Plant Spirit Challenge Day 10: Make Sacred Smoke
Merry meet, readers! By now, I hope you have had some beautiful experiences with Hagstone Publishing’s 30-Day Plant Spirit Challenge. I am so excited to continue my journey for the rest of the month with you all, and I hope you are too! If you follow me on Instagram, @thewickinghour.flamery, you know my love for plants, flowers, and herbs runs deep! That’s why I so fervently jumped on board with Michelle & her Plant Spirit Challenge. She graciously allowed me to co-host three posts for the challenge, and Day 10: Make Sacred Smoke is my first blog post as a co-host, so let’s get started!
The history of sacred smoke and smudging is lengthy, and this blog post can’t contain all the nuances, nor will it even try! But it is important to draw a very clear line between sacred smoke and smudging. Let’s be very clear: ‘smudging’ is a ceremonial practice used by Indigenous peoples by burning herbs sacred to their own specific people. Everything else is sacred smoke. It is important to draw this clear line because our Indigenous peoples have been appropriated for far too long, and I’m not going to continue that here with misrepresentation. If you want to learn more about the sacred ceremonial practices of Indigenous peoples, I encourage you to do that with the utmost respect and care. Past this point, I will only address sacred smoke.
History & Uses
From a historical standpoint, sacred smoke has been implemented in the healing process for thousands of years. Moxibustion is a practice within Eastern medicine, while burning sacred herbs was used frequently by Northern European pagans. Regardless of tradition, there are a handful of core reasons why smoke is used by health practitioners and spiritualists:
- Fragrance: “Incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain. The olfactory bulb has direct connections to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory: the amygdala and hippocampus. Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas. This may be why olfaction, more than any other sense, is so successful at triggering emotions and memories” (Lewis, 2015)
- Atmosphere Cleansing: “…burning sage and other herbs neutralises positive charge and releases negative ions, and has antiseptic, bacteria-killing properties…[R]esearchers observed that a one-hour treatment of medicinal smoke (Havana Sámagri) in a closed room reduced airborne bacterial counts by over ninety-four percent” (Taljaard, 2017).
- Body Cleansing: “…smoke administered medicinally is typically used to aid lung, brain and skin function” (Taljaard, 2017).
- Mind Cleansing & Relaxation: In 2008, the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology published a study that describes how burning frankincense (resin from the Boswellia plant) activates poorly understood ion channels in the brain to alleviate anxiety or depression. Raphael Mechoulam, one of the research study’s co-authors, states: “We found that incensole acetate, a Boswellia resin constituent, when tested in mice lowers anxiety and causes antidepressive-like behaviour” (FASEB, 2008).
- Spirituality: “It is seen as a bridge to the higher realms; a way to clear spiritual and emotional negativity that has built up in a space or a person” (Taljaard, 2017).
Herbs Commonly Used for Sacred Smoke
- Sage: Used to dispel negative energy
- Cedar: Used for an overall blessing or to cleanse where there has been illness; renewal, protection, & grounding
- Sweetgrass: Draws in positive energy
- Palo Santo (endangered): Clears the space from negative energy and also invites in good fortune
- Copal: Rids negative energy from a space and your aura, relieving depression and shifting your mindset to a positive one
- Frankincense: Creates a spiritual atmosphere opening the space to blessings from the divine
- Tobacco: It was believed that tobacco was a gift from the creator and that the exhaled tobacco smoke was capable of carrying thoughts and prayers to heaven
- Dragon’s Blood: Burned for love, strength, and courage and can be used to add potency to any spellwork
- Pine Needles: Prosperity, persistence, moderation, self-confidence, and for blessing a new home
- Eucalyptus: Protection, health boosting, and energizing for cleansings
- Bay Leaves: Anxiety reducer, calming, invokes success, and healing
- Lavender: Great to add to the sage
- Peppermint: Refreshing and soothing
- Catnip: Burned for love, beauty, and happiness within the home and sacred space
- Clove: Drives away hostile, negative forces, aids in psychic enhancement and increases spiritual vibrations
- Dandelion: Divination, Spirit calling
- Amaranth: Removes intuition blocks and helps aid healing
- Sandalwood: Used for keeping connected and grounded, and can be useful when meditating as it harnesses the wandering mind
- 9 Sacred Woods:
- Birch: Invokes the goddess
- Oak: Invokes the god energy and helps boost energy and goals
- Rowan: Assists in magical workings
- Ash: magic potency, prophetic dreaming, and spiritual journeys
- Willow: Invokes love, healing, emotions, and inspiration
- Hawthorn: Purifies and cleanses the heart of negativity
- Hazel: Invokes wisdom
- Holly: Protective magic
- Alder: Prophecy and divination
Sacred Smoke & Botanomancy
I am currently learning the sacred art of botanomancy. For the purposes of this blog post pertaining to sacred smoke, I would like to touch on the art of botanomancy. When using your sacred smoke for meditation purposes, you may want to incorporate botanomancy for divination. Botanomancy is the art of divination by burning branches of trees or herbs and “reading” the smoke for messages. It can be traced back to Druidic tree worship. Though commonly vervain and briar are used in botanomancy, I am developing a hypothesis around targeted divination using specific herbs. For instance, chamomile is commonly used for relaxation. If a person is under great duress and wants to meditate on what course of action needs to be taken to relieve stress, I am conducting research that studies if burning chamomile will produce smoke patterns to will answer targeted questions about relaxation techniques.
