Thursday, June 14, 2007

Sumdging Ceremony Part II - Sacred Herbs

In my last BLOG we discussed in detail the smudging ceremony.

Smudging is used by all indigenous cultures and in many metaphysical practices. Today, we have a wide variety of herbs readily available to us from around the world. But, before the time of mass transportation, each culture and locale used the sacred plants that were readily available to them. Today I’ve listed some of the plants that are commonly used for smudging along with their spiritual properties.

This first group of herbs are commonly used for cleansing and purifying:

White Sage (Salvia apiana) - This plant will drive out negative energies, spirits and influences. Use this as a smudge to purify people, places and tools before any sacred ceremony. Many people prefer white sage because of the sweeter aroma it gives off. White sage is usually found in the higher mountain areas of the south west. This is our personal “herb of choice” and we lovingly call it “California White” as we harvest for personal use in the mountains of Southern California.

Desert Sage (Artemesia tridentata) - Desert sage has the same properties as white sage. Desert sage is what grows in the deserts as its name implies. This is what we wild craft here in Arizona and we have also found in the deserts throughout the southwest all the way to the high deserts of Oregon. The plant itself is spindlier and it has much smaller leaves. It does not have the pungent smell that white sage has. As a friend so gently put it the other day, “it smells like burning stuff”. But, remember, the smell isn’t what we’re after here. It’s the purifying smoke.

Cedar (Libocedrus descurrens, Thuja occidentalis) - Cedar is also used to purify, especially for negative emotions. Cedar is commonly used in the northern regions where the cedar trees grow. A couple years ago, I was at a sacred ceremony in northern Wisconsin and cedar was what we used for a smudge as it was local to the community. It gives off a wonderful smoke and does smell nice.

Juniper (Juniperus ssp.) - Juniper is also used to purify and to create a safe and sacred space. Juniper was often carried in a medicine pouch or a pocket for protection.

Smudging is not strictly for use in cleansing and purifying. It can be used to draw in positive energies or as a means of creating smoke to carry your prayers to Great Spirit.

Sweetgrass (Hierochole odarata) Sweetgrass is probably one of my favorite smudging herbs. It is also one of the most sacred herbs used for smudging. This herb is used to bring positive energy in after you have cleansed with sage. Sweetgrass is indigenous to the plains regions of the United States. It grows tall and is harvested and woven together in braids. Although it always seems like I can never keep it lit enough to make a good smoke, it is worth the effort. The smell lives up to its name and is a very powerful and sweet aroma. Ah, such a wonderful smell.

Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon californicus) Yerba Santa can be used to purify and to set and protect boundaries. Its name tells you exactly what this plant is - Yerba Santa means sacred herb.

Lavender (Lavandula officianalis) Lavender restores balance and creates a peaceful atmosphere. It will also draws loving energy and spirits.

Mugwort (Atemesia vulgarus) Mugwort is used to stimulate psychic awareness and prophetic dreams. The Lakota also believe that when Mugwort is burned it "makes the bad spirits sick”.

Copal (Bereseru microphylla) Copal is a resin used by the Mayans as a food for the Gods. They believe that as the smoke of the Copal would rise, it would carry their prayers to the ears of the Gods. Copal is used in divination and in purification ceremonies. We use Copal in the Inipi Ceremony (Sweat Lodge) to carry our prayers to Great Spirit. Copal is the Frankincense of the Western Hemisphere.

Red Willow bark (S. lasiandra) – Red Willow bark is an important herb used in sacred smudging ceremonies (and again within the Inipi Ceremony). It's woody aroma surrounds you with a sense of soothing calm, like being “surrounded by a huge Medicine Blanket”. Red willow an ideal herb for use with clearing purposes and during quiet sessions of meditation. The Red Willow is a tall tree that can grow to fifty feet, mainly along streams in western North America.

Osha (Ligusticum porteri) Osha Root or Bear Root can be burned as an incense or carried for good luck and protection from bad influences. Osha is also a preferred gift for Native American elders.

Don’t be afraid to “mix and match” herbs to suit your particular ceremony. I have a lovely blend I use frequently called Sweet Medicine Smudge Mix that contains White Sage, Cedar and Lavender which cleanses, balances and brings in blessings. It makes a lovely aroma. Also, smudge sticks are available in a combination of herbs.

If you find this all too confusing or simply too much work, check out my Sacred Space Spray. It is an aromatherapy spray made of the sacred herbs of cedar, sage, and lavender with vibrational essences of several of the sacred herbs and gems. The aroma is light and clean. Make creating sacred space short and sweet!

Until next time –

Mitakuye Oyasin (A Lakota prayer as a reminder that we are all related),