients back to the soil. This act has a different interpretation in some traditions: the Anishinaabe place the ashes outside to symbolize leaving negative feelings outside the door.