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The sacred art of healing with smudge sticks
Smudging is the ancient practice of bathing in the smoke of sacred herbs such as cedar, sage, pine pitch, frankincense, myrrh, juniper, mugwort, and sweetgrass. These herbs are ritually harvested and prepared with a sacred healing intent – often during a full moon or on an important spiritual holy-day. For an in-depth article on harvesting healing herbs in the wild.
Most of the herbs used for smudging are high in volatile essential oils, making them fragrant, and flammable. When these oils are heated they release into the air bringing their anti-microbial properties into the atmosphere. While heating to the point of combustion destroys the chemically beneficial properties of these oils, the visible smoke becomes a spiritual salve of sorts connecting our visible existence with the invisible spirit world or higher planes of consciousness.
Smoke is used in many guises to lift our spirits, to make offerings, and to cleanse: sweetgrass is used to cleanse the sweat-lodge; frankincense and myrrh are burnt at Mass; the peace pipe is shared in the elder’s tent; a lit stick of incense is an object of focus for deep meditation; bundled and dried herbs are burnt to cleanse a sick room.
A Tibetan Buddhist Nun Ani Pema uses incense as an offering in a Tibetan Buddhist ritual.
My mother taught me the art of making smudge sticks from my youngest age, and her tradition of twisting multi-colored twine, gathering and drying the herbs and wrapping is one that I proudly continue and pass on today.
The Smudging Ritual
Once the smudge stick is constructed, you may like to let it “mellow” on your altar for a moon-cycle – gathering healing energy, integrating all it’s parts, receiving your healing intentions over a period of time. When it is needed, the smudge stick will be a welcome ally in clearing bad energy, or asking for help with deep healing, especially in chronic or long-term illness.
Light the smudge stick and blow out the flame. It should burn like a big stick of incense with plenty of smoke. Make sure you have a safe place to extinguish the stick when the ritual is complete. One smudge stick will last through many rituals over the course of many years. Gather feathers, if you can, to help spread the smoke and direct it into a space or over a person as you are working. Feathers represent the air element, and with the smoke from your burning smudge stick will help direct your intentions. If no feathers are available, use your hands.
Speak to the spirit energies, or sing a song, or ring a bell, or play a drum. Vibrate the space with your love and intention as the smoke carries your positive thoughts to the heavens.
The Holistic Homestead is not partial to any particular religious or spiritual tradition, we do however acknowledge and encourage honoring the vital role that spirituality plays in our overall health and wellbeing.
Make your own Smudge Stick
Smoking with plants is a cleansing ritual performed by communities across the world. In Native American communities, herbs are burned to heal and cleanse the mind, body and spirit, and incense, aromatic plant material bound with a combustible base, is traditionally used for similar reasons in many Christian, Buddhist and other religious and medicinal ceremonies.
In Australia, many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities collect and smoulder native Australian plants to clear away unwanted energies and make way for positive, new energies. Some of the plants used are also renowned for their antimicrobial properties, and Eremophilia longifolia in particular has been found to release its healing properties through the process of smoking.
For me, the beautiful fragrance and ritual of taking the time to clear my home or studio and refocus my intentions are enough to make this a worthwhile ritual. I like to use native Australian plants that I’ve harvested in my local area to create generous bundles and use them to fill my home with the scents of the Australian bush.
To create your own native Australian smudge sticks you’ll need:
A generous handful of small, leaf covered branches (about 25 cm long). Here I’ve used eucalyptus, melaleuca, casuarina and acacia. I’ve also used other Australian native plants like banksia, lemon myrtle and callistemon and herbs like sage, lavender and rosemary in combination with the Australian plants. Make sure that the leaves are fresh, free of disease and dry (not moist).
Pure cotton thread or fine string
To make your smudge stick:
Cut the branches to the same length, about 20cm, leaving a few centimetres of stem at one end to use as a handle.
Arrange the stems in a bundle and bind and knot the end of the string (leaving a 10cm tail) to secure the branches together tightly at the stem end.
Holding the bundle in one hand and the string in the other, wrap the string around the bundle, pulling tightly as you move toward the top.
Upon reaching the top of the bundle, turn it around and wrap the string back down toward the stem end in the opposite direction to the first length of string. The strings should cross over along the length of the stick. Use this second pass to secure any leaves that were loose after the first.
When you reach the stem end again, cut the string (leaving a length of about 10cm) and knot it firmly with the original 10cm length.
Leave your bundle in a dark, warm, dry position with good air circulation for 3-4 weeks to dry.
Using your smudge stick:
Holding the handle of your stick, light the end with a candle. Allow the end to remain alight with flame for a few seconds and then gently wave to extinguish the flame.
Always holding the burning end of the stick over a ceramic bowl to catch falling ash, walk around your home gently waving your stick to fill each room with smoke.
When finished, snuff the stick by pressing it into the ceramic bowl. Alternatively, leave the stick in the bowl, allowing it to smoulder until it extinguishes naturally.
You may relight and repeat this process until the stick has completely burned.
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