Smoke Cleansing

By Justine Lieberman

When most people walk into my home, I watch them drop their shoulders, inhale, and smile. It’s like they just walked into a sanctuary or spa. Even with my small dogs barking their greetings, my guests seem to relax almost immediately. Clients, friends, and family have repeatedly commented on how calm and peaceful they feel in my home. My house is not outwardly calm, between the dogs barking, the three teenagers, the robot vacuum choking on a sock, the game blaring on the TV, and the dishes in the sink, you might be thinking, “CHAOS!”. Sure, those things could be chaotic, and yet, my guests feel perfectly at ease. This is because my home is smoke cleansed regularly, and strongly energetically protected. 
Have you ever walked into a home that just felt heavy, dark, or gave you the heebeegeebees? Are there places that just feel off to you? I remember having a sleepover at a friend’s house in 6th grade, and her house just felt uncomfortable. I never slept over again, but as an adult, I visited her home, and it still felt off. Almost like I was cold, even though it wasn’t cold at all. This really struck me because as a tween, I didn’t think much about it, I just recognized my discomfort. As an adult, I recognized the same feelings I had felt all those years ago. I felt validated but also concerned. I wondered why her house felt so uncomfortable. I wish I had the tools then that I have now because I would have offered to smoke cleanse her house.
All spaces carry energy, whether it’s a home, office, bathroom, church, hospital, school, park, or alleyway. The energy may be so subtle that you don’t feel anything at all, or it may be strong. It can be strong in a positive, or peaceful way, and it may be strong in a negative or even scary way. Just as human beings have the capacity to take on other people’s energy, most commonly noted in empaths, this whole world experiences energetic imprinting. We don’t have to suffer from the intensity or even minimal low vibe energy. In my last blog, “Protect Yourself, Your Home, and Your Peace”, I shared ways to create energetic barriers for your personal aura. Today I want to dive into doing the same for your home. 
Smoke Cleansing is an ancient tradition that has been used in many cultures throughout history and is still a common practice today. We are familiar with Indigenous people in America who use smoke to not only cleanse but also open portals to the spirit world, however, burning herbs to promote cleansing and spiritual connection has been practiced since ancient times all over the world. Biblically God commands the use of incense as early as Exodus, and the wise men who came to witness the infant Jesus after his birth brought frankincense and myrrh as offerings, two herbs that are still used to smoke cleanse and protect to this day. Egypt has been known to burn herbs to purify their homes and help the inhabitants to sleep well. Temples across China and Asia have burned herbs, such as mugwort to support emotional wellness. Africa and India have both been known for smoke cleansing as well. Even Australian Aboriginals and Islanders use different herbs to cleanse with smoke. European witches were put to death for using herbs as salves, remedies, and smoke cleansing. 
You may be wondering if Smoke Cleansing is cultural appropriation. It is a highly controversial subject. As witches, it is important to touch on this subject as we strive to be as ethical as possible. I do not intend to lecture anyone, however, I do find that skirting around it just because it’s uncomfortable is privileged and disrespectful. I have shouted from the rooftops about the injustices to witches, and the 13 million women who were tortured, kidnapped and murdered by drowning, hanging, burning, and countless other insidious ways. Therefore I would be remiss to skirt over the 56 million indigenous men, women, and children who were brutally murdered in the Americas by European settlers. This was a successful holocaust. Hideous extermination of human beings, their religions, customs, and culture. It’s truly tragic. 
