Light Your Fire: Purify Your Home With Native American Incense

Cleanse and purify your home with smudge sticks and sweetgrass braids— Native American incense with a venerable history.

| May/June 2004

  • cedar
    Photo By Joe Coca

  • Photo By Joe Coca
  • sagebrush
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • lemon eucalyptus
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • cloves
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • juniper berries
    Photo By Joe Coca
  • sweetgrass
    Photo By Joe Coca

  • Photo By Joe Coca
  • juniper
    Photo By Joe Coca

When spring arrives, we open our windows, doors, and hearts to nature. Spring is also the season for cleansing our homes—purging the old while welcoming new growth and beginnings. In a process known as smudging, Native Americans use sacred herbs to address the spiritual, emotional, and physical aspects of cleansing. Today, many people use sage almost exclusively for smudging, but Native American nations have used a variety of aromatic indigenous herbs throughout the centuries.

Following directions

The Native American Medicine Wheel follows the four cardinal directions, as should your movements during smudging and clearing rituals. Begin to the east because that’s where life begins—it’s the place of birth and new beginnings. Travel next to the south, the place of the teenage years. West, representing midlife, is next. End to the north, the place of the elders, wisdom, spirits, ancestors, and the afterlife.

Some people find having a specific order to smudging useful. These directions were derived from the medicine wheel as reported by an elder of the Mide Lodge, member of the Cedar Women’s Society. The directions also follow the medicine wheel as described by E. Barrie Kavasch and Karen Baar, Native American authors of American Indian Healing Arts: Herbs, Rituals and Remedies for Every Season of Life (Bantam/1999).You can try this method or, if you are feeling creative, devise your own methods that are comfortable and sensible, in accord with your background, orientation, and living situation.

Smudge stick herbal ritual

Smudge sticks are dried medicine bundles that are lit and waved like magical fragrance wands. While sweetgrass is inviting, smudge sticks are used for banishment—to clear spaces of negativity and illness.

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