When I have lived in big cities such as Mumbai and L.A. I would come home and wipe visible grime off my skin. But I also picked up a ton of invisible psychological, spiritual, and emotional grime, and we often forget about this. Imagine how many people’s thoughts are projected onto you each day, how many people’s and other animals’ emotions you pick up on, and how much spiritual energy (probably mostly negativity) you pick up too. When a friend asked an indigenous elder how cleansing worked, he said the smoke eats us. What that means to me is that the smoke literally eats away at all the energies we are carrying that are blocking us. These days the only serious cleanses of spaces we tend to do are fumigations with toxic chemicals for pest control. Yet cleansing our space is a simple way to shift our energy, lighten our loads, and literally make space for new blessings to flow into our lives. Hospitals, schools, cars and homes are all very different spaces when we release the myriad of projections and energy patterns that build up in them! (Image from here.)
In indigenous cultures, purification with smoke is often referred to as smudging. Plants chosen for burning carry symbolism for a culture and are local to a place. Native Americans burn tobacco, cedar, sweetgrass and sage. Palo santo wood is burned in the Amazon. Aboriginals in Australia burn acacia, eucalyptus, paperbark and treefern (Guédon, 2000). Plants are burned to symbolise the purification of a space for healing. This reminds us of the sacredness of life and helps us be in the present moment. In Tiwa language of the American Southwest, the word “nah-meh-nay” refers to land, which means “the self that purifies” (Rael, 1998, p. 29). (Image from here.)
Clearing a space by burning incense, plants, or resin is done for similar reasons in many Christian, Buddhist and other religious and medicinal traditions. Scientific studies investigating herbs used by indigenous cultures suggest that smudging may cleanse bacteria from the air (See e.g. Nautiyal, Chauhan, & Nene, 2007; Mohagheghzadeh, Faridi, Shams-Ardakani & Ghasemi, 2006). In fact, as recently as during WWI, rosemary was burned in hospitals for cleansing a space.
In an Earth Ethos, we clear space by working with the four elements (earth, air, fire, water). To honour the earth element, we use incense, herbs, plants or resin; to honour the fire we light it; to honour the air we allow the smoke to spread throughout the space; and to honour water we spritz it (often mixed with an essential oil or infused with an herb or flower) around the space to finish. When cleansing a space, it is important to set an intention that everything unnecessary/not yours be released. Feel free to use specific prayers if you follow a certain tradition. While plants, trees and flowers have unique strengths that herbalists know, using something you feel intuitively drawn to or that you have a relationship with already (like you have grown it in your garden for a while), will strengthen the cleanse. For example, sage is commonly sold and used to cleanse a space, but it is traditionally used not to cleanse a space, but to create sacred space before a ceremony (Mary Shutan, 2018).
Before you cleanse the space outside of you, it is important to smudge your body and walk through a spritz of the water you will use so you are as clear as the room! A full body smudge is often done in the shape of a cross going along one arm across the chest to the other, up above the head and down to the feet, and then the same around the back of the body. For a more thorough bodily cleanse, consider a mindful bathing/cleansing ritual. Spiritual bathing, whether just in pure water or with additional herbs or minerals, is an ancient practice of purification done across cultures and religious traditions. It takes the form of baths, steams, saunas, hot spring soaks, and sweat lodges. Science has shown that the skin is our largest organ, so it helps keep us healthy on physical, emotional, mental and spiritual levels to cleanse it in an intentional, ritual way. A simple and effective bath you at home is adding salt to bathwater, along with a spoonful of non-piped-in water such as collected rainwater, seawater, or water from a nearby lake or river to strengthen the power of the water. This blog has useful basic information about spiritual bathing. And if you don’t have a bathtub (which I didn’t in my previous apartment), it’s amazing what a weekly saltwater/essential oil intentional foot soak can clear!
Unless you have a lot of stuck energy in your life, or there has been a lot of arguing or pain in your space or your body, a once a month spiritual house cleanse and once a week spiritual body cleanse should be sufficient (Mary Shutan, 2018). It’s a small ask that can deliver big results.
Exercise: Clear your space and cleanse your body with a spiritual bathing ritual. Even better, do regular rituals for a few months, and see how it improves your life’s flow!