In today’s world, we are all invested in sharing our culture and our stories with each other to make for greater understanding and bridging cultural divides. I am often asked about smudging, what it is and how to do it.
There is a lot of confusion and mysticism surrounding smudging and the use of the four medicines. Cat Criger, Aboriginal Elder-in-Residence at the University of Toronto, says that you need to take into consideration two things before you begin to use traditional medicines. The first thing is that you need to be respectful, and the second thing is that you must understand the protocol behind handling the medicines.
“To understand the protocol means you have to learn something about Aboriginal people. So in a sense the medicines are working in a kind way, saying ‘learn about me and we can respect each other and we can walk together,’” says Criger.
Tobacco is said to be the first plant that the Creator gave to Native people and is the main activator of all the plant spirits. When using tobacco, choose natural, raw tobacco that can be obtained from a tobacconist.
“Tobacco is a gift for the spirits,” says Eddy Robinson, Cultural Educator and Founder of Morningstar River. “When we put tobacco in our hand and we pray, we are asking the spirits for something specifically.”
A simple way to make a tobacco offering is to take a bit of tobacco, holding it in your left hand, and offer a prayer up to ask for what you desire. Put that tobacco somewhere in nature and offer the tobacco to Mother Earth.
Smudging is when you use the smoke of a traditional medicine to purify yourself, or a space. You can use sage, sweetgrass, and cedar to smudge with, but each medicine is used for different purposes depending on the region.
Before you begin to smudge, open a window, or a door, and place your medicine in an abalone shell, or a clay bowl, and light it with a wood match. Gently blow it out once it is lit. “Take that smoke and metaphorically wash your hands in the smoke, take some over your eyes, your ears, your heart, and your brain. Breathe a little bit in and waft a little bit over your body,” says Criger.
“When the ashes are nice and cool, they are taken outdoors somewhere quiet, and put somewhere on Mother Earth,” says Criger. “We are not supposed to carry or keep those ashes, it’s what is left over from that ceremony of cleansing yourself.”
Sage is used for releasing the mind of its troubles and for getting rid of negative energy. Sage is best if you can pick it yourself (being sure to offer tobacco first), but you can always find it at a local pow-wow, Native gift shop, or even online. Store all of your medicines and your smudge bundle in a place in your home that is up off the ground somewhere, like a cleared off bookshelf.
Cedar is used for purifying a person or a place. It is best when it’s picked from nature. Be sure to pick it from branches at eye level with green tips, and leave a tobacco offering for the tree. Or if you are in the city, ask a friend that lives out on the land to pick some for you.
While cedar can be used in a smudge, it is often used in tea for treating sickness. “It’s a wonderful medicine for people with the flu, with an upset stomach, or vitamin deficiencies,” says Criger.
You can also take a ‘bath’ in cedar if you are unwell. “You take a handful of cedar and you put in a pot of water and you boil it,” says Robinson. “When it is cooled down you take a washcloth and use it like a birdbath and let the water dry on your skin and don’t rinse it off.”
Sweetgrass brings in the good spirits and the good influences. It often comes in a thick, three-foot braid, because it is thought to be the sacred hair of Mother Earth. It is best to purchase sweetgrass from a pow-wow, Native gift shop, or online at a Native American website.
“Learning about our medicines, means learning about our culture, which means learning about our people,” says Cat Criger. There is always more knowledge to gain, and if you are curious to find out more about Native American spirituality it is recommended that you seek guidance from a traditional elder.
– Lisa Charleyboy
Originally posted on Spirituality & Health