Holy Smoke: The Quick-and-Dirty on Smudging


You've probably seen or heard of burning sage in homes, yoga studios, and other spiritual spaces, but there is so much more to this practice than is often understood. People around the world have used scent and scented smoke for thousands of years for ritual and ceremonial purposes. Most of us have taken this practice out of context, so here is the quick-and-dirty on burning/"saging"/smudging, the uses, the myths, the tools, and the plants used for specific purposes. 

Uses of Smudging

We have come to understand smudging as a way to clear negative energy from a space. We think that when certain people, things, or events come into a space, they leave an essence that lingers in the space and sometimes we want to clear that essence out and return the space to a neutral energy. 

Smudging is not just for clearing. Many herbs, woods, and resins can infuse positive intentions into your space, which is a necessary step after clearing space. Around the internet you will find many step-by-step ways to smudge a space but do not feel obligated to follow those steps exactly. Again, we are not following blindly. We do what works for us and our intentions. 

When are good times to smudge?

  • Moving to a new home or office

  • After having guests in your home

  • After spending time in a space that feels negative or sharing space with a lot of people

  • When negative events have happened in a space

  • At the start of a new season or transition in your life

What People Get Wrong About Smudging

As spiritual people, it's important for us to have knowledge and context about the things we do and use, understanding why and how certain things are done instead of following blindly. All the cool spiritual folks on Instagram post pictures of their bundled herbs smoldering on an abalone shell, moving the smoke around on the room with a feather. When we are beginning our journey we think "Oh, this must be something I need to do." But if you don't know what you're doing and why you're doing it, you probably won't get the results you want. 

Myth 1: Burning dried sage clears the negative energy from people and spaces.

Truth: This is not completely wrong, but the full truth is that sage can be compared to spiritual bleach. It's going to clear EVERYTHING off of the person or space - good or bad. This is good for some situations but the key is following up after the sage with another herb or smoke that will infuse positive intention onto a person or into a space. Otherwise, your freshly "saged", neutral space will be primed and ready for any old thing to take up space. 

Myth 2: Burning sage makes me feel better or makes my space feel more calm and positive.

Truth: Again, not completely wrong, but not the full truth. Part of this good feeling is a placebo effect - a real scientific phenomenon that makes you feel good because of what you think something is doing for you. The other part of this is that sage can release negative ions into the space and remove bacteria from the air. But, as previously stated, when you neutralize the space, you must intentionally refill it with what you want or else you will allow space for ANYTHING to stick and stay with you. 

Tools and Plants for Smudging/Clearing/infusing energy into a space

You do not need a feather or altar or crystals to smudge your space. Take whatever tool you're going to use, use a heat safe plate or surface to catch any ashes or sparks that might fall, Use your hand to move the smoke up into all corners of the space or to move the  smoke around your body. If you feel inclined, speak affirmations over yourself and the space and call in your specific intentions for the space. Repeat these intentions until you move completely around the space , then let the bundle or stick burn out. This is good practice to do at least seasonally and as necessary. 

Other than sage, what else can you use to clear your space and then bring in the energy you want?

Do your research to determine which plants, resins, or oils will give you the desired effect. Below are a few examples of what you could use:

  • Sweetgrass

  • Rosemary

  • Mugwort

  • Palo Santo

  • Resins (this is tree sap, the life blood of a tree, that is said to have healing properties)

  • Incense (Frankincense, Myrrh, Dragon's Blood - just to name a few)

Can't use smoke in the space? Here are some other options:

  • Florida water

  • Rose water

  • Sage tea (steep sage leaves in spring water like tea)

  • Smudging sprays (you can find these online and in health/wellness stores)

  • Essential oil diffusers