Creating Your Own Sacred Smoke
For the purpose of this blog post to align with the Plant Spirit Challenge and my chosen plant, chamomile, I will create a sacred smoke wand from dried chamomile flowers, leaves, and stems.
Items of Necessity:
- Plant material of your choosing
- Medium thickness twine
- Incendiary device (lighter, torch, or larger open flame such as a fire pit, stove or fireplace)
- Abalone shell, iron cauldron, or stone bowl (sand for snuffing optional)
- Feather or fan (both optional) for smoke dissemination
Step 1: Ask Permission of Your Plant Spirit
It is always best to ask permission of your Plant Spirit, accompanied by a prayer of thanks, when doing any herbal work. When we work with other humans, we typically work together within social constructs, and working with plants and animals are no different. We are working together for a greater good, so do respect the partners alongside your work.
Step 2: Select Your Herb, Plant, or Flower for Your Sacred Smoke
Choose your herb, plant, or flower based upon the work you are doing. Take careful consideration and research the energetics of each herb, plant, or flower to ensure your spellwork or divination will be carried out accordingly. I have chosen a large bundle of chamomile as my Plant Spirit. It is best to used previously dried bundles of herbs, plants, or flowers for two reasons:
- Your flame will catch more quickly with dried plant materials
- Plant material shrinks in the drying process. Your bundle will become loose, unmanageable, and eventually fall apart if you bundle while fresh.
Step 3: Trim Your Plant Material to Eight Inches or Less
You’ll want to keep your smoke wand to a manageable length. During divination, you will be yielding your smoke wand with your non-dominant hand and spreading smoke with your dominant hand, so if you make the wand shorter, it will remain firm and not flop about.
Step 4: Gather & Hand-Bind Your Plant Material Semi-Tightly
I prefer to lay out my plant material flat and stack varying plant material, keeping in mind that the top of the stack will become the innermost part of the wand. When you have arranged your plant material to your liking, gather the plant material on the left and right with your hands and scoop underneath toward the center. Then bring your hands together to enclose all the plant material in a semi-tight bundle.
Step 5: Tie an Initial Knot to Secure the Bundle
Cut a long piece of twine (approximately five to seven times the length of your bundle). While holding the bundle tightly at the bottom, loop the twine around the bundle toward the bottom and secure a knot very tightly. Be sure to leave approximately four inches of twine hanging to use to tie off when you’ve completed wrapping the twine.
Step 6: Wrap the Twine Tightly for Full Bundling
Beginning at the base, continue to wrap the twine in an upward motion toward the top of the bundle tightly. Be sure to try and catch any wild leaves, stems, or flowers sticking out at the sides and “tame” them inward toward the bundle. When you have reached the top, do a couple of wraps at the top of the bundle and then move back downward in a crisscross pattern to the wraps you’ve just done upward.
Step 7: Tie-Off & Knot – et voilà! Your Sacred Smoke Wand is Complete!
When you have reached the bottom of the bundle once more, continually loop the remainder of your twine until you have enough twine left that equals the length you initially left behind on the first knot. With the first twine end and the remainder twine end, knot them together tightly and securely. You may wish, as I typically do, to bring the remaining twine ends together at their ends for a little knot to make a hanging loop. I usually always hang my smoke wands after use (when the cinders have burnt out) to keep them from flattening out.
Step 8: Burning Your Sacred Smoke & Performing Botanomancy
This final step comes with some caution. Unless you are someone devoid of health issues in any way, it is sometimes unwise to trap yourself in a confined space with excessive amounts of smoke. You may wish to step outside to burn your sacred smoke wand, or if you choose to do this inside, please ventilate the room to a healthy & manageable extent.
Of course, wind causes problems with botanomancy. You want to be able to get a clear read of the smoke, and wind interference can give you a troubled or misguided reading. Personally, I choose to do botanomancy indoors with a window open approximately three to four inches. For smoke cleansing, I have historically used both indoors and outdoors.
That’s a Wrap! (Literally & Figuratively)
It has been an absolute pleasure providing this information to you. I hope that you found it to be useful, but most importantly I hope you use it as springboard for your own research and development in the craft of sacred smoke, and even botanomancy!
If you have any trouble with bundling your sacred smoke wands or just want to discuss matters of sacred smoke and botanomancy, I am always happy to learn and engage with others. Feel free to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next time, beloveds!
Labhair go comhchineáil, gníomhú go measúil, diaga a bhfuil eagna níos airde agat, agus ná dochar a dhéanamh d'aon anam.
(Speak kindly, act respectfully, divine with a higher wisdom, and do not harm a single soul.)
~The Wicking Hour Flamery
Lewis, J. G. (2015, Jan 12). Smells ring bells: How smell triggers memories and emotions. Psychology Today.Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/brain-babble/201501/smells-ring-bells-how-smell-triggers-memories-and-emotions
Taljaard, T. (2017, August 9). The science behind smudging. Retrieved May 8, 2019 from: https://upliftconnect.com/science-behind-smudging/
Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology. (2008, May 20). Burning incense Is psychoactive: New class of antidepressants might be right under our noses. ScienceDaily.Retrieved May 8, 2019 from: www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/05/080520110415.htm