Smudging With Sage

Smudging is the practice of using smoke from sacred plants to spiritually cleanse people, places, and things. The ceremony of smudging is designed to focus intention, and the smoke itself is a bridge between the spirit world and the material world. The actual benefits of smudging do not result directly from the smoke, but are instead due to the presence of the spirit of the sacred plant used.

Sage is often used for smudging. It’s a powerful sacred herb with important spiritual properties. In smudging with sage, we invoke the spirit of sage to clear stagnant and negative energy, to drive away unwelcome spirits, to establish spiritual protection, and to restore calmness.

Burning Sage

Respecting the Tradition

The ceremonial practice of smudging with sage belongs to Indigenous North Americans, whose ancestors established the tradition long ago. The practice of smudging has since become widely adopted by people from other cultures, and this brings a strong risk of cultural appropriation. As a way of showing respect for the tradition, I suggest speaking a prayer of thanks, such as this:

QuoteIt is with deep respect and honour that I hereby give thanks to the Indigenous North American culture for the privilege of performing the smudging ceremony. I intend to use the smudging ceremony to help improve my health and wellbeing, and ultimately to help make a better world for all.

Thank you, Mallory at Tribal Trade, for your guidelines published here: Can I Smudge With Sage If I'm Non-Indigenous?

Types of Sage

The type of sage most commonly sold and used for smudging is White Sage (Salvia Apiana), a species native to the arid southwestern United States. Any type of sage can be used for smudging, including Common Sage (Salvia Officianalis), which is widely cultivated in gardens for culinary purposes.

Where to Get Sage

Dried sage for smudging can be purchased from almost any metaphysical or spiritual supply store. Some health food stores carry it as well.

Sage can also be purchased online from a variety of different retailers. If you purchase sage online, I recommend avoiding large generic retailers, because the quality of the sage may not be reliable. Instead, I recommend purchasing from an authentic, trustworthy source like Tribal Trade or Tribal Spirit. Another good online alternative is Etsy.

If you grow sage in your garden, you can create your own sage bundles. However, please think carefully about picking wild sage because of over-harvesting concerns, especially with rare wild varieties.

Smudging Overview

There are many different ways to smudge with sage, and there is no right or wrong method. The method described below is a suggestion. You can personalize your smudging ceremony by bringing your own unique aspects to it.

However, is very important to note that there are several aspects of the smudging ceremony that must be observed in order for the ceremony to be effective. These include having respect for the smudging tradition, properly invoking the spirit of sage, and setting clear intentions. Respect for the tradition is discussed above, and the other aspects are covered below.

The smudging method described below assumes you are using a sage bundle. Sage bundles (otherwise known as a sage "sticks" or "wands") are the most common format of sage for smudging, because they are convenient and easy to manipulate.

Preparing

Since you will be working with fire, you will need to be prepared before you begin. You will need to have a fireproof receptacle in order to be able to catch ashes and embers, and to properly extinguish the sage when you are done. Many people use a large seashell for this. Attractive abalone seashells are often sold along with sage for smudging purposes. A glass or ceramic dish or bowl will work as well, but the heat from the burning sage may permanently stain or discolour the receptacle, so be sure to use something appropriate.

You will also need matches or a lighter. A candle can be helpful to keep the sage burning. Additionally, a feather or some type of fan can be useful to direct the smoke. Attractive feathers are often sold along with sage for smudging purposes, but any large feather will work, or even a piece of cardboard.

Igniting the Sage

Sage bundles are sometimes difficult to ignite. The sage needs to be smouldering with a sufficient amount of heat to produce fragrant white smoke. If the smoke is brown or black, or it has an acrid smell, the sage is not hot enough.

To light the sage, you can light a candle and hold the sage over the candle flame. Using a candle allows you to take your time, and prevents having to light multiple matches or overheating your lighter. Rotate the sage bundle over the flame to expose it evenly to heat. Periodically remove the sage bundle from the flame, and blow gently on it to encourage glowing red embers to form. These will produce good fragrant smoke.

I find that sage bundles are sometimes too tightly compressed, which prevents air from getting inside. For this reason, before I begin, I will often gently squeeze the end of the sage bundle to separate the leaves and stalks, giving air more room to get in and support the combustion.

Burning sage has a tendency to stop burning on its own. During your ceremony, keep the sage lit and producing an adequate amount of smoke by periodically blowing on it.

Please be aware that when you burn sage, and especially when you blow on it, burning pieces of sage may fall off the bundle. These burning pieces of sage can damage furniture and carpets, and they also pose a fire risk. Holding the sage over a fireproof receptacle like a glass or ceramic bowl helps to catch ashes and burning bits and pieces.

