Cleansing Ritual

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The Cleansing Ritual, Smudging Ceremony

Have you ever felt a disturbance in the force? or an uneasy feeling moving into a new place? Does there seem to be an air of lingering negative energy, feelings or an unclean atmosphere in some area of your home? Historically, Native Americans used locally found herbs to cleanse themselves and their living space, change a bad start of the day or week to your favor and improve your attitude.

Our Native elders have taught us that before a person can be healed or heal another, one must be cleansed of any bad feelings, negative thoughts, bad spirits or negative energy, cleansed both physically and spiritually. This helps the healing to come through in a clear way, without being distorted or sidetracked by negative energy in either the healer or the recipient. The elders say that all ceremonies, tribal or private, must be entered into with a good heart so that we can pray, sing and walk in a sacred manner and be helped by the spirits to enter the sacred place.

Native people throughout the world use herbs to accomplish this ceremony. During the ceremony, we burn certain herbs, take the smoke in our hands and rub or brush it over our body. Today we commonly call this \"smudging.\"

Native Americans consider sage, cedar, sweetgrass and tobacco as the Four Sacred Herbs. Each tribe has their own customs associated with these sacred herbs. Let me talk about each of those before we continue on.

Sage
There are many varieties of sage, and most have been used in smudging ceremonies. The botanical name for \"true\" sage is Salvia. It is interesting to note that Salvia comes from the Latin root salvare, which means \"to heal.\" There are also varieties of sage including sagebrush and mugwort which have been used in smudging.

Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out bad spirits, feelings, or influences and also to keep bad spirits from entering the area where a ceremony takes place. In some tribes, the floor of the sweat lodge is frequently covered with sage, and participants rub the leaves on their bodies while in the sweat. Sage is also commonly spread on the ground in a lodge or on an altar where the pipe touches the earth. Some wrap their pipes in sage when they are placed in pipe-bundles, as sage purifies objects wrapped in it. Sage wreaths are also placed around the head and wrists of Sundancers.

Cedar
There is some potential confusion here about cedar, mainly because in some areas, junipers are known as cedar, as in the case of desert white cedar. In smudging ceremonies the red cedar is used and not the white.

Cedar is burned while praying either aloud or silently. The prayers rise on the cedar smoke and are carried to the Creator. Cedar is also spread along with sage on the floor of the sweat lodges of some tribes. Cedar branches are brushed in the air to cleanse a home during the House Blessing Ceremony of many Northwest tribes. In the Pacific Northwest, the people burn cedar for purification in much the same way as sage. It drives out negative energy and also brings in good influences. The spirit of cedar is considered very ancient and wise by Pacific Northwest tribes, and old, downed cedar trees are honored with offerings and prayers.

Sweetgrass
One of the most sacred plants for the Plains tribes, sweetgrass is a tall wild grass with a reddish base and perfume-like, musty odor. It grows mainly on the eastern side of the Rockies in Montana and adjacent Alberta, Canada. It also shows up in some small areas of Wyoming and South Dakota. Some common names for it are Seneca grass, holy grass and vanilla grass.

On the Plains, sweetgrass is usually braided together in bunches as a person's hair is braided, although it has simply been bunched and wrapped in cloth. Either way, it is usually burned by shaving little bits over hot coals or lighting the end and waving it around, letting the smoke spread through the air. This latter method is how I was taught to burn sweetgrass in the sweat lodge, allowing the purifying smoke to get to all parts of the lodge.

I was taught that it was good to burn sweetgrass after the sage or cedar had driven out the bad influences. Sweetgrass brings in the good spirits and the good influences. As with cedar, burning sweetgrass while praying sends prayers up to the Creator in the smoke. High Hollow Horn says in the The Sacred Pipe \"This smoke from the sweetgrass will rise up to you, and will spread throughout the universe. Its fragrance will be known by the wingeds, the four-leggeds, and the two leggeds, for we understand that we are all relatives; may all our brothers be tame and not fear us!\" Sweetgrass is also put in pipe bundles and medicine bundles along with sage to purify and protect sacred objects.

Sweetgrass is very rare today, its territory severely cut by development, cattle-grazing, and wheat fields. Many tribes in the northern plains are trying to protect the last remaining fields.

Tobacco
Tobacco can be found in many forms; however for this ceremony a dried tobacco leaf is preferred. Cigarette tobacco contains a lot of chemical additives that are not conducive to the ceremony's purpose.

