I am looking to buy smudge sticks or products to relieve my home of a spirit family. I was told to go to a reserve in Arizona and buy from an old woman behind the counter. I have no clue as to where this is. Tell me, where are the directions to this place?
–Submitted by Phoenix Fun
There are several different tribal areas called reservations in Arizona. In the United States, they are called reservations. In Canada, these tribal areas are called reserves. I don’t know this old woman you speak of, but I can tell you about the
Four Sacred Smoke Medicines: Tobacco, Sage, Sweetgrass, and Cedar.
All of them can be used to smudge with, although sage, cedar and sweetgrass also have many other medicinal uses and healing properties.
Briefly, tobacco invites the spirits to listen, sage and cedar drive out negative energy, and sweetgrass invites in positive, healing spirits. When any one of these herbs is used in conjunction with another in this group, it inhances or compliments the powers of both.
On a medicine wheel, tobacco sits at the eastern door, sweetgrass at the southern door, sage in the west and cedar in the north. It is said that the spirits like or dislike the aroma produced when we burn tobacco and the other sacred medicines.
Tobacco is used as an offering for everything and is used in every ceremony. Tobacco always comes first. It opens the door so that we can communicate with the spirit world. It carries our prayers to the spirit realm. Before we harvest any animal or herb from nature, we first make a tobacco offering and say a prayer, telling the plant or animal why we are there and for what purpose we need it’s help and thanking it for its use. In all ceremonies, we begin with the smoking of tobacco and a prayer.
|Indian Tobacco |
According to Rolling Thunder, a Cherokee elder, “After you light tobacco, with your first puff, you should think a good thought or make a prayer. With your second, quiet your mind; rest in stillness. With your third puff, you can receive insight related to your prayer – perhaps an image, words spoken by spirit, or an intuitive feeling.”
There is a wild tobacco plant that was grown by Indians long before Europeans came and is still harvested by many. In the modern world, commercial tobacco is most often used as a substitute, from bulk tobacco like Bull Durham, or even crushed cigarettes. The tobacco smoked in the canupa, or peace pipe, is never a narcotic substance.
|Sweetgrass, Hierochloe odorata|
Sweetgrass is called the sacred hair of Mother Earth. Sweetgrass is a narrow leaved grass that only grows, as far as I know, in a few places in central Montana, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Northwest Iowa in the US, and southern Alberta, Canada, and is usually sold woven into a braid. It has a sweet smell when burned, and when the grass is fresh picked which some say reminds them of vanilla. Others say it smells like fresh mown hay. A new braid will be green and turns brown with age. As it ages, it loses some of its potency.
It can be difficult to keep sweetgrass burning when it’s fresh, so often a small piece is snipped from the end of the braid and unraveled to burn in a dish or abalone shell, and fanned with a feather to create air circulation. When sweetgrass is used in a healing ceremony, it has a calming effect. Like sage and cedar, sweetgrass is used for smudging and purification, however, it’s not considered as strong a medicine as sage and cedar. Spirits are said to like it’s smell, and are attracted to it. So, if you are trying to get spirits to leave you, you probably don’t want to use sweetgrass.
|Cedar tree foliage|
|Cedar smudge sticks|
Cedar is most often used spiritually to purify the home and sweat lodge. It is also used for protection, as well as many medicinal uses. Finely ground cedar may be burned in a dish or abalone shell in the home or stems may be wrapped into a smudge stick. The smoke is then fanned with a feather over objects and people one wishes to purify or protect. In sweatlodges, cedar boughs often line the floor for the same purposes.
When cedar is put into a fire with tobacco, it crackles. When it does this, it is calling the attention of the spirits to the offering that is being made. Cedar is sold either as a smudge stick or as ground chips.
|Sage smudge sticks|
Sage is probably what you were told to get. Sage grows wild across the southwest and western half of the US. Sage smudge isn’t the same thing as the spice you use to cook with. It comes from the variety of sage commonly called sagebrush, a smaller relative of the mesquite bush. It grows two to three feet tall. It’s strongest just before it blooms, about mid to late June in the northern states. That might be about March or April in Arizona and other Southern states. After the bloom, it is putting more energy into the formation of seeds, and there is less potency in the leaves. The fresher it is, the stronger it is, also. You usually don’t want a lot of seeds in your smudge sticks, because they can pop when they burn, like popcorn, and can fly off and burn you.
In some tribes there is reference to male and female sage. Male sage is harvested before the plant blooms, female sage is harvested after the bloom. As this name implies, males would use male sage and females would use female sage. Not all tribes make this distinction.
|Desert Sagebrush |
Sage is used to prepare people for ceremonies and teachings. Because it is more medicinal and stronger than sweetgrass , it tends to be used more often in ceremonies.Sage is used for releasing what is troubling the mind and for removing negative energy. This is why it is used for cleansing homes and sacred items. Negative spirits are said to dislike the smell of sage and are driven away by it. Positive spirits will linger even if sage is burned, if sweetgrass is also used in conjunction with it.
Sage stem tips with the leaves are usually cut from the new growth while still green (it’s actually a blue-gray color) and still growing. Take only the new growth and only a little from each plant, so you don’t kill the whole plant. These cuttings are then wrapped into “sticks” about 6-18″ long by tying string or yarn in cris-crossing Xs all the way up the smudge stick to hold it together. If you are using short pieces, overlap them as you wrap to obtain the desired length. Wrap tightly, a loosely wrapped smudge stick is hard to keep burning and will burn up faster when you do get it lit. Or you can burn the leaves loose in something fireproof like an abalone shell, which has vent holes along one side to let the air in and keep it smouldering.
Keeping it in a zip lock bag or tightly closed container in the freezer keeps it fresher, longer. After about six months to a year, depending on how you stored it, it begins to lose it’s potency.
If you are in Phoenix, Arizona, it grows along the highway going to Quartzsite and Blythe, California and in the desert along the highway to Tucson. That is desert sage, the most common kind of sage. It grows in semi-arid areas across the southwestern and western United States.
|White Mountain Sagebrush |
The most prized sage is called white mountain sage. It’s stronger than desert sage and the leaves are narrower, and have a whitish-grey hue. The plants are smaller, usually about a foot tall. You would find that at higher elevations up in the mountains, as the name implies, growing in rocky crevices. In Arizona you’d probably find it in the areas around Flagstaff and Sedona.
The smudge sticks should have a strong, pungent smell, even when unlit. If you can’t smell it, it’s probably old and stale, and not as powerful.
Depending on which tribe you ask, elders say you should not touch or use any of these sacred herbs for four to seven days after consuming drugs or alcohol. While the time varies from tribe to tribe, all warn not to use these sacred herbs soon after you’ve indulged in alcohol or drugs. Women on their menses also should not handle or use them.
Although most natives believe the sacred herbs should never be sold, some individual tribal members believe it is ok to barter or trade them, and there are always some non-traditional people who are willing to harvest and sell them for cash. There is usually someone who is selling it at most pow wows. It’s also sold at many tourist gift shops that sell Indian crafts. And you can buy it over the internet. Just Google “sage sticks” or “sage smude” or “sage smudge sticks” or the same terms substituting sage or sweetgrass, and you will find sellers of these herbs.
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