Smudging vs Smoke Cleansing- Are They The Same? Should You Smudge With White Sage?

Smudging vs Smoke Cleansing- Are They The Same? Should You Smudge With White Sage?

What is Smudging?

Smudging is a traditional practice that involves burning herbs or other natural materials, such as sage or sweetgrass, to release fragrant smoke for spiritual and ceremonial purposes.

Smudging has a long history of use specifically with Indigenous cultures in North America, where it has been used for centuries in spiritual and ceremonial rituals.

In a typical smudging ceremony, a bundle of herbs is lit, and the smoke is waved around the person, object, or space being purified. The smoke is also sometimes directed over a person's body or through their aura.

white sage smudge stick burning over an abalone shell

 

What is Smoke Cleansing?

Smoke cleansing, on the other hand, refers to the broad practice of cleansing a person or area with smoke from various substances.

Smoking Ceremonies have been used by various cultures around the world including:

  • Indigenous cultures in Australia, such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, where smoking ceremonies are used for a variety of purposes. According to The Indigenous Knowledge Institute  “Smoking ceremonies are used for burial, celebration, healing and ‘clearance’ (cleansing), and are also a gesture of goodwill, bringing people together; performing the ceremony for another is a gift and a blessing7. Smoking ceremonies can also be a way of connecting with country by speaking to and acknowledging the ancestors or ‘Old People’.”
  • Traditional Chinese culture, where burning incense has been a common practice for thousands of years, and is used in religious and spiritual rituals, as well as for its health and therapeutic benefits.
  • Some African traditional beliefs and spiritual practices, where smoking is used in rituals and ceremonies to communicate with the spirits or the ancestors.
  • Scottish rites known as saining, which according to this article from Wikipedia , "usually involve the use of water and smoke, accompanied by ritual gestures and spoken or sung poetry and prayers. Water that has been blessed in some fashion is sprinkled, or used for anointing. Fumigation is usually done with the smoke from large branches of burning juniper, either outdoors on a bonfire, or in a large vessel like a cauldron, resulting in massive amounts of smoke. "

There are many more instances where smoking ceremonies have been used for spiritual, religious or healing benefits all over the world. Smoking ceremonies are therefore not unique to specific cultures or religions, rather they are universal.

australian aboriginal performing a smoking ceremony in traditional ochre

Are they the same?

Whilst the term smoke cleansing and smudging tend to be used interchangeably in modern times, the two practices are quite separate and should be respected as such.

Whilst anyone can perform a smoking ceremony with any substance that emits smoke, i.e. incense, bundles of herbs/leaves, etc, smudging is very closely tied to the spiritual and cultural practices of Indigenous cultures in North America.

With a little bit of “googling”, you can come up with a number of reasons as to why you should probably practice smoke cleansing over smudging if you are not of native American heritage.

Here is an excerpt from an article titled "Sephora’s “Starter Witch Kit” and Spiritual Theft", explaining just a few of the issues that Native American people have faced to keep their own spiritual practices alive.

The article states:

“That smudge stick represents the deep pain, sacrifice, resistance, and refusal of Native peoples. It represents a continuing legacy of marginalizing and punishing Native spirituality. So when our religious practices are mocked through these products, or folks are commodifying and making money off our ceremonies it’s not about who has the “right” to buy or sell. It’s about power.”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I do not necessarily agree with all of the article (however, if you have found this article, you might want to take some time to read the other article and make up your own opinion- it is quite an interesting and eye opening read, especially for a lilly white Australian!).

I do understand, however,  that there are many individuals who are profiting- either knowingly or unknowingly, off something that is not theirs to use. In the same way that museums turn a profit from showing stolen items from other cultures, large companies are profiting from a spiritual practice that is sacred and not meant for the majority. 

I am not saying that the opinions the author has on anyone else’s beliefs are necessarily valid, only that as far as smudging, especially when it comes to smudging with white sage goes, it is a spiritual and cultural practice that has always been used by one culture. A culture who, like the Australian Aboriginals in our country, have had a long history of oppression and are still fighting, in many cases, for their own rights.

For this reason, I personally do not use white sage smudge sticks for cleansing.

We offer sage incense but we do not sell sage smudge sticks, or white sage.

I have an article on how to make rosemary smudge sticks, which is simply a form of rosemary smoke cleansing.There is something beautiful about making your own bundles of herbs to use for cleansing and I personally believe that, therein lies part of the power of smoke cleansing.

bundle of rosemary tied with jute twine on a blue table with steel scissors in background

 

I encourage you, if you are looking for more information on whether or not to use sage smudging practices, to look at differing sources of information and consider the impact you are having on the traditional owners of such practices.

 

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