Native Elders have taught 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 “stuff” 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 realm.
Native people throughout the world use herbs to accomplish this. One common ceremony is to burn certain herbs, take the smoke in one’s hands and rub or brush it over the body. Today this is commonly called “smudging.” In Western North America the three plants most frequently used in smudging are sage, cedar, and sweetgrass (see Sacred Plants).
To do a smudging ceremony, burn the clippings of these herbs (dried), 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(s). We were taught to look for dark spots in a person’s spirit-body. As one California Indian woman told us, she “sees” a person’s spirit-body glowing around them, and where there are “dark or foggy parts,” she brushes the smoke into these “holes in their spirit-body.” This helps to heal the spirit and to “close up” these holes.
It is very popular among many people is to use abalone shells in smudging. However, this is controversial. On the Pacific Northwest Coast, for example, some holy men have said that abalone shells represent Grandmother Ocean, and that they should be used in ceremonies with water, not burning. Instead clay or stone bowls may be used..
Smudging is a ceremony that must be done with care. It is a powerful experience entering into a relationship with the unseen powers of the Sacred Plants, and with the spirits of the ceremony. As with all good relationships, there has to be respect and honour if the relationship is to work.