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Smudging in General: Smudging, the
sacred smoke blessing, is a ceremony for cleansing and
purification for the physical and spiritual bodies.
Smudging calls on the spirits of sacred herbs and plants
to drive away negative energies and to restore balance.
Smudging in Particular: Is different for every Tribe/Nation,
as you will see as you read the articles below.
I have listed them by the Tribe/Nation of the
author or the Tribe/Nation the author is referring to in the article.
These are all the
articles and Tribes/Nations that I could find on
smudging. So do not write and ask for more.
Most Native Americans feel that sacred
ceremonies, such as smudging, should not be photographed. I agree 100%.
Others would say that the ceremonies should not be written about either.
I have included the articles below, for educational purposes only. Those
that are doing the smudging ceremony, are taught by their elders how to
do it, and not by reading about it. ~~Spotted Wolf
The Smudging Ceremony
This is a Cleansing Ceremony. It opens most of our activities and helps
transport one into the calm focused world of spiritual gatherings. A
smudge is made by lighting a match (preferred to a lighter) to a ball of
dried plant medicines so that it smolders. The material is often held in
a shell or ceramic bowl. It is most common to use: tobacco, sage, cedar
- Tobacco is used as an offering before you
harvest anything from Mother Earth. It is believed to open the door
between our world and the Spiritual World and carries our prayers to
the Creator in the sky.
- Sage is believed to be a masculine plant and it reduces or
eliminates negative energy.
- Cedar offers protection and grounding. It can be placed at
entrances to a home. For extra grounding it is placed in shoes for
- Sweetgrass is a feminine plant that teaches kindness because it
bends without breaking. Because sweetgrass is considered to be the
hair of Mother Earth, we show respect to her by braiding it before
it is picked. In a smudge it is used to attract positive energy.
The smoke from these four dried medicines is
pushed forward with an Eagle Feather. When we smudge, we first cleanse
our hands with the smoke rising from the smudge bowl as if we were
washing our hands. Then we draw its smoke over our hearts, our mouths,
eyes, ears, small of back and our feet.
- We cleanse our heart to clean it of
resentment and ill will and to
open it to compassion.
- We cleanse our mouth so that what we speak will be truthful and
honest and said in a caring manner.
- We cleanse our eyes so that they will see the Truth in the world,
beauty of Mother Earth and the gifts of the Creator.
- We cleanse our ears so that we will clearly hear the messages of
others and understand the truth.
- We cleanse the small of our backs so that we will release anger
gathered there, open ourselves to positive energy and heal.
- We cleanse our feet so that we will walk the True Path, walker
closer to our friends and families and easily flee our enemies.
BACK TO LIST
Smudge – Pkwenezige Pigitinigewin
The smudging ceremony is a purification ceremony. Any one of the four
sacred medicines can be used. Sometimes all of the sacred medicines are
used. The most common one is mshkwadewashk**,
otherwise known as sage in English. Some pipe carriers and elders
recommend that when people refer to these medicines, it should be in
Anishinaabemowin. These medicines are picked from Mother Earth just for
the purpose of purification. The four sacred medicines are sema, kiishig,
mshkwadewashk and wiingash.
The smudging ceremony can take place anytime, usually before a meeting
or Grand Entry at Jiingtamok. Sometimes pipe carriers and elders
recommend that this ceremony should be done if things get out of hand at
the workplace or at home. The sacred medicine is lit, and some use
matches instead of a lighter. Some actually use wood from a sacred fire.
The smoke from the sacred medicine purifies the mind, body and spirit.
The inside of rooms, especially motel rooms, should be smudged. Some
people smudge when they hear bad news, such as a death or illness. Most
people who smudge use a shell as a container, and usually eagle feathers
are used to fan the medicines. If a person does not have eagle feathers,
then other feathers are used, such as hawk feathers. The ashes that are
left should not be thrown away, but scattered by the entrance at the
door to symbolize that bad thoughts, words and feelings are not welcome
**The Four Sacred Medicines- Kchitwaa
is used mainly for prayers and offerings of gifts. It is used as an
offering in a sacred fire or as an offering in a prayer bundle. Its
main use is for the pipe ceremony. It is a sacred medicine that was
given to the first man, Nanabozo. He used it to speak to the
Creator, and that tradition is still practiced today. Sema
represents the eastern direction, the first part of the day, the
first season (spring), the first stage of one’s life, the first
aspect of life (the mind), the first clan (the eagle), and the
Kiishig (cedar) is another sacred
medicine that has many uses. It can be used as a tea or used in a
bath, especially with women who are with child, to nurture and
purify their bodies. In the sweat lodge ceremony, kiishig is used to
purify the area. Some Anishinaabek place kiishig in their shoes so
that good things will greet them in their travels. The cedar tree
has many medicinal qualities from the roots, bark, branches and sap.
It is said that the cedar tree was the first tree to be created.
Kiishig represents the southern direction, the middle part of the
day, the second season (summer), the second stage of life (youth),
the second aspect of life (the body), the second clan (the deer),
and the Anishinaabe nation.
Mshkwadewashk (sage) is very common to
the Anishinaabek. It has been said that it almost became extinct in
this area at one time, but that because of the belief the
Anishinaabek have in the power of sema, it is coming back. At times,
the only place that it was found was in the western direction. Some
place sage at doorways for protection from evil. It has been taught
that a person should chew a few sage leaves before an important
speech or presentation. Mshkwadewashk represents the western
direction, the evening or setting sun, the third season (autumn),
the adult stage of life, the third aspect of life (emotions), the
buffalo clan, and the black race.
