Common herbs are sage, cedar, and sweegrass, but many other herbs can be used as well.
Smudging can be used for yourself, for others, for your house and vehicle, for your ritual tools, for your altar and sacred space, for prayers for world peace. Just about anything.
(You can purchase your own sage smudge sticks and support this service at the same time.)
In its essence, though, all smudging is the burning of special herbs for ritual purposes. This is something Witches have always done.
And smudges have benefits for the modern Wiccan. Being natural herbs, they are less likely to cause difficulties for the growing number of people who are sensitive to fragrances.
Even for those who are not allergic, it is definitely in your best interests to always use non-chemical scents. Artificial fragrances are made of known cancer-causing and nerve-damaging chemicals.
So now we come to the question, how to smudge?
WITCH TIP: Please see the article on Sacred Scents & Wiccan Incense for a list of common smudging herbs and their powers.
If you like, though, you can make your own. Here's how . . . .
Work with the cycles. There is a best time for harvesting every plant. It might be nighttime or dawn, Full Moon or Dark Moon . . . . Find out what the appropriate time is, and go then.
When finding plants to harvest, a good practice is to leave the first one you see. It has alerted you to the presence of the plants, and doesn't it just seem bad manners to take it after that?
When you are harvesting plants for smudging (or other ritual purposes), it is wise to ask the plant's willingness, and to leave it thanks and an offering.
This is important for any item found in nature that you wish to use, but especially so with ritual objects. If you don't show respect, the spirit of the plant may be harmed and resentful. Bringing such negative energies is obviously detrimental to your purpose.
Choose the herbs based on what qualities they have or invoke. For instance, sage is excellent for clearing out negative energies.
In sacred space, gather your materials. Besides the herbs, you will need scissors and some sort of thread for wrapping. It can be a fairly messy process, so you might want a sheet or something beneath you, to help with cleaning up.
For thread, I recommend a natural embroidery or quilting thread. If the thread is too thin, like what you would use for sewing, it can cut into the herbs and break rather than bind them.
Look for something made from cotton, linen, hemp or similar materials, and uncoloured by dyes. Remember, you're going to be burning this, and inhaling it! You don't want to pollute the energy -- or your sacred body -- with polyester and chemical colourants.
If you can get some dyed with natural plant colouring, then choose a thread based on what the colour is good for. For example, if you are wanting health, you may wrap your herbs in a grass green thread.
As you wrap the herbs, be aware of what energies you are collecting into it. Imagine that the thread is binding the magick into your bundle. Feel gratitude for the gift that the plant and the Mother have given you.
When it is done, say a blessing or prayer over it, dedicating it to its purpose.
Don't do it!
Especially with Abalone shells. Smudge sticks are often sold with Abalone shells, as this is a First Nations practice. But it is inappropriate for Wiccans to use shells for smudging (especially since Abalone is endangered and a protected species).
First of all, a shell is not fire-safe. Perhaps more importantly, though, Abalone is sacred to the Goddess. And since seashells are naturally affiliated with water (yin), it is not respectful to use a shell - especially Abalone - for air/fire (yang) rituals.
One is to shave or crumble bits of the herb onto a charcoal block that you've already lit -- if you can find one without an offensive odour. (The self-starting ones seem to be the worst for that.)
Another option is to use a smudge stick, and light the stick itself. Sweetgrass braids can also be lit directly.
I light them from my altar candle. This is both symbolic and practical. Symbolic, in that I feel that it is the Divine Energy, which my candle contains, that lights the smudge stick for me. And practical since it can take a while for them to catch, and a candle flame is an ongoing safe source of fire.
Keeping a lighter ignited for more than a few seconds, however, can be dangerous. They have been known to explode during prolonged burning.
Sweetgrass braids may not burn very well. You can help them burn if you gently fan the braid up and down.
For a smudge stick, light the top. The top of the stick is the thinner, non-twiggy end -- the bottom is also encircled with thread.
Do not blow on it to direct the smoke. Use a feather to fan the smoke over you, or the object you are smudging.
WITCH TIP: You don't need a raging inferno. A bit of sparks smoldering at the end is often enough, especially indoors.
If it's burning more than you'd like, damp it down a little in your pot of sand.
So once it is lit, use your hand or breath to blow the flame out if it doesn't go out on its own.
Then wave the smoke around whatever it is you'd like to purify. A feather or group of feathers is a traditional way to do this.
As the smoke moves around and up to the sky, imagine releasing whatever is not in your best interests. Let it go on the smoke. The sacred smoke will take these energies back to the Source, where they will be transformed into positive energy again.
You can pray and sing for the cleansing that you desire.
You will want to keep a bowl of sand or earth nearby. When you are done smudging, bury the burning end completely . . . Check back to make sure it is completely out.
This bowl is also useful for tapping loose burning embers into.
If smudging indoors, excessive smoke will set off a smoke detector.
If smudging outdoors, be very careful in the dry season. A grass fire or forest fire is too much smudge for anyone!
Be aware that sparks do fall off, and can burn clothing, altar cloths, floors, etc. So use with caution.
WITCH TIP: Sage and other smudge herbs or branches added to your bonfire will help keep mosquitoes away, especially if they’re green and smokey. You can smudge in the smoke, and it makes your whole area smell great!
As a Wiccan, you are intensely aware of the necessity of balancing energies. If you take without return, the energy flows only one way. Imbalance is created. Ultimately this defeats your purpose, because only balance heals and empowers you.
So keep an awareness of gratitude to those who have created and shared this ritual. And do what you can to support them, in return.
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