A Guide To: Smoke Cleansing

An introduction to how and why sage, palo Santo, incense, and herbs can shift the energy of a space, and how best to do it yourself.
26 Apr 2021

In recent times, the practice has gained mainstream popularity as a form of resetting spatial energy as well as a ritual that clears the mind. Let’s dive a little deeper into what “smudging” actually is, what it means, and how to do it yourself.

What is smudging or smoke-cleansing?

Smudging, or smoke cleansing, is the act of removing negative energy from a space using smoke from burning plants. While most types of plants and herbs produce smoke that has a cleansing effect, the most popular materials used in the wellness world today are white sage and palo Santo*.

*We must note though both sage and palo Santo represent potentially problematic choices that require further investigation and understanding when it comes to issues of cultural sensitivity and ethical sourcing. Many consider the term “smudging” itself to refer specifically to practices undertaken by Native American and Indigenous peoples, whereas “smoke-cleansing” is a broader umbrella term.

The New Moon’s Guide to Smoke Cleansing featuring palo Santo burning in Addition Studio’s beautiful solid beige travertine Neue Void Incense Burner
Palo Santo in Neue Void Incense Burner by Addition Studio

Why should I smoke-cleanse?

Both the negative emotions we emit and toxic energy that attaches to us from external sources are elements that can weigh down the air in the spaces we occupy. By using a combination of intention and ritual smoke, we can release this detrimental energy in order to promote clarity and positivity.

When and how often should I smoke-cleanse?

There is no rule. You can do it as often as you like or need. Some do it on a need-to basis, when the energy feels stagnant, or before engaging in energy-related or intuitive work, such as reiki or card-reading. Some do it according to the lunar cycle, particularly during the full moon, a time that signifies release of that which no longer serves us – or during a new moon, to reset the space while setting goals for the month to come. Some make it a part of their daily rituals.

What’s the best way to cleanse with smoke?

There is no best-practices guide for smoke-cleansing. The only constant is that you must utilise your intention as much as your chosen tool, focusing your mind and heart on emptying a space of negative energy. From there, you can leave your herbs burning in a vessel in one part of the room, allowing the smoke to fill the air, or you can brandish your burning herbs and walk throughout the room “applying” the smoke, concentrating on corners and low-lit areas. Cleanse yourself, too. Don’t forget to bust open your windows to let the smoke disperse – and the negative energy along with it – back into the universe to be recycled as it is fit.

The New Moon’s Guide to Smoke Cleansing, woman lighting one end of palo Santo with lighter
Photograph by Thirdman

How do I set an intention?

The mind is the most powerful energy tool of all; so thinking and feeling your intention with an open heart is really all it takes. If you feel uncertain, say your intention aloud as you cleanse – a simple sentence is all that is needed, along the lines of, “Allow this smoke to carry negative energy away.”

What’s the difference between palo Santo and Sage?

Each plant comes with its own energetic benefits – while white sage is used by Native Americans as the ultimate cleanser, and palo Santo is said to usher in positivity, there are plenty of other supermarket-available herbs that do great things. Rosemary can cleanse and soothe, cinnamon increases energy and heals, eucalyptus protects, while lavender relaxes

How about incense?

Yes, indeed! Incense – made from wood shavings – is precisely about smoke-cleansing, which is why you see it burning in temples and sacred spaces. Consider them pre-curated cleansing bundles, neatly packaged for easy use.

The New Moon’s Guide to Smoke Cleansing, close up of burning sage, photograph by Sharon Rosseels
Photograph by Sharon Rosseels
The New Moon’s Guide to Smoke Cleansing, hand holding a bundle of incense sticks, photograph by Petr Sidorov
Photograph by Petr Sidorov

Tell me what I need to know about cultural appropriation…

It was just over 40 years ago that Native American and Indigenous people were forbidden from practicing their religion whatsoever, so the fact that this practice has been commoditised and commercialised for the wellness industry today is more than a little problematic – particularly in cases where the cultural oppressor is the one benefitting from this trend. While many who know this consider this a hard no for using white sage, others go ahead but source responsibly from Indigenous suppliers. At The New Moon, what we see as most important is doing your own research and understanding the issues that surround the practice, while honouring and paying homage to the culture that granted us this understanding of nature’s toolkit. Many Indigenous people suggest looking to your own culture to see what herbs have been used for smoke-cleansing.

So what plants were used for cleansing in Eastern cultures?

Sustainable, responsible weed mugwort is popular in Chinese medicine for detoxification and cleansing, and its smoke can not only clear a space but protect and increase an individual’s intuition. You can find large mugwort sticks in TCM shops. In temples, you can also find joss sticks, which are usually made of sandalwood, and can cleanse as well as increase spiritual abilities.

What should I know about sustainability?

You should know that it’s important! Our palo Santo sticks come from Made in Peru, which takes only from trees that have fallen naturally. Research your supplier when it comes to sourcing potentially over-harvested plant species such as white sage or palo Santo just as you would your organic produce.