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The Ancient Practice of Smoke Cleansing

The Ancient Practice of Smoke Cleansing

Smoke cleansing is the ancient practice of clearing a space with herbal smoke. Though often misattributed to a similar practice performed by the Indigenous people of North America, smoke cleansing has been around for thousands of years and was not just used for spiritual purposes. It turns out that one of the biggest benefits of smudging is often the most commonly overlooked: It’s good for your health.

Using herbal smoke and incense for the purpose of clearing the air of unwanted impurities, negative energies, or to conjure up spirits, has been practiced across the globe by almost every race, creed, and religion since the very beginning, and many still use herbal smoke today, not just for spiritual practice, but for health. Modern studies have shown that burning herbal smoke (it does not always, and should not always, be white sage) can drastically reduce the amount of pathogens and bacteria in the air, by up to 94%. In Medieval Europe, in addition to the religious and ritual use of smoke, such as Pagan smoke offerings or the Catholic Church’s heavy use of incense, herbal smoke was commonly used in fumigation, and to help stop the spread of disease. Even the once common practice of sitting over herbal smoke (most often mugwort) was used to aid in feminine issues, such as menstrual cramps and tissue repair after childbirth, is still in practice today in many parts of Asia.

While many modern practitioners of the art of “smudging” may have taken tips from Indigenous people, to assume it is cultural appropriation is to wrongly ignore the practice’s diverse origin and practical uses. The term “smudging” was not popularized until the late 1900s when it also became married to the specific Native North American practice, which often involved the use of sage, sweet grass, cedar, tobacco, a feather, and a sacred dish, often a shell. Some worry that because of smoke cleansing’s recent spike in popularity, white sage is being over-harvested. But, white sage is only one of the many, many herbs you can use and the practice does not have to be identical to the Native American ritual because it shouldn’t be if you’re worried about cultural appropriation. However, we do encourage you to follow your own beliefs and create your own traditions using smudge sticks.

If you’re lacking in sage and looking for good alternatives, you can use pine, lavender, roses, mugwort, cedar, basil, clove, mint, or bay leaves. The truth is, it doesn’t really matter which herb you use, what matters is the herb’s effect and the practitioner’s intent as some herbs having a calming effect, some cleansing, some invigorating. 

The art of burning herbs has aromatic, calming, cleansing, meditative and spiritual power. Sometimes it is used for invocation, other times it is used to case away unwanted spirits, or to cleanse spiritual objects, but no matter how you use it, it’s bound to do you some good on both a physical and psychological level. Traditionally, any time of reflection or new beginnings are good times to practice smoke cleansing. Burning herbs is also good practice when you’re feeling uneasy, haunted, or even just fatigued. The calming effects of herbal smoke are also said to improve sleep and study.

We have a large selection of smoke cleansing and smudging tools at The Golden Buddha, as well as incense and charcoal.

Check out our selection today!


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