Wiingash (sweetgrass) was plentiful in
Michigan and Ontario at one time. Due to over-building and
farmlands, the natural areas where wiingash grew are diminishing.
Wiingash is the first plant that our Creator created, and it
represents the hair of Shkakaamik kwe (Mother Earth). It is a very
powerful purifier. Some Anishinaabek wear wiingash in their hair to
get rid of headaches or bad thoughts; others just lay it on their
forehead. Wiingash represents the northern direction, the last part
of the day (the night), the last season (winter), the last stage of
life (the elder), the fourth aspect of life (the spirit), the bear
clan, and the white race of man.
BACK TO LIST
From: Windspeaker-Canada's National Aboriginal News Source
Gifts from the Creator for Man's Use...The Smudging Ceremony
By KiiskeeNtum (She Who Remembers)
The burning of various medicine plants to make a smudge or cleansing
smoke is used by the majority of Native North American peoples. It is a
As the smoke rises, our prayers rise to the Spirit World where the
Grandfathers and our Creator reside. Negative energy, feelings, and
emotions are lifted away. It is also used for healing of mind, body and
spirit, as well as balancing energies.
Our Elders teach us that all ceremonies must be entered into or begun
with good intent. So many of us use the smudge as a symbolic or ritual
cleansing of mind, body, spirit and emotion. The smell of the burning
medicines stimulates our brains to produce beta-endorphins, which are
part of the normal healing process of our bodies.
Smudging may also be used to cleanse, purify and bless the part of our
Mother, the Earth which we utilize in seeking after the spiritual. For
example: around the area used for sweatlodge or powwow. It may also be
used to purify or bless special objects or totems, such as jewelry,
rattles, clothing or other ceremonial objects.
It is a customary to cleanse, (brush or wash the smoke) over our eyes,
ears, mouth, hands, heart and body. Some people choose to brush it over
their backs, to 'lighten their troubles'. It is customary to use matches
to light the medicines, when available.
Sage: Is seen as a
women's medicine, and offers strength, wisdom, and clarity of purpose.
It is used to symbolize the life-giving power of women. Sage is often
braided into three strands, similar to Sweetgrass, and hung within one's
home. It may be tied with a ribbon in one of the colors of the medicine
wheel: Red, yellow, black, white or green.
Is used for purification and to
attract positive energy, feelings, emotions and for balance. Cedar tea
has been used as a healing medicine. It's high vitamin C content was
essential to the prevention of scurvy, in a time when fruits and
vegetables were unavailable during the long winter months. It was one of
the first gifts of natural healing shared with the European peoples upon
their arrival to Turtle Island (North America).
Sweetgrass: Is used by almost all
Aboriginal peoples in North America. It is a ritual cleansing. The smoke
rises, as our prayers rise above us to our Creator, the Grandfathers,
and the Spirit World.
Sweetgrass was one of the four original "medicine plants" given by the
Creator to the first peoples. The others being Tobacco, Cedar, and Sage.
We cleanse our eyes so that they will see the
truth around us, the beauty of our Mother, the Earth, the gifts given us
by our Creator, the love shared with us through our families, friends
We cleanse our mouth, that all we speak will be truthful, said in a way
that will empower the positive, only good things, always full of words
of praise and thanksgiving for our Creator.
We cleanse our ears, so that our ears will hear the spiritual truths
given us by our Creator, listen to the truth as it is shared with us by
the Creator, the Grandfathers, Four Directions, Four Kingdoms, and be
open to the request for assistance from others, to hear only the good
things and allow the bad to 'bounce off'.
We cleanse our hearts so that our hearts will feel the truth, grow with
us in harmony and balance, be good and pure, be open to show compassion,
gentleness and caring for others.
We cleanse our feet so that our feet will seek to walk the true path,
seek balance and harmony, lead us closer to our families, friends,
community, walk closer to our loved ones and help us flee our enemies,
and lead us closer to our Creator.
In some places, it is the custom to exclude a pregnant women so that all
her energies may be directed towards nurturing the new life within her.
In others, she must participate, as her strength is shared and
multiplied by the new life within her. If in doubt, seek out the Elder
and ask for direction.
In some places, a woman on her moon time (menstrual time) is asked to
remain outside the circle during any ceremony. In others she may sit
inside but not partake of the Sweetgrass. Again, seek out an Elder and
ask for guidance.
The author's grandmother's simplest explanation of Sweetgrass was that
it chased away all the negative energy, feelings and emotions, and left
a well, or open space, into which happiness can enter.
The lesson Sweetgrass teaches us is kindness. When Sweetgrass is walked
upon, it bends, but does not break. So one of the lessons of Sweetgrass
is that when someone does us an injustice or hurts us, we are to return
it with kindness, as does the Sweetgrass, by bending, not breaking when
it is walked upon. It is often referred to as the hair of our Mother,
It is not customary to purchase it. One goes out and picks it during
August. If this is impossible for whatever reason, one may ask to
exchange gifts with someone who has a supply. If both these are
impossible, and the need is great, it is acceptable to purchase some for
a friend or spouse, and exchange, with each one using the other's.
Medicines are supposed to come to you when you are ready to use them in
the right way.
