Grovedaughter Witchery

Practical Magic - Smoke Cleansing

Smoke Cleansing - The act of using smoke from smoldering herbs, woods, or incense for ritual or magical purposes; usually involved in the process of magic related to banishing, consecration, purification, or protection.

PLEASE NOTE - "Smudging," as the term is used by most New Age and pagan authors, tends to be associated with various Native American rituals involving prayer and ceremony, and is much more complex than the simple use of burning herbs. The word "smudging" in pagan literature has strong connotations of cultural appropriation, and I encourage people to avoid it where possible. The use of herb smoke in magic and ritual is shared by many cultures, so the process itself is open. It's just the terminology that should be used with care. The terms "smoke cleansing" and "recaning" (Anglo Saxon, "reekening") are more accurate and open for use by all.


Many pagan texts cite White Sage as the ubiquitous and universal plant for smoke cleansing purposes. It should be known that the popularity of the herb among pagan and New Age practitioners has caused overharvesting, and the plant is at risk of becoming endangered. This is why White Sage has become so expensive over the past few years. If possible, practitioners should seek alternatives or grow their own. White Sage seeds can be purchased from gardening purveyors such as Seed Savers, and grow fairly well in pots. (It is a desert plant and does not require much watering.)

Alternatives to White Sage include many readily-available common herbs. In a pinch, any plant or herb associated with Cleansing, Purification, or Protection can be substituted for White Sage for smoke cleansing purposes. Just make sure that the area is well-ventilated, and that the substance in question is burn-safe and will not produce harmful fumes. Below are my reviews of White Sage alternatives and their practical performance during smoke cleansing, as it relates to my own experience.


PLEASE NOTE - The smoke of some herbs can smell similar to marijuana. Be sure to ventilate the area properly (open windows, turn on fans, or just be outdoors) and be mindful of any allergies you or others present may have before lighting the plant material. Practice fire safety AT ALL TIMES.


Green Sage - (Garden Sage, Common Sage) Dried Green Sage performs admirably for smoke cleansing. It is easy to include in burning bowls or in herb bundles. It dries well and burns easily, producing a fair amount of pungent herbaceous-smelling smoke. The scent is very similar to White Sage smoke, and Green Sage bundles burn the same way. In addition, fresh stalks of Green Sage may be available in supermarket produce sections (varies by region). These can be purchased for a few dollars and hung up to dry at home. The dried herb is suitable for smokesticks as well as loose incense, and does very well when bundled alone or with other herbs.


Basil - (Sweet Basil, Citrus Basil, Thai Basil) Dried Basil is every bit as good as Green Sage for smoke cleaning. It produces copious amounts of highly-scented, slightly sweet smoke. Basil dried easily and is best suited for use in bundles. It can work in loose incense, but I would suggest including other herbs in the mix, as the thin leaves burn out quickly by themselves. Sweet Basil in particular, with its' broad leaves, is great for making a smooth outside layer for smokesticks. This is another herb that may be purchased fresh from the produce section in some areas, often in plastic sleeves containing a medium-sized plant with a root ball. If you're lucky, you may even be able to pot the Basil plant and keep it growing for future use. Basil also grows very well from seed in a home garden environment.


Rosemary - (Common Rosemary) Rosemary works well in a magical sense for smoke cleansing, but the practical performance is a little less than ideal. Rosemary smokesticks tend to smolder for a few seconds and then extinguish themselves unless you burn a good amount of the stick at the same time. Also, as the needles burn, small bits can drop off, which may constitute a fire hazard. If you're going to use Rosemary in a smokestick, you may need to re-light it periodically, and you should hold it over or place it in a fire-safe dish for the duration of the burn. I would also suggest including better-burning herbs such as Green Sage. Rosemary is best suited for loose incense mixes in conjunction with other herbs, and I suggest the use of warmers or charcoal disks. Rosemary smoke smells similar to Green Sage smoke, with a slight piney tang. Fresh Rosemary may also be available in market produce sections. It takes a longer time to dry than other herbs, due to the high sap content, so give it a few extra days.


