How to Smudge and a Brief History

how smudging works
  • Ali

Smudging is the common name given to the indigenous American tradition known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing.  This is a powerful spiritual cleansing technique which calls upon the spirits of various sacred plants to drive away negative energy and to restore balance to an individual, a group or space or perhaps to elements of all three at once. 

This tradition has been a part of the spirituality of indigenous Americans for thousands of years, and although I’ve been doing it for some time, I’m very aware by cultural background is not that of an indigenous American.

It’s a cleansing ritual I’ve adopted and I hope to bring you a bit of background to it, so that if you decide to incorporate it into your day as I have, you do so with the reverence it deserves. Be mindful that burning sage is a sacred religious practice in some Native American cultures. Treat the ritual with respect.

The Ritual of Smudging


The ritual of smudging is very simple and yet very empowering. You don't need a lot of expensive equipment to start doing it in your own home and you certainly don’t need any spiritual training.

Perhaps you are wondering why smudging is effective? 

For me it is because it allows you to effect the world of subtle spiritual energies using various powerful, healing plants.  If you have ever worked with yoga or meditation, you will understand that your body, and indeed, the spaces that you occupy, vibrate with invisible energy currents that can be strongly effected by outside forces, both physical and spiritual.

Smudging allows you to wash away all the emotional and spiritual negativity that gathers in your body and your space over time.  Think of it as taking a cleansing or spiritual shower!  The effects of smudging can be very effective, often banishing stress almost instantly and changing your energy and encouraging peace.  Smudging can also help your body and space to adjust to the healing rhythms of the seasonal or moon cycle.  More than anything, though, smudging can turn your space, and your body, into a peaceful, beautiful temple in which you can rejuvenate yourself and find balance.

The History of Smudging

Relatively new to the Western world, smudging has only come into the general consciousness in the past few decades, however, the tradition goes back thousands of years.  In a way, it is like the indigenous American form of incense use.  When you perform a smudging ritual you are plugging in to an ancient, powerful line of spiritual tradition. Be aware of this and treat it with reverence.

All over the world people have been using plants to generate smoke that seems to produce beneficial effects.  Smoke was often used to drive off insects and to prevent disease.  Smoke is also deeply symbolic - it ascends to heaven, as if bringing any prayers and intentions up with it.  From the incense of Asia and Europe to the sage and cedar of the indigenous Americans, the smoke generated by plants has a primordial history of use as part of spiritual practice.

North American Smudging

Originally, herbs and resins were placed in a special bowl and burned, or they were burned over the smouldering coals of a fire.  Smudge sticks allow for an easy and portable way of cleansing that is just as effective.  Smudge sticks are composed of bundles of dried herbs tied together with natural threads.  Traditionally, sage and sweetgrass are used as sage is thought to drive away negative energies and influence, and sweetgrass attracts positive energy to the space from which the negative energy was banished. Today many other herbs are used too from lavender to rosemary, mint and bay.

Smudging is a way of connecting the material space you are in to the realm of the spirits.  Any sort of fragrant, medicinal herb can be used in smudging.  Some tribes use cedar as a way of carrying prayers up to heaven.  Lavender can provide a calming and soothing energy in a chaotic situation.  These days, it is possible to purchase very high quality pre made smudging sticks so that you can easily begin practicing this powerful ritual, or you can create your own smudge bundle from fresh herbs that grow in your garden.  Explore what works best for you, the scents you prefer and the energetic results you get.

What you need

The practice of burning sage or smudging is fairly simple, with few tools required. Basic tools include:

A sage bundle (or smudge stick)

A seashell, bowl or glass to hold burning sage or capture ash as you move around your space

Some form of flame – matches, a lighter, or an open fire

A feather or fan for fanning smoke is an optional extra

Types of Sage to use

There are many types of sage usable for smudging. Traditional examples include:

white sage or Salvia apiana to give it it’s botanical name

and white prairie sage or Artemisia ludoviciana

To support and respect the cultures that developed the practice, always look into where you are buying indigenous sage from and support sage gathered by native crafters and artists.

How to prepare to smudge

Before burning sage, you may want to set your intention. This can be especially powerful if you are smudging for spiritual or energetic purposes or to clear negativity.

Remove animals or people from the room.

It’s also important to leave a window open before, during, and after smudging which allows smoke and any negativity to escape. Some believe smoke also takes impurities and negative energy with it — so don’t skip this step.

How to smudge your living space, an object, and more

These steps apply whether you’re smudging yourself, your home, or an object. You can smudge any of these as often as you’d like.

What to do

Light the end of a sage bundle with a match. Blow it out quickly if it catches on fire. You want to tips of the leaves to smoulder slowly, releasing thick, aromatic smoke, rather than flames and a fire.

Direct this smoke around your body and space with one hand while holding the smudge stick or bundle in the other.

Allow the smoke to linger on the areas of your body or surroundings you’d like to focus on. Using a fan or feather can also help direct the smoke.

Allow the ash to collect in a ceramic bowl, shell or glass rather than spilling onto the floor.

How to Smudge your home or living space

In this instance, direct sage smoke over all surfaces and spaces in your home or living area. Be thorough.

I like to work in a clockwise direction around my home, ending back where I started, but this is not necessary. Simply do what feels right for you and always follow your intuition.

Pay particular attention to corners as that is where stagnant energy can form - in the same way you might find dust balls!

If you start at a main entrance door you might like to leave that slightly ajar (if it’s safe to do so) coming back to it, and closing it, at the very end.

Smudge an object

When smudging an object I like to direct smoke around and over the object.

This can be done to a new item, such as jewellery, furniture, or clothing to protect or dispel it of negative energy or to items related to negative experiences or memories you may have.

Some people burn sage over special objects, to acknowledge the object with sacred meaning.

I know a lady who is particular about smudging any antique objects or jewellery she buys so that she dispels any negative energy or connections it already has to it’s previous owner.


You can also light and burn sage to improve odour, fragrance, and mood.

Simply waft sage smoke in and around your home. You can place the bundle in a fireproof bowl or burner and allow it to smoke for a while. I love the smell but try it first, you may not.

What to do after a smudge

Make sure your smudge stick is completely extinguished before you leave it. You can do this by dabbing the lit end into a small bowl of ash or sand.

Check the end closely to make sure there are no more embers burning. Once it’s completely out, store it in a safe, dry place out of the sun.

Are there any side effects or risks?

When done correctly and respectfully, smudging is completely safe and the effects last after the smoke clears.

Be careful with sage when it’s lit. If you aren’t careful, burns and even fire is possible. Have water nearby.

As with any flame never leave it unattended and this goes for sage too. Never leave burning sage unattended. Make sure to put your sage bundle out completely after every use.

Setting off smoke alarms is common. Consider this if smudging in a public building.

People with asthma and other respiratory conditions may be more sensitive to the smoke and have adverse reactions. Check first and be aware of this.

Always leave a window open while smudging. I never create too much smoke but be aware that inhaling smoke can be hazardous to your health.

Tell me about your experience

If you already practice smudging I’d love to hear of your experiences and how and when you love to practice this ancient ritual. If you’re new to it and have further questions feel free to message me. I’m happy to share my experiences.