My clan elders taught me that before a person could be healed or heal another they must be cleansed of any bad feelings, negative thoughts and emotions, bad spirits or negative energy. This cleansing was to be both physically and spiritually. One way we did this was in the purification lodges and the romans who encountered my people and witnessed this practice called them purgatoriums. We also were known to take nettle baths before the lodges, and salt rubs and salt baths also
My elders also taught me that this physical and spiritual cleansing helps the healing come through in a clear way, without being distorted by negative stuff from either the healer or the patient. It was always told to me that all ceremonies and rituals, whether they be private or clan, must be entered into with a good heart so that we can pray, sing, and walk in a spiritual, sacred manner and be helped by our ancestors and spirits to enter a sacred space, whether that space be between trees, or between one another.
While I still purify myself through purification lodges or sweat lodges, it is not always feasible to do this for and/or with every person who comes to me seeking help, health and healing. There are times I take salt baths if I am unable to do a purification lodge in preparation for a major ritual or ceremony and I also will use essential oils to anoint the air if I’m in a space that doesn’t allow incense. (i.e. No Smoking places etc.)
When not purifying in the lodges,etc., many indigenous peoples throughout the world used herbs/plants to accomplish the cleansing and purifying. One common practice is to burn certain herbs/plants/resins and to take the smoke in one’s hands and rub it or brush it over the body. Some use a feather to distribute the smoke over the body also.
Today this practice is commonly called smudging.
In my travels, I have come across certain herbs, plants that are used most constantly in ceremonies. These herbs/plants are Sage, Cedar, Sweetgrass, Copal, Frankincense, Myrrh and Tobacco. For me these are the herbs I use in smudging and rituals. The following is a brief synopsis of what they are and what I use them for.
Sage- There are many varieties of sage and I have seen most of the them used in smudging. The botanical name for sage is Salvia which comes from the Latin root salvare which means to heal. There are also varieties of sage which are of a species separate from Salvia and they are called Artemisia. This would include mugwort( Artemisia vulgaris) which I sometimes use for cleansing and protection. It is thought that sage drives out bad spirits, feelings, or influences and it also keeps them from entering the area where a ceremony or ritual place.
Cedar-Sometimes there is confusion about the terms to name plants because in some areas junipers are known as cedars. Cedar has long been used to help cleanse, purify and protect ones belongings, even clothes ( cedar chips, or even cedar chests and drawers). Some rituals use cedar branches, or brooms are made from them to “sweep” to cleanse a home during a house blessing. It is thought that by burning cedar that it too will drive out negative energy but also bring in good influences.
Sweetgrass-this is one of my favorite plants to burn as its rich , perfume like, musty odor has such a fond memory for me. My grandfather used to burn this after he finished his work, rituals etc. and just a whiff of it today floods me with the memories of a man I love and learned much from. It is thought that after the sage and cedar or other herbs drove out the bad influences that sweetgrass would bring in the good influences and spirits. Thus my grandfather would use it as a way for the good influences to further the work and hold the space where he had just prayed. This plant is getting rarer and rarer today due to the overdeveloping of the land, cattle grazing and wheat fields. I try and obtain my supplies from traders at Pow Wows or from Native American outlets who try to keep the fields from being depleted.
Copal- This is a resin, that I came across whiles attending some central and south american rituals and ceremonies. Its very powerful sweet, aromatic presence seems to permeate the environment in which it is burned. It is thought that this is a very good resin for removing negativity from all that the smoke touches.
Frankincense and Myrrh are both resins also that have been used in Africa, the Middle East and Europe for ceremonies and rituals. I often will burn both as I was taught that when burned together they represent the masculine and feminine and bring balance into what I am practicing or working on and with.
Tobacco-For ceremonies I burn tobacco to help send my prayers up to Creator, this is a practice I have observed primarily in North America. And as I do with all of my plant relations ( Sage, Cedar, Sweetgrass, etc.) I thank them for their help with my work and prayers.
These seven herbs/plants/resins can be obtained at most herb stores, metaphysical shops etc. Like I said previously, I will obtain my sweetgrass from traders at Pow Wows, the rest I obtain from stores, grow myself, or wild craft.
The smudging ritual or practice can be done as such; burn the clippings or resin and rub your hands in the smoke. Bring the smoke into your body or rub it onto yourself, especially onto any area that you feel needs spiritual healing. Keep praying all the while that the plant helps you cleanse and purify. Sometimes one person will smudge another, or a group of people using hands or using a feather or wing to lightly brush the smoke over the person.
I personally have been taught to look for dark spots in a persons spirit body and to concentrate smoke and prayers on that spot. Another thing that I have seen that I personally don’t agree with is the use of abalone shells as smudge bowls etc. My beliefs are that the shells come from the sea and thus should be used in water ceremonies or rituals. I have a clay bowl that I use for the herbs and a metal brazier I use for the resins since I use charcoal to burn the resins.
In any case smudging is a ritual that should be done with care. We are entering a relationship with the plants and with the spirits of the ceremony and or ritual and as with all relationships there should be respect and honor if the relationship is to work.
I hope that my words share a resonance with you. I don’t believe that any one path has all the knowledge, but I am happy to share with you what I have experienced and have been taught. For me truth is the measure of its effectiveness, i.e. what works works.
Lastly I will leave you some words of my grandfather that were in a response to my questioning of why do we burn incense and use the wings/feathers for smudging. He asked me if I knew or noticed the difference in the air after a storm had passed, or after a flight of birds had taken off in front of me. When I said I did he said, that the difference was in the ionization of the air, that when it was thick and heavy with positive ions things cling to us, like the coal when walking through a mine. That when the air was clear the air moved freely and our thoughts flowed freely too. The incense acts like the storm, clearing the air and allowing our thoughts and prayers to flow free. The feathers act like the birds and move the air around us also changing the vibration.
Like the child I was at that time I really didn’t understand the talk about ionization, etc. but I trusted my grandfather and had experienced the difference in the air after a storm and after a birds flight. I also have experienced the difference in my thoughts and prayers after I have smudged. So for me truth is in the experience and what works for me. May your truth be also what you experience and works for you.
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