What are Smudge Fans, and what are they used for?
Smudging is probably best known as a Native American ritual, although smudging has been used since ancient times by many people as a ceremony of purification, among the Catholics and Eastern Orthodox churches, among Hindus and Buddhists as well as the Native American tribes.
Smudging is a ritual to cleanse or clear a person, a place or an object of negative energies, spirits or influences. It is a ritual of cleansing and purification for the physical and spiritual bodies to remove negative energy. Smudging is not strictly for use in cleansing and purifying, it can be used to draw in positive energies and as a means of creating smoke to carry our prayers up to the Great Spirit.
The smudging ceremony involves the burning of special sacred plants and herbal resins, or incense, then either passing an object through the resulting smoke, or fanning the smoke around a person or place. The spirit of the plant purifies whatever is being smudged. Remember that when you smudge you are asking the spirit of the sacred plants for assistance. We are entering into a relationship with the powers of these plants and with the spirits of sacred ceremony. We come from a place of heart and clear intention.
Incense for Smudging
Smudge comes in several forms; the most common is in a bundle or loose leaf white sage. The herbs are burnt on their own or in mixtures, depending on tradition and required effect. A natural container is needed to hold the mixture as it burns or smolders. The mixture can burn quite hot so it is important that whatever is used can take the heat without cracking. Ignite the sage, the flame will go out in a short time and the sage will begin to smolder. It is the smoke we want to work with not the fire. Fan the smoke with your feather fan and continue to fan the embers as needed to keep them going. In some traditions it is considered disrespectful to blow upon the smudge with one’s breath. This is why using a feather fan is more effective and respectful. Feather fans aid in the smudging process and have the effect of combing the human aura, therefore adding to the cleansing and restoring balance. Feather Fans used for smudging in a ceremony not only look beautiful but also add the qualities and medicine of the birds which they came from.
Preparation and Smudging
The act and ritual of smudging should be done with sacred intention. The traditional way is to offer the smoke to the four directions first, calling the blessing and protection in. You should smudge the area in and around where you intent to do your sacred work. When clearing space use a sunwise or clockwise direction for your movement around the area.
Cleansing ceremonial or ritual space before and after an event is an essential part of spiritual hygiene. The initial smudging is for the purpose of purifying the space and participants and for banishing any unwanted energies. The final smudge is to cleanse any negative vibrations and energies attracted or released during the proceedings. It is also a good thing to do on a regular basis for both one's self and one's living space.
When the ceremony is complete, the ashes should be totally burned (avoid using more than you will need) and respectfully returned to Mother Earth, perhaps at the base of a tree, a shrub, or rock. Never dump the ashes into the garbage or trash.
Types of Incense and Their Properties
These are some of the plants that can be used for smudging along with their spiritual properties.
Desert Sage (Artemesia Tridentata) - This plant will drive out negative energies, spirits and influences. Use this as a smudge to purify people and places before any sacred ceremony. There are many varieties of sage, and most have been used in smudging. The botanical name for "true" sage is Salvia. It is interesting to note that Salvia comes from the Latin root salvare, which means "to heal."
White Sage (Salvia Apiana) - This sage is used just like desert sage, but many people prefer White Sage because of the sweeter aroma it gives off.
Cedar (Libocedrus Descurrens, Thuja Occidentalis) - This plant can also be used to purify, especially for negative emotions. Cedar needles are used in a similar way to cleanse and bring balance to the emotions and to the male/female (yin/yang) elements. To clear one's actions and to promote forgiveness, lavender flowers can be added to the mixture to bring the quality of spiritual blessing.
Sweetgrass (Hierochole Odarata) - This is one of the most sacred herbs used for smudging. This herb is used to bring in positive energy after negative energies are banished by using sage. Sweetgrass is a tall wild grass with a reddish bas and perfume-like, musty odor. 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.
Lavender (Lavandula Officianalis) - This herb will restore balance and create a peaceful atmosphere. It will also draws loving energy and spirits.
Mugwort (Atemesia Vulgarus) - This herb can used to stimulate psychic awareness and prophetic dreams. The Lakota also believe that when Mugwort is burned it "makes the bad spirits sick", and they move away from it.
Copal (Bereseru Microphylla) - This resin was used by the Mayans as a food for the Gods. They believe that as the smoke of the Copal would rise, it would carry their prayers to the ears of the Gods. Copal is used in divination and in purification ceremonies. Copal is the Frankincense of the Western Hemisphere.
Juniper (Juniperus Ssp) - This herb is also used to purify and to create a safe and sacred space. Juniper was often carried in a medicine pouch or a pocket for protection.
Yerba Santa (Eriodictyon Californicus) - This herb can be used to purify and to set and protect boundaries. The name of this plant reflects its nature: "Yerba Santa" means sacred herb.
Osha (Ligusticum Porteri) - The root of this plant can be burned as an incense or carried for good luck and protection from bad influences. Osha is also a preferred gift for Native American elders.