A woman on her time may not pick Sweetgrass. It is customary to remove
any metal, rings, watches, glasses, etc. (except those which cannot be
physically removed), prior to the use of any smudge. Metal is man-made,
and seen to hold negative energy. Some people choose to smudge these
objects on a regular basis to remove any residual energy.
Tobacco: Is held as a scared plant by all
Native North American people. It is believed that Tobacco opens the door
between the Worlds of Earth and Spirit and used in many ways by
Aboriginal peoples all over Turtle Island.
If tobacco is offered and accepted, and a request made of the person
accepting it, that promise is sacred. It is a commitment or promise not
only between the people involved, but with our Creator and the
Grandfathers of the Spirit World. It must be honored.
Tobacco may be carried around and used as a means of thanking our
Creator for his gifts. For example, if you enjoyed a sunset, rainbow,
good weather, you might leave some Tobacco on the ground, and say thank
you for the gift. If you take a gift, gather Sweetgrass, Cedar, Sage,
birchbark, stones, herbs, you might leave Tobacco in the ground to honor
the gift you are taking, returning energy and prayer to our Mother, the
Earth, and thanks to the Creator.
Tobacco need not be smoked. In fact, it should be smoked only by certain
people on specific occasions, for example, pipe carriers during
Tobacco, or any smudge, may be burned in an earthen-ware bowl, large
clam shell, in a fire or fireplace or other object during periods of
prayer and meditation. As the smoke rises, so do our prayers rise to the
Spirit World and the Creator.
Women on their moon do not use, carry or touch Tobacco, or any other
medicine plant or herb. One exception is women's Sage, which may be used
BACK TO LIST
Smudging is a purification ceremony that is practiced among many
aboriginal peoples in North America. Similar to the sweat lodge
ceremony, smudging is as a healing ritual and cleanses the body, mind
and soul. However the actual practice of the smudging ceremony is
simpler than that of a sweat lodge and therefore it is commonly
practiced by oneself or in a collective any other ceremony, gatherings,
serious discussions, or just to start the day.
It is taught through oral tradition that when the Great Spirit placed
the four kingdoms here on mother earth – mineral, plant, animal and
human, that four sacred plants entered into an agreement with us humans.
These four plants agreed to sacrifice their lives so that we could have
their purifying smoke to cleanse with and to pray with, maintaining a
balance within ourselves and each other, in exchange for our respectful
treatment of them. This means that we are to pick these plants with
honor, asking for permission and giving thanks, taking only what is
needed and not damaging the plant. The four plants that entered into
this agreement known as the sacred medicines include: sage, sweet grass,
cedar and tobacco.
Sweetgrass represents the North and the hair of mother earth. The
three fold braid represents the mind, body and spirit. It has the
power to call in positive energies, and carries within it deep
wisdom of the earth. It provides clarity to the mind and purifies.
Sweetgrass creates a sacred place for the spirits to listen, and
provide blessings, safety, and protection.
Tobacco represents the east. It is a sacred herb used for cleansing
and healing, when it is not abused. Tobacco connects people with the
spirit worlds, and absorbs their prayers and carries their prayers
to the spirit world. It chases away feelings that are bad and
negative, and brings on thoughts that are good and positive.
represents the south. It is used to waft smoke in ceremonies and
ward away sickness, or clear the air after illness.
represents the west. It is the traditional choice of herb to use for
smudging as it is believed to be the most powerful, purifying
medicine capable of driving away negative energies that afflict the
aura, mind, body, and soul. It is used to establish a sacred
boundary at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies.
The process of smudging involves burning one or
more of these medicines, using the smoke produced to cleanse the mind,
body and spirit. There is no uniform way to smudge. Different nations in
different geographical regions may perform the process differently.
However there are common similarities: something is need to burn the
medicines in, a ceramic bowl or abalone shell which helps balance the
four elements in the ceremony by adding the element of water. The
medicines represent the earth element. When the medicines are light, the
fire created represents the element of fire. A feather is used to
maintain a sufficient stream of smoke (element of wind)
1) Culloty, Sean Smudging and Native American Spirituality internet
2) Renault, Dennis & Freke, Timothy Principle of Native American
Spirituality Thorson publishing Ancient Art of Smudging, Internet
BACK TO LIST
Smudging by Elaine Lunham
Virginia Graverette Pigeon, Tribal Elder of the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe,
member of the Cedar Women's Society, Elder of the Mide Lodge. With these
credentials, I realized that Virginia holds a lot of wisdom, guidance,
For as long as I can remember, I had heard of the Anishinabe people
smudging with sacred herbs such as tobacco, sweetgrass, sage, and cedar.
I always wondered the meaning behind it (though I had my own ideas).
One day I went to Virginia, seeking answers to my questions, trying to
gain insight and knowledge so that one day I could pass this on to my
children and their children. Virginia began by saying that some people
follow the Traditional Way and some follow the Christian Way and that
one way respects the aspects of both ways. Both know one God.
Virginia said that there are a lot of stories and legends that have been
brought down from generation to generation. She said that there are a
lot of reasons why we should smudge and that it is a good thing to
smudge, either with one of the sacred herbs or all of them together.
She said: In the first place, tobacco (a-say-ma) was a gift of the Four
Manido (Spirits of the Four Directions). It was the father of Nanabush
who gave the tobacco (ah-say-ma) and shared the custom of smoking with
his son after their epic battle in war, as a symbol of peace. Nanabush
in turn passed on the custom to the Anishnabe as a ceremony. Thereafter,
the Anishnabe smoked the Pipe of Peace before great councils, after war,
and before other ceremonies. The Anishnabe adopted the custom and made
it part of their daily lives to compose their minds and spirits. It is
said that it will chase away feelings that are bad or negative and bring
on thoughts that are good or positive.
