Smudging, also known as fumigating, is a very simple and powerful way to help keep the energies of an area clean &/or charged with a particular spiritual effect or magical intent. In today's article I will focus on smudging for spiritual cleansing purposes, give you some ideas of herbs and resins you can use to great effect, as well as provide some dos and don'ts of proper smudging.
Most people who are active in the spiritual community are familiar with using sage smoke as a form of spiritual cleansing and sanctification. Smudge bundles with sage, and sometimes accompanied by cedar, sweetgrass, and lavender are extremely popular and commonly used in a variety of spiritual and religious contexts- although the specific usage of sage, cedar, and sweetgrass originates with the Native American and First Nations peoples. Pretty much every culture has their own smudge practices, which utilize the plants which are native to their region, so you are in no way limited to sage, cedar, and sweetgrass when choosing a substance to use as a smudge. It need only be a material that has a traditional history of use as a spiritually cleansing natural substance which is non-toxic when burnt. Knowing exactly HOW that particular substance effects the environment in a cleansing way can really help you choose the right smudge for your needs.
Let's explore a short-list of substances that are commonly available and can be used for smudging your home, office, or magical working space. (This is in no way an exhaustive list, just something to get you started.)
SAGE: The smoke of sage is believed to remove any negative influences (energies, spirits, distracting thoughts or emotions, etc) from the area, carrying those out on the smoke tendrils as they waft away from the ceremony. It also establishes a boundary that repels negativity for a period of time. After burning sage, a properly smudged area should feel very light and airy, and those who took part in the smudge rite should feel calm and centered.
Generally speaking, sage is extremely effective for this purpose. However I have seen it said by an elder of the Sophian Gnostic tradition that in some places the spirits may become "immune" to sage if it is the only substance ever used in cleansing rites. Therefore, it is best to have other substances in your arsenal to avoid desensitization, or to be able to have another method to remove the negative influences should they prove stubborn against sage.
There are many different varieties of sage with white sage and sagebrush being the most commonly used forms for smudging. However all sages are effective for cleansing in this fashion. Living in Canada, I cannot grow the desert sages, however garden sage (salvia) grows very well here. I have several large garden sage bushes that I harvest for organic smudge material, and for use in my conjure work. Growing your own ritual herbs is extremely rewarding and in many cases extremely easy (I hardly have to do anything to my sage to keep it healthy).
CEDAR: Cedar is another traditional plant burnt for cleansing. It purifies the area and attracts positive energy at the same time. Cedar is also said to promote forgiveness and balance the emotions. Western Red Cedar and California Incense Cedar are the two most effective types to use for smudging purposes.
LAVENDER: Lavender is an herb which is extremely healing, calming, and protective, and so it is often used in smudge blends for these specific effects. It is rarely burnt on its own, but there's no reason why it can't be. Lavender smoke will help soothe any rough emotional edges that may have resulted from any negativity in the area, calm the nerves, bring healing to the situation, and establish a gentle boundary of safety and protection.
Some people really dislike the smell of burning herbs. For those who have breathing difficulties due to asthma or some other respitory challenge, the smell isn't so much of an issue as the smoke itself. If you, or someone you live with, happens to fit these descriptions don't despair! There are other substances you can burn if the smell is the problem, and there are Smokeless Smudge options made from pure essential oils that do not aggravate breathing problems.
Queen of Pentacles Conjure Shop sometimes carries one such Smokeless Smudge Spray that is a harmonious blend of sage, cedar, lavender and juniper, and incorporates cleansing flower essence of Pear for emotional centerdness and calm, as well as clear quartz gem essence charged in waning moonlight for the greatest clearing effect. It also have been embued with Reiki healing energy to increase the overall potency.
FRANKINCENSE RESIN: Frankincense also has an extremely long history of use in spiritual ceremonies. It works by raising the spiritual vibration of a place to such a high degree that lower vibrations cannot stay in the same area. It also brings in a very high Divine influence, very conducive to spiritual work of all kinds. In conjure it is known to be extremely powerful and can be added to any magical mixture to boost its overall effectiveness and potency. Scientifically, frankincense smoke has proven to have an anti-depressive effect.
I use frankincense most often when I fumigate. It does not leave the smoky smell after it like burning herbs do, and the aroma is much more subtle overall. The actual smoke from burning tends to disperse and dissipate faster than herbal smoke as well. I find the spiritual sensation that it leaves to have a higher light quotient than herbal smoke as well. That being said, I wouldn't say that it is superior to herbal smudge, just that it definitely has different qualities - so try both and see which you like better.
As with other resins, you will need to burn frankincense on a self-lighting charcoal in an appropriate heat-safe incense burner.
CAMPHOR RESIN:Camphor is extremely purgative and slightly mind-altering. It is also EXTREMELY strong, so use in small amounts. When burning camphor has a heavy menthol smell that can be very difficult to breathe in, so again, just use a little at a time and add more as needed.
