Native American Smudging Rituals

Smudging ceremonies typically consist of lighting aromatic plant resins or herbs and releasing smoke into the surrounding atmosphere. Native Americans most often used clay bowls or abalone shells and burned these compounds with pure intention and prayers. For longer then anybody can remember this mystifying ritual has been practiced and thought to clear negative energies from one’s surroundings

The practitioner usually fanning the smoke throughout the entire room. In North America, the most common plants used were white sage, sweetgrass and cedar. The purpose of this ritual varies, but includes variety of reasons, including the clearing of anxiety, the removal of negative thoughts, or even unwanted energies. Some even impart more of a superstitious view to the smudging ritual, where they believe that smudging may disillusion evil spirits from entering the area

However, most commonly smudging is used as a ceremonious way to cleanse the surrounding atmosphere. Rituals in general led to a sense of bonding among the corresponding groups. These superstitions and rituals were important social aspects of their time and were relevant in the development of Native American culture. Some believed that it was important to note your intentions before smudging or it may have a muted effect. Native Americans weren’t without beautiful imagery either. Most of them thought that as the smoke rose through the sky, their prayers ascended and rose in a similar way.

Among many ancient cultures, it was believed that smoke was spiritual in nature and was thought of as a door to the spirit realm. The negative aspects of life cleared away by the smudging rituals were thought to travel through the smoke to a place where they would not be bothersome.

Culturally, these rituals were also a placeholder between life and prayer.

smudge kit
A Smudge Kit

Which Plants are Used in Smudging Rituals


Sage is an herb which is thought to symbolize clarify, wisdom, and strength. Sage was a common herb in Native North America and indigenous people bundled various varieties including common sage, desert sage, and white sage into bundles and burned them to release the aromatic compounds into the air.


Cedar is an herb which is has an uplifting aroma. The Ojibwe (or Anishinaabe) often drank cedar too and used it medicinally as well. Cedar is quite high in Vitamin C. This herb was also bundled and burned in purification rituals.


Sweetgrass was quite popular among Native American tribes. Sweetgrass is thought to symbolize kindness, as even though the plant bends when walked upon, it rarely breaks. Natives thought sweetgrass could attribute to one to practicing kindness and make it easier not to react with hostility.


Tobacco, despite the health risks, was a popular herb within Native American culture. It was used in a similar fashion as white sage, and was thought to cleanse the area of ill intended spirits. Smoking tobacco was not uncommon among native tribes.

Palo Santo

Palo Santo is often referred to as “Holy Wood’ in Spanish. An odorous wood which grows in South America and has religious significance within many native cultures.

This aromatic wood has had a resurgence in popularity in recent years.


Copal is an odoriferous tree resin which is harvested from the Buresa tree family. Copal resin was notably considered sacred among the Mayan and Aztec cultures. It was a common offering, a gift to their gods and deities.

Often burned on-top of pyramids or on burial grounds. Native Americans thought Copal to be medicinal in nature.

This resin is also a popular ingredient in incense.

How To Smudge

Simply place your plant material in a shell, clay bowl, or over a fire. It was common to bundle up the herbs to make them easier to burn. Remember, this is meant to be calming, so just let yourself relax. Take time to witness the smoke and put forth your intention. Try closing your eyes. As your prayers are called forward, allow the scent to engulf your perception, if but for a moment. Typically the smudge is fanned, in order to keep it lit and to spread the smoke throughout the area.

A Smudging Blessing for New Beginnings

Into this smoke I release all energies that no longer service me, all negativity that surrounds me, and all fears that limit me.

This article was last revised on 02/28/2020.

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