In the second place, tobacco (ah-say-ma) was in the nature of an
incense, sweet to the taste and fragrant to smell. No other plant is
endowed with such qualities. Cedar was offered to the fire to smudge the
lodge and people. It is also used to waft the smoke to ward away
There are no absolutes with sage and sweetgrass.
In the above medicine wheel which we convey as the wheel of life, there
are Four Directions. When we are born, life begins in the East. The
teenage years are in the South. Then mid-life is in the West. When we
reach the North, we are grandmas and grandpas and nearly ready to go to
the Spirit World as we have done our many deeds on Mother Earth. The
journey does not end in the North because we go to the Spirit World and
then the cycle continues.
We gain knowledge with our tobacco (ah-say-ma) and we grow spiritually.
Our hearts feel and our spiritual eyes have to see what our Creator
wants us to learn. We feel the knowledge in our soul, and we know it
comes from our Creator. When we pray, we get answers, then we are
nurtured and we grow spiritually.
Smudging helps us center ourselves with the four sacred herbs mentioned:
tobacco (ah-say-ma), sweetgrass, sage, and cedar. We begin by using a
shell or bowl with a fan or feather. We then smudge the room, slowly
walking clockwise around the perimeter of the room, fanning the smudge
pot, keeping it lit and wafting the smoke about. Smudge any medicine
tool you will be using such as pipe, jewelry, outfit, etc.
It is a good practice to smudge each person in a group, circle,
ceremony, and lodge. Starting from the East and holding the smudge pot
lit, each person can bathe themselves in the smoke. Many people smudge
the heart area first, next the head area, and then the arms, then
downward toward the legs. This isn't the only way you can smudge. It
isn't wrong to smudge another way. We can purify and cleanse fairly
regularly in this day and age with so much sickness and bad feelings
For more information on legends and stories, a good book to read would
be Ojibwa Heritage by Basil Johnson or ask an elder and offer tobacco.
BACK TO LIST
The Smudging Ceremony
By Adrienne Borden and Steve Coyote
Our Native elders have taught us that before a
person can be healed or heal another, one must be cleansed of any bad
feelings, negative thoughts, bad spirits or negative energy - cleansed
both physically and spiritually. This helps the healing to come through
in a clear way, without being distorted or sidetracked by negative
"stuff" in either the healer or the client. The elders say that all
ceremonies, tribal or private, must be entered into with a good heart so
that we can pray, sing, and walk in a sacred manner, and be helped by
the spirits to enter the sacred realm.
Native people throughout the world use herbs to accomplish this. One
common ceremony is to burn certain herbs, take the smoke in one's hands
and rub or brush it over the body. Today this is commonly called
"smudging." In Western North America the three plants most frequently
used in smudging are sage, cedar, and sweetgrass.
There are many varieties of sage, and most have been used in
smudging. The botanical name for "true" sage is Salvia (e.g. Salvia
officinalis, Garden Sage, or Salvia apiana, White Sage). It is
interesting to note that Salvia comes from the Latin root salvare,
which means "to heal." There are also varieties of sage which are of
a species separate from Salvin Artemusia. Included here are
sagebrush (e.g. Artemisia californica) and mugwort (Artemisia
vulgaris). We have seen both Salvia and Artemisia sub-species used
Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out bad spirits,
feelings, or influences, and also to keep bad spirits from entering
the area where a ceremony takes place. In Plains nations, the floor
of the sweat lodge is frequently covered with sage, and participants
rub the leaves on their bodies while in the sweat. Sage is also
commonly spread on the ground in a lodge or on an altar where the
pipe touches the earth. Some nations wrap their pipes in sage when
they are placed in pipe-bundles, as sage purifies objects wrapped in
it. Sage wreaths are also placed around the head and wrists of
There is some potential confusion here about the terms used to name
plants, mainly because in some areas, junipers are known as "cedar"
- as in the case of Desert White Cedar (Juniperus monosperina). This
doesn't mean that J. monosperina wasn't used as a cleansing herb,
though; in the Eastern U.S., its relative, Eastern Red Cedar (Juniperus
virginia), was used ceremonially. However, in the smudging
ceremonies we have seen or conducted ourselves, Western Red Cedar (Thuja
occidentalis) and California Cedar Incense (Libocedrus descurrens)
were used ... not varieties of juniper.
Cedar is burned while praying either aloud or silently. The prayers
rise on the cedar smoke and are carried to the Creator. Cedar is
also spread along with sage on the floor of the sweat lodges of some
tribes. Cedar branches are brushed in the air to cleanse a home
during the House Blessing Ceremony of many Northwest Indian nations.
In the Pacific Northwest, the people burn cedar for purification in
much the same way as sage - it drives out negative energy; but it
also brings in good influences. The spirit of cedar is considered
very ancient and wise by Pacific Northwest tribes, and old, downed
cedar trees are honored with offerings and prayers.
One of the most sacred plants for the Plains Indians, sweetgrass is
a tall wild grass with a reddish bas and perfume-like, musty odor.
It grows mainly on the eastern side of the Rockies in Montana and
adjacent Alberta, Canada. It also shows up in some small areas of
Wyoming and South Dakota. Its botanical name is Hierochloe odorata.
