Habits of a Modern Hippie is essentially an explanation of my life. If you’ve ever popped over to my ‘About Me’ page you’ll have read that I come from an interesting dichotomy of parents, an herbalist and naturopathic doctor mother and a business executive father. And while both of my parents are incredibly intelligent and made the traditional education system a priority, my mom especially allowed me to explore outside of that traditional space. So when it comes to alternative medicine and things that are a bit more ‘woo woo’ or metaphysical, I am rooted in science with a very open mind. So, that being said- I’m starting a series both here and on my YouTube channel called ‘Woo Woo or Worth It?’ that is a deep dive into some of these more non-traditional practices. With each segment, I’ll make an educated decision on whether they are ‘worth it’ or not for me based on science, spirituality, and tradition. The first? How to Smudge with Sage!
These videos and posts are more than just a sit down and chat type of format (yay production quality!) for some episodes in the ‘Woo Woo or Worth It?’ series I’ll be partnering with brands I love, to support the content and allow me to dive deep into research! This first episode is sponsored by Bodhi Tree! Bodhi Tree started out as a metaphysical bookstore in Los Angeles and has been a destination starting in person, and now online, since 1970. They recently launched their Bodhi Tree Smudge Essentials Box, a curated box of tools for an energy -clearing ritual in their mercantile marketplace and I’m in love!
Sourcing is super important for me, and this box highlights that beautifully! Full of sustainably sourced California White Sage, a palo santo stick, a seed crystal, a naturally molted turkey feather, an abalone shell, and a vial of sand as well as instructions, it has everything you need to cleanse your space!
Smudging with Sage: Traditions and History
Smudging, a cleansing ceremony, has been around for literal ages- incense burners were found as far back as the Indus Civilization (3300–1300 BCE). The art of using plant smoke to cleanse can be seen in every culture, from ancient China and Egypt to indigenous peoples in the Americas and the Catholic church.
In this particular deep dive I’ll be sticking to smudging with sage, which is traditionally used by the indigenous peoples of North America. The ceremony is used as a purification ritual to cleanse a person or place of negative energy, the smoke both acting as a purifier and as a symbol of a prayer or intention drifting up to the heavens. In a traditional ceremony an object that represents each of the four elements is necessary; an abalone shell representing water (used as an ash tray) a sacred plant (most commonly sage, sweetgrass, or cedar, in North America) representing earth, the fire produced by lighting the smudge stick as the third element, and the cleansing smoke representing air, the fourth element. As smudging has become more popular in non-native life, a few of those elements have been dropped in contemporary smudge applications.
Smudging with Sage: How To Smudge Yourself or Your Space
Smudging with Sage can be as simple or as complicated as you’d like it to be, we’ll get into this a bit later, but depending on if you’re using sage as a spiritual or physical cleanser (or both!) the process can have more or fewer steps. We can break it down into the most simple.
If you’re looking to cleanse purely as a means to clear bacteria without chemicals all you need to do is light your sage bundle (white sage tightly bound with string or twine) until the fire reaches the thick part of your bundle, blow out the smoke, and let the smoke waft into every corner of the space you’re cleansing.
However, if you are looking to get more into an intention or spirituality based cleansing ceremony, we’ll bring back in the tools of the four elements and a feather if you have one! (The Smudge Kit from Bodhi Tree has everything you need!)
The video I’ve embedded goes into this a bit deeper, but the ceremony is broken down into three parts: intention setting, smudging with sage smoke, and then a closing.
Smudging with Sage
- Intention Setting.
For each cleansing ritual setting an intention is a wonderful way to bring mindfulness into your ceremony. As you’re setting up your elements- the abalone shell with sand and lighting your sage smudge stick- bring your intention into your mind. When I am cleansing a space or myself I have an intention, “Only light and love is welcome here, all else must leave” which I say both during the opening of the ceremony and as I am physically smudging my space.
- Using Smoke to Cleanse.
Once you have lit your sage bundle, allowed it to burn until it hits the tightly bundled area of the sage, and then blown the fire out to leave just smoldering embers, you can walk around your space either clockwise if you are looking to bring in new energy (great for stagnant spaces) or counterclockwise if you are looking to have energy leave the space (like after a fight.) I repeat either in my head or out loud my mantra ‘only love and light is welcome here, all else must leave’ as I allow the smoke to permeate every corner of my space. The smoke can be helped along by either your breath or by wafting a feather through it.
- Closing the Ceremony.
After you’re completed your lap of your space, you use your prepared abalone shell ashtray and tamp out the sage, repeating your intention one last time.
Woo Woo or Worth It? Science Versus Spirituality
Now that we know how to smudge with sage, the questions arise: ‘why?’ and ‘does it actually do anything?’
