Using smoke to cleanse by burning dried plants or other such items, for health and/or spiritual purposes has been practiced around the world for many centuries.
This ritual practiced by Indigenous peoples in Canada and is called Smudging. In doing a Google search, I have also found that Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have also utilized traditional smoke cleansing for thousands of years.
People throughout the ancient world have burnt herbs in their temples, in their homes, and in places of healing. Greece and Rome come to mind.
Although practices differ, smudging or smoke cleansing is used for medicinal and practical purposes as well as for spiritual ceremonies. The practice generally involves prayer and the burning of herbs such as sweetgrass, cedar, sage and tobacco.
While colonization has repressed many Indigenous traditions, the practice of smudging has survived to the present day. Smudging might be different between areas and from nation to nation but they are all considered to be a way of cleansing emotionally and spiritually.
The word “smudge” is English in origin and was eventually extended to the word “smudging”. Sacred herbs and medicines are burned for cleansing and health purposes. Ceremonial smudges are frequently led by an elder or spiritual leader, such as a shaman, though non-Indigenous can perform their own smudging ceremonies when they feel the urge, and especially during times of prayer.
A smudging ceremony includes the use of a vessel to carry the herbs, such as a special as a shell or a special ball. The smoke produced from burning herbs is believed to produce healing smoke that can carry prayers to the Creator.
When smudging a person, the smoke is softly directed toward the face and body of the person by fanning the smoke with a feather or by hand. The receiver of the smudge can help by guiding the smoke towards their body with their hands. Normally, I have seen the smudging done face to face, and then the receiver will turn their backs to the person doing the smudging to get more healing smoke towards their back side. The smoke created by smudging purifies the body and the soul, and is thought to bring clarity to the mind.
Apart from people, places can also be smudged for different purposes. In a room, the smoke should be directed to the 4 corners of the room, up high towards the ceiling and low towards the floor. Smudging a room, can greatly decrease pollens, bad scents and air pollutants and is believed to also cleanse places said to hold negative energy.
The Indigenous believe that smudging can assist people to connect to the Creator. This leads communities to gain spiritual protection and blessings, as well as to improve spiritual health.
Ashes of the burned herbs are put outside, normally buried into the earth. This is to ensure that any negative energy that might be lingering in the ashes are disposed of safely.
Colonization has repressed the spiritual traditions of Indigenous peoples in Canada. Through Indigenous resistance, smudging is still a part of various cultural activities today.
Smudging has become recognized and practiced by Indigenous as well as non-Indigenous peoples. I certainly hope that all that participate, recognize the significance of this benevolent and sacred ritual that has existed for many centuries.
I will relate my own personal experience with the power of Smudging. Every summer in Ottawa ON, many Indigenous are invited to share their culture at different events across the city. On my way to work that week, I had noticed that a few large teepees had been setup early each morning on the lawn in front of my building, and a few ladies were smudging anyone that asked for it. I was not familiar with the ritual and did not think to partake.
I woke up on one particular morning, feeling weight down with the adverse weather we were experiencing, tired and bleary eyed. So trudged in a bit late to work, and noticed that there was only one lady left in front of her teepee. She signaled to me to come over. Something told me; Go over there, it can’t hurt to get a bit of smoke in your eyes.
So, I stood before the lady and extended my hands as I had seen others do, fanning smoke in my face and torso, the lady feathered my legs with smoke, then signaled for me to turn around. As she started to feather the smoke on my back, I felt all of the illness (if I can call it that) that had weighted me down that morning, to roll off my shoulders and out of the top of head. And just like that, in a few seconds, I felt great!
I turned back to the lady and expressed my thanks. She smiled at me as if she knew what I had experienced.
I am a huge believer in Smudging, as long as it is done with honor and respect, with prayers of thanks to the Creator. And to the Indigenous that have continued to practice this ritual to this day, Many thanks!