What the heck is smudging & why should you do it?

Lit sage smudge stick and wafting smoke

There is something primordial within us that connects smoke with spirituality.

Nick Polizzi, The Art Of Smudging – A Shamanic Cleansing Ritual

Practical magic is my favourite kind. Maybe the film of the same name has something to do with it, although I’m not much into tinkering with deceased ex-boyfriends or jumping off the roof.

Maybe it’s just that doing or creating something tangible adds more meaning than, say, simple visualisation (which I also love).

I haven’t written much about magic on Plastic Free Spirit, although I have talked about ritual and making conscious choices to improve aspects of life, and both ideas are bound up with how to live more magically.

Choose whichever word you prefer to replace ‘magical’ – conscious, mindful, empowered – just know that whatever you call it, this thing is available to you.

Here’s how I see it:

  • Our thoughts are powerful tools
  • Living with intention gets better results
  • This world is amazing, and we don’t yet fully understand it (therefore why can’t the metaphysical be real, on some level?).

I use several tools and techniques to help me out on a regular basis. In this post, I want to focus on smudging, or cleansing with smoke. If you’re not sure what smudging is or how to do it, read on.

What is smudging?

Smudging is a tool for cleansing spaces and people. The word is associated with the Native American ceremonial practice, and people all over the world use traditional Native American herbs when smudging, especially white sage, cedar, tobacco and sweetgrass (my favourite).

Understandably, there’s some controversy around whether smudging is an inappropriate appropriation of indigenous practices. But burning fragrant incense, whether woods, barks, resins or herbs, is a traditional element of every spiritual practice I can think of, so my advice is to treat it with respect, trust your intuition (do you prefer sage, or is waving a joss stick around enough for the situation at hand?), and source your ingredients ethically.

When should you smudge?

Whenever a space feels murky – or your own energies feel murky. If you’re wondering what I mean, think about a time when you moved into a new home. Did it feel like it really ‘belonged’ to you at first, or did it still feel as though the last inhabitants had left traces of energy behind?

How do you smudge?

The usual way to smudge is to light a tightly bound bundle of herbs – a smudge stick – and waft the smoke around the room (or a person) until everything feels energetically lighter and brighter.

It’s a meditative practice that you might want to accompany with singing or other sounds, not to mention, in the case of the house move, actual cleaning.

Remember to open lots of windows, and make treat your smouldering bundle with caution (it’s good to have a bowl of sand, soil or salt in which to stub it out when you’re done).

Smudge sticks are moved to where the fragrant smoke is needed… Walk around slowly, wafting the smoke into the corners of the room as you do so.

Pamela Ball, Spells, Charms, Talismans and Amulets: A Complete Guide to Magical Enchantment

Smudging people

If you’re smudging a friend, the same technique applies. In both cases, you’ll simply know when your work is done, and no more smoke is needed.

You can also place your smudge stick in a heatproof dish and use your hands or a feather to waft the smoke over yourself if you need a boost.

…Waft the smoke all around the body, starting at the head and gradually moving down to the feet. Move in a clockwise direction because this creates positivity. You can direct the smoke with your hand or a feather or whatever feels good for you.”

Pamela Ball, Spells, Charms, Talismans and Amulets: A Complete Guide to Magical Enchantment

Benefits of smudging

Remember when I said that we don’t fully understand this world and how amazing it is and that we shouldn’t dismiss metaphysical ideas?

Well, it turns out that this ancient practice may have health benefits – according to science. It’s thought that, depending on your choice of herbs, smudging can be mood-enhancing, uplifting, energising, antibacterial and antimicrobial.

By improving the quality of the air you’re breathing, smudging makes your own little world a better place. Who knows? Maybe we’ll learn, one day, to take indigenous wisdom at face value.

So why not give smudging a try?

And if you feel moved to visualise as you’re smudging, go for it. Who knows? That bad juju might need a little extra help out the door…


Did you know?

Sharing is sexy. It’s true! Please share if you found this useful. As always, you can comment below to let me know your thoughts, favourite herbs for smudging, and brilliant low-waste suppliers of incense and herb bundles. Conscious companies are welcome to comment.

What do you think? Let me know!