Smudging is the indigenous ritual of burning sacred herbs to purify and cleanse spaces of negative energies. Many of us are embracing the practices of wisdom traditions as a means of finding peace and empowerment in these hectic modern times. Smudging in particular is a powerful way to make our personal spaces energetic sanctuaries, clearing them of stagnant energies.

Writer, poet, and healer Nicole Adriana Casanova will be giving a workshop at The Alchemist’s Kitchen on May 22 (learn more here) about making your spaces sacred and creating an altar through the ceremonial burning of various herbs. In the following interview, we discuss the role smudging has played in her life, what makes smudging effective as energy purification, ways that smudging can be ritualized, and more.

What is your relationship with smudging? How did you come across it and bring it into your daily life? 

My relationship is not so much with smudging as it is with the Sacred Herbs and Resins, and the allies they are to me. I brought these teachers into my daily life through smoke in 2010. I came across sage at first, and I began working with it because my sensitivities were growing exponentially at the time between 2008-2012. I needed to find a solution as a high level empath to seal my energetic space and body. At first it was very much a personal practice that naturally transferred to my healing practices with others.

But to be honest, I had been using my voice to smudge myself since childhood. All incenses relate to the East and the element of Air, since they move through the air as they express, and so does sound, songs, and silence for that matter. I had been singing to self soothe and empower without knowing it for decades.

How does smudging work, both on a spiritual level and a physical level, to cleanse and purify spaces, and align us with different intentions? 

Each sacred herb has a consciousness, just like human people, crystal people, or animal people. They have their own way of being and personality. On a spiritual level, when we smudge, we are connecting to the spirit of the plant. We are working with that spirit as our ally to accomplish something, be it a cleansing, extraction, a healing, a blessing, or something else. Because the plant spirit is an individual consciousness, there may be ways to work with that ally that are particular and personal to you, just like any relationship dynamic.

On a physical level, different herbs and resins hold the medicinal quality to address specific ailments, whether it is cleaning pathogens in the air, neutralizing ionic charge, serving as anti-inflammatory, antibiotic, or even anti-spasmodic. They are very powerful medicines.

It’s why the pharmaceutical industry spends billions of dollars a year travelling to the jungle extracting certain plants, or parts of plants. Their curative properties are unmatched. And both ancient and indigenous people of the world have known this fact for millennia.

Of course you can work with these allies for specific intentions, but I find that to be a funny word in general. If you say it out loud, “intention” it sounds like we’re in tension with something, like we’re not flowing with it. One of the beautiful things about all of the plants is that they all require water to grow, so by nature, they flow. When we truly and intimately connect with the spirit of the plant, just like another person or even ourselves, they show us how to flow with them. It’s a beautiful practice for intuitive development.

What are some of the more popular herbs, plants or resins used for smudging, and the specific intentions associated with them? 

In the West, many people use sage for clearing a space or the aura, some people use Palo Santo for this as well (though I would caution that Palo Santo seals and stabilizes a space and doesn’t necessarily clear it). In the east, in India, many people use sandalwood, which is a beautiful resin for meditation amongst other things. In the South many use copal to clear the energy of a space or person. These four are widely adapted.

What are your personal smudging rituals? 

I wouldn’t give away my personal rituals because those are personal between myself and the plant teachers and developed specifically for me, but I definitely recommend keeping Sage or Urn with Copal right by the door and blessing yourself with that smoke on your way out of the door and on your way back in from the outside world. This very simple practice came as a suggestion from my teacher Maestro Manuel Rufino, and it has been absolutely transformational in terms of energetic hygiene.

Can you tell us a little bit about the history of smudging? What cultures practiced the art of smudging, and what was unique about the various ways they practiced it? 

Smudging has been used by different civilizations for 1000s of years. I am in Egypt right now, and when I look at some of the reliefs it is very clear to me that incenses were being administered, there are urns, feathers, and leaves on these paintings. Every where there is a sacred tradition, there is the use of incense.

I will be sharing much more in my class on May 22. Please join if you’d like to experience different allies first hand as well as learn about the history and use in depth. Learn more here.


Check out Nicole’s blog “Create Your Altar” to learn about ushering in Spring and the return to light, and the power of the Spring Altar. 

Faye Sakellaridis

Faye Sakellaridis’s interest in psychedelics and consciousness led her to become an managing editor at The Alchemists Kitchen and Reality Sandwich, where she enjoys the scope of visionary thought that she regularly encounters from the site’s many contributors and the “rich spectrum of intellectual essays on consciousness through a diverse lens of art, culture, and science.” Faye recently earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Queens College in NYC, and her professional and academic life have been centered on journalism and creative writing. However, Faye—a classically trained improvisational pianist—says that spiritually, she identifies herself first and foremost identify as a musician. “Music is my most intuitive language,” she says. “If it weren't for music I'm not sure I'd truly understand the concept of the sublime. Writing and music are two are elemental parts of me, and communicating through them is what I do.”

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