Colleen McCann is a big proponent of something called “spiritual hygiene.” She’s an energy practitioner, a shaman who specializes in clearing energy at home, mainly inside of closets, a space she knows well after working for many years as a fashion stylist. “I pass on sage or Palo Santo with every business card I hand out,” McCann says. “We take care of our bodies with exercise, good diets, and skin care, so why wouldn’t we take care of our energetic body as well?” That’s where the aforementioned spiritual hygiene comes in. One good way to clear and clean out bad energy is by burning sage, or in some cases, spraying it. As with a lot of holistic healing methods that have gone mass in recent years, sage is a common household tool. But many burners don’t exactly know what they’re doing with it, or what it’s really doing for them and their space.
“If you work with a lot of people, in a job where you’re interacting with various personalities a lot, shaking hands, traveling, then sageing off on a regular basis can help keep your energetic body in balance,” McCann explains. She urges clients to be strategic with their sageing practice, focusing on the areas of homes or offices that are the most highly trafficked rooms. “This is where people’s energy is gathering, so you want to diffuse the space.”
McCann puts it simply: “Eat, sleep, workout, and sage!”
To follow her lead, here’s McCann’s lowdown on bringing sage into your home and work space and keeping your spiritual hygiene on point. Bad vibes, be gone.
Know the history
“Burning sage is one of the oldest and purest methods of cleansing a person, group of people, or space and of getting rid of unwanted spirits. The practice dates back to prehistoric times and it’s been documented as having been used in every corner of the world by our ancestors.”
Understand what sage to buy
“The type of sage you want to buy is called ‘California White Sage’ or ‘White Sage Smudge Stick.’ Do not use the regular old sage in your kitchen. You want to buy high-quality, ethically cultivated sage. Shamans Market or Taos Herb are both great places to shop. I would advise avoiding mass-market retailers like Amazon when buying sage online. Large commercial vendors aren’t really concerned with buying a high-quality sacred and ceremonial product that has been ethically sourced. Remember, intention and cultivation of this product matter just like buying organic food.”
Learn the science behind the smoke
“Simply put, sage clears bacteria in the air. Sage smoke offers rapid delivery to the brain and efficient absorption to the body. Scientists have observed that sage can clear up to 94 percent of airborne bacteria in a space and disinfect the air. When sage is burned, it releases negative ions, which is linked to putting people into a positive mood. The Latin word for sage salvia stems form the word heal. Other qualities believed to be associated with sage when burned are giving wisdom, clarity, and increasing spiritual awareness.”
Before burning, open the doors or windows
“Before you light up, remember to open a door or window as the unwanted energy you are trying to clear must have a pathway to get out. Why do you need to do this? Let’s take a lesson from eight-grade science class: Imagine that you took a bunch of chemical compounds and put them in a jar, sealed the lid, and shook the jar. You just created a chemical reaction, but the mixture has nowhere to go; so the jar could explode, crack, or not complete its chemical reaction because of the lack of oxygen, being compressed in a small space, and essentially not being able to change. I use this example with my clients all the time because this experiment is the same as opening the doors and windows in the space you are trying to clear. If you are trying to get someone’s toxic energy out of your house post-cocktail party, after an intense meeting in a conference room at work, or you feel like there is a spirit hanging around your space, that energy needs somewhere to go.
When I get called by a client to come in and clear a space and I hear them tell me they have been sageing and it seems like the paranormal activity in the house only got stronger after they saged, I immediately ask about the windows and doors. Rookie mistake! I also ask my clients, once they have the area ventilated and have lit the sage, to ask the unwanted energy to leave their space, in their mind’s eye as well as voicing out loud. What I have them say is ‘Any energy that is not of my highest and greatest good get the f**k out, with love, but you are not welcome to stay here. Please leave through the open window/door.’ ”
Prep for the burning
“Traditionally, people use an abalone shell to hold the sage in and then use a feather to fan and spread the smoke around the space when burning sage. If you are just getting into working with sage you can find sage kits easily online or in your local metaphysical shop. Abalone shells are great because of the shape, they are easy to hold when walking around the space, and they can take the heat created from the burning herbs. Remember, you are lighting something on fire so making sure you have the right container is important.”
Light it up with care
“Once you’re ready to light your sage, grab the sage as far from the end you are burning as possible. Hold the sage at a 45-degree angle, light the sage, let it burn for about 20 seconds and then gently blow out the flame so that you see orange embers on one end. Then you can start the process of clearing your space. Clients sometimes complain that they can’t get their sage to stay lit. If the sage bundle was packed too tight when made, then the oxygen can’t get in properly and the sage won’t stay lit. Loosen the ribbon around the sage and take the tip you are lighting and smash it on to a surface to give it a little breathing room. This helps to keep your sage smoking. If you also start to see the glow of the embers fading you can gently blow on the end that is lit up and remember to do this gently, otherwise you can send sage ash flying onto your outfit or carpet.”
