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 ritual cleansing.
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.
Cedar: 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 and communities. 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 askedto 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, the Earth.
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 ceremonies. 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 by all.