Deep in the Amazonian jungle, men and women from indigenous cultures use wood from palo santo to cleanse their gathering space around the fire.
For thousands of years this wood, called “holy wood” by some natives, has been used as a smudge stick for ceremonial usage.
Although the indigenous people rarely call this a smudge stick, their ceremonial usage has grown in popularity among the wider western world.
Indigenous Smudge Stick Use
It is not uncommon to see indigenous people using a smudge stick whether they call it that or not…but the reason is very different from you or me.
In many regions of the world, especially tropical climates like the Amazon basin, using a smudge stick filled with incense is necessary for survival.
The tribal people in tropical areas are constantly living with mosquitos and other bugs that carry dangerous illnesses and parasites.
The smoke from smudge sticks can reduce the bugs in the vicinity and provide a more relaxing environment for people in a communal gathering point.
It’s easy to imagine a time long ago when burning a specific type of wood in the fire surprisingly kept all the bugs away. From that point on, the wood had a practical purpose.
Transforming Smudging to Spiritual Realms
Over time, like any good culture, the practical value of smudging with certain wood and plants found its way into ceremony and ritual so it wouldn’t be forgotten.
This is how palo santo and sage smudge sticks have grown in popularity not only within indigenous cultures, but also in the wider world.
There is value in maintaining ceremony and creating a space for ritual in our daily lives. These physical things, such as burning sage, can have a psychological impact.
Pre-Smudging A Space or Item
Before an important event or within a special context, using a smudge stick to cleanse a space or a particular item can be a valuable ritual.
Moving into a new home, using a particular room for yoga or meditation, or even a ceremonial space for a group of friends to gather are all great times to use a smudge stick.
Beyond particular gathering spaces, using a smudge stick for particularly important items can also add gravity to a situation.
Before hunting trips, some people smudge bows, arrows, or their rifle while saying a prayer to ensure the animal is killed quickly and cleanly.
This can be applied to any type of space or item.
Smudge Stick Science Doesn’t Lie
We know why indigenous people use smudge sticks in their historical environment, but there is plenty of science to suggest smudging has scientifically proven value.
For one, the essential fragrances from many of the smudging plants can have a positive influence on stress and anxiety levels as measured by stress hormones in the body .
Sometimes smudge sticks have been considered “new agey” or “woo woo”, but the indigenous wisdom combined with modern science doesn’t lie – this stuff works.
Where to Get Smudge Sticks
Depending on where you live, it may be possible to find and make some of the smudge sticks yourself, but that requires some training and support.
One of the alternatives is to buy smudge sticks from a local shop. In many large towns there are boutique stores with handmade jewelry, crystals and smudging incense.
In our home base of Austin, Texas we like places like Nature’s Treasures or Crystal Works .
For each of the smudge stick purchases that you make, we plant a tree to maintain ecological balance between what we take and give to the planet.