Some common names for it are Seneca grass, holy grass and vanilla
grass. We have been told that a variety of vanilla grass grows in
North Central California. But, how similar it is to the Plains
variety we don't know.
On the Plains, sweetgrass is usually braided together in bunches as
a person's hair is braided, although friends have said they have
seen it simply bunched and wrapped in cloth. Either way, it is
usually burned by shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the
end and waving it around, letting the smoke spread through the air.
This latter method is how we were taught to burn sweetgrass in the
sweat lodge - allowing the purifying smoke to get to all parts of
We were taught that it was good to burn sweetgrass after the sage or
cedar had driven out the bad influences. Sweetgrass brings in the
good spirits and the good influences. As with cedar, burning
sweetgrass while praying sends prayers up to the Creator in the
smoke. High Hollow Horn says in the The Sacred Pipe "This smoke from
the sweetgrass will rise up to you, and will spread throughout the
universe. Its fragrance will be known by the wingeds, the four-leggeds,
and the two leggeds, for we understand that we are all relatives;
may all our brothers be tame and not fear us!" Sweetgrass is also
put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage to purify
and protect sacred objects.
Sweetgrass is very rare today, its territory severely cut by
development, cattle-grazing, and wheat fields - and tradition
Indians in the northern Plains are trying to protect the last
remaining fields. The best way for most folks to get sweetgrass is
to buy it at Native American retail outlets. This gives support to
Indians who can help the fields from being depleted.
To do a smudging ceremony, burn the clippings of these herbs (dried),
rub your hands in the smoke, and then gather the smoke and bring it into
your body, or - rub it onto yourself; especially onto any area you feel
needs spiritual healing. Keep praying all the while that the unseen
powers of the plant will cleanse your spirit. Sometimes, one person will
smudge another, or a group of people, using hands - or more often a
feather - to lightly brush the smoke over the other person(s). We were
taught to look for dark spots in a person's spirit-body. As one
California Indian woman told us, she "sees" a person's spirit-body
glowing around them, and where there are "dark or foggy parts," she
brushes the smoke into these "holes in their spirit-body." This helps to
heal the spirit and to "close up" these holes.
Recently we did a "light" house cleansing for a friend. We use the term
"light", for this is a relatively simple ceremony as opposed to some
that are more lengthy and complicated. Our friend had some serious
emotional and relationship problems, and he felt they had left a heavy
and dark atmosphere. First, we prayed together to the Creator and to the
spirits for help. We then, burned sage, purified ourselves, and took the
sage to all the corners, closets, and rooms of the house. We pushed the
smoke with our hands to cleanse every bit of space - lingering over dark
or cold spots that "felt" uncomfortable.
We used sage first in order to drive out the bad influences. Then we
purified ourselves with cedar and, then repeated the cleansing process
throughout the house with that. Then sweetgrass was used in the same
manner to bring in good influences. All the time we prayed for help in
this cleansing. Finally, we took a candle over the whole house and
pushed its light into every corner. The People of the Pacific Northwest
Coast taught this "lighting-up" of a house to us. We've been doing this
type of house cleansing for ten years, and it never fails to "clear the
One more note about smudging. It is very popular among many novices to
use abalone shells in smudging. There are many Native elders who are
pleased to see so many new folds smudging themselves, but - some are
concerned that abalone shells are being used when burning the herbs. On
the Pacific Northwest Coast, for example, some holy men have said that
abalone shells represent Grandmother Ocean, and that they should be used
in ceremonies with water, not burning.
We know enough Native elders in the Northwest, the Plains, and
California who don't use abalone shells - but instead clay or stone
bowls - that we don't personally feel comfortable using a shell.
In any case, smudging is a ceremony that must be done with care. We are
entering into a relationship with the unseen powers of these plants, and
with the spirits of the ceremony. As with all good relationships, there
has to be respect and honor if the relationship is to work.
--Adrienne Borden is of Chippewa heritage, and Steve Coyote is of
BACK TO LIST
The Riel News
Smudging is one of the very important
components of our traditional hunting customs and culture. The practice
of smudging is a ceremonial tradition that has been handed down to us
through the ages from many different cultures and religions. Our early
ancestors discovered the powerful energies of working with the smoke
from burning various plants and grasses. The sense of smell is a very
primitive part of our awareness. It connects us to a deep, instinctual
part of the brain. Certain scents and odors have the power to modify our
energies, and to trigger emotions and memories. The smudging ceremony as
practiced by Aboriginal people, adds to our native culture a dimension
of ritual and respect for all the diverse parts of Creation.
The main purpose of smudging is to cleanse or protect yourself, your
objects and/or a place. It can be done before other ceremonies or by
itself. In addition to being a spiritual ritual it also has practical
applications for a hunter. The smoke from the smudge will mask the
hunters’ scent and also acts as an insect repellant. According to what
we have been taught, certain members of the plant kingdom have entered
into a sacred agreement with us “Two-Leggeds”. In exchange for our
respectful treatment of plants as a living part of our world, they will
give up their lives so that we can have the benefits of their purifying
smoke to cleanse us and to carry our prayers. This allows us to stay in
balance and keep our walk through life sacred. We are to pick the plants
with honour, asking permission and giving thanks. We are only to take
what we need and are not to damage the plant.
