What is smudging?
What is smudging? It’s the number one question I get when I give away my favorite go-to housewarming gifts; a home-made smudge stick.
The answer is not that straight forward, unfortunately.
Smudge sticks find their origin in indigenous American cultures. Some Native American culture groups burn sacred herbs in rituals meant to bless or cleanse.
The burning of herbs, though, in sacred rituals and for religious or cultural reasons is very widespread all over the world and can be found from Asian to African tribes, as well as in European traditions.
I came in touch with the purifying and cleansing aspect when I was in college:
My mom’s friend is a true believer of the spirits. Growing up, I would listen to her stories like they were mere fiction, get excited about the ghosts and then move on; until I finally had my own ghost encounter.
Coincidentally, my first time to really see a ghost was one night at said friend’s house, when I visited her during spring break, some time in my 20’s (all creepy and weird and will be referred to at another point). When I told her about it in the morning, pouring my coffee, she told me not to worry about it, smiled and made me take a shower to get ready for the day.
When I got out of the bathroom, the entire house was filled with the smell of herbs and smoke, a little bit of sage – almost like incense. She had smudged the entire house! So much for “don’t worry about it”. She was worried about the bad “juju” that might be infiltrating her home (which had a rich history of haunting before that already).
The burning of the essence would clear up the air and make room for love and positivity, she explained to me when I stared at her in disbelief.
To my surprise, the smoke-filled air made me calm down immediately. The smell of burnt herbs soothed me. Maybe it reminded me of a cozy winter evening at home, when back as a child, “Räuchermännchen” wooden dolls would be used to burn incense in the Christmas time.
It wasn’t until a year later, when I went through an evil break up and had a very rough time, that I remembered the smudging. All of a sudden, I realized: I have demons of my own at home, demons from the past, very bad “juju” was surrounding my every move. The lingering stink of ex-boyfriends cluttering up my apartment, worries that depressed me, sadness was crammed up in every corner of my home. All of which I desperately wanted to get rid of. And then I researched, called my friend and read up on everything I could find out about smudging and cleansing.
There is so much more to smudging than I can put together here, and especially considering its’ deep meaning in native American culture, anything I write here does not do it justice.
I am Catholic, I do believe in God, but I also do believe in spirits and the things we cannot explain that might not be from this world. I think that one belief does not mean another can’t co-exist, or who knows, even have mingling narratives. Unfortunately, my religion does not offer any consolation, or remedy for these spirits, as they are not part of the church’s belief system. An exorcism for my apartment didn’t feel right, at least not then. After my dog had diarrhea, believe me, Emily Rose’s demons could have learned from that Satan sitting in my puppy’s butt! An Exorcism wouldn’t be enough! However…
So, I just interpreted smudging in a way that made me feel comfortable with my demons.
And now I make my own smudging sticks!
Since then, incense bundles are my favorite thing to give away, strongly believing that cleansing can be done anytime and for any reason. I used to cleanse my apartment after a break-up, after someone died, after I was depressed and after nightmares.
You may think this is spooky, superstitious and unreasonable. Well, I can believe in whatever I like to. If you want to cleanse your place with hot cocoa and the smell of freshly baked cookies, you may as well do that, of course.
How to make your own smudging stick, in case you want to try out the incense:
this is what you need:
You can pretty much use any herbs whose smell you appreciate. In my case I grabbed some sage, rosemary and thyme.
- (Fresh) sage,
- rosemary, and
- any other Herb you appreciate
- Stitching thread
- Test tubes from the craft store
First, I spread all herbs in front of me to determine what size of branches and leaves I need. If you just want a quicky-cleanse, then a small one should do it. Otherwise, I always prepare medium-sized (about 10cm) bundles. Anything thicker is difficult to squeeze into the utterly decorative test tubes to give away. But of course bigger bundles last longer as well, and are more traditional, in the original sense.
You might find it easier to put the twigs together and wrap the sage leaves around them to give them some extra stabilizing first. Then just wrap the thread around the bundle.
Make sure you tie them tightly. In the drying process, the leaves will lose volume and the thread becomes loose, so you want it neat and tight.
For drying you have two possibilities:
- Easiest and eco-friendliest way is to hang up the bundles in front of the window with a lot of sun light or over the heater. Put it on the mantelpiece of the chimney, if you have one (just make sure it’s not too close and catches fire!)
This drying method takes a while and depending on the temperature in the room takes up to 10 days.
- If you are under time pressure and need an urgent gift or have tremendous demon problems, use your oven! Spread the bundles across the baking sheet and set the oven to 80 Degrees for about 1,5 hours. Double check on the bundles in between. You don’t want the bundles to go brown if it’s too hot.
After that, put them into the testing tubes, making sure the thread hangs loose so you can pull it out when necessary.
I give these away to friends that moved into a new place, got married, as new year’s gifts, heck, anytime you feel like giving a present. These bundles don’t need a special occasion. Might also just be that your friend has been in a bad mood for a while. Then these can be used as “bad mood-go away”-bundles!