Growing up in a Caribbean household, the smell of sage was always omnipresent. My mother, aunts, and grandmother often reminded me to “clear the space” prior to getting cozy. Along with Florida Water (ICYMI: Solange brought her own bottle to the Met Ball), it’s been my saving grace in new or uncomfortable environments.
It’s no surprise that the practice of smudging has accelerated in popularity, but the ritualistic burning of woods and herbs is by no means new. It has been an ancient cleansing practice for many cultures, particularly those of Native American descent, and has roots in Asia and the Middle East as well.
“Smudging is the use of sacred plant medicine to bring or clear energy into a space using the combined elemental energies of fire (flame), earth (plant), and air (smoke),” explains crystal healer, Azalea Lee. In short, smudge ‘deposits’ the energy of the plant into the space helping to dissipate old, lingering energies. Essentially, the practice can “unstick energies stuck to the aura of objects and people,” according to Lee.
Smudging can be an amazing way to cleanse your space now more than ever. With COVID-19, we are all looking for ways to clear bad energy from our households, especially as we are spending a lot more time at home and we are possibly feeling more haunted these days. While you might not particularly believe in spirits or energies, this is a helpful wellness exercise during the pandemic and beyond. Plus, you also get the benefit of some aromatherapy, too.
While there are many ways to smudge, people traditionally lean towards either palo santo or sage to keep the good vibes going. But, there’s a bit of confusion about what to use (and when) since each plant medicine has its own unique benefits.
“Known as ‘holy wood’, Palo Santo is able to be used once these trees have naturally fallen in the rainforest and lie dead for four to ten years before they are harvested,” explains Sabrina Riccio, a soulistic alchemist, soul activator, and medicine priestess. “This sacred plant medicine offers a grounded and clear energy while also enhancing creativity and/or bringing forth good fortune,” she shares.
“Sage comes from the Latin word ‘salvia’ which translates as ‘to heal.' Often, burning sage can bring forth wisdom and clarity as it increases your spiritual awareness,” she continues. “[It carries] more of the masculine/yang aspect. White sage specifically has been used by Native Americans for thousands of years for cleansing, purification, warding off evil spirits, and negative energies.”
After you set an intention [Editor’s Note: All three practitioners interviewed emphasized this] it’s up to you on how frequently you’d like to do it. “Some people do this [smudge] every day, as a ritual or way to start their day. I say do it when you feel your space needs it,” adds meditation and mineral guide, Lauren Spencer King. “There is no wrong time. When I smudge before I have someone over, they can feel how open, healing, and light the energy in my house feels. It will often be the first thing they comment on as they walk in.”
When you are stuck in quarantine, turning smudging into a ritual can be particularly beneficial. This meditation can help you not only cleanse the bad energies from your space, but give you a moment to set an intention for your day — particularly when they all start blurring together.
Both sage and palo santo work separately to cleanse a space. But, they can be even more powerful in tandem. “Think about sage moving energy out and palo santo moving energy in,” adds King. “If you use them at the same time it could get confusing for what is being asked to leave and want is being invited in.”
Before you dive in, ask yourself what makes you actually interested in the practice. “I'm honestly mortified by the unconscious work with spiritual tools like smudge and crystals,” explains Lee. “Too many times, I have seen someone waving a burning smudge stick thinking the smoke itself will clear a space.”
“One must understand that it's the user's intention that brings power to the smudging action," she gently reminds us. "This means being present with the smudging process as it's happening and being grateful to the plant for allowing us to use their body to heal us and our space.”
Equally as important is where did your sage or palo santo come from — just like your food, it’s important that your smudge has been ethically and lovingly farmed. “Much of the smudge available has been unconsciously harvested, often from the wild, without any honor given to the plant in the process,” adds Lee. Luckily, you can find sustainably harvested sets online.
If burning sage or palo santo aren't your thing, there are other ways you can bring wellness practices into your daily routine. Consider starting your day with a meditation, journaling, yoga, or even delve into learning about tarot cards. If done thoughtfully, these rituals can help you bring more peace and intention into your life.
“This is a lifestyle practice. You’ll only get out of it what you put into it. Intention is everything,” adds Riccio who offers an 8-week course on spiritual living in addition to her podcast, The Sovereign Society. “Know that you are creating your reality with every breath, every thought, every belief, and every intention.”