You’ve probably come across sage in your spice cabinet, or maybe you’ve even grown it in a pot? But did you know sage has far more uses than just cooking? Burning sage is one such use, and it’s steeped in some pretty ancient traditions.
In fact, if you’ve ever moved into a new house and had a friend show up with a bundle of sage to “purify” your new space, you’ve experienced one of the oldest herbal practices in history.
The Ancient History of Burning Sage
Sage burning, or smudging, is a sacred practice that can be traced back through many cultures, over thousands of years. The idea is that smoke is purifying because it captures the “bad energy” and then “ascends to the heavens.” Incense or herbal smoke is most commonly used – be it by Buddhists, Catholics, Maoris, or Native Americans.1
For some cultures, such as those in Europe, smudging also had more practical purposes. For example, it was used as a way to fumigate parasites and bugs from animals and people.2 Interestingly, long before these civilizations had access to scientists and test labs, they still understood the benefits of using sage. This herb has since proved itself to be a potent antibacterial in modern science.3
For Native Americans, smudging has long been a ceremonial tool to cleanse a person or a space.
Sage is viewed as a powerful herb for driving away negative energy, thoughts, and worries.4
In fact, sage – by very definition – is a healer. Its Latin botanical name is Salvia officinalis, derived from the Latin word “salveo,” meaning “to save or heal.”5
Burning Sage Today
Many cultures are still burning sage today, and the practice has been adopted by many in the west – even those without religious or cultural connections to it. Why? Because, just like meditation or yoga, more people are realizing these ancient spiritual practices can help them feel calmer, more centered, and more at peace.
Smudging has become popular with those moving homes as a way to really make a new space their own. Think of it as a kind of “out with the old, in with the new” mindset. Many cultures believe that it’s not just people that have negative energy, but also spaces – because people with negative energies radiate that energy into the space. So smudging benefits your new abode by removing stale energy from the old tenant to make way for positive, new energy from you.
This idea can even be taken into your office, or onto your own body – if you feel like your body and mind need a good “cleanse.”
And here’s another wonderful fact about burning sage that the ancient elders seemed to know before science did – it’s a wonderful herb for helping to reduce anxiety and for promoting calmness and a good mood.6
Sage Burning: How Do I “Smudge?”
Traditionally, sage burning, or smudging, is made up of four important elements:
- The container – symbolizing water
- The sacred plant – symbolizing earth
- The lighting – symbolizing fire
- The smoke – symbolizing air7
The sacred sage is placed in a shell, or a clay bowl, and ignited with a wooden matchstick. Then, just as with incense, the flame is blown out, and just the smoke remains.
Smudging a person:
To smudge a person (or yourself), smoke is “wafted” over the body with the hands, or with a feather. If you are being smudged, you should try to help pull the smoke towards you with your hands and gently inhale.
[Note: if you suffer from any serious respiratory issues, you should talk to your doctor before smudging. Smoke is still smoke, and it may irritate your condition.]
Smudging a room:
To smudge a space, first prepare the room by closing windows, covering mirrors, switching off electronics, and opening all cupboard doors (so the smoke can reach every nook and cranny). Start on the left side of the main door and stay to the left of the smudging stick as you work your way around the home or office. Ask the smoke to allow negativity to leave, and positivity to stay. When you return to the front door, waft the smoke out the door.
To dispose of the ashes, you can leave them on the doorstep to protect the entrance, or return them to the earth (soil).
Make sure that you have a clear “purification” intention while you’re sage burning, so that you can really reap the benefits. Meaning, you should think about why you are cleansing and what specifically you want to bring into your life.
How To Make a Sage Bundle
Burning sage is easiest when it is “bundled” into a long, thick cigar-shape. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Fresh sage – choose the biggest leaves and stalks
- Cotton twine
- Take the cotton twine and tie it around the base of all of the stems of sage.
- Then, holding all of these stalks/leaves in your hand, work the twine from the bottom to the top, crisscrossing all the way up.
- Give the twine a little twist at the top, and then come back down doing the same thing.
- Make sure that no leaves fall out, and that you’re securing all of the sage into your bundle.
- Knot the twine tightly at the base and trim.
- Trim the top of your smudge stick so that it forms a nice, even surface.
- Let the bundle dry. You can hang it to make this process faster.
- Do not use until the bundle is completely dried out, all the way through.
10 Great Times to Smudge
So, when is the best time to smudge? There really is no bad time to reap its benefits. Some occasions certainly cry out for a good “smudge” – like after an argument with your significant other or a coworker. Other times are just more spiritually powerful – like during a full moon, or before a meditation. Here are some ideas to get you started.
You might like to smudge with sage:
- When you move
- Before you meditate
- On a full moon, to let go of unnecessary baggage
- When you want to lift your mood
- After negative house guests have left
- After an argument with a significant other or friend
- On a new moon, to usher in a fresh start
- If you’re feeling sluggish or exhausted
- When you wish to “spring clean” your house
- After an illness
Burning Sage: Final Thoughts
Sage burning can be such a wonderful ritual, and it can completely change your mood and mindset. Anything that involves focusing on the positive and banishing the negative ultimately benefits your mind, soul, and even your physical body.
Humans have been involved in such rituals for thousands of years, so it’s also a lovely way to reconnect with a very ancient, and revered, tradition.
1.Alexander, Jane; The Smudging and Blessings Book: Inspirational Rituals to Cleanse and Heal, pg,9-11