What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide
October 06, 2023 11 min read

What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide

By Lady Saoirse

Smudging is a spiritual and magical practice that people have sworn by for centuries. People talk about smudging every day and supplies to use for smudging can be found almost anywhere, but what is smudging anyways? Join Spiritual Blossom as we define smudging and explain what it does. Learn what tools to use and follow our step-by-step guide to smudging in four easy steps so you can effortlessly smudge your space perfectly every time.


Where Does Smudging Come From?

What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide

Incense and herbs are burned in rituals for purification all over the world but the word, “smudging” refers to American Indian people’s indigenous purification ceremonies. A lot of non- Native Americans use the term “smudging” and might even try to copy Native American practices, but only Natives and those who they welcome into their smudging ceremonies actually do what we call smudging. A lot of material is available online, describing what non Natives can do to emulate these ceremonies, but it is not necessary to do that to bless and purify with smoke.

Using smoke to bless and purify spaces, things, people, and pets has been practiced by countless people for thousands of years. The substances used for this are considered sacred, and therefore, medicines from the earth. In Scotland, a ritual called saining with both water and smoke is done. This entails sprinkling blessed water around the house, and then shutting the doors and windows and burning juniper branches indoors, throughout the barns, and sometimes on the property, in belief this drives out negative spiritual entities and promotes healing. The smoke used for this is heavy and thick, and basically fumigates, while ritually dissolving all negativity.

Smoke isn’t just believed to be powerful for purification, but it is used to bless and to heal as well. For example, Moxibustion is a traditional practice using smoke for healing that is  practiced in parts of China, Japan, Vietnam, Korea, and Mongolia. Mugwort is dried and can be formed into a sick and the smoke used, or it can be used on certain trigger points of the body with acupuncture needles, or by burning the herbs on small fireproof discs placed on the skin. It is believed this treats things like high blood pressure, stroke, digestive issues, infection, swelling, for casting out spiritual negativity, and even to treat cancer.

Incense is used in Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, modern Neo Pagan and New Age spiritual traditions, Voodoo and other African Diaspora faiths as well as countless other religions today. Incense was burned in ancient Babylonia, ancient Rome, and it was used in divination at temples where the Pythia prophesied in honor of the god Apollo. Unless you are Native American, you probably won’t be doing authentic smudging ceremonies, but you can do something very similar, and today, people call pretty much any variation of purification or blessing with smoke smudging.  While most people know what it means to smudge, not everybody understands exactly why and how it works. How does smudging work its magic?


How Does Smudging Work?

What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide

Smudging works in a very simple way. Herbs, or resins that are naturally filled with purifying abilities are burned, and this process cleanses spaces, and living creatures of spiritual negativity. Some people believe that certain substances even work to disinfect the air and kill 94% of airborne bacteria, but that has been medically proven to be false. The way smudging actually works is by cleansing and smudging psychologically helps to get your mind ready for whatever ritual work you are about to do.  There is no consensus on exactly how smudging dispels negativity. Some people say it absorbs it, and others say that smudging moves negativity out.  Smudging is basically a way of banishing any energy you don’t want present, which prepares you to welcome in the energy you do want.


When Should I Smudge?

What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide

According to The Ontario Federation of Labour, smudging is done during different times and for different purposes. They say smudging is done to clear the air, the mind, the spirit, and the emotions, and it is done for many different reasons. They say smudging can dispel negativity, and it helps you to focus before an event. So, smudging can be done before a ritual or even a prayer service to connect you to the power of what is about to take place. This is accomplished by removing emotional, mental, and spiritual obstacles that would distract you. It clears the mind to allow only good thoughts, clears the eyes so you may see the good in others, clears the ears so you may hear positive things said, cleanses your mouth so you say good things, and clears your entire being inside and out so that you portray the best of yourself through actions and words.  You can read more they have to say here: OFL-Guidelines-for-Indigenous-Smudge-Ceremony.pdf

Purification of your surroundings can also be done by smudging and this can be done for all the same reasons you would smudge yourself. To do ritual work, first casting out all that would not contribute to a proper sacred space is the first step, and smudging can accomplish that. Some people will sprinkle holy water or simply say a prayer, but many people prefer to use smoke for this. So, before you do any magical or spiritual work in a space at all, smudge your space so it will be open and ready to receive whatever energies, spirits, or deities you will invite to join you in ritual.


Tools for Smudging

What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide

Smudging can be as simple or as complex as you like. If you belong to a religion or magical tradition, your belief system will have ascribed ways of smudging, but if you are creating your own smudging practice, you can use whatever tools work best for you.  You will need some substances to burn, and safe objects to burn them in. You will need to use fire, and you will need your prayers or magical words and your good intentions.

Herbs, Incense, or Resins

There are countless woods, herbs, and resins you can use for smudging.  Herbs are things that grow from plants, flowers, and the leaves of trees can be used. Herbs are dried before being used for smudging because the moisture in living plants will keep them from creating enough smoke. You can age your herbs under the moon during auspicious phases or dry them in a sacred space like your place of worship to charge them with especially sacred energy. Woods and resins are taken from trees that are believed to have magical qualities, and while responsibly sourced materials can be found in shops and online, you can take them from trees that grow in your own garden if you have them.  There are countless things you can use to smudge, but some of the most popular materials are sage, cedar, tobacco, frankincense, and copal. 


