Originally published January 15, 2015
From watching the various groups on Facebook, and the various comments I get on my instagram account, it is clear to me that most people are not well educated on maintaining their own personal spiritual hygiene. Perhaps that is why this subject is so close to my heart, and why I feel the need to speak on it so often. It certainly comes up in my day-to-day life enough to keep me inspired to talk about it, and as long as the spirits keep putting this subject in front of me, I guess I will keep talking about it.
In most online communities that I belong to, I see people asking for advice on spiritual cleansing. People say that they feel they are cursed, that someone has claimed to have cursed them, they just feel unlucky, like there is a spirit in their home, negative energy, that their home is not peaceful, that they are surrounded by arguments, etc. It does not seem to matter what the belief in the cause is, the answer on most groups seems to be the same: “smudge yourself”, or “smudge your home” or “smudge everything”. It would appear that the idea of “smudging” with sage has become a cure all for even the most difficult problem. The dead have been sent to torment you… No problem, you can just smudge them!
This idea of being able to smudge away all of one’s problems is not found in Native American theology. While the very act of smudging with sage as a form of purification certainly does stem from certain tribes, it is not a “cure all” and nor should it be treated as such. To do so is worse than cultural misappropriation, because instead of just taking a piece of their culture and using it according to ones own ends, in this case it has been completely stripped of the spiritual foundation on which it was created and given power beyond any that the tribes that use smudging ever attributed to it.
From the Native American Pow Wow @ JSU, http://www.jsu.edu/news/july_dec2004/powwow.html
The act of smudging is a spiritual ritual in and of itself, and the ritual begins when the white sage is harvested. During the act of harvest, offerings are made to the white sage bush, and it’s task explained to it. It may then be mixed with other ingredients such as cedar and sweetgrass, or it may remain by itself; but you honour the sage by making it into the bundle that will be used for the smudging, either in silence, or with certain sacred songs. Once that bundle is prepared and prayed over, it is given to the medicine man or woman (or an elder who has been trained), along with a sacred fan which is prepared with many beads. This sage bundle is then lit and through sacred breath it is brought to a ember which can then be smudged.
The act of smudging is not a solo affair. There is the person to be smudged, the one that will do the smudging, and at least one drummer. The smudge is placed into an earthern bowl, or a bowl made of wood, and the fan moved to circulate the smoke. As this is done the medicine man or elder will sing the chants to Mother Earth, the various beings on the planet, the four legged and the six legged and eight legged, those with tails and fins, the stone people, and the ancestors. The drums will play, their sacred songs assisting to cleanse away all that is not a direct blessing from the Great Spirit.
As the smudge of the person is finished, the medicine man begins his sacred dance around the lodging, cleansing the space around and thanking Mother Earth for his time to stomp. With his smoke and his chant and his drum and his prayer bundles which he ties to the roof he makes the space anew, and he brings in the many blessings of the Great Spirit. With tiny medicine bundles he transforms old into new, and as he pours his final libations to Mother Earth and the spirits he does so knowing that the medicine is taking effect and change has occured.
What’s certain here, is that even for the cultures where smudging originated, it is not as simple as taking some white sage, or purchasing a premade “smudge stick” from your local new age store and wafting it around. As you know from reading my other blogs on this subject, even if you do manage to clear away whatever you are clearing, you still need to fill that space, that energy, with something new and beneficial.
The act of smudging is not limited to sage, nor is is limited to Native American culture. Certainly in Native American culture sage is not the only herb to be used when smudging. Different tribes have different formulae, although the most common I’ve heard of is sage with cedargrass or sweet grass. This combination is also excellent for welcoming back the beneficial spirits, or the good medicine, once the negative has been driven out. In hispanic cultures the act of smudging has continued with tobacco or cigars. A priest or priestess of one of the ATR’s, or an espiritista (a gifted medium) will take a cigar, light it, and once it is going they will reverse the cigar, place it it their mouths lit end first, and blow the smoke out of the clipped end. This smoke can be blown over an entire person, statue, or even room or home. This form of smudging can have many purposes, to cleanse, to protect, to empower, to bless and to heal.
Ogou Feray in possession of Houngan Liam using Tobacco Smudging as a form of healing.
What empowers this work, or this kind of smudging, is the spiritual force of the one performing the work. It’s not as simple as just blowing on a cigar. One must have absolute control of their spiritual force, what in Haitian Vodou we call Fos, and they must direct that force in accordance with the goal they are seeking to achieve. That is why this kind of treatment is performed by the spirits themselves when they come in possession.
The message I am trying to get across here is that cleansing and spiritual hygiene take work. They are not things to be taken for granted, and nor are they simple. A quick waft around of sage will not keep you spiritually clean. It will not remove negativity from you or your home, nor will it get rid of ghosts or other nasties… Sorry to burst that bubble. Combined with prayer, fasting, songs, and a strong will it may help, but that will very much depend on the skill of the practitioner.
So, having been so mean to the idea of a smudge fixing everything… What can I suggest to help you keep your home and environment spiritually clean? Well, the first step is for things to be physically clean. You can not be spiritually clean when you are surrounded by mess and clutter. It is very important that your home and environment be clean and well cared for. You can make the work of spiritual hygiene a part of your regular cleaning schedule. When you wash your floors, throw in some pine needles and lemon juice with the water and detergent. You can use a product like Chinese Floor Wash… I have to admit we use this in our house for everything. We have it diluted in spray bottles that we use for dusting and cleaning surfaces, we have it in it’s original form for cleaning stainless steel, and we put it in buckets of hot water for mopping floors. We will even spray it lightly on the carpets before vacuuming. The great thing about it is that it smells divine, and as soon as it’s cleaned out all the nasties it brings in good luck. It’s combination of Asian grasses is designed to bring luck and prosperity. Chinese Floor Wash is available from Kiwi Mojo… We believe in this product so much that we use it ourselves: we make it right here, with a lot of prayer.
If you don’t have the money to purchase products or herbs, another option is to head right to your pantry, pour a handful of salt into a bucket and get to cleaning… If you have a lemon tree add a couple of lemons as well, and your house will smell fresh. Just remember that while you’re cleaning you need to be focused on the cleansing… You need to get that mess out, and you need to be praying. A great prayer is to recite while you’re cleaning is the 51st Psalm. You can create your own prayer, or even a song. Just get in there, stay focused, use your force, build up a sweet and you’ll find your home spiritually clean and happy.