Many different herbs and plants are commonly used for smudging. They all
have their individual traditional uses and characteristics. They can be
used individually or by themselves. I would suggest to you that you
first try them one at a time to better acquaint yourself with unique
powers of each one. I was taught that to begin smudging, you would need
a container such as a bowl or shell to burn the plant material in. Some
people use an abalone or other seashell. These shells, being a gift from
the lakes and oceans, help to call in the element of “Water” from which
all life on earth begins. This helps to balance the four elements in the
smudging ceremony. Most people use matches to light the fire. A feather
or fan is used to fan the flames. The feather is to acknowledge the
“Winged Ones” who dwell in the sky and to call in the element of “Air”.
I have been taught to perform the smudging ceremony in the following
manner, which I will share with you. You are free to use it, or you may
choose to learn another method or to create a way that feels right to
you. There is no right or wrong way, only basic rules that most people
Place the shell in front of you and thank it, aloud or silently, for the
life that created it and for it helping you in this ceremony. Place the
smudging material that you will be using in the shell, thanking each
plant for providing the ingredient. They have died so that you could
make this sacred smoke. You should express “gratitude” not “guilt” in
your prayer for their sacrifice. One day you will give up your body for
the other beings of the world.
Next, light the smudge mix. As the flame grows, thank Father Sun, from
where all fires originate. Thank the spirit of fire for helping you with
this ceremony. Make sure each plant in the shell has caught fire. This
way, the resulting smoke will contain all the energies you have chosen
to work with. Fan the fire gently with your feather until all the
material is burning enough to create sufficient smoke. Then use the
feather to put out the flames, with one or two quick passes. If the
smudge looks like it is going to go out, fan it vigorously until it is
smoking again. If it does go out, it is alright to relight it.
If you are wearing any metal objects such as rings, watches glasses or
other metal jewelry, take them off and set them to the side. Now, using
both your hands as a cup, catch some smoke and bring it up to your
heart. Catch more smoke and pass it over your head and down your neck.
Then using each hand, one at a time, pass the smoke along your opposite
arm and hand. Then using both hands, bring more smoke into your navel
and down your legs to the ground. This process cleanses our hearts,
minds and bodies and helps us to remain grounded. While doing this, we
see the smoke carry away our cares and mental & physical injuries.
You can now smudge any objects you want, such as your medicine pouch or
other items by passing them through the smoke from the four directions,
starting with the east. Ask that the object be cleaned for either your
use or for a giveaway. If you are smudging with other people, smudge
yourself first and as you are “pure” you can then hold the shell by the
edges for others to smudge. You can also smudge a house or room that
needs cleansing. Go around the room with the burning smudge, and using
the feather, you can push any negative energy out through an open door
When you are done, let the ashes cool and return them with respect to
the soil. This is the element of “Earth”. New life arises out of the
soil, enriched by the nutrients provided by the ashes. As you empty the
ashes thank the plants and the fire for their assistance in this
Many people smudge before any other ceremony, to start the day, to begin
a hunt, or before and after a serious discussion. For us, this is a very
important and real ceremony. Afterwards, we feel better, our energy
feels stronger, and the day goes better for us. It is good to smudge our
houses on occasion to clear out any negative energy. You should
understand that the smudging ceremony is the sacred intent of the “Two
Leggeds” to open the doors to the many powers available to work with us
to become better individuals.
Sage: Has the power to drive away negative
Sweetgrass: Has the power to call in positive energies
Tobacco: Has the power to absorb our prayers and carry them to the
Cedar: Has the power to protect us from negative energies.
Aho, mitakuye oyasin (It is good, all my
BACK TO LIST
THE PLAINS INDIANS
Smudging was done for physical and spiritual cleansing. Certain herbs
were burnt. Smudging meant taking the smoke in one's hands and rubbing
or brushing the smoke over the body. Three plants used for smudging were
sage, cedar and sweetgrass.
Sage was burned to drive out bad spirits
and bad feelings. It kept bad spirits from entering the ceremonial
place. Sometimes the floor of the sweat lodge was covered with sage.
People in the sweat lodge also rubbed their bodies with sage.
Cedar was burned while praying. The prayers rose to the Creator on
the smoke. Cedar was also spread on the floor of the sweat lodges of
Sweetgrass was a tall wild grass with a musty odor. It was braided
together. One end was lit and it was waved around letting the smoke
spread. Sweetgrass brought the good spirits and the smoke took the
prayers up to the Creator.
Sweetgrass and sage were put in pipe bundles
and medicine bundles to protect and purify the sacred objects.
BACK TO LIST
Itwaywin - Traditional Feast Ceremony by Lorne Carrier
Smudging refers to burning specific plants, and using the smoke that
rises from the plants to spiritually cleanse oneself and/or a space
(such as a building, or room or area where a ceremony is held). The
plants most commonly used in Saskatchewan are:
• willow fungus
These may be used individually, or combined. It
is not necessary to breathe in the smoke when smudging. The smudge is
meant to be washed over your body. The process for smudging is,
generally, the smudge is lit and carried around by an Elder’s Helper (oskapewis
in Cree), in a clock-wise direction.
Participants should remove eye-glasses (and other adornments, rings,
necklaces bracelets in some cases) prior to smudging. When the smudge
comes to you, use your hands to “wash” in the rising smoke, carrying the
smoke over your head, your arms, chest, etc.
The smudge is meant to clear negativity;
individuals should be offering silent prayers or words for positive
guidance as well as respecting and honouring the sacredness of the
plants who provide the smudge.
