The Ancient Ceremony of Smudging
The plant kingdom has been here long before we humans walked the earth. It offers up its beauty in the form of color, aroma, & texture. We can be overwhelmed by the size of the towering redwood tree and in awe of the minuteness of the penny royal leaf. Plants offer us their bodies for medicine and sustenance. Without this kingdom, animals and humans would not be here. Through the course of centuries we have forgotten its importance to us and we have taken it all for granted. Our food magically shows up on counters in grocery stores processed and packaged for our convenience and in the form of little pills and capsules as our medicines and supplements. How all that happened is not even a thought to us. All taken for granted! That long chain of events has removed us from having a right relationship with this most evolved kingdom. By going back to the ancients, we can see a particular relationship with the mineral, plant, and animal kingdoms that modern day people have left out. That is the relationship of reverence.
To revere is to respect, admire, have gratitude for and see an element of spirit in something or someone. We all know that everything is of spirit, but we do not keep that truth in our foremost consciousness on a daily basis. However, when we add ceremony or ritual to our daily life we are practicing reverence. The ancient people of all cultures and now today, little by little, we are bringing this practice of reverence for the plant kingdom back.
The burning of natural incense at the beginning of ceremony or spiritual practice has many significances. It is showing our respect for and inviting the devas of the plant kingdom into our space. It is energetically cutting off the outside world and entering the space of ceremony. We are purifying ourselves and the space through the chemical properties of the oils that are released through the element of fire. And we are joining our higher energies with the higher energies of the plants when we convert their bodies into spirit through fire. There is a feeling of oneness and unity when we bring our energies into the circle of ceremony.
In the Native American tradition a variety of sages are used for the purification ceremony. The purification ceremony is really an adjunct to all ceremonies as it is usually the first ritual done in order to create a sacred space within us and outside of us. White sage (a type of salvia) from California, desert sage (a type of artemesia) from the Southwest, and Lakota sage (a mug wort) have all been favorites as purifying herbs. These herbs all have purifying attributes both physically and spiritually. For those who have been "smudged", we have felt the sense of cleanliness come over us and a centering process begin.
The herbs are collected in the spring and summer and dried. After they are dried they should be stored in a pouch or glass container in order to keep them dry and to retain the essential oils which is the "essence or soul" of the plant. When ever you feel the need to "clean or balance" your own bodies or the physical space you are in the "smudging or purification ceremony" is appropriate. A small amount of any sage mentioned above can be burned in a heat resistant container. Blow out the flame after the herbs are burning because it is the smoke you will work with and not the flame. Once you get the herbs to smolder, use a feather fan or your hand to push the smoke over yourself and the room. At this point, it is your intuition which will tell you when the purifying is complete. Put out the smoke by suffocating the burning herbs. Many traditions add a prayer or song during this time to transit from ordinary life to ceremonial or non-ordinary life. As you add this form of reverence to your life, a new sense of unity and peacefulness enters your life. We humans are the fourth kingdom out of seven. We are the middle kingdom or the bridge kingdom between the upper and lower. It is our duty to care-take the lower kingdoms and to act in an ecologically and spiritual manner. They are evolving kingdoms just as we are and also performing duties that we may be unaware of. We are all in this circle of evolution together. If you take the time to observe the plant kingdom on your next walk, you will see the true practice of yoga all around you!