Cleansing, clearing and creating a sacred space using smoke

Have you ever found yourself wandering past a church and had your senses invigorated by the subtle fragrance of Frankincense and Myrrh wafting gently out the doors? Or noticed the bellows of smoke dancing amongst dancers when indigenous performers welcome us to country at a sporting event?

Smoking ceremony and cleansing rituals are a long-standing practise steeped in culture and tradition, backed by faith and belief, that the power of fire and as a result, smoke, can release energy and be used to create a sacred space.

Cleansing and clearing with smoke can be found in various cultures. North American Indians call it ‘smudging’, in Northern Europe the tradition is known as ‘recels’, and in Gaelic the word used to describe the act of blessing with smoke is ‘saining’.

Whatever your personal religious or spiritual beliefs are, using cleansing for good energy hygiene is a necessity for everyday magic and ritual.

Think of the mythical symbolism of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Burning things releases energy, allowing for clearing, cleansing and calling in the new. Which is why one of the most powerful ways to banish when doing spell work is to write down on a piece of paper what you are releasing and then safely burn the piece of paper. Turning it to ash, releasing it, and with intention allowing space to invite in change.

We know that items such as resins and herbs contain energy and plant essence. Through burning them, we are activating the release of energy through light and heat, enabling the energy to infiltrate your space and auric field. Incense is a great example of this, or my personal favourite is using a charcoal brick.

Placing a charcoal brick in a heat and fire proof bowl or purpose made vessel, lighting it until it sparks (it doesn’t combust into flames), then placing dried herbs or resin or a combination of both on top, produces the most glorious, enriching and cleansing smoke. I use this method to cleanse my space regularly, especially if I’ve had a full day of clients. It cleanses, soothes, alleviates any bad vibes and sets my space up for ritual – it’s also just a really beautiful way to invite calm energy into your home.

Some of my favourite herbs and plants to use in cleansing, spell work and blessings are:

  • Rosemary – a great herb for protection. This woody, earthy herb packs a punch! You can buy dried, or if you grow your own just hang a bunch out to dry before using. Rosemary wards off negative energy and influence, purifies and blesses.
  • Sage – the hero cleanser! You can find sage almost everywhere these days, especially white sage which is most commonly used in ceremony, but make sure it’s ethically grown and sourced, and of course authentic. Sage is a wonderful space cleanser, perfect for purification.
  • Lavender – instils a sense of deep calm just typing the word! Lavender is really powerful for relaxation, psychic development and divination practises. You can use dried stalks as a smudge stick like you would sage or use a mortar and pestle to grind dried lavender buds to sprinkle over your charcoal brick.
  • Mugwort – saving my absolute favourite for last! Mugwort is the master of clearing space and energy, it works unlike anything else. It clears the slate of all negativity, going beyond your physical space to as deep as your senses and soul. I use it before any ritual or ceremony as it’s brilliant for psychic protection. If you’ve had a crap day, mugwort is the bomb! Literally the bomb that will completely clear the negativity away.
  • Nag Champa – before you go googling what that is, it’s the most common type of incense. Incense is a valid way of cleansing space and a great alternative for spaces or places where you can’t use candles or really smoky tools. Incense is readily available, making it easy to source. My favourites are Frankincense and Myrrh, or Dragon’s Blood which is what I use to cleanse my clinic (not actual blood from a Dragon, it’s the sap from a tree).

I’ve actually been concocting my own incense recently, but more on that at another time, it’s still in the testing stages and I’m still perfecting the blends. Watch this space!

So, I’m guessing by now those of you familiar with cleansing tools are probably asking ‘what about Palo Santo’ or stating, ‘oh Julia, you forgot Palo Santo!’. Here’s the truth – I don’t use Palo Santo and here’s why.

Palo Santo is now listed as an endangered species on the Convention on International Trades Endangered Species List. The Palo Santo tree is meant to die naturally, then once it’s laying on the forest floor, harvested. Instead, there are mass produced, purposefully planted forests of these trees being over harvested and used as a commodity, processed and packaged for ‘witch kits’.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s wonderful so many tools for ritual work are readily available in this day and age, but I am always mindful that the tools and products I use are ethically and sustainably sourced. I am devoted to grounded and reverential practices that support my ritual and ceremony, practices which go deep into sacred spirituality, not just waving a smudge stick around. I urge you to make sure that the tools you use to support your spiritual practises are also supporting the earth and the blessings in which they are honouring.

Smudging, cleansing, clearing energy, ritual work and ceremony have deep, significant meaning for many cultures and indigenous groups. The intention behind these practises, as well as when doing spell work, should be done consciously, purposefully and with sacred intention not as a way of spiritual by-passing.

What is spiritual by-passing you ask? That’s for a blog post coming soon, for now, enjoy exploring the beautiful, soulful work of cleansing and clearing using smoke and plant energy. Be sure to tag me on Instagram and share with me the herbs and plants you choose to use, and the resins and fragrances that resonate with you most.

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