Smudging and Incense – The Meaning and Ritual

Smudging and the burning of incense

The art of Smudging and burning incense: this ritual is seen throughout sacred text including the bible.  In these modern times why do we continue such acts?  What is the meaning of smudging and using incense, and what statement does it make?

new moon white sageHistory of Incense

Incense have been used in nearly every culture for centuries. There is association with earth worship such as pagan or wiccan rituals, but the use of incense is also found in eastern cultures, catholic practices, and many other cultures and belief systems.

Matthew 2:11
And entering into the house, they found the child with Mary his mother, and falling down they adored him: and opening their treasures, they offered him gifts; gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

Egyptian Burial Ceremonies

“The ceremony of the purification by incense followed that of the purification by water. Five grains of incense were presented to the deceased, twice to the mouth, twice to the eyes, and once to the hand, the number of presentations being the same as that of the grains of the incense. This ceremony having been repeated twice, once for the south and once for the north, it was repeated yet a third time with incense from foreign parts, the ‘divine incense’ probably from the land of Punt in Arabia, the  ‘divine land,’ the land of the east to which the Egyptians looked back as the land of their origin. The litany of purification was repeated each time that the incense was presented to the deceased, and the outside listeners heard again and again the monotonous refrain, ‘Thou art pure, thou art pure.'”

The Art of Smudging

Traditionally sage, sweetgrass, cedar and even lavender are used in smudging. The intent with smudging is removal of negative energies and creating sacred space or a protected space.  Sage is most commonly used for that purpose.  Then there is the other side of the coin, bringing in blessings and healing energies, and this is where sweetgrass is most common.  It is thought that sweetgrass attracts helpful spirits.

Smudging and Incense

No one culture or society can make claim of ownership of the art of smudging and burning incense because it is such an ancient practice seen around the world.  Each group has its own choices in the resins and herbs that they burn, whether it is native american use of sage and sweetgrass, or the catholic practice of burning Frankincense & Myrrh along with other “secret” aromas and spices. There is one common thread between the many cultures using aromatics in their prayers: the act of intention.

Incense and smudging are used in part because we draw the power and energy from the resin and herbs, the soul of the plant. The act of using incense or smudging is also a type of offering, going far beyond our thoughts or words. The aroma and energy released through burning does alter our thoughts and our mind, allowing us to be in a more meditative or prayer consciousness.

Smudging and Incense – The Meaning and Ritual © 2011-2015 Kavi Saphala, WhiteSage.org. All rights reserved.

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