Sage Cleansing: How To Burn Sage, Benefits & More!

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Negative energy has a way of accumulating, and bad vibes may stick around long after they show up. Every now and then, you need to clean yourself and your surroundings. It’s true in the metaphysical “New Age” sense as much as it is in the purely material sense of practicing proper hygiene, both personal and of the household. One way to achieve this state of good hygiene is through sage cleansing.

Some write these types of rituals off as hokey and superstitious, but I believe cleansings are important for one fundamental reason. Whether or not they actually purify you or your home is debatable, but it unequivocally expresses your intent and shows you’re also backing it up with action. You’re actively trying to make some kind of a fresh start, and that counts for a lot.

So, why sage? I mean, it’s certainly not the only herb used in ancient and modern rituals, but it has a unique place in the pantheon of plants. Let’s go back a ways, and examine this special relationship that exists between sage and mankind.

What Is Sage?

Hand holding herbs on white background.

Holding herbs.

A lifetime ago, Simon and Garfunkel asked us if we’re going to Scarborough Fair, “parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme”. At the time, that NY duo had grouped sage together with thee other fragrant herbs which are used as spices. That makes sense, since many people still associate sage with the kitchen and the culinary arts.

Common sage, also named Salvia officinalis, is native to the Mediterranean region, but nowadays it can be found pretty much everywhere. It grows in the form of a bush, thrives in open fields and meadows, enjoys dry earth, and can survive (and flourish!) quite nicely in the wild as a perennial plant. Many different faiths, people, and cultures have maintained a close relationship with this honored herb. From Old World shaman healers to 21st century right-swiping shampoo users, you can count on it being a part of our story.

Human beings have been using sage for many reasons: medicine, cosmetics, spirituality, food preparation and preservation, and more recently in the various fields of industry. Salvia is Latin for “save” or “to save”, referring to the plant’s qualifications as a cleanser, healer, and bringer of enlightenment.

Certain strains of sage are linked with improving your memory, mood, and cognitive abilities. It is even being used to treat patients with Alzheimer’s, though more studies are needed to determine long-term effects of the plant. Traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) has used it for thousands of years, as has Indian Ayurveda.

One way of inviting the protection, wisdom, and cleanliness of the sage plant, is by cleansing with sage. I don’t mean using a soap or shower cream with sage in it, I mean using actual sage branches.

What Is Sage Cleansing?

Woman holding sage that's burning.

Woman burning sage.

Sage cleansing (also known as smudging) is the process of burning dried sage. You use the smoke to purify yourself or others, the space of a dwelling or business, and even inanimate objects such as furniture and crystals. It’s the same basic idea as your everyday incense, really. It gives off a nice fragrance and is uplifting, the thing is that not every random stick of incense possesses such powerful antimicrobial properties.

The shrub we call sage – whether dried, fresh, or powdered – can help stave off all kinds of infections brought on by viruses and bacteria. Its essential oil – a by-product of the plant – is categorized as a mental stimulant, a physical relaxer, a digestive aid, and an anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, antibacterial, antifungal, antioxidant agent.

You can probably see where I am going with this. Sage has so many uses in the physical world of the body, and it carries the same weight with our mind and spirit. There are many advantages to cleansing with sage, and here are some of them.

Benefits Of Sage Cleansing Explained

Some of these have been clinically proven, while others are still being studied and/or disputed. Regardless, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for supporting the various positive attributes of sage-burning, stretching back thousands of years. Some of the touted benefits of sage cleansing include:

  • Repel insects
  • Cancel out the irritating effects of dust, pet hairs, mold, and similar allergens
  • Help with respiratory conditions like asthma, bronchitis, and more
  • Banish negative energies: reduce stress, illness, and sadness
  • Welcome positive energies: enhance mood, sleep, and awareness

It’s important to undergo such a cleansing and see/feel for yourself, and that way you can experience the benefits first-hand.

A word of caution: this cleanse involves fire and smoke. Take care of yourself, of your home, and of the ones who are around you by conducting this cleansing responsibly and safely. Never leave a fire or a lit smudge stick unattended, and make sure you take any necessary precautions.

How To Sage Cleanse Your Home

Bookshelf with lamp, plants, and clock on wall.

Cleansed room.

If you’re not sure how to sage cleanse your home, let’s break it down. You’ll need a candle and a fan or feather. You’ll need a smudge stick (either DIY or bought), which is essentially dried herbs tied together. And you’ll also need some type of bowl or plate upon which you can place the burning smudge stick. You can use pure sage, but some also add branches (or flowers) of lavender, rosemary, or other fragrant, pleasing, and clarifying herbs.

This cleansing ritual itself has several phases: before, during, and after.

