Written by: Natalie Jovanic
As a non-Indigenous person, I was wondering about smudging and what the Indigenous teachings were on this practice. Since Indigenous cultures are very diverse, the teachings vary between each culture. For this article, Barbara, the Indigenous Program Coordinator at the Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary shared her story about smudging based on her teachings.
Respect the teachings
These days, we tend to hurry and be always busy. With smudging, it is important to take the opposite approach: assume an attitude of not-knowing, and do not rush. Take time intentionally and listen.
Barbara explained that it is best for non-Indigenous people to talk to an Elder or Sacred Teacher connected with the land they live in, while Indigenous peoples may talk to an Elder from the land they come from. When smudging, especially as a non-Indigenous person, it is important to understand what we are allowed to do and what we should not do. For example, there is a difference between smudging and using plants as medicines. For smudging, we may use sage. However, only Sacred Teachers or those with the rights to medicine are allowed the use of plants as medicines, unless this right is passed along to you to help you heal.
The smudge as a symbol for our connection with the earth
Smudging starts long before you light the sage. Barbara explained that the smudge symbolizes the connection with the earth and it is best to go out into nature and harvest your own sage with the appropriate protocol Barbara picks the sage she needs for herself and The Elizabeth Fry Society of Calgary during the growing season, the amount varies depending on the year. Even the harvesting of plants for smudge requires prayer – one should only take what they need to last until the next growing season. We need to take care that we do not deplete nature but that we allow nature to be in balance.
The sage is picked once it is tall enough—but before it starts to seed. The time of year may vary from year to year depending on weather conditions. After the gathering, it is tied up into bundles and hung outside to give the bugs that live inside sage a chance to drop and leave. The dried sage is taken off the stems and the stems are returned to Mother Earth where it was picked or in some cases burned at ceremony.
Protocols and Practice
After the sage has been collected and dried, you may smudge twice a day for cleansing and protection or as needed for prayer, ceremony or healing. Smudging also serves as a protection against negative outside threats. Ideally, one should smudge in the morning when the sun rises and in the evening when the sun goes down. Take a little bit of sage and put it into a bowl. The amount of smudge you use depends on the lengths of the prayer you intend to use. You use a shell, a shaped stone, or a smudge bowl to place the sage within. To light the smudge, Barbara likes to ignite the sage in accordance with the four directions, as she has been taught to do. Once the sage is lit, she cleanses her hands with the smoke. Then, she brings the smoke over her body and arms to cleanse them. She proceeds to bring the smoke onto her eyes with the intention to see good things, to her ears to hear good things, to her mouth to say good things, and then to her heart to finalize her prayers
It is important to know that there is not one way to smudge and that when attending a ceremony that it is imperative to take the lead of the Elder and ask questions. Never assume that you have all the answers because you have been taught one way. There is a diversity within the culture that can sometimes be confusing for non-Indigenous peoples. Respect the teachings you are given and be humble as you learn new teachings.
Smudging is a prayer ceremony that is used to help connect our prayers to Creator, therefore smudging should not be used without the proper teachings and guidance and should be used specifically for the purpose it is meant for. Other medicines are used for smudging; however, it is not advised to use them without understanding the proper protocols and the purpose for using them.
Learn more about Indigenous culture in our next newsletter and upcoming blogs.