Cedar - (Cedar Twigs, Cedar Chips) Cedar is an excellent additive for any loose incense mix. Cedar chips readily available from pet supply stores, and it provides good kindling for a burning bowl. Cedar twigs are a common ingredient in commercially-available smokesticks, often paired with Sage, Sweetgrass, or Lavender, and they perform admirably. The twigs smolder very well and produce a thick pungent smoke that lingers in the air. Like Rosemary, Cedar smokesticks may "shed" during burning, so holding the bundle over a dish during use is recommended. (Note: Twigs and chips of other woods such as Willow and Oak also work well as burning bowl kindling for protection incense blends, but perform poorly in smokesticks.)


Peppermint - (Common Peppermint) Peppermint burns very well and releases and highly-scented, very pungent smoke. It smells very similar to marijuana and can be irritating. (Personally, I don't much like the smell, and if you have issues with menthol, you should not use it for smoke cleansing.) Peppermint works better as an additive to smokesticks and loose incense blends than a standalone herb. Fresh Peppermint MAY be available at some markets, but it is easier to find in garden shops during the spring and summer. You can either purchase the plant and trim it down for drying, or you can plant it and harvest periodically for more material, depending on your needs. (Note: Spearmint smells similar, but in my experience, it does not work as well for magical cleansing.)


Marjoram - (Sweet Marjoram) Marjoram is slightly minty and tends to be made up of thin stems and small leaves. It can be used for interior filler in smokesticks if desired, but it functions better in loose incense, particularly if the whole dried plant bundle is used as a kindling nest for the base of a burning bowl. The scent is hard to catch, as the scarcity of the burning material tends to produce very little smoke. This is another plant which is easily obtained from garden shops. It also grows very well from seed in windowsill pots. (Note: Oregano and Thyme share many of these characteristics, though Oregano leaves are slightly larger. Both grows well from seed and dry easily. Oregano smoke is pungent and herbaceous; Thyme smoke may carry a hint of citrus.)


Dill - (Sweet Dill, Common Dill, Mammoth Dill) Dill carries a pleasant lemony-buttery scent when fresh, and it dries easily when laid out or hung up. The stalks and feathery leaves tend to perform poorly on their own in smokesticks, but make excellent filler when used with other herbs, and are also good kindling for burning bowls. (Note: Fennel also shares many of these characteristics for smoke cleansing, but the scent is closer to anise or licorice. Both of these plants may be available in some produce sections, and are easily obtained as seeds or sprouts from garden stores.)


Bay - (Bay Leaf, Bay Laurel) Bay leaves perform best in loose incense blends, as the large stiffened whole leaves are difficult to work into smokesticks, and twigs and bundles of Bay can be difficult to come by. It is difficult to keep them smoldering, and I highly recommend blending them with incense powder or more flammable herbs for an even burn.


Lavender - (True Lavender, French Lavender, English Lavender) Lavender smells terrific on it's own, and it makes an excellent additive to smokesticks and loose incense blends. The flowers work best for loose incense (particularly when set over a warmer), and the leafy stems and denuded flower stalks may be used as filler for smokestick bundles with other herbs. The smoke is highly scented and does carry a hint of the Lavender smell with it.


Pine - (Various, Long-Needled) Pine, similar to Rosemary, burns all right and produces pleasant-smelling smoke, but it tends to burn out fairly quickly and "sheds" when used in smokesticks. It makes good filler for the interior of layered smokesticks with other large-leaf herbs on top, and it performs very well in loose incense mixes. In warmers, it produces a strong evergreen scent that lingers for a long time. Freshly-fallen Pine twigs may be found in parks or anywhere that Pine trees grow naturally or for decorative purposes. Exercise caution and hold a catch dish under Pine smokesticks during use, or restrict the use of Pine needles to loose incense. Pine bundles takes weeks to dry out completely and should be tightly bound and hung needles-down to avoid dripping sap all over anything below. Dried Pine chips or twigs make excellent kindling for burning bowls.

The views expressed on this website are the Unshared Personal Gnosis of the witch known as Bree NicGarran. They are not intended to be taken as absolute truth, nor are they intended to invalidate the religious views of the reader. They are meant only as a suggestion and are limited by the knowledge of the writer. Please always be sure to double-check your sources, refer to medical texts, and read critically before using any information in your own practice. 

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