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A Primer on Sacred Smoke Kit


Jezabel's Hand offering incense

Intention

Welcome to your Sacred Smoke Kit! We saw a need in the community and decided to put together this curation of rare sacred aromatics for both experienced and unexperienced users alike. We've offered rare and seasonal wild-foraged incense for several years now and we get a lot of question surrounding the use of Sacred Smoke especially how it relates in terms of proper use, ethics, and collection practices. In this introductory tutorial to Sacred Smoke, we will explore some of these questions and provide tips on how to use each item included in our Sacred Smoke Kit.

Our Sacred Smoke Kit includes:

 

 

We invite you to step onto the path of Cleansing, the path of Fire, the path of Sacred Smoke.

smoke from incense

A quick intro on Sacred Smoke and its history:

It's clear that we as humans have had an intimate connection with smoke throughout the ages. Though we haven't always have written languages, it is hard to not imagine that shortly after the taming of fire, humans quickly took notice of the properties of various forms of combustible materials. We therefore assume that this form of ancestral/ancient reverence for aromatic smoke must reach into the depths of human history.

To date, the earliest written reference to Sacred Smoke can be found in the Vedas (c. 1500 and 1200 BCE)- in which Ayurvedic Priest-Doctors outlined the proper way to make and use dhoop (extruded/rolled paste, lacking an inner stick) and cones. In the Ancient Greek Orphic Hymns, specific types of incense are stated as a requirement to appease and call down the gods. Sacred incense has been found in prehistoric Egyptian tombs in El Mahasna. Skull smoke burners have turned up at the bottom of Lake Petén Itzá in Guatemala. Imphepho has been in use for thousands of years in South Africa by the Zulu, Khoi, and San people for ritual and medicinal use (research confirming many of its benefits). More recently, hospital wards throughout Europe continue to burn rosemary with the intent of purifying the air. These are just a few of the uncountable ways in which humans all around the world have engaged with the cornucopia that is Sacred Smoke.

 

  

Two categorizations of Sacred Smoke

Incense and Sacred Smoke are categorized by the way they combust: indirect burning and direct burning.

Indirect burning incense is typically a loose material (herbs, resins, woods, roots, etc) and won't burn on its own- it needs an outside heat source (such as a direct flame, live coal or electric burner) to smolder and subsequently release smoke.

Direct burning incense is a result of direct burning, in other words, an open flame is necessary to light the incense. An ember then smolders as it slowly burns through the various materials and results in smoke. This method requires a careful mixture of combustible materials which control the burn (such as makko or charcoal) along with aromatic botanicals. These are mixed together into a paste and then formed into various shapes (stick, ball, or cone).

 

Considerations

WARNING: It is first important to recognize that smoke comes from fire, which can be dangerous. It is important to never leave your incense burning unattended. Always use a heat-proof container when burning incense. Fire is real and we must practice a deep respect for it.

There are many ways to relate with Sacred Smoke and we encourage everyone to develop their own personal relationship. No two practitioners are likely to agree on the best way to use a particular forms of incense. Yet, if we look into the history of Sacred Smoke, patterns emerge and echo cross-culturally. As our relationship with burnt offerings develops, awareness surrounding the use of Sacred Smoke will inherently grow along with it. It is only through practice that we can sharpen our skills.

We might use Sacred Smoke to clear out stagnant energy in our homes, as an offering to a deity or ancestor guide, we may burn it in ceremony, or we might simply enjoy the peace that it brings us when we bathe in rich fragrant smoke.

We want to stress the importance of the source of your Sacred Smoke. We have gone to great lengths to source the purest quality incense that we could find--including many items that have been wild-foraged by ourselves in the Western United States. We believe in honoring tradition when collecting plants and plant medicines:

  • We always ask for permission from the space and plant when collecting its medicine.
  • We ask for permission to use its medicine for the community and to use it as a way to make a living.
  • We prioritize already felled branches and plants from windstorms and collect mindfully, using sustainable practices.
  • We always give traditional offerings of tobacco, prayer, song and cleanup of garbage and invasives.
We strongly discourage the use of artificial fragrances or the use of material which results in the degradation of peoples and the environment. The quality of your Sacred Smoke is directly proportional to the quality of your source materials and the way in which they are collected.

 

We come from a non-secular and animist understanding of the world, so this article is written from that perspective. We use non-secular language in this article, but it is not meant to be exclusive. Our language is a way to communicate our understanding and we do our best to be inclusive and respectful.

Below is are step-by-step suggestions on how to use your new Sacred Smoke Kit. This stuff may seem totally obvious and common sense to some. To others, much of this will be really new. 

 

The Kit

Speaking Lands

This kind of Sacred Smoke falls under the "indirect" incense category. You will need a heat source to use this. The traditional way of using loose incense blends such as this is with a live charcoal, meaning a piece of lit charcoal (included in your Kit). This is how we use the bamboo charcoal.

