With benefits of healing, protecting, and purifying, there is much good to take in from the ancient art of smoke cleansing. With each ember’s flicker and billow of smoke, a rich past is awakened.
Cultures the world over have developed their own smoke cleansing practices through the centuries. Knowing the deep history of why and where these practices began allows us to respect both the people who created and passed down these traditions and the sacred plants themselves.
What is smoke cleansing?
The term “smoke cleansing” can describe any ritual use of smoke from the burning of natural materials.
Communities in many times and places have embraced their own unique forms of smoke cleansing. The earliest known examples date back to the 24th and 25th centuries BC in Egypt’s Fifth Dynasty. Today, the most recognized form of smoke cleansing, called smudging, is used by indigenous peoples of North America. Smudging utilizes sacred smoke that emanates from ceremonial plants, resin, or wood. It’s a ritual that allows participants to connect to the spirit world.
When done responsibly and respectfully, smoke cleansing can be a peaceful experience that invites us to slow down and embrace nature. Different herbs offer their own aromatic qualities to induce things such as sleep or relaxation. Burning plants such as sage can also purify the air in your home with its antibacterial and antiviral properties.
Spiritually, fire represents transformation, so smoke cleansing practices can help remove negativity from you, your home, and your belongings. Energetically, smoke cleansing can provide a barrier of protection to your energetic field and ground you in the present moment.
How often should you smoke cleanse?
There’s no one-size-fits-all schedule for any ritual, and that includes smoke cleansing! Typically, smoke cleansing marks a transformative moment, like the change of a season or moving into a new home. You can also do it more frequently to ensure you are moving stagnant negative energy out of the way. A daily practice can allow you to set intentions and invite positivity into your life on a regular basis.
Best plants for smoke cleansing
Connecting with certain plants -- and understanding where they come from and how they’re traditionally used -- is a great first step on your smoke cleansing journey. Getting in tune with your own roots and ancestral knowledge can assist you in embracing the plants that are most likely to truly work for you.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Lavender is known as the Mother Plant for all of its beneficial healing properties. Used in ancient Egypt and Greece, lavender has a calming effect and is said to be best burnt before bed.
- Palo santo is a mystical tree native to an enormous region in South America, from the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico all the way to Peru. Sometimes called “the holy wood,” palo santo is best used to ward off evil spirits.
- Cedar is known to attract good spirits. Burning cedar at the beginning of a new year is a beloved Jewish custom.
- Several indigenous tribes native to California use white sage for purification and disinfection on top of smudging ceremonies. Currently this shrub is under threat from poachers and commercialization, so it’s imperative to choose an ethical source when purchasing.
- The Aboriginal peoples of Australia burn eucalyptus, a symbol of abundance and protection.
How to work with smoke cleansing
When you begin a smoke cleansing ritual, be sure to set an intention, whether it’s to release negativity or invite positive experiences. You can use a bundle of plants to cleanse your home, your body, or any possessions you feel are holding negativity. Keep a lighter handy, as the thick bundle makes the flame burn out quickly. Waft the smoke around whatever you’re cleansing and hold the bundle upside down so the smoke billows out. You can say an affirmation out loud as you do this. Examples might include “I release anything negative standing in my way” or “I welcome love and connection into my home.”
It’s possible to make your own herb or plant bundle by collecting dried materials you’ve gathered or grown on your own. Lavender, for instance, can be wrapped with twine then hung upside down to dry. Once dry, you can burn these bundles as part of a cleansing ritual.
No matter what herbs you choose, it’s important to wrap them tightly as soon as they’re clipped. As once they’re fully dry, the leaves will break and crumble if not tightly wound already.
Once the smoke has cleared from your cleansing ritual, you should have an essence of clarity as the new energy in the room settles. Remove any leftover ashes, as they are said to hold the negativity of what you’re trying to release. Alternatively, you can place the ashes on a doorstep or front porch to further protect your home.
How to cleanse your home
Open all the doors and windows in your home so any negative energy has a place to leave. Start by cleansing your front door, then move through the rooms in your house in a clockwise motion. Be sure to cleanse every corner, closet, and cranny of your home. During the entire process, imagine any negativity leaving your space. Call in light and protection along the way.
How to cleanse yourself
As you light your bundle, set your intention. You’ll focus on different parts of your body by moving the bundle around them, allowing the smoke to make a cleansing path.
Start by cleansing your hands, then move the smoke around your head and move down over the rest of your body, lingering in any areas that feel intuitively meaningful and making sure to cleanse the bottoms of your feet at the end. As you do this, imagine any negativity leaving your energetic field and physical body.
How to cleanse your tools
Ritual tools accumulate energy that needs to be cleared for optimal use. Regularly cleanse your Tarot cards and crystals by moving the smoke around them and visualizing negative energy leaving. It’s especially important to cleanse any item once you first receive it, as anything that came before you is imprinted into it.
A smoke cleansing ritual you can try
Start in meditation and ask yourself: what material would best serve you at this moment. Is it lavender? Cedar? Eucalyptus? Once the answer comes up, grab that plant and begin to meditate with it.
Clear your mind and soften your heart. Once you've set your intention, you can light your smoke bundle or plant and move through the parameters of your space clockwise. Make sure your doors and windows are open to allow any negative energy to escape.
Keep your intention in your mind as you move from room to room. Use a bowl or other receptacle to catch any ashes, so they don't fall around your home and stress you out by making a mess. Make sure to bring the smoke into every corner where negative energy might gather and stagnate.
Once you've moved through your whole space, take a moment to let the energy and smoke clear. Breathe deep and give gratitude to the Earth for offering up her resources to you. Grab your journal and write about the energy or goals you want to invite into this newly-cleansed space.