Sacred smoke created from burning medicinal or sacred plants is an aspect of many cultures and religions the world over. In North America, it is a practice common to Indigenous Peoples and is called smudging.
Smudging is traditionally a ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts of a person or place. There are four elements involved in a smudge:
- The container, traditionally a shell representing water, is the first element.
- The sacred plants cedar, sage, and sweetgrass, gifts from mother earth, represent the second element.
- The fire produced from lighting the sacred plants represents the third element.
- The smoke produced from the fire represents the the fourth element.
During a smudge the sacred plants are placed in the container and ignited (preferably with a wooden match). The flames are then gently blown out and the smoke, which heals the mind, heart and body, is wafted over the person, either by hand or with an eagle feather. The person being smudged pulls the smoke to them and gently inhales the smoke. The ashes traditionally are returned to mother earth by disposing them outside on bare soil - it is believed that the negative thoughts and feelings have been absorbed by the ashes. A person can smudge themselves, or, someone can lead a smudge by holding the container and directing the smoke over others.
This shell serves as the first element in a smudging ceremony.