Think of a time when you had a bad feeling or negative outlook that you just couldn’t shake. Maybe negative emotions left over from an upsetting encounter were at play or you went into a new space and immediately felt something was “off.” Whether you credit this to intuition, energy, spirits, or something else entirely, we’ve all had the experience of our sixth sense kicking in. Although these moments are usually fleeting, they can be a real nuisance if they stick around, and you might wonder if there are any ways to turn the feeling around. Enter sage cleansing. Burning sage, a practice also known as smudging, is said to help clear negative energies. It can be done to clear the energy around a particular person—yourself included—or to remove bad energy from a space. The practice has caught on in recent years as evidenced by social media, but it has been around for much longer than our likes, saves, and Pinterest boards. In fact, Native American shamans have used sage smoke to carry away conflict, anger, unrest, and other negative emotions for generations. “We cleanse negativity out and we use this also to pray. It’s very spiritual in our culture,” Mary Ellen, a member of the Mi’kmaw people, an indigenous culture native to eastern Canada, tells HealthyWay. While it may sound unusual or even exotic, many people who have experimented with and adopted sage cleansing in recent years report that they’ve had positive experiences. Here’s everything you need to know about sage cleansing, from what to expect to how to smudge at home—regardless of where you live or your culture of origin.
What is sage?
Sage is a low-growing shrub that belongs to the mint family. Many of us are familiar with its use as an herb in culinary applications, but sage has also been associated with healing and wellness since ancient times—and not just in North American indigenous cultures. The Romans used sage in sacred ceremonies and the herb’s scientific name, Salvia, which comes from Latin, actually means “to be in good health” or “to save,” proving that the plant has long been associated with well-being and renewal.
What is sage cleansing?
One of the most common questions about sage cleansing goes something like this: “But what is it?” Because many people are unfamiliar with the concepts behind smudging, it’s a good idea to start with its most basic definition. Native American shamans have used sage smoke to carry away conflict, anger, unrest, and other negative emotions for generations.
Native American shamans have used sage smoke to carry away conflict, anger, unrest, and other negative emotions for generations.
The Spiritual History of Sage Cleansing
Sage has and continues to play an integral part in diverse rituals and complex belief systems, and the basic premise that supports its use for smudging is that sage smoke can carry away negative feelings. “The belief is that the smoke will blow any negative energy away and also carry the blessings and prayers for a sacred home out into the universe,” Henes says. Lori Knowles, a professional space clearer and founder of Soul Advancement Path in Nashville says that burning and smoke are tied to renewal in many cultures and spiritual belief systems. “Fire is destructive and smoke is a by-product, but spiritually these forces purify and cleanse.” She goes on to say, “Rituals use fire and smoke to facilitate purifying and cleansing without the destruction.” Sage, specifically, has additional benefits according to Knowles. “I believe sage smoke grounds inharmonious energy and that’s why it’s most commonly used. Our bodies are wired to unconsciously ground our energy when we smell sage smoke.” “Fire is destructive and smoke is a by-product, but spiritually these forces purify and cleanse.” —Lori Knowles, Soul Advancement Path
“Fire is destructive and smoke is a by-product, but spiritually these forces purify and cleanse.” —Lori Knowles, Soul Advancement Path
The Psychology of Sage
Sage cleansing is definitely a spiritually-inspired practice, so a certain level of belief can help people tune into the richness of the ritual. That said, Knowles tells HealthyWay that most people can tap into some connection with the practice of smudging. “You don’t have to have a spiritual belief system to benefit,” she says. Most people understand the idea of a “vibe,” and Knowles says that feeling or concept can be used to understand sage cleansing, even for people without deep spiritual beliefs. People of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds have always been invited to participate in sage cleansing, so she is not concerned by the ritual’s sudden-onset mainstream appeal.
People of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds have always been invited to participate in sage cleansing, so she is not concerned by the ritual’s sudden-onset mainstream appeal.