 

unlit coal

  • Prepare your space, gather tools to handle the hot coal (metal tongs/utensil, a receptacle to hold the coal, a plan before lighting it), and prepare yourself mentally. In order to use a hot coal you must be actively engaged in the process -- do not leave an active coal unattended.
  • We always ensure that the space we are using is free of any debris that could cause an accident.
  • Our Sacred Smoke Kit includes an abalone shell that can be used for holding the coal. Stoneware goods, small glass/ceramic bowls with sand or uncooked rice, and metal bowls are a good option as well.
  • Make sure that you have a heat-resistant and sturdy surface to place your shell and smoke offering. Throughout the years, we have inadvertently burned heat rings into wood and other materials. Placing your shell on metal, stone, or a ceramic plate will mitigate this. Don't use plastic, it will melt and it stinks when burned.
  • Make sure you are in a well-ventilated room: open windows if necessary and stay away from your smoke detector.
  • Light the coal. You can do this either with open flame or an induction burner. The simplest is the latter- just make sure the coils are clean (dirty coils cause the yucky kind of smoke). If you don't have an induction burner, you will definitely need a metal utensil to hold the coal over an open flame- a candle is best. We don't recommend because it's wasteful and the lighter quickly gets hot. Once you see a good amount of bright red on the coal, you're good to continue onto the next step.

    coal on induction

    hot hot coal 

    • Use your metal tongs to carefully transfer the hot coal onto your heat-resistant surface/bowl/abalone shell. You may consider gently fanning or blowing on the coal in order to balance the burning of the coal.
    • Once your coal is live and burning evenly, you're ready to gently sprinkle incense onto the coal. You can do this with your fingertips, pinch-by-pinch, or with a metal utensil. 
    • Some resins and plants will occasionally 'pop' due to tiny air pockets and high concentrations of oils. This is totally normal and you'll be totally fine. Just be present with your process and respect the fire.

    (excuse the shaky cam, we are not professional videographers) 

    Below is the way that Jezabel was taught to cleanse and bless physical body:

    • First, and foremost, tune in and take a moment to quiet your mind and heart. It's a common practice to give thanks to Creator (or show gratitude in general if you are secular).
      • Next, pass your hands through the smoke. You do this to, in a sense, to "wash your hands" with the smoke because your hands are tools of cleansing.
      • Next, cup your hands over the smoke and "pour" the smoke over your head: crown, eyes, ears, mouth, etc.
      • Follow this process for the rest of your body, focusing on areas that may need attention.
      • If you don't know where needs attention, tune into your body, quiet your mind, and you will be guided by your own intuition. Don't worry if you don't "pick up" on anything. This is something that comes naturally to some and with practice for others.
    • Follow a similar procedure to cleanse a physical space. Direct your attention and fan the smoke in the direction that needs cleansing and blessing.
    • We burn smoke for healing, blessings, and meditation, this means that it's important to maintain "clean" thoughts and intentions all the while.
    • Take your time to focus on how the smoke is actually cleansing your spirit and how the plants are communicating with your cells and your soul. 
    • Always receive consent if cleansing another person or their space. Respect others' sovereignty, just as you expect others to respect yours.

     

    White Copalli Cones

    These are direct burning incense and are mixed with natural coal as a burning medium. You can think of them as a compact loose incense and coal in one. They are handmade with raw copal resin from Chiapas, Mexico. We included these as a way to welcome folks in the Deschampsia community into an aspect of ancient Mesoamerican Indigenous culture. 

    copal cone copalli maya copal chiapas copal

     

    • To use, simply light over a candle (preferably) and place atop your abalone shell.
    • One cone lasts approximately 2 hours, but burn time may vary as this is a unique, handmade item.

     

    Ocote and Douglas Fir Smudge Sticks

    Many folks are familiar with Palo Santo, a wood from Brazil used for Sacred Smoke (among other things). To our surprise, many people we encounter are unaware that Palo Santo is not the only wood that has been burned in ceremony. 

    Our truth as spiritual and holistic herbalists is that all trees on this planet are sacred and carry within them unique personalities and qualities. Ocote and Douglas Fir fatwood are two of countless woods that have been historically used for their spiritual properties. These sticks are incredibly dense with resins and oils and light easily when introduced to flame.

    douglas fir smudge stick fatwood

    Douglas Fir Smudge Sticks (above) are much more matte than Ocote (below) is!

     

    ocote teocote

    Ocote is densely saturated with oils and resins. If you hold it up to the light, you can see it "glow"!

     

    The process is fairly straightforward with this burnt smoke offering and are considered to be direct burning incense.

    • Similar to the loose incense, make sure your area is prepped for offering smoke. Gather your tools and place them on a clean surface, free of debris. 
    • Hold the stick over an open flame, preferably a candle. 
    • The resins and oils in the wood will rapidly catch fire. Don't worry- it won't burst into flames dramatically.
    • Allow the wood to burn for a bit and then put out the flame by waving it in the air and allowing the wood to smolder and release its sacred smoke. Simply repeat the process in order to release more sacred smoke. Be present with it. These can also be used in survival situations to light fires in the rain. 

    Burning Ocote using a candle- notice the resins and oils bubbling!

