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Smoke Cleansing: A Simple Ritual

Though Smoke cleansing has existed for thousands of years it is still a widely unknown or misunderstood practice. If you are unfamiliar with smoke cleansing, you are not alone. You might be surprised to find out how common the practice actually is.

So what is smoke cleansing?

Smoke cleansing is the process of cleansing a person or space with smoke from smoldering herbs or incense. It's that simple. Smoke is symbolic of prayer or intention rising upward toward deity or the universe. It is also representative of the five universal elements coming into balance. Cleansing by smoke is practiced in almost every religion around the world; including Catholicism, Islam, Judaism, Taoism, Buddhism, Wicca, Neo-Paganism, and Native American traditions. Smoke cleansing helps restore balance and keeps negative energy away. If that's not beneficial enough, it is also proven to kill 97% of all bacteria. So that’s a plus!

Although the actual contents of the burnt offerings may differ between cultures, the purpose is the same. Eastern cultures historically burn resin-based incenses like Frankincense, Copal and Myrrh. Western cultures traditionally burn dried herbs like White Sage, Desert Sage, Tobacco, Cedar, Sweet Grass, Lavender and Palo Santo.

When to Cleanse

Cleansing is generally performed at the beginning of a recurring ritual, holiday, or worship service. It is common to cleanse during a full moon or new moon. It is also customary to cleanse during seasonal holidays or community gatherings like weddings, birthdays, and baby blessings. Basically, cleansing can be performed anytime as needed.

How is it done?

  • Native Americans burn sage in a clay pot or shell and waft the smoke around with a feather or fan.

  • Catholic Priests burn incense in a special metal vessel, called a censor, that hangs from a chain which makes it easier to waft the smoke near the congregation.

  • Eastern Religions tend to places smoldering briquettes or incense stick in sand on a stone dish or wooden board.

  • Neo-Pagans usually hold smoldering sage sticks with one hand and waft the smoke upward with a feather or fan.

  • Cleansing is almost always accompanied by an auditory element like a bell, gong, drum cadence, singing bowl, prayer or mantra. This is done to marry the symbolic element of the smoke with the audible repetition to carry the intention outward.

A Basic Smoke cleansing ritual


  • Incense, Sage or herbal smudge stick

  • lighter or match

  • fan or feather

  • bowl, shell, or vessel to catch falling ashes


  1. Ignite the end of your sage stick until it begins to smoke.

  2. Use a fan (not your mouth) to waft the smoke around the edges of the body or around the room in a clockwise procession, covering every part. Relight the smudge stick when necessary.

  3. While fanning the smoke, repeat a mantra, prayer, or blessingway to focus the intent of the ritual. A mantra can be as simple as “Love & Light.” Make up a mantra that is meaningful to you.

  4. Continue fanning smoke in a clockwise direction until you return to the starting point, thus completing the circle.

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