Why would I want to do a sage cleanse (and when)?
People who practice sage cleansing regularly tend to smudge because they believe burning sage removes heavy, negative energy out of a space or away from a person. Henes, for one, says “The practice of burning sage or any other substance serves to clear the air of stagnant, disagreeable energy and to lift the aura of the surroundings.” Some people incorporate smudging into their lives almost daily, while others reserve it for religious or ceremonial events. And then there are those who first experiment with sage cleansing when they’ve had a negative or intense experience they want to move past. Journalist Karen J. Irvine of Brattleboro, Vermont, for example, first found herself sage cleansing after tenants caused roughly $10,000 in damages to a house she owned. “I scrubbed and scrubbed for days, but I still felt like there was an bad aura that lingered,” Irvine says. “I had to try something else.” Irvine called her sister, who she says has always had an interest in herbs and rituals. Her sister recommended using sage to cleanse the space. Irvine found that the concept didn’t feel as foreign as one might have anticipated. “It made sense because every time I have moved into a new home I roast a chicken as soon as I can using plenty of thyme.” After that, she says, “the house always feels more like home.” Irvine collected sage from her garden and began spreading its smoke throughout the house. “When sage is burned, it is known to change the ionic composition of the air that it comes into contact with—which can have a notable effect on our stress levels.” —Caleb Backe, Maple Holistics
“When sage is burned, it is known to change the ionic composition of the air that it comes into contact with—which can have a notable effect on our stress levels.” —Caleb Backe, Maple Holistics
Will I feel different after sage cleansing?
The idea of sage cleansing or “disinfecting” a space can be hard to grasp if you’ve never tried it, but people who use the method say they feel an immediate difference once they’ve started implementing the ritual. “Generally, I would say my mind is more clear and it is easier for me to be fully present for next activity,” French says of his experience after sage cleansing. “And even though I may actually be a little dirty from having just been dusted with smoke and ash, I feel clean.” “The most important thing for me is to shake off or cleanse any residual feeling-energy from the very intense and traumatic emotional releases that take place in our therapeutic work.” —Erick Kenneth French, LCSW
“The most important thing for me is to shake off or cleanse any residual feeling-energy from the very intense and traumatic emotional releases that take place in our therapeutic work.” —Erick Kenneth French, LCSW
How To: Buying Sage and DIY Sage Cleansing
Whether you’re looking to create a spiritual experience, establish a self-care ritual, or experiment with the many ways in which changing your atmosphere can impact your mood, you may be keen to give the practice of sage cleansing a try for yourself. The first thing to do is find white sage, the species typically used for sage cleansing. White sage is different from the sage used for cooking and is known for a host of health benefits, from healing wounds to relieving menstrual pain. That said, for sage cleansing purposes, it’s best to seek white sage out separately. Luckily, it is readily available online, and you can even purchase bundles or wands that are bound specifically for burning so you don’t have to do that yourself. Some people also like to incorporate a seashell into their smudging practice to catch the ash that falls as the sage burns, although a plate or similar object will also work well. When you’re ready to begin the the sage cleansing process, light the sage and walk through each room of your house or apartment, making sure that the sage reaches the corners of every room by wafting the smoke in the right direction. You can also concentrate on windows and doors, Henes says. Her advice: “As you spread the smoke, also spread your blessings for a home that is safe, comfortable, and welcoming.” French says it’s important to take a moment to set your intention and to remember it as you move throughout the space burning the sage. “Intention is everything and feelings are real, so the person smudging the environment should hold their intention in mind to cleanse whatever’s just been released or anything glomming on from the past or from having participated in someone else’s work or emotional processing,” he says. “As you spread the smoke, also spread your blessings for a home that is safe, comfortable, and welcoming.” —Donna Henes, Mama Donna’s Space Clearning & Blessings
“As you spread the smoke, also spread your blessings for a home that is safe, comfortable, and welcoming.” —Donna Henes, Mama Donna’s Space Clearning & Blessings