All About Smudging

Tobacco, sage, cedar, and cedar

What is Smudging?

Smudging is a cultural tradition common to many (not all) First Nations, which involves the burning of one or more traditional medicines gathered from mother earth. The four sacred medicines used in First Nations' ceremonies are tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass. The most common medicines used in a smudge are sweetgrass, sage, and cedar. Tobacco is typically placed on the earth during prayer, used in pipe ceremony or gifted in gratitude. There are many ways and reasons to perform a smudge, and there are many variations. Traditionally, Métis and Inuit people did not smudge, however, today many Métis and Inuit people choose to include smudging in their practices.  In fact, smudging has become popular with non-indigenous people as well.

 

Please direct any smudging questions or requests to indigenousrelations@uwaterloo.ca

How to Smudge

This is a general guide. Please note, many may perform their ceremonies differently.

  1. Acknowledge why you are here to smudge. This could be to cleanse negativity, unburden yourself, improve mood, ground yourself, pray for someone or something or simply to give gratitude. There is no wrong reason to smudge, as long as your intentions are good.
  2. Take inventory; you will need a) your sacred medicine b) abalone shell or bowl that is not flammable c) a match or lighter d) a receptacle to store extinguished ashes (if you are unable to take the ashes outside immediately after smudging).
  3. Make sure there are no fire hazards (eg. flammable gas, loose flammable clothing) present.
  4. With good intentions, light the medicine you are using to smudge. For sweetgrass, light the braid and wave it gently but rapidly to maintain a flow of smoke.  For sage, light the sage “stick/wand.” Blowing gently on the medicine will keep it burning. You can also ball some of the medicine up and place it in the shell/bowl, and light it, fanning the flames with your hand or a feather.
  5. A feather may be used to waft the smudge smoke. Goose or turkey feather is okay to share, however you should not use anyone else’s eagle feather or leave your sacred items behind when you leave.
  6. If you require an eagle feather for a very important smudge, you may ask a ceremony conductor or feather keeper to perform a smudge ceremony with/for you. Offering tobacco/sema to that person is the respectful practice.
  7. When you begin smudging (passing the medicine smoke over yourself):
  • first smudge your hands, as your hands will carry the smoke over your body
  • smudge your head, so you may think good thoughts
  • smudge your eyes, so you may see the best in people and circumstances
  • smudge your ears, so you can hear patiently and interpret carefully
  • smudge your mouth, so you can speak kindly and truthfully
  • smudge your shoulders and let the burdens that you carry float away
  • smudge your heart, so you can show compassion
  • smudge your arms, legs and under feet so you can move in peace and strength
  1. You can turn and face each direction, or acknowledge the directions mentally, also acknowledging mother earth, the creator, and your inner flame.
  2. You can speak aloud or mentally, focusing on good things, asking for what you need or offering thanks.  You may also choose to be still and let everything go. This is your personal ceremony.
  3. To conclude your smudge, use your preferred language and phrasing to say thank you.
  4. Extinguish the smudge, ensuring there are no embers or flames remaining
  5. Return the space/room to how you found it.
  6. Return the ashes/remnants from your smudge to mother earth (many nations choose to place the ashes under a tree). If you cannot go outside, place them in the receptacle to be taken out later.

 These instructions were developed by the Office of Indigenous Relations in consultation with an Anishinaabe Elder and Knowledge Keeper, a Haudenosaunee Elder, a Métis community leader and a personal knowledge teacher and guide. Please let us know if you have any questions or would like further guidance.