Women on their monthly cycle must not attend
smudging with sweetgrass, nor should they touch sweetgrass. Smudging
with sage, cedar or willow fungus may be done by women on their monthly
The circle remains closed until everyone has
finished smudging and the oskapewis has taken the smudge back to the
Smudge bowls are typically made of abalone
shells, and the smoke may be fanned with an eagle feather or other
BACK TO LIST
Drumming Smudging and Sweat Lodges
by Maureen Grace Burns
Smudging is a ritual burning of sacred herbs such as Sage (for purity of
spirit), Sweetgrass (for healing ceremonies), and Cedar (for dispelling
Bundles of these sacred plants are tied together forming smudge sticks
or braided together and then dried. Traditionally a council, central, or
cooking fire was used to light the end of a smudge stick or a braid.
Today a candle is often used instead; and, then the herbs are put in an
abalone shell or a ceramic bowl. Generally, the smoke is first offered
to the Four Powers, then to Mother Earth and Father Sky, and then a
smudging prayer is recited.
The Four Powers are four equally important ways of perceiving things in
life and of pursuing knowledge. These are the four cardinal points of
the circle, each of which represent different power essences of nature,
seasonal rhythms, and stages of life.
These four directions are North (Wisdom, White, Buffalo, Maturity,
Strength and Stamina); East (Peace, Gold, Eagle, Elder, Clarity and
Illumination; South (Expansion, Green, Mouse, Infancy, Wholesomeness and
Expectation); and West (Nourishment, Black, Bear, Youth, Introspection
Afterwards, the hand or a feather is used to direct a few curls of
smoke, imbued with the fragrance and spiritual energy of the sacred
herbs, to the people, places, or objects that need cleansing.
BACK TO LIST
MAKING A SMUDGE
MAKING A SMUDGE STICK
Although smudge sticks are now readily available from shops, you can
easily make your own. Making your own smudge allows you to make a deeper
connection with the spirits of the sacred plants used in smudge - and so
can make your rituals and ceremonies even more meaningful.
YOU WILL NEED: A selection of your chosen
herbs; colored cottons (embroidery threads work well); a little tobacco
or cornmeal; candle and matches.
1. You really need to be able to pick your
plants, or at least the mainstay of your smudge stick, fresh from
the wild. It is unusual to find the length of herb needed from shops
- and dried herbs will flare too easily. However you can combine
fresh and dried herbs if necessary.
2. If you are picking your herbs from the wild (or your garden)
ideally you should gather them as they come into bloom during a
waxing moon. Approach the plant with respect and ask its spirit for
its permission to be used in your smudge. When you feel it is right,
cut the plant with a sharp knife (you will need pieces around eight
to twelve inches long). Only take what you need and give a pinch of
cornmeal or tobacco with your thanks.
3. Gather your materials together. Light the candle and quietly
center yourself, asking the spirits of the plants you have gathered
to help you make a powerful smudge stick.
4. Take a sturdy stick as a base. Arrange the other stems around it.
If you are using a combination of fresh and dried herbs, keep the
dried, more fragile herbs on the inside.
5. Take a piece of cotton or hide and tie it around the stick,
starting at the bottom. If you want to add dried herbs which are
powdered or crushed, you can add these on the inside of the smudge
stick as you start to bind the bundle.
6. Tie your smudge stick quite firmly - the cotton should reach
about half way up the length of the stick.
7. Now hang your smudge stick up by its bottom end (the tied end)
somewhere warm and dry until the plants are almost dry - but not
BACK TO LIST
WHITE SAGE USES FOR
Contributed By: USDA NRCS National Plant Data Center & University of
WHITE SAGE : Artemisia ludoviciana Nutt.
Plant Symbol = ARLU
Silver wormwood, white sagebrush, wild sage, prairie sage, wormwood,
white mugwort, western mugwort, Louisiana sage, darkleaf mugwort,
Mexican sagewort, Chihuahua sagewort, Garfield tea, lobed cudweed, man
Ethnobotanic: Burning white sage and “smudge sticks” (the process of
harvesting sage stems and tying the stem together into a “smudge
stick”), was and is used for cleansing and purification (Gilmore 1977,
White sage or “man sage” was perhaps the most important ceremonial plant
of the Cheyenne (Hart 1976). The sage was spread along the borders and
on the altar in almost every ceremonial lodge (including the stone
peoples lodge or sweat lodge) with the flowering end toward the fire.
The leaves were burned as an incense to cleanse and drive away bad
spirits, evil influences, bad dreams, bad thoughts, and sickness. A
small pinch of baneberry (Actea rubra) was often mixed with it for this
purpose. The smoke was used to purify people, spaces, implements,
utensils, horses, and rifles in various ceremonies.
also make bracelets for the Sun Dance from white sage (Rogers 1980).
The Cheyenne use the white sage in
their Sun Dance and Standing Against Thunder ceremonies (Hart 1976).
Other tribes who used white sage include the
Tewa, and Ute
(Nickerson 1966, Carlson and Jones 1939, Hart 1976, Thwaites 1905,
Denig 1855, Elmore 1944, Robbins et al. 1916, Chamberlin 1909).
The Dakota and other tribes used white
sage tea for stomach troubles and many other ailments (Gilmore
The Cheyenne used the crushed leaves as
snuff for sinus attacks, nosebleeds, and headaches (Hart 1976).
