smudging and smoke-clearing as a ritual

smudging and smoke-clearing as a ritual

Because we are a spiritual wellness company, and because our name contains the word Smudge, we are naturally asked a lot about the ritual of smudging. And while using smudging as a ritual is only one element of what we consider spiritual wellness and what we represent as a company, we want to be clear about our perspective on the practice and how we think there is a respectful path to incorporating it into our lives.

Disclaimer: we know that not everybody will agree with us. We respect the right to have that viewpoint and welcome an open dialogue about it. We believe everybody is entitled to create a spiritual wellness practice that is unique, personal, and healing to them -- and that extends to having opinions that may differ from ours. 

What is Smudging? 

The exact answer to this question will largely depend on who you ask. In one of the only books published on the subject, Sacred Smoke: the Ancient Art of Smudging for Modern Times, Harvest McCampbell, a Native American herbalist and educator defines it as “the burning of herbs or incense as a sacred practice held common by many traditions.” While in North America this tradition largely finds its origins with native tribes, not all tribes refer to it as smudging (“smoking” is another term) and not all tribes practice it. 

What “smudging,” “smoking,” or other “smoke clearing” rituals look like is as varied and complex as the number of cultures who have historically practiced it. In her survey of the global practices of smudging, Nikki Darrell, a practitioner of herbal medicine describes both the spiritual and practical uses of the ritual -- which ranges from meditation and space clearing, to the cleansing air of parasites, to healing respiratory ailments. Indeed, practices that fall within the definition of “smudging” can be found in India, Nepal, Japan, Europe, South America, as well as here in North America.

The perspectives on smudging and what should be considered okay or not okay is similarly varied. Some Native Americans disagree with non-native people engaging in the practice; some encourage and promote it as a way of honoring and sustaining a tradition. Other cultures around the world embrace and practice it -- sometimes using the term “smudging” and sometimes referring to it in other non-English words and terminology. Like most things, there is no singular way to look at it.

For the purposes of creating a spiritual wellness practice, smudging has been personally important to us as a ritual that has been instrumental in helping us cleanse, heal, and strengthen our soul. It has helped us work through some serious trauma, and we see the value to other people who might also need that -- when it is done with education, respect, and with care. AKA: don’t do it just because you saw it on a t-shirt.

How we think it’s possible to engage in smudging, responsibly and respectfully 

Don’t be an asshole 

There are lots of guides, many written by people who are part of the cultures from which the practice originates, on what smudging historically means and how to do it. Read some of them! We really appreciate the McCampbell book. In addition to being a great reference on the history and various smudging herbs and plants, there is some beautiful poetry and powerful thoughts about preserving and passing along these traditions. Online, you can find many additional guides that provide the historical context. For the really curious, you can take a class or attend a Native American ceremony or cultural event.

Ethically and responsibly source your materials 

Which herbs and plants you use for smudging should be considered with care. In addition to having different meanings and purposes, some are endangered and some are at risk for being endangered if we continue to use them without taking a conservationist approach. Familiarize yourself with searchable databases such as the one maintained by the National Resources Conservation Service

Know where your herbs and plants are coming from. While we encourage everybody to do their own research and come to their own decisions about if and when to purchase smudge sticks and other smoke clearing materials, we recommend only purchasing from companies that are committed to sustainable harvesting, fair trade, and/or are owned by Native Americans or cultures where these practices have originated. Any smudging materials included in our products are aligned with this viewpoint. 

Use them sparingly 

While we think the practice of smoke clearing can be hugely impactful for somebody who needs to cleanse and heal, that doesn’t mean that it needs to be done in a manner that exploits or threatens the viability of these tools of nature. A little goes a long way, and respectful use will ensure their sustainability. 

Stay Connected With Each Other

We are grateful every day for the healing and restorative role that smudging has played in our lives, and to the cultures around the world and on our continent that have made that possible. Smudge Wellness believes that developing and reinforcing our connection to the earth and connection to each other are critical -- not only in developing a personal spiritual wellness practice, but to unifying and lifting up all of us in a positive and meaningful way. Educating and trying to understand ourselves and each other should be the ultimate and unifying goal. 

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