<Q: The other weekend, I took a good friend of mine out to lunch to celebrate the purchase of her first home. She’s worked hard for it and I’m mighty happy for her. However, there’s one thing I don’t quite understand. As we were getting ready to leave the restaurant, she announced, rather nonchalantly, “Gotta run. I’m smudging the house this evening.” And with that, she was off before I even had the chance to ask what in the world “smudging” entails (sounds kind of kinky, am I right?). Since then, I haven’t talked to her, let alone gotten the chance to ask her why she was in a hurry to get home and “smudge.” I’m quite the home improvement guru and have never heard of this before. Care to fill me in?

A: Oh boy. Well, depending on how you feel about watching your friend get dressed up like Stevie Nicks, torch a wand of pungent dried herbs and wave it all over, you should be thankful that she didn’t invite you over to join her in a smudging ceremony. Think of it this way: Smudging, or the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing, is the spiritual equivalent of opening up a can of Glade and spraying it all over the place to bless your new home.

Most commonly, a bundle of white sage, or smudge stick, is burnt and spread throughout a home to purify it, cast out any negative energy and further keep any bad mojo at bay. Sweetgrass, cedar or tobacco, considered by Native Americans as the Four Sacred Herbs along with sage, are sometimes used along with other dried herbs like mugwort and lavender.

Just out of curiosity, has your friend watched “Poltergeist” too many times or purchased a foreclosed property by chance?

Personally, I didn’t even know about this form of deep cleaning until a very non-smudge-y friend who moved to semi-rural northern California announced on Facebook that she planned on smudging her new apartment. Naturally, no one knew what she was talking about (I thought she was alluding to some kind of house painting technique) and those who did unleashed a healthy dose of snarky comments. As mentioned, my friend isn’t the type of person you’d expect to perform a smudging ceremony, leading me to believe that (a) she’s been reprogrammed, (b) her new place is haunted or (c) her job fell through and she’s now working part time at a local new age bookstore which seem to be in no short supply in her woodsy new neck of the woods.

However stinky and esoteric, there’s nothing nefarious about smudging a new home. Sure, it’s not for everyone — I’m in the habit of refraining from giving smudge sticks along with enchanted crystals as housewarming gifts — but for many, and not just hippies, neo-pagans and those of Native American extraction, it offers a sense of healing and the chance to participate in a potent and sacred ritual.

When smudging a new home, the smudger (or is it smudgee?) moves a smudge stick slowly around the perimeter of the front door and then proceeds into the house and repeats the process around every interior doorway, minding those with respiratory problems and smoke detectors. This routine can differ. A common variation finds the smudger starting the ceremony in the most northerly room and circulating around the house in a clockwise fashion. Often, windows and nooks and crannies where negative energy may get easily “stuck” are also smudged. Sometimes a prayer or blessing is said, sometimes not. To keep things tidy, a smudge bowl, usually a simple earthenware bowl or an abalone shell, is carried along with the smudge stick to catch ash or embers. Feathers are often used to distribute the smoke around the house.

Smudging doesn’t necessarily happen just when you move into a new pad but can be performed whenever bad vibes start to creep in. However, I wouldn’t overdo it and light up a bundle of sage every time you have a rough day in the office. Personally, I’d just light a stick of vanilla incense or an aromatherapy candle, uncork a bottle of Malbec and catch up with “Glee” on DVR. Some folks even smudge specific possessions and themselves by waving the sticks around their bodies, casting out any negative energy.

So there you go ... the smudge, explained. If you’re curious, I’d ask your friend how she went about smudging her home since methods vary from person to person. There’s really no right or wrong as long as the right herb is involved and the ceremony is performed respectfully and with an open mind. Also, feel free to start dropping “smudge” into conversation now that you’re in the know. Has your significant other been acting moody, miserable and generally unbearable? Tell him to “go smudge himself” and see how that goes over.

— Matt

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Matt Hickman ( @mattyhick ) writes about design, architecture and the intersection between the natural world and the built environment.

What in the world is home smudging?
Smudging, or the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing, is intended to cast any negative energy out of a home and further keep any bad mojo at bay