The More you Know - Smudging vs Smoke Cleansing

The More you Know - Smudging vs Smoke Cleansing

Did you know:

there's a major difference between smudging and smoke cleansing? 

Read below to find out exactly which you're practicing when you burn sage (and other dried herb bundles).


Where did the practice of using smoke begin?

The idea of smoke being used to cleanse and communicate with our ancestors and the earth is a long standing practice in many cutlures and religions. Many peoples across the world still practice burning plants and incenses for the smoke.

Even to this day. people across the world use smoke for both it's medicinal and sacred powers.

What is Smudging?

Smudging is a traditional act, typically associated with North American Indigenous communities. Smudging is a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place.

Smudging Ceremony is also used for connecting to spirit and Mother Earth, and calling in ancestral spirits for guidance and clarity.

Smudging acknowledges and practice of the 4 elements.

North American Indigenous Medicine Wheel

  1. Black (Water) - represents the container, typically a shell
  2. Red (Earth) - represents the medicinal gifts from mother earth
         - this typically includes: Cedar, Sage, Sweet grass and or tobacco
  3. Yellow (Fire) - represents the fire from lighting the sacred medicines
  4. White (Air) - represents the smoke and typically a large bird feather to fan the smoke

It is believed that the smoke helps to cleanse any negative thoughts and energies around a person or space. The ash from burning the sacred medicines help to hold those thoughts and energies, and buried (returned) back to the earth.

From the growing and the sustainable harvesting of sacred medicines from the earth, to returning the ashes so they can fertilize new plants.Smudging is a cyclical process from beginning to end. What is taken from the earth, is given back.

Due to appropriation of traditional sacred medicines and appropriation of smudging, access to these traditionally sacred plants is becoming more and more limited. White sage for example is becoming more difficult to find with each passing year due to unsustainable harvesting and growing practices.

Smudging is a practice that is still heavily regulated in Canada and there are still many controversies around it. Just this year, the BC supreme court made a ruling about smudging in schools - School smudging demonstration didn’t violate Christian family’s Charter rights: B.C. Supreme Court


Want to learn more? Check out this fantastic interview with Old Hands, of the Shoshone First Nation.


What is Smoke Cleansing?

Smoke cleansing on the other hand is a much more interpretive practice that can be performed by anyone. Smoke cleansing rituals do not follow the 4 elements, though they also can. Creativity and intent are the fuel for smoke cleansing. Need to invoke a spell? Use an incantation? or augmenting with crystals? Totally okay!

As smoke cleansing is not linked to any culture or religion in particular, there is a lot of room for an individual to create a practice that works for them and their space.

From an outsiders perspective, smudging and smoke cleansing may look similar because of the smoke, they are done with different intentions and reasons.

The best way to avoid appropriation is to avoid using traditional medicines that may not belong to your culture or religion. We simply can not ignore the wishes of people who have endured so much trauma and damage to their culture because of colonization. There are many other medicinal plants that provide relief and other health benefits that are both more sustainable and have no cultural or religious ties to marginalized groups. 

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