Using the Smoke

Always begin a smudging ceremony by smudging yourself with the smoke. This prepares you to further cleanse your space, other people, and objects. To smudge yourself with sage smoke, move the smouldering sage bundle around you, and get as much smoke as you can in contact with the different parts of your body. Cup the smoke in your hands and direct it towards your face and pass it around your head. Also pass some smoke under your feet.

To cleanse an object with sage smoke, pass the object through the smoke. Passing the object through the smoke several times is usually sufficient, but a thorough cleansing involves exposing as much of the surface area of the object to the smoke as possible.

To cleanse another person with sage smoke, have the person stand in front of you with their arms held out to the side. Direct the smoke from the smouldering sage towards them. A feather or some kind of fan is useful to waft and direct the smoke around the person. Get as much smoke as you can in contact with the person. Walk around the person to smudge their back.

To cleanse a room in a house, walk around the room with the smouldering sage. Direct the smoke into the different parts of the room, including the corners, under pieces of furniture, and inside closets. A feather or some kind of fan can be used to direct the smoke.

Smudging Prayer

Like all spiritual practices, if you do not set clear intentions for your smudging ceremony, the practice will not be as effective. The spirit of sage also needs to be respectfully invoked in order for the ceremony to be most potent. Therefore, I recommend speaking a prayer during the ceremony as a means of focusing your intentions. There is a tremendous amount of power in the spoken word. Here is a suggested prayer:

QuoteI am calling upon the sacred spirit of sage.
I am calling upon the sacred spirit of sage to be present.
Please cleanse, purify, bless, and protect me.
Please cleanse, purify, bless, and protect this space.

Repeat this prayer as you continue your ceremony. If you are cleansing another person or an object, refer to the person or object as you say the prayer. For example, to cleanse a crystal, you could say something like "please cleanse, purify, bless, and protect this crystal." Adapt the prayer as needed.

Conclude your ceremony by ending the prayer as follows:

QuoteSacred spirit of sage, I thank you. So may it be.

Sage

Finishing Up

When the smudging ceremony is complete, you may extinguish the sage by stubbing the sage bundle into a fireproof receptacle. Some people prefer to let the sage stop burning on its own. In any case, do not leave the sage unattended until you’re sure it’s fully extinguished.

You may also wish to take any ashes and unburned particles from the sage and place them outdoors on the ground. This concludes the ceremony in a respectful manner, and acts as a sacred offering to the Earth.

Loose-Leaf Sage

As an alternative to sage bundles, loose-leaf sage may be used. Loose-leaf sage is a great way to easily produce a lot of smoke for hands-free use, but it must be burned in a suitable or specialized fireproof receptacle.

Igniting the loose-leaf sage can sometimes be difficult. A match is usually best for this purpose in order to get the flame underneath the sage leaves. If the loose-leaf sage is crumbly or in small particles, it is even harder to ignite. Some people use a compressed charcoal tablet to keep the sage burning.

Alternatives to Burning

Sometimes people want the benefits of smudging, but burning sage is not a good option. Some people have respiratory health concerns, and are very sensitive to smoke of any kind. Burning sage can also bring fire safety concerns, and sage smoke can easily activate smoke detectors and fire alarms.

In these cases, an alternative to burning sage may be to use a smokeless sage smudge spray. A smudge spray is a water-based product that still allows you to get the essence and fragrance of sage into the air so it can work, without the need to burn or ignite anything. Smudge sprays are available to purchase in metaphysical stores and through online retailers.

Using the Bathroom Fan

For a quick personal smudge that doesn't get smoke everywhere, consider smudging in the bathroom with the fan on. Many bathrooms lack a smoke detector, and have a fan, so they are ideal places for a quick smudge.

Other Sacred Herbs

Sage is not the only sacred plant that is good for smudging. Other sacred plants traditionally used for smudging are cedar, juniper, sweetgrass, mugwort, palo santo, and tobacco. These plants have properties similar to sage, but they also have their own distinct properties and uses.

Fire Safety

Do not leave burning sage unattended, and ensure it’s properly extinguished after use. Be aware that burning sage produces glowing sparks and embers which can potentially ignite or damage other materials. Sage smoke also will activate smoke detectors and fire alarms.

Health Warning

Please remember that some people have respiratory health concerns, and are extremely sensitive to smoke and fragrances in the air. Please do not use sage in any format if it could adversely affect anyone's health and wellbeing.

Conclusion

Thank you for reading my blog posting about smudging with sage. I highly recommend smudging as a personal spiritual practice to maintain spiritual health and wellbeing. Please use care, and act with intention. Happy smudging!

Robbie Priestley, Shamanic Practitioner - November 15, 2022

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