THE HISTORY AND SYMBOLISM OF SAGE AND SMUDGING

Common sage or salvia officinalis is a smallish evergreen shrub that can be used in a wide range of applications. My favorite way to use common sage is for tea. Sounds crazy, I know, but it is delicious—it’s like drinking sage’s shadow. But when it comes to creating smudge sticks or bundles, white sage (salvia apiana) is most commonly used. White sage tends to have longer and more narrow leaves that densely populate the stem, more so than other sage varieties, which makes it easier to bundle together.

If you’re unfamiliar with the practice or ritual of smudging, it is the burning of sage by itself (or with other plants) to cleanse the energy or spirit. Lighting a smudge stick creates a spiritually cleansing smoke bath that can purify anything from crystals to spirit. It’s a calling on of the spirits of the plants being burned.

Early Origins
White sage is native to high desserts, but is most commonly found in California and the mountainous American west. And Native Americans were the first on record for using it in a ceremonial or ritual manner. For many of these cultures, white sage went by the name “Sacred Sage.” It was used to get rid of any unwanted persisting energies, to ask the spirits for blessings, prosperity, protection and more.

In many native cultures, plants are more than living things, they have a soul, a spirit, and sage was no different. Burning sage was a way of communing with the spiritual realm and connecting to the spirit of the plant and the earth. By burning the sage with intention, you are asking the spirit of the sage to lend its cleansing and protective energy into your space, body, energy, etc.

Symbolism
Most native cultures incorporate a fireproof bowl of sorts to catch the smoldering embers. Abalone shell is just one of such vessels. If you choose to use an abalone shell in your smudging, you are creating a synergistic loop. The abalone represents the element of water, the unlit sage represents the element of earth, the smoke, the element of air, and the lit sage, fire. By connecting all four natural elements, you are inviting harmony and balance into your space and spirit. The smoke is said to both bind to negative energy and spirits to carry them away and carry prayers into the Universe.

In addition to a vessel to catch the falling embers, feathers were also a staple in smudging ceremonies and rituals. Birds were reverenced for their ability to be closer to the heavens, the Most High, as well as their construction. Natives thought that bird feathers helped to comb a person’s energy and aural energies. Waving or combing the smoke was encouraged, but not blowing. It was thought that blowing on the smudge stick or the smoke released any negative energies from the person into the smoke.

Other common plants to smudge with include lavender, mugwort, tobacco, cedar, sweet grass, juniper, and copal. Tobacco, which grows very prolifically in the Americas, was actually considered to be the most sacred by many Native peoples. Each plant has its own merits and purpose, so experiment to see which ones you resonate with most.

Comments (6 Responses)

24 September, 2020

magic in America

better go talk to some native Americans.
green sage is used for clearing.
white sage is used for inviting or opening up a space to allow spirits in.

08 September, 2020

Jessica

I second what Austin said, “we all derive from indigenous people.” One group of people can not claim any one thing as theirs. We are all inhabitants of Earth. This is everyone’s home. The practice and ritual of burning herbs and plants (including sage) doesn’t just come from Native Americans. People worldwide have been burning herbs and plants for thousands of years. And as brothers and sisters on Mama Gaia, we should openly share our healing practices with each other. We should want to help others heal and grow spiritually.

06 August, 2020

Austin

We all derive from indigenous people.

26 July, 2020

Bailey

Can y’all non indigenous ppl stop using white sage. It’s a closed native practice.

15 May, 2020

Janis Alfano

I used sage for the first time as I felt spirits in my bedroom. Every night at 230am I would hear a scratching on the wall. I believe in a channel. As I burned the sage in the bedroom a large circle formed and got larger and more oblong and after completely formed went towards the vaulted ceiling and left.I swiftly opened my windows to let any other negative energy out. The experience was surreal.

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