There are about 900 different kinds of sage, and all of them are considered good for smudging, but white sage is the most popular kind to use.  Ancient Celtic people believed sage could cast out any evil, and Druids used it to make healing concoctions. Sage is used for spell breaking rituals, and exorcisms. It is also believed to bring in benevolent spirits and it is used for protection. It opens awareness to the truth and promotes mental clarity. Burn sage to expel negativity and bring in positive energy at the same time and to expand your awareness.


Native to the Mediterranean and mountains of the Western Himalayan, cedar trees are evergreens that can grow up to hundreds of feet tall, and they can live up to 800 years. Because they naturally repel moths, cedars are used to line chests to store fine linens and clothing in and moth balls are made with cedar to ward the insects off. Cedar represents protection, longevity, strength, and endurance. While cedar is used for purification during smudging rituals, the strength of the cedar can be invoked to bless yourself and your home after you purify it.


Some people think all tobacco comes from one plant, but tobacco, as we know it is the dried leaves that can come from any one of 70 plants. While it is used commercially for enjoyment, indigenous people of the Americas have used it in healing ceremonies for centuries. Tobacco is given as offerings to ancestral spirits, it represents both hospitality and wealth, and it is used in ceremonies to promote a feeling of kinship. Tobacco can be used for purification, especially if the ancestors are called to be the ones to ritually purify.


Used to make perfumes and incenses, frankincense is a resin that comes from trees of the Boswellia family. It has been harvested and traded for at least 5,000 years and was popular on the Arabian Peninsula and made its way along the Silk Road. Frankincense was used in holy offerings to their god by the Hebrews and they used it to cleanse negativity from the home and during exorcisms. It is used in Catholic ceremonies to represent the prayers of the people ascending to heaven. Frankincense can repel all malevolent spirits and energy from the home and from people, and it can be used during prayers, so your mother goddess or father god hears you.


Called “the blood of trees”  by the Aztecs, copal is a resin from the copal tree. The Aztecs used it to glue precious gemstones to their teeth and it was so special to the Aztecs gods, the Catholics forbade it to be used in Catholic mass. The Maya also used it in ritual and today, people burn it as offerings for the dead at Day of the Dead celebrations all over the world. It is used for ritual purification during some sweat lodge ceremonies, and for general purification of all things. It can be used to drive negativity from the home, and as offerings for the dead.


You will need something to set your smudging materials on fire, and this can be done with something simple like a cigarette lighter, or it can be done in a more ceremonial way. Choose a red candle for this because red represents magic. Your candle can be prayed over with your intention, or it can be placed next to a clear quartz crystal to amplify the power of its magic. If you are burning resins, a piece of charcoal must be lit, and the resin granules placed upon it will release their smoke. Make sure to place your charcoal on top of sand inside a fireproof surface to do this.

A Safe Burner

Anytime you burn anything, a fireproof surface must be used. If you are carrying a bundle around to smudge, an abalone shell or a small metal cauldron filled with sand works, but if you are building a fire, just make sure it is contained within a safe area.

Magic, Prayers, and Intentions

Some people believe that burning something works all on its own to cast out negative energy, but it is far more powerful to combine your own energy with the smoke when you are smudging. Saying prayers, chanting, or using magic words will put your intention in the ceremony. Your will is more powerful than any negative energy that occupies your mind, spirit, body, or the space you want to cleanse, and you have the power to command that negativity leaves.


Step by Step Smudging Ceremony

What is Smudging? A Beginner’s Smudging Guide

Smudging can be a simple thing you do daily, and it can take just minutes of your time. Once you have everything gathered, follow these four simple steps from start to finish and your smudging ceremony will be powerful.

Open the House Up

The first thing you will need to do is open doors and windows if you are smudging indoors because the energy will need a way to leave once you ask it to. You can say words like “I open the portal from this space into creation, that all energies I am about to banish leave in peace.”

Set Your Intention

Next, take a moment to clear your mind of all thoughts except your intention for banishing, and then speak that aloud so the energies know. Say words like “It is my intention to cast out all heartbreak, discord, self-doubt, and fear from this sacred space so that I may bring in the power of self-love to manifest the life I choose.”

Expel Negativity

Facing the East, light your smudging materials. Walk clockwise throughout the space you want to cleanse, and as you do this say something like “With my own power and the sacredness of this smoke, I cleanse and purify this space.”  You can also light your smudging materials, placing them in one sacred space on your altar, or place it in a bonfire, which people walk around to be purified. If you are purifying a person or pet, take the smudging material all around them, completely exposing them to the smoke.

Bless Your Space

After purification, it is important to bring in the blessed energy you want.  Take a moment to focus on the energy you want to welcome and speak aloud what that specifically is. Say something like, “ I bring in the energy of inspiration to this sacred office space, so that I may create beautiful things.”

Smudging and You

Smudging is an ancient practice everybody’s ancestors, no matter where they are from, have used for thousands of years. It’s a practice people today use, even if they create their own smudging ceremonies. Not everybody smudges regularly, but it is something you can do every day if you want to cast out energies that reside and replace them with the energies you want. You can use our easy ceremony any time any day and anyplace when you want to smudge.

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About the Author:  Lady Saoirse has studied magic and lore for most of her life but started walking her own Magical Path after being spiritually reborn in the desert. Today she is a High Priestess for The Temple of the Goddess, she is a psychic advisor and spiritual counselor, she shares her gifts as a Psychic and Content Writer for Spiritual Blossom, and she is an admin and writes for Pagan Pages emag.