     

     

    Smokeless Options 

    Green Hojari Frankincense- Sacred Aromatic Resin Roller

    Most of us are BIZZY BEES. We wanted to include something portable in your Kit for the modern, discerning human. Our Sacred Aromatic Resin Rollers are beautiful, true-to-nature scents that are also lovely for cleansing & grounding. We like to think of these as Plant Spirits in a bottle, an ally on the go.

    Apply to:

    • joints for clearing emotions
    • temples for focus
    • feet for grounding
    • heart for acceptance
    • pulse points for protection

    The first iteration of our Kit includes a full-size Green Hojari Frankincense Roller (product page includes basic info on how to anoint).

    Here is video of how our lovely friend and Reiki Practitioner, Jillian (AKA The Lune INNATE) uses these in her practice.

     

    Western Red Cedar Hydrosol

    Our Hydrosols are a perfect travel buddy, and we often think of these as "smokeless smudge", if you will. 

    Distillation is a thousands of years old tradition and has its roots in Ancient Mesopotamia. We use a copper alembic still to separate and purify the "spirits" from our base plant material (note the nickname "spirits" is given to distilled alcohols). Unlike many commercially available hydrosols, which are a by-product of making essential oils, we distill hydrosol "to completion". This means that the full plant profile, spirit, and personality is captured in this process.

    This Western Red Cedar Hydrosol is mindfully wild-collected in the PNW using tradition-honoring practices.

    • To use, enter a mindful state and simply spritz your space and body. The hydrosol stands in place of the Sacred Smoke and may be used in similar ways. This is the time where you offer your intentions and prayers. 

    Jillian demonstrates how she uses our hydrosol in the clip below.

     

    Notes

    We want to open this section with one question we often hear at the farmer's market. 

    "Oh, is that sage?"

    This question can be confusing as folks may have a nebulous or vague awareness that smudge bundles have been used by Indigenous Nations in the land commonly known as the United States. Unfortunately, most modern people have little understanding about the Indigenous practices, and much less so of our Indigenous neighbors south or north of the US and any other Indigenous populations around the globe.

    The answer is this, plant medicine wrapped in a bundle is not always sage. 

    • Salvia apiana, also known as white sage (tlalpoyomatli, Nahuatl for white sage), is an species in the mint family that grows natively from southern California to Baja California. 
    • Sage is a specific plant and is not to be conflated with a smudge bundle. There are many different sages in the Salvia Family, such as culinary sage or purple sage (native to Eastern Washington deserts).
    • There are many medicines that are and have historically been used for smoke blessings and offerings besides sage, which historically was specific to the region from which it grows. In other words, every part of the planet has it's own smudge plants specific to it's location.
    • The four sacred medicines used in North American Indigenous ceremonies are tobacco, sage, cedar, and sweetgrass.
      • While these are the most commonly agreed upon sacred medicines, many nations include other plant medicines that another nation may not.
    • All of these medicines are burned for smoke offerings, blessings and used in ceremonies.
    • Not all of them are bundled tightly with string- they historically have been and still are offered loose, braided, or rolled in a ball. 

    Many folks are unaware that burning sacred plant medicines for offering was illegal up until 1978, when the American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed. Take a moment to consider that a major cultural and spiritually significant practice was illegal within this generation. The survival of these practices depended on secrecy; being a knowledge keeper was incredibly dangerous. Keeping traditions alive was life-threatening- people were jailed and beaten for sharing traditional wisdom.

    Moreover, a lack of understanding is perpetuated when culturally significant sacred medicines specific to one culture are marketed as "witchy". Yes, there are witchcraft lineages and they, too, use Sacred Smoke. These practices, however similar they are to Indigenous North American cultures, do differ and the medicines they have traditionally used are not always the same. Often, plant medicines from one culture just aren't available in another because often a medicine is endemic to the bioregion connected to that lineage, much like white sage is endemic to a specific area. We don't think it's a "tomayto, tomahto" situation. We believe it is inappropriate to use the word, "witchy" as a catch-all to describe any rich culture of tradition that is unrelated to witchcraft/cunningcraft. This just perpetuates misunderstanding and misuse of sacred medicines. Nuance is key when understanding spiritual and cultural practices and we acknowledge the limitations of generalized language.

    Depending on who you are, your experience, and the people you connect with in your community, you will hear and read differing perspectives on smudging and smudge bundles. Some Indigenous folks do not believe it is correct for non-Indigenous people to burn sage or other sacred plants. Other Indigenous folks believe the opposite and welcome non-Indigenous folks to take part in these practices.

    It is important to remember that burning plants for Sacred Smoke is a shared human tradition that can be traced back to many different lineages through out the planet. Sacred Smoke is decentralized and cannot be owned by anyone. The practices and traditions of any particular group are nuanced, specific to their culture, and vary by nature and mean very little without the foundational knowledge which gives them context. Without this holistic understanding, one's practice can only be considered incomplete or simply a practice of ignorance.

    Conclusion

    We want to express gratitude for taking time to read through our thoughts and perspective on this rich topic. If you have any questions, please reach out through email. 

     

    For now, we offer and burn Sacred Smoke for you and our community. As the plumes ascend into the cosmos above, we pray that you receive blessings of joy and health. As this Sacred Smoke offering fills your lungs and nourishes the cells in your body, we pