Tag Archives: cleansing

Peace Circles

earthethospeacecircle“Stories are medicine…embedded with instructions” that guide us about how to live our lives (Estés, 1997). Practices of talking circles, or peace circles, have emerged within many cultures throughout known human history, though most modern Westerners don’t understand underlying cosmological foundations of these practices, which come from indigenous cultures. The talking circle is a metaphorical life tool of the medicine wheel. Being aware about what we are doing allows metaphor to bring ceremonies like talking circles to life (Rael, 1998). It is no mystery why, in Australia for example, when people with indigenous ancestry facilitate yarning circles, a type of talking circle, it feels different than when Westerners do. I learned why while working for a decade in the field of restorative justice. When we encouraged people to put altars in the middle of their circles, I had quite an aha moment when I saw what people were using to metaphorically represent the heart centre. “A common mistake when examining myths of other cultures is to interpret them with symbols and values of our own culture” (Gleiser, 2012). Common values of the dominant Western cosmology such as competition, hierarchy, individualism, and the primacy of the nuclear family greatly limit our ability to embody indigenous wisdom (Thibodeau & Nixon, 2013). When this happens, ceremonies can “become empty of their power” (Rael, 1998).a

Consider the difference between participating in a plant medicine ceremony in the jungles of Peru with a shaman who spent decades apprenticing with a teacher and working with plants and spirits of the jungle deeply connected with the land and its ancestors, versus participating in a plant medicine ceremony in an apartment in a Western city facilitated by someone who got the medicine from such a shaman and perhaps studied with the shaman for a short period of time. (Image is a screenshot from an online gallery of Amazonian-Andean artist Juan Carlos Taminchi of ayahuasca visions.)taminchiartThe depth of relationships, and the experiences, feel quite different to participants. Similarly, instead of peace circles as a tool to help control behaviour or improve the way people speak and listen to each other as is common in westernised restorative justice practices based on a Judeo-Christian worldview, an Earth Ethos peace circle is an opportunity for a communal spiritual experience based on an indigenous cultural cosmology. Because of the intentional use of metaphor, it ought to feel different to participants (and certainly does to me) than simply sitting in a circle (or around a table where we are blocked from connecting with each other physically) and passing around a talking piece. Many indigenous peoples use oral traditions to preserve cultural wisdom. Verbal repetition and physical embodiment of teachings keeps them pure (Rael, 2015). An important aspect of any medicine wheel ceremony, including a peace circle, is purification or cleansing, opening participants’ hearts for sharing wisdom as a community. Purification is often symbolised through the use of smoke, or smudging.

ent.jpgHealing of, and prevention of, dis-ease requires ceremony. Ceremony is an important human practice connecting the visible material/physical world with the invisible, spiritual world. Life feels empty and unsatisfying when we do not do enough ceremony, and ceremonies are most powerful done regularly and intentionally in community (Rael, 1998). Disease in indigenous thinking is caused by natural and supernatural forces, where natural forces include things like cold air, germs, or impurities in food and water, and supernatural forces include things like upset social relations between people, with ancestors, or other beings such as spirits of the traditional custodians of a place (Sussman, 2004). (Image is a depiction of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s land spirits called the Ent, a tree spirit) Western concepts of unconscious or subconscious drives are similar to indigenous concepts of such spiritual forces (Holliday, 2008). When we focus our energy on cultivating healthy invisible environments based on values such as acceptance, non-judgment, inclusivity, compassion and empathy, we help purify our own hearts and the collective unconscious, or the spiritual realm. Indigenous thinking teaches that our social reality is based on a fundamental understanding of life in which humans are interconnected with all of nature, and by participating in an Earth Ethos peace circle, we literally embody Mother Earth together by sitting in a circle with an altar at the centre honouring the interconnected web of life we are part of. If you’re in Sydney and want to join a monthly Earth Ethos peace circle, please contact me for more information.

Space Clearing

smokeWhen 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)

bathBefore 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!