Before: Consider why it is you are interested in cleansing your home. Set and setting are important, and having a goal matters. Make sure to lay out your intent clearly, and if you can speak it out loud that’s even better. Have a good idea of what it is you are looking to achieve with this ritual.

During: Light the candle, hold the smudge stick with your right hand, and set it on fire. Once the fire catches and smoke begins to spread, go from one room to the next and fan the smoke where you wish. Where applicable, start from the lowest parts of the home, working your way up. Also, start from the inside of your home, working your way out.

Make sure that the smoke is as thick as you can allow it. Don’t settle for lightly spreading or fanning some small amount of smoke in the rooms’ general direction. It could take several minutes for the smoke to properly fill the room, and you should give it that time. That said, don’t inhale the smoke if you can help it. It’s still smoke, after all. Don’t use it as a substitute for oxygen.

Move with intention from one room to the next. A common mistake is simply to underdo it. Real saging – and I use that term somewhat loosely – takes place when the house is filled with smoke. Consider the ancient biblical texts, for instance. They speak of the house filling with smoke when you burn the incense. 

I spoke of intent earlier – and that’s no small thing – but the physical sage smoke can help to clean your environment and freshen the air. It’s not enough to simply have the intent. You need the right actions to back it up and make it happen. Make sure the smoke gets everywhere that you want to clean.

It’s not an exact science, but ideally, you should spend several minutes in each room you’re interested in cleansing. Also, there are no strict rules: if you want to be silent, be silent. If you want to hum, pray, chant, dance, or sing – go right ahead. Whatever you feel will aid you in achieving that which you had previously specified in your intention.

After: Once the chosen rooms have been purified, make sure the doors and windows are all closed and then leave the house for an hour or two. It’s best if you can cleanse the home on your own and then leave it empty of inhabitants. Once you’re back inside, open your windows and doors to let some fresh air in, and you’re done!

How To Sage Cleanse Yourself

Woman sleeping surrounded by flowers.

Girl lying with flowers.

The process of how to sage cleanse yourself is very much like the aforementioned one which takes place in a physical dwelling or business. However, because we are talking about the body and mind (and soul), you should place even greater attention on intent, and on the various phases before, during, and after the cleansing itself.

Before: Some meditation or simple breathing exercises are highly recommended, since these can set the tone, can clarify your meaning, and sharpen your intent. You want to get as specific as possible when dealing with self-cleansing. You probably know why it is that you want to be cleansed, and part of the way we shed negative energy and bad karma is by acting with intent.

During: Much like the room-cleansing experience, many people tend to underdo it. Even more so when it is their own body and mind they are cleansing. It needs to get everywhere, and this can have a very strong effect. Again, a reminder to please not put yourself in any danger. Smoke is smoke and fire is fire, and both can be fatal if mistreated or mishandled.

While the cleansing is ongoing, it’s the same deal as before: you can be silent, you can pray, you can let your thoughts wander, you can continue with breathing exercises. You can consider what it is you are attempting to achieve with this cleanse. You can think of ways to push away negative energies and welcome good ones. Ways to conjure up a better, cleaner, more mindful you.

After: Once you are done, make like a tree and leave. Go for a walk and get some air. it’s so nice feeling fresh after a cleansing ritual. Bad vibes don’t like sage, and this little plant manages to clean the environment within us and outside of us.

Conclusion

There is only so much a cleansing can achieve. Bear in mind that once the ritual is over, the responsibility of keeping things clean is all yours. Eventually, it’s on you to bring positive energy and good vibes into your home and into your life, and make your domicile, your business, and your body a place of cleanliness and awareness.

Negativity has its place, of course, and there is no light without dark. But when it all becomes too much, when it wears out its quick welcome, or when you decide that something recently happened – to your home or body – to warrant a cleansing, then do it.

Like I said, some say this sage cleansing stuff is all nonsensical. Okay, fair enough. Have you tried it? Have you tried an alternative? Do you think you will be able to achieve the same results with a pressurized can of industrial air freshener? Perhaps you feel there is a strong placebo effect going on here? Well, that could be, but even so, it’s well worth it!

Making a change for the better can do great things. We all have rituals in our day-to-day lives, whether we are aware of them or not. Some say that sage cleansing is a waste of time and effort, but those who know the power of sage and the power of the human will can attest to the efficacy of such practices. This is a ritual that you can do anytime, but most commonly during times of transition: at the change of seasons, or at the summer or winter solstice.

Even if we grant the proposition that sage does absolutely nothing and is pure placebo – which is not the case – we can agree that by doing something, a physical action, we are choosing to orient ourselves in a certain way and declare our intentions in this life. Take sage cleansing as a way to create a kind of fresh start for yourself and your home, and see if you can make the best of it.

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