Consider the alternatives
“Sage spray is my favorite alternative when I am in a no-smoke zone. It’s easy to travel with and it smells great. I really like to use this spray when I am in hotels—think about how many people’s energy have been in just one hotel room. Eeek! My favorite one to use is from Paper Crane Apothecary. It’s called ‘Clean Slate’ and it’s a smoke-free mist. It has sage oil, crystal essences, and Palo Santo oil in it, which is also another plant that helps to clear a space. If you’re not into the smell of sage, you can also use Palo Santo, sweetgrass, and copal.”
Where did the practice originate?
Burning sage — also known as smudging — is an ancient spiritual ritual.
Smudging has been well established as a Native American cultural or tribal practice, although it isn’t practiced by all groups.
We have the traditions of many Native American peoples to thank for its use. This includes the Lakota, Chumash, Cahuilla, among others.
Many other cultures around the world share similar rituals.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of burning sage and how you can use it to improve your overall well-being.
1. It may be purifying
The most-used types of sage have antimicrobial properties. This means they keep infectious bacteria, viruses, and fungi at bay.
White prairie sage (Artemisia ludoviciana) is both antimicrobial and antibacterial. White sage (Salvia apiana) is also antimicrobial. And both have been shown to repel insects.
Beliefs that burning sage clears out spiritual impurities, pathogens, and even insects have been fundamental to the practice of smudging.
2. It may help relieve the symptoms of some conditions
It turns out that sage may help clear the air of lots more than bugs and bacteria.
Though scientifically unproven, burning sage is thought to release negative ions. This is said to help neutralize positive ions.
Common positive ions are allergens like:
- pet dander
If this is the case, burning sage may be a blessing for those with asthma, allergies, bronchitis, and other respiratory conditions. But inhaling the smoke during the smudging can aggravate any respiratory condition. Wait until the smoke clears before going into the room.
3. It can be a spiritual tool
Smudging has long been used to connect to the spiritual realm or enhance intuition.
For healers and laypeople in traditional cultures, burning sage is used to achieve a healing state — or to solve or reflect upon spiritual dilemmas.
This may have some scientific basis, too. Certain types of sage, including salvia sages and white prairie sage, contain thujone.
Research shows that thujone is mildly psychoactive. It’s actually found in many plants used in cultural spiritual rituals to enhance intuition.
4. It may help dispel negative energy
Smudging may also be used as a ritual tool to rid yourself — or your space — of negativity. This includes past traumas, bad experiences, or negative energies from others.
This may help you establish a positive environment for meditation or another ritual. Choosing to sit and let go of negative thoughts in a ritual like this sets your intention and dedication to self-improvement. Choosing to engage in ritual can be the beginning of your change in mindset.
5. It can cleanse or empower specific objects
Burning sage creates fragrant smoke central to smudging’s benefits. You can use this incense to smudge yourself or specific spaces. Or according to some sources, you can smudge specific objects.
This can be useful with new purchases, gifts, or secondhand items. However, any item can be smudged.
If you have any concern with negative history or energy attached to a new or unfamiliar object, smudging may help bring peace of mind and make the object more sacred to you.
6. It may help improve your mood
Tradition suggests that smudging can literally lift one’s spirits to banish negativity. Some research supports this.
A 2014 study documented white prairie sage (also known as estafiate) as an important traditional remedy for treating anxiety, depression, and mood disorders in certain cultures.
7. It may help soothe stress
If burning sage can lift one’s mood, it could also be a great ally against stress.
A 2016 research project for the University of Mississippi established that white sage (Salvia apiana) is rich in compounds that activate certain receptors in the brain. These receptors are responsible for elevating mood levels, reducing stress, and even alleviating pain.
How to prepare for a smudge
Before burning sage, some recommend setting intentions if smudging for spiritual, energetic, and negativity clearing purposes. Remove animals or people from the room.
It’s also important to leave a window open before, during, and after smudging. This allows smoke to escape.
Some believe smoke also takes impurities and negative energy with it — so don’t skip this step.
How to smudge your living space, an object, and more
These steps apply whether you’re smudging yourself, your home, or an object. You can smudge any of these as often as you’d like.
- Light the end of a sage bundle with a match. Blow out quickly if it catches on fire.
- The tips of the leaves should smolder slowly, releasing thick smoke. Direct this smoke around your body and space with one hand while holding the bundle in the other.
- Allow the incense to linger on the areas of your body or surroundings you’d like to focus on. Using a fan or feather can also help direct the smoke, though this is optional.
- Allow the ash to collect in a ceramic bowl or shell.