The Crow made a salve for use on sores
by mixing white sage with neck-muscle fat (probably from buffalo)
(Hart 1976). They used a strong tea as an astringent for eczema and
as a deodorant and an antiperspirant for underarms and feet.
The Kiowa made a bitter drink from
white sage, which they used to reduce phlegm and to relieve a
variety of lung and stomach complaints (Vestal and Shultes 1939).
Usually, they chewed the stem and leaves and swallowed the juice.
The Kiowa-Apaches used a thin,
sharp-pointed section of the stem as a moxa to relieve headaches or
other pain (Jordan 1965). The Chinese also use an Artemisia species
as a moxa to relieve pain such as arthritis.
The Kiowa also used an infusion of
white sage plants for the lungs, to cut phlegm, and for stomach
The Mesquakie used the leaves as a
poultice to “cure sores of long standing” (Smith 1928). They also
made a tea of the leaves to treat tonsillitis and sore throat and a
smudge of the leaves to drive away mosquitoes.
The Omaha used the leaves in a tea for
bathing and used the powdered leaves to stop nosebleeds (Gilmore
Both the Pawnee and the
Bannock women drank Artemisia
ludoviciana tea during their moon time, or menstrual periods (Dunbar
1880). During the time that women lived away from their lodges in a
menstrual hut, they drank the bitter tea made from either the leaves
of white sage or the root of A. frigida (Gilmore 1930).
The Blackfeet use the white sage in
sweat-lodge rituals and as an ingredient in a stream vapor inhaled
for respiratory problems. The “Giver of Breath” heals the ability to
breathe with this powerful plant medicine.
According to Moerman (1986) Artemisia ludoviciana was used for the
• The Fox used a poultice of leaves to
heal old sores, a burning smudge to drive away mosquitoes and to
“smoke ponies when they have the distemper”, and an infusion of
leaves to heal tonsillitis and sore throats.
• The Omaha used the leaves as a bath
for fevers and to prevent nosebleeds.
• The Paiute used a decoction of the
plant as a soaking bath to relieve aching feet, to heal
stomachaches, as a poultice for rheumatism or other aches, as a
poultice or compress for headaches, to stop diarrhea, in a sweatbath
for rheumatism, and to relieve the itching and discomfort of rashes
and skin eruptions.
• The Shoshone took white sage for
colds, coughs, headaches, stomachaches, as a compress for fevers, to
stop diarrhea, as a physic, as a regulator of menstrual disorders,
and for influenza.
• The Washoe used white sage as a
cooling, aromatic wash for headaches, colds, and coughs.
Carlson, G.G. & V.H. Jones 1939. Some notes on use of plants by the
Comanche Indians. Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters
Chamberlin, R.V. 1909. Some plant names of the Ute Indians. American
Denig, E.T. 1855. An account of medicine and surgery as it exists among
the Creek Indians. St. Louis Medicinal and Surgical Journal 13:312-318.
Densmore, F. 1974. How Indians use wild plants for food, medicine, and
crafts. Dover Publications, Inc., New York, New York. 397 pp.
Dunbar, J.D. 1880. The Pawnee Indians. Magazine of American History
Elmore, F.H. 1944. Ethnobotany of the Navajo. University of New Mexico,
Monographs of the School of American Research. Number 8.
Gilmore, M. 1913a. A study in the Ethnobotany of the Omaha Indians.
Nebraska State Historical Society 17:314-357.
Gilmore, M. 1913b. Some native Nebraska plants with their uses by the
Dakota. Nebraska State Historical Society Proceedings and Collections
Gilmore, M. 1913c. The aboriginal geography of the Nebraska Country.
Mississippi Valley Historical Association Proceedings 6:317-331.
Gilmore, M.R. 1977 (1919). Uses of plants by the Indians of the Missouri
River region. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln Nebraska.
Reprint of a work first published as the 33rd Annual Report of the
Bureau of American Ethnology. Washington, D.C.
Hart, J. A. 1976. Montana native plants and early
peoples. Montana Historical Society, Helena, Montana.
Jordan, J. A. 1965. Ethnobotany of the Kiowa-Apache. Master’s Thesis,
University of Oklahoma.
Kindscher, K. 1992. Medicinal wild plants of the prairie. An
ethnobotanical guide. University Press of Kansas. 340 pp.
Kindscher, K. 1987. Edible wild plants of the prairie. University Press
of Kansas. 276 pp.
Moerman, D.E. 1986. Medicinal plants of Native American. Research
Reports in Ethnobotany, Contribution 2, University of Michigan Museum of
Anthropology Technical Reports, Number 19. 534 pp.
Nickerson, G.S. 1966. Some data on plains and great basin Indian uses of
certain native plants. Tebiwa 9.1: 45-47.
Robbins, W., J.P. Harrington, & B. Freire-Marreco 1916.
Ethnobotany of the Tewa. Bulletin 5. Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of
American Ethnology. Washington, D.C.
Smith, H.H. 1928. Ethnobotany of the Meskwaki Indians. Bulletin of the
Ojibwa Indians. Bulletin of the Public Museum of the City of Milwaukee
Thwaites, R.G. (ed.) 1904. Original Journals of the Lewis and Clark
Expedition. 6 Vols. Dodd, Mead, and Company, New York, New York.
Vestal, P.A. & R.E. Schultes 1939. The economic botany of the Kiowa
Indians. Botanical Museum, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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November 26, 2007
Created April 25,