How To Bring The Ancient Art Of Sage Cleansing Into Your Home

The idea of clearing negative energy may sound decidedly new age, but it’s been around for millennia. Here’s how you can use smudging in your spaces—and for self-care.

March 6, 2018
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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.

“Sage cleansing, otherwise known as ‘smudging’ is simply the act of burning sage or sage-scented incense in your home,” says Caleb Backe, a health and wellness expert who works for Maple Holistics.

Donna Henes, a Brooklyn resident and urban shaman who makes a living doing space clearings and blessings that often involve burning sage says, “As long as there have been houses, people everywhere have made sure to cleanse them spiritually to ensure a safe, supportive, comforting environment in which to live.”

She goes on to say, “All sorts of methods have been and still are employed to accomplish this. The fragrant smoke of burning herbs is probably the most common method.” People have relied on different herbs indigenous to their environments including juniper, camphor, frankincense, and myrrh, but sage—commonly used by Native Americans—has become the go-to herb for smudging.

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

Mary Ellen explains that the Mi’kmaw people use sage cleansing often. “Our people smudge regularly,” she says. “It’s to get the negativity away. We smudge in ceremonies and events. We pray to the creator for positive outlook in our troubling times but also for strength and clarity.”

She says the use of sage is representative of people wanting harmony in their lives—and she doesn’t just mean the Mi’kmaw people.

According to Mary Ellen, 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. She says she’s noticed lots of individuals who are not Indigenous people use smudging to cleanse.

“It doesn’t bother me because when we have gatherings we invite everyone to smudge.”

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.

“The vibe is the energy being emitted from a person, place, or thing,” Knowles says. After sage cleansing, the vibe will likely feel different, even to people who are skeptical.

Still not sold? Consider this: Backe says, “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.”

Erick Kenneth French, a licensed clinical social worker and author and illustrator of Iphelia: Awakening the Gift of Feeling, points out that the smoke and the smell of sage change a space in small ways that our minds and bodies pick up on.

“The smell of the environment is changed and there is a very subtle change in the temperature and texture of the air when sage is burned which is highly symbolic and suggests to the subconscious mind that things are now different,” he says.

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

“As I did this I said a silent prayer and told the ill will to go away, not with anger but determination,” she recalls. The results were impressive. “I felt immediately better. Now our home felt like ours again—with a predominating positive energy.”

French, the licensed clinical social worker, uses sage cleansing in his therapy practice, especially after particularly intense group therapy sessions.

“The work we do is very powerful and can often lead to very strong cathartic releases of sadness or shame or even rage,” he says. “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.”

Smudging after emotional release—like an argument, mourning a loss, or coming home frustrated and winding up even more agitated by the messes in your living space—might be a way for you to tune into and take care of your surroundings, then reset and move on from the negativity.

French also suggests that beyond clearing a space, sage cleansing can have a positive impact on the way you think and feel about yourself.

“There is a subtle energetic field that surrounds our bodies that has a powerful effect on how we feel and how we perceive ourselves and the world,” he says. “Smudging with sage is a way of disinfecting that subtle energy field.”

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

French says he also sleeps better after cleansing himself and his space with sage. Likewise, Knowles experiences a big difference in her outlook after sage cleansing.

“Before a sage cleansing, I will feel heavy, emotional, reactive energy. I see less color and life. My body is affected. It’s hard to breathe. I feel more emotional,” she says. She also points out that the structure and makeup of her surroundings is less obvious to her before cleansing.

“After a sage cleansing, I will feel the land, the structure, the items in structure, and the people who live and work there are lighter. There is less perceivable energetic weight. I feel that it’s easier to breathe, the atmosphere is crisper, energetic data can move quicker, and peace abounds.”

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

If you’re doing a sage cleanse on yourself, begin at your head and swirl the smoking sage around your trunk and all your extremities.

“I make sure to spread the smoke all around me, covering every area of my aura and body,” says Charlotte McFarlin, a yoga instructor in Brownsville, Vermont, who does sage cleansing regularly.

Although the process will not take long, the results of the sage cleansing should take effect immediately.

“After you have smudged your house with the smoke of burning sage you will feel that the atmosphere that surrounds you has cleared and your mood will feel uplifted,” Henes says. “Even your pets will exhibit a relaxed calmness after a sage cleansing of your space.”

Ready to give it a try? Check out our favorite picks for an at-home smudging experience:

 

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