The easiest way to answer this coming from a science-based background is simply ‘yes!’ Science recently has come to study and give proof that many of our ancient rituals that are considered to be ‘woo woo’ or ‘new age’ have scientific merit as to their benefits. One particular example of this confirmation is a study and a published medical paper called ‘Medicinal Smokes’ published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology (Ethnopharmacology is the study of medicinal plants used by different cultural groups.) The study looked at medicinal smoke usage in 50 countries and broke down their uses into chemical composition, pharmacodynamics, toxicity, and remedy basics in both single ingredient and multi-ingredient herbal and non-herbal remedies. While the study is incredibly long, you can pop over and look at the abstract on the US National Library of Medicine website, and if you’re interested you can order the PDF as well.
The follow up to this article, further confirms their findings and elaborates on the first by proving that medicinal smoke can reduce the amount of airborne pathogens in a space by 94% (WHICH IS SO COOL!)
We have observed that 1h treatment of medicinal smoke emanated by burning wood and a mixture of odoriferous and medicinal herbs (havan sámagri=material used in oblation to fire all over India), on aerial bacterial population caused over 94% reduction of bacterial counts by 60 min and the ability of the smoke to purify or disinfect the air and to make the environment cleaner was maintained up to 24h in the closed room. Absence of pathogenic bacteria Corynebacterium urealyticum, Curtobacterium flaccumfaciens, Enterobacter aerogenes (Klebsiella mobilis), Kocuria rosea, Pseudomonas syringae pv. persicae, Staphylococcus lentus, and Xanthomonas campestris pv. tardicrescens in the open room even after 30 days is indicative of the bactericidal potential of the medicinal smoke treatment. We have demonstrated that using medicinal smoke it is possible to completely eliminate diverse plant and human pathogenic bacteria of the air within confined space. – Medicinal smoke reduces airborne bacteria. (Nautiyal CS1, Chauhan PS, Nene YL.)
Aside from eliminating airborne bacteria, sage can also enhance mood and memory. This comes from two factors, the first is that burning sage emits negative ions. Negative ions reverse the polarity of positive ions which can adversely affect health- working in the same way that a himalayan sea salt lamp can affect the airspace around it. Now, I am not saying in any way shape or form that I am an expert on the negative versus positive ion conversation, so if you’d like to dive into the science around it- take a peek at this article about positive and negative ions, their uses, and where the arise from.
The last science-based healing modality that we’ll dive into is backed in herbalism. In a placebo-controlled double-blind study around sage (in this particular instance sage essential oil- still a scent based therapy) participants were found to have improved memory and enhanced mood. The study notes that these improvements are the result of four components of sage (Salvia lavandulaefolia) composition- anticholineesterase, (any ‘drug’ that prevents destruction of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine by the enzyme acetylcholinesterase within the nervous system) antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and estrogenic.
Memory function in the brain relies to a large extent on the ability of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine (ACh) to carry messages across synaptic junctions from one neuron (nerve cell) to another. The brain modulates the levels of ACh by releasing the enzyme acetylcholinesterase (AChE), which quickly inactivates ACh molecules soon after they are released. By inhibiting AChE, sage effectively prolongs the lifespan of ACh molecules, especially in two areas of the brain, the striatum and hippocampus,4 which are closely involved in memory function. – Spanish Sage Enhances Memory, Improves Mood
Woo Woo or Worth It: Smudging with Sage Mindfulness Benefits
Overall science backs up millennia of the benefits of smudging with sage in number of ways, but the spiritual aspects of the sage ceremony aren’t to be ignored either! Any time you put an intention into the world you change your own mindset, and allow yourself the space to dream, achieve, and work towards goals. Putting an intention into the world, even if it just perceived as a placebo effect, gives yourself permission to want more, to achieve a calm and peaceful environment, and bring more mindfulness into your every day life.
I absolutely believe that smudging with sage is ‘worth it’ in spiritual, metaphysical, and science-based healing for me! I will always burn sage to clear my energy with every full moon, after every sickness, and after every negative confrontation with someone in my life!
I’d love to know- are you a fan of smudging with sage? Let me know either in the comments or over on Instagram! Also, what do you want to see next in a Woo Woo or Worth It? episode? I’d love to take another dive into any topic where spirituality meets science!
This post was sponsored by Bodhi Tree. All opinions are my own.
I loved this article! It is rare that someone considers both the scientific and metaphysical (woo woo!) sides of a practice. This covers both with an open mind and logical conclusions. I also use sage to purify and cleanse, but never had the science to back up my intuition; now I do. Thank you Kait!
Knew very little about smudging, but its effects do make a lot of sense. Interesting read!