Have you ever been at a powwow or a ceremonial gathering and detected a sweet, aromatic scent in the air? The reason for this is smudging, which means burning sweetgrass and wafting the smoke over your body. Dancers smudge themselves before entering the sacred dance circle as an act of purification. Some people believe the sweetgrass literally purifies them; others use it as a symbol of internal purity through their Creator. Both views are valid and sacramental.
To enact a smudging ceremony, you need a container for the sweetgrass (in my tribe we use abalone shells) and a feather to fan the smoke over the individual being smudged. Starting at the left shoulder front side, the smudger fans the sweetgrass smoke over the smudgee’s body, going down to his or her feet, and the back up over the right shoulder. They then continue to fan the smoke over the back of the smudgee’s body, down to the feet, and back up again at the left shoulder. To let the smudgee know he or she is done, the smudger taps the person he or she is smudging on the shoulder with the feather.
Smudging can also be done to purify spaces. For instance, I had a cousin who moved into a house on our reservation with a bad history. She sensed darkness in her home and had trouble sleeping at night. The next day, she went to an elder of the tribe and asked what to do. The elder instructed her to smudge every corner of the house. My cousin did so while praying, and the dark presence she had felt never troubled her home again.
If you feel that smudging could be beneficial for you, sweetgrass can be purchased at powwows or online. Though using an eagle feather is optimal for the fanning, any feather will do. Whether smudging is a symbol to you and your family, or a literal act of purification, smudging is a beautiful and sacred tradition that everyone can benefit from.
Misty Lynn Ellingburg (Shoalwater Bay) is a student at Seattle Pacific University, majoring in English (concentration Literature) and minoring in Professional Writing. She has two brothers and two sisters–Brandt, Shana, Hope, and Hunter. Her mom, Lory, is a Tribal artist, and her dad, Todd, is becoming fluent in Salish, a local Tribal language. Her favorite Native writers are Leslie Marmon Silko, Louise Erdrich, and Sherman Alexie. She even met Mr. Alexie in Seattle at a book reading where she got his autograph and a picture taken together.