Sage has long been a powerful herb for promoting emotional health and environmental well being. When a natural substance has been used for a few thousand years for such an accepted common purpose, it takes on an iconic meaning. So it is with sage and more specifically, ceremonial white sage.
Burning slowly as a smudge to waft its smoke in the air about one’s home is an example of a well-recognized cleansing ritual to establish positive energy, clear thinking, harmony of thought and healing.
The type of sage used in cooking is a variety of Salvia. The other genus of sage is Artemisia (sagebrush). Varieties of both are used in smudging with an apparent preference being for what is known as ceremonial white sage, native to the American southwest.
The Use of Sage in Ritual
This use of sage springs from at least two powerful spiritual ancient sources, who, so far as is known, evolved independently from each other: the ancient Celts, including the Druids, and the Native Americans.
The Druids and ancient Celts used sage to increase wisdom and knowledge, and for protection and healing. Sage is used in this tradition not only for the cleansing powers of its smoke but for tea as well.
In the Native American traditions, sage (also called “sukodawabuk”) is a sacred element in many rituals. For example, the Ojibwa tribe used sage as an anti-convulsant, to staunch bleeding, and as a stimulant. The Potawatomis used sage both as a purifying smoke smudge and as a poultice for festering sores and wounds.
Sage also has been used in Native American sweat cleansing rituals with the scattering of sage on the floor of the sweat lodge.
In short, sage has been long recognized as both a medicinal and psychologically beneficial purifying agent, as well as an enticing enhancement in cooking.
How to Perform a Personal Cleansing Sage Smudging Ritual
Performing a sage cleansing ritual is not difficult. The preparation principally involves acquiring white sage and assembling the sage with an earthen bowl , incense or smudge pot, or abalone shell. Choose one of these that is large enough to hold comfortably in the palm of your hand, or by a handle, and that can contain the burning sage without becoming too hot to hold on the outside.
Next, you should be mentally ready to concentrate on the ceremony by clearing distractions from your mind and the physical space involved. With these things done, you are ready for the following steps of a personal sage smudging ritual.
- Prepare the space. Do not clutter the space with electronic noise of televisions, computers, phones and the like. Create an uncluttered table top space to set up the sage for lighting.
- Prepare the sage for burning. How you prepare the sage depends on the form in which you acquire it. If you have it in a loose state, place a quantity about the size of a handful in an earthen bowl or abalone shell. If you have the sage tightly bound as a smudge stick you could plan to carry it like a candle, but it is recommended you still place it in the bowl or shell as a safer option.
- Placing the unlit sage before you in the container selected (e.g. bowl or abalone shell), center yourself into a peaceful positive state of mind by closing your eyes and breathing deeply and slowly. Clear your mind of negative thoughts and distractions.
- If others are joining you in the ceremony they must participate with you in kind. Do not permit negativity or skepticism to cloud this ritual.
- Envision the space within you and around you filled with light, a protective, healing and positive light. Think of the light as a shield against dark forces and negative energy. Send up a prayer asking for what you wish to accomplish with the ceremony (e.g. cleansing, harmony, protection, purification of self and/or space, healing, blessing a new home).
- Light the sage.
- As the smoke begins to lift, gently circle your hands through the smoke toward you and around you. Then, slowly carry the smudge to every part of the room, ensuring the smoke reaches every corner. Be sure to allow the smoke to trace around the edges of the walls and particularly around the frames of doors and windows; criss-cross the threshold.
- While you do this, keep your mind centered on positive thoughts and energy. Focus on what you seek with this ritual. You may recite a special prayer or mantra to assist.
- When you have completed the ritual remove the smudge from the room and carefully extinguish what is left.
- If you have a smudge stick with remaining length, save it for future use. Or, if you have a fireplace, you may allow any remaining loose sage or the end of a smudge stick to completely burn out there.
Do not leave the sage smudge burning unattended. Do not inhale the smoke directly. The purpose of this ritual is to purify and harmonize the space, not fill it (or your lungs) with smoke. Do not perform this with children or infants present. Do not eat ceremonial sage or use in food.
Be careful of your source for acquiring ritual sage. Commercial sage is not the proper ingredient. Use ceremonial white sage.
To make the best use of this magical plant, continue further study on your own and enhance your journey of knowledge and peace. See also Spiritual Retreats Improve Health, Performance.
- A Druid’s Herbal for the Sacred Earth Year, by Ellen Evert Hopman.
- Cunningham’s Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, by Scott Cunningham.
- Native American Herbs and Plants of the Southwest.
- House Cleansing With Sage in Northern Ireland