It's important to set a proper stage and attitude for your ceremony. A recording of Native American flute or drumming music may help to focus your thoughts. Set a time where you won't be interrupted by people, telephones, or other distractions. The earliest part of the morning can be best to establish good feelings for the rest of the day. If you've had something troubling you throughout the day, perhaps a time late in the evening could help facilitate a relaxed night's sleep. Some individuals use an elaborately carved smudge bowl, but a simple abalone shell or even a flat rock with a small center indentation works as well. Something natural is essential for your bowl. You may also select a feather to fan the smudge as the herbs are burned.

To perform the smudging ceremony, burn the ends or clippings of these herbs, rub your hands in the smoke, and then gather the smoke and bring it into your body, or rub it onto yourself, especially onto any area you feel needs spiritual healing. Keep praying all the while that the unseen powers of the plant will cleanse your spirit. Sometimes, one person will smudge another or a group of people, using hands, or more often a feather, to lightly brush the smoke over the other person or people.

The first sacred herb, Sage, is burned to take away any negative lingering energy surrounding the home, person, or area. The sage has a strong, spicy aroma and \"white sage\" is the most concentrated and is most often used by shaman or medicine man. It can remove negative thoughts, feelings, or a bad spirit associated with a person or place. Sage is associated with the western direction, and is believed to purify. As you burn the sage, concentrate on its purpose and let go of any negativity as it smolders. Ground sage will burn slowly, almost like a little natural coal for the rest of your ceremony.

Cedar is next. The fresh, piney smell of cedar is familiar to all who live in the North Woods or at higher elevations. The cedar is also often burned to purify an individual and an area. Cedar refreshes and cleanses your home, your thoughts, and your purpose. It represents the southern direction and the soul. The scent, whether fresh or burned, is refreshing and clean, similar to the purpose of the plant.

Sweetgrass is often described as \"the hair of Mother Earth.\" The three parts of a sweetgrass braid represent the body, mind and spirit. It may be presented as a gift, woven into baskets, and used to trim quill baskets and mats of birch bark. Sweetgrass, whether burned or fresh, has a wonderful vanilla scent and is thought to bring a positive influence to the area, your thoughts and feelings, and people. It's said to bring \"good spirits\" and a happy atmosphere. Sweetgrass is associated with the North. As you complete your ceremony, each person should fan the sweet grass smoke, first to the heart, to the mind, around the body and finally, again return the smoke to your heart.

Finally, tobacco is burned. The tobacco used should be uncontaminated by the chemicals and additives found in cigarettes. Tobacco is associated with the east, and the rising sun. Native Americans believe the scent of this tobacco is pleasing to the Creator, and so will help fulfill the purpose of your smudging ceremony. The tobacco also helps lift your prayers to the Creator.

It's also customary to lift your smudge bowl, shell, or rock, again be sure to use a natural material for your smudging bowl, to each of the four directions in turn. Focus and concentrate on the meaning of each sacred herb.

The order and the routine help to reinforce the venting out of the negative, purification, cleansing and the bringing in of good thoughts and feelings. Over time and with repetition, you will find this ceremony can help dispel lingering doubts and negativity, and can give you a fresh perspective to begin or end your day. It is very peaceful and calming.

Many people find this ceremony to be very positive and uplifting. This simple smudging ceremony, using natural herbs, is available to all, not just shaman.

Performing a smudging on a room or place, first, pray to the Creator and to the spirits for guidance, then, using burned sage smoke, purify yourself. Take the sage to all the corners, closets and rooms of the house or area. Push the smoke with your hands or a feather to cleanse every bit of space, lingering over dark or cold spots that \"feel\" uncomfortable.

Use sage first in order to drive out the bad influences. Then purify yourself with cedar and, repeat the cleansing process throughout the house with that. Next take sweetgrass in the same manner to bring in good influences. All the time pray for guidance or the outcome you seek in this cleansing. Lastly take tobacco in the same manner praying to the Creator and to the spirits for the guidance and help you seek.

Finally, some tribes will take a candle over the whole house and pushed its light into every corner. The tribes of the Pacific Northwest Coast teach this \"lighting-up\" of a house.

In any case, smudging is a ceremony that must be done with care. We are entering into a relationship with the unseen powers of these plants, and with the spirits of the ceremony. As with all good relationships, there has to be respect and honor if the relationship is to work.

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