Recently I made a social media post about my love of smudging and how I often use it as a way to clear and shift the energy in my home and about how my three year old daughter loves to help. I was asked about how to 'properly' smudge so I went about some research as I really didn't know the proper technique. I soon realized that as I had thought there really isn't a 'right' way of doing it. It can be a huge ceremonial experience or a simple home ritual.
In order to smudge you will need a smudge stick or smudging herbs, a feather and a bowl or shell:
The herbs represent the earth element; commonly used are sage which is known to purify and banish negative energy, cedar wards off sickness and bad spirits, lavender is used for a spiritual blessing and sweet grass is said to bring in positive energy and beauty. Tobacco is especially sacred to the indigenous of North America and is said to both erase bad and negative thoughts and energy as well as bring about positive vibes and to connect people with the spirit world. Other traditions use frankincense, myrrh, copal, palo santo, juniper and other botanicals and resins. Of course your choice smudge will be burning representing the element of fire.
A feather represents the air element and is used as a tool to direct the smoke.
A shell is said to represent the water element, and while some say it is important to include that element others feel that it extinguishes the power of the fire and smoke. Either way if you are burning loose herbs or resins you will need some type of fire proof bowl to hold them, and even when burning a smudge stick it is nice to bring a shallow bowl, shell etc. to catch any ash that may fall.
In truth you really only need a smudge stick and a flame to light with, you can use your hand to direct smoke and if your stick is bundled well there will be little ash.
Now I will put in my disclaimer now that I am just a regular North American, certainly not indigenous (would the term standard white girl be appropriate here?) so my knowledge comes from my experiences with smudging and from research (thanks internet!) I may be in the dark on certain elements but it is my belief and experience that your intention is the strongest element of a smudging ceremony. I think that the details are really non essential; however, if you wish ceremonially call in the elements and upon the directions etc. that is absolutely wonderful, also if you wish to verbalize a prayer, call upon source energy, spirits, guides, etc. that is also wonderful, if you want to silently ask that the smoke cleanses bad energy and keep it simple, that is just as well. I feel that you can tailor it to suit yourself, your family, your home however you feel is most appropriate. Sometimes really taking the time and creating a ceremony of it will feel right and other times you might just need to light up that stick and wave it around! It really only takes a few minutes and feels so great afterwards. I think it is more important to just do it with a good intention then to worry about doing it correctly or not do it at all.
I also believe that when you are present you will easily connect and be able to listen to any intuitive messages that are for you at the time including how and where to smudge, and an excellent way to get present is to smudge yourself!
I usually keep it simple and light a smudge stick while taking a few deep cleansing breaths helping to relax and be present, I was recently told my a good friend to only use a match or candle to light it as it is more organic, I like this and can feel its truth, though I have used a lighter many times with great results as well. I do stick to one tradition and that is when you are lighting the stick or herbs you do not blow out any flames with your breath, it is said by many cultures to be disrespectful/ inauspicious to do so. Usually with a stick it is hard to get a good burn anyways and the flames will die off instantly leaving you with smoldering smoke, if not then simply wave it gently to extinguish the flame. You really don't need to light it up to crazy! Just enough to create smoke. Once I have a nice smoke going I wave the it around myself first and then move on to waft the smoke through each room of my home, making sure to get in every corner, under tables, closets every where that energy could sit, it is also a nice idea to open windows and doors as well to really get everything moving. Be sure to be mindful to notice how you feel, your heart will guide you and you will know when an area is cleansed just by feeling. If for some reason you don't then just be sure to get every nook and cranny! When you are complete offer the herbs your gratitude and extinguish the smudge stick by tapping or rubbing it into the bowl or shell.