Camphor makes a space uninhabitable to spirits of lower vibrations (and that includes benevolent ghosts), as well as negative energy. Angelics and higher Divine beings can easily still dwell within the space where camphor is burned and kept, but other spirits (even well meaning ones) will be repelled.
Camphor can also be used to seal a room against spirit presences by first cleansing a room, and then placing chunks of camphor resin in each of the room's corners. If you cannot seal a room in this manner - for instance if you are not staying at your own home - you can place a piece of camphor in a glass of water and keep it under or beside your bed for spiritual protection.
I use camphor infrequently, as I generally like to keep my more earthly helper spirits around my working area and burning camphor makes it impossible for them to stay around. However from time to time when when I feel an area really needs a serious cleansing, or when a particular magical operation calls for me to burn camphor, I will respectfully inform my helpers that I'll be using camphor so they'll know to clear out before getting pushed out, and then add it to my smudge.
A NOTE ABOUT SMUDGING WITH AN ABALONE SHELL: Abalone shells are sold pretty much anywhere you can buy smudging supplies, as it has become almost "traditional" within many New Age communities to use it as an ash catcher, or as a burner for loose herbs, when smudging. Some Native American and First Nations elders have spoken out against this practice in the context of their particular tribal beliefs. Energetically this actually makes little sense, as the shells are linked to the energies of Water, and Smudging is a Fire/Air cleansing rite. There has also been some concern raised over the gathering methods for these shells, where little concern for ecological balance is shown. Not to mention that do you feel that an animal should die so that you can have a pretty shell to smudge with? It's much more authentic and traditional to use a ceramic or clay pot to smudge with, and there is are no animals harmed! You may also feel free to use a metal container, such as a small cauldron or large incense brazier.
So now that you've chosen what you want to smudge with - whether that be herbs, resins, or using a Smokeless option - it's time to get to the cleansing rite itself. It's actually extremely simple, it just takes a bit of time to do it thoroughly.
1) Get whatever you will be using as a smudge burner. It should be something heat-safe that you can carry around with you. You may also want a paper-fan or something to direct the smoke with, although your hand can work perfectly well.
2) Open all your windows and doors so that smoke can escape as your smudge - this let the negative energy and spirits leave easily.
3) Light your smudge material and let it start smoking strongly. You will probably want to use a candle for this if you are using a tightly bound smudge stick/bundle, as it can take some time before it truly lights and will continue burning on its own.
4) Start by waving the smoke around your own body to smudge your own aura. Say a prayer or affirmation that states your intent to be spiritually clean. This can be as simple as "May this smoke cleanse me", or "In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, may I be cleansed and purified". Whatever works for you. After you have smudged yourself, smudge any other people that may be present.
4) Next begin walking around each room wafting smoke. Some people start in the East and move counterclockwise, which is the direction of banishing. Some will start at the back of the space and move to the front. However if you have a system that works differently, please feel free to use it. If you have no system, then simply move in an intuitive fashion.
5) As you waft smoke, repeat your prayer/affirmation.
6) Make sure the smoke gets into EVERY CORNER, UNDER EVERY PIECE OF FURNITURE, BEHIND EVERY CURTAIN, INTO EVERY DRAWER AND CABINET, and INTO EVERY APPLICANCE. This is very important!! Just like dust will move into and accumulate in areas that are harder for you to dust or vacuum, the negative energy and spirits will hide in any areas that are missed, so make sure to be very thorough.
7) Go through your entire home/office/etc this way.
8) When you are finished, you may say a prayer or affirmation confirming that the house is now clean and purified. You may wish to pray over a white candle annointed with Holy Oil or Blessing Oil and light that candle at the conclusion.
9) Leave your windows and doors open until all the smoke has dissipated.
10) If after smudging you wish to impregnate your atmosphere with a particular magical energy, such as prosperity, love, etc, then you may burn some appropriate incense, or an appropriate Magical Herb Blend.
Now because this does take a bit of time and effort doing a very thorough smudge may not be convenient to do before or after each and every ritual. It's certainly not a daily ritual. I tend to do what I call a "Big Smudge" once a month in my home, and once a week in my magical work space. Between Big Smudges you can do "mini-smudges", which is where you just smudge yourself and the immediate area that you will be/were working in. I do a mini-smudge before and after each client that I see for healing work.
Smokeless Smudge is a ideal option to use for mini-smudges, especially when you may have more than one client in a day and you do not wish to have your space become permeated with smoke. It can also be wonderful to use before meditation or yoga to help you brush off the energies of the day and find your calm center. It can also be used by professionals in a variety of contexts, from counselors and therapists, to doctors and healers!
Keeping your home and work space spiritually clean is a very important step that will help protect you from negative influences, and help your magical work be more effective. So try starting with something simple, like smudging, perform it regularly for a few days or weeks, and see for yourself the positive effects it can have in your life and work!