“Smudging” is a term used by Indigenous people for smoke cleansing. While Smoke Cleansing is not exclusive to Indigenous people, the term “Smudge” is. The other issue we run into is that many people use white sage to smoke cleanse because of its magical properties, and popularity. Smudging, and all Indigenous religious practices were banned in the United States until 1978. This type of oppression is abhorrent, and the reason it is argued that it is inappropriate for non-natives to adopt these customs. I have made this error myself, and until recently I used the term “Smudge” when discussing Smoke Cleansing, not realizing that the word is not for me to use. In addition, I have used white sage to smoke cleanse, however, this sage was picked wild for me by a dear friend who is Indigenous and has been one of my beloved teachers. I felt panic in regards to using white sage, but just as my dear friend invited me to a Sweat Lodge, I was informed that being invited, and gifted these items and experiences means that in these circumstances I have the honor of participating in these sacred rituals. It would, however, be inappropriate for me to buy and burn sage, just as it would be inappropriate for me to create a Sweat Lodge, according to my Indigenous friends. In addition, white sage has been over-harvested, and therefore it is unethical to purchase unless you can guarantee that it has been sustainably harvested. 
So what is acceptable to burn while smoke cleansing? First, I would suggest feeling deeply into yourself, your practices, and your ancestral roots. Due to my modge podge of ancestry, I have looked into the cultures of my bloodline ranging from Ashkenazi Jew to Swedish, to Scottish, Irish, French, German, and Brazillian. For most of my life, I only had a real connection to my Jewish lineage, so I chose to start there. A quick Google search can help you to discover herbs and other powerful plants that your ancestors may have used. 
Others believe that it is most ethical to choose to use herbs that grow native to the area where you live, on the basis that the energies where you live are more connected to the plants that naturally grow in that region. Ultimately it is up to you to feel into what speaks to your heart and keeps you aligned. Lavender, rosemary, cedar, mugwort, and juniper are all effective alternatives to white sage, or palo santo.
Smoke Cleansing is a tried and true method for dispersing negative, stagnant, or stale energy. It’s surprisingly simple, but a somewhat tedious task when performed with intention. You will find that different cultures have different rituals. I encourage you to do your own research and find a ritual that feels good to you. Personally, my preference for Smoke Cleansing whenever the energy in my home feels heavy, or tense, as well as after we have had guests, is two rounds of smoke cleansing, using two different herbs. The first to banish the old or negative energy, and the second to fill my space with fiercely protective love. I begin by opening everything, all the windows and doors, and each and every cabinet, and closet. I bless and command the first herb by saying “I command you to banish all negative, unwanted, and unhealthy energy from this space, and so it is.” then light my herbs in a bowl or heatproof container, and begin at my front door. I use a small broom or hand fan, and wave the smoke, moving the bowl counterclockwise (to banish), I walk counterclockwise through the entrance of my home, fanning the smoke from top to bottom, making sure not to miss corners, and other hidden places, like underneath desks and shelves. I continue this way, moving from room to room, always starting from the entrance, and paying special attention to enclosed spaces, like cabinets. Afterward, I command my second herb (which is often some type of flower) by saying, “I command you to fill this space with fierce protective love, and repel any and all negative or unwanted energy from this space.” Then I begin again, only this time I move clockwise to bring in positive loving energy. Love is my “religion”, so I choose to use love as my protector, and nurturer. If you have a special connection to specific deities, you can call on them as you command your herbs. 
After I have Smoke Cleansed the entire house, I light a candle to seal the deal, then close all the doors, windows, and cabinets. Before lighting this candle, I meditate on its purpose, and command it to bring calm, gentle, loving, and protective energy into my home, and anoint it with specific essential oils. Any candle will do, as long as it has never been burned before. Unless you have designated a larger candle for this purpose, in which case, you would still meditate on its purpose before lighting the candle, and rather than blowing it out, I suggest snuffing it out. 
There are many practices for smoke cleansing, we would love to hear yours! And don’t forget that you can smoke cleanse any item that comes into your home, as well as your vehicles! For more on protecting your home with symbolism, check out my previous blog, “Protect Yourself, Your Home, and Your Peace”.

Justine Lieberman, or “JustineTheWitch” (she/her), is a practicing eclectic witch who specializes in shadow work and Tarot reading; she refers to herself as a “Tarotpist” and “Word Witch.” Her love for writing and passion for healing spiritual abuse has been the catalyst for her activism and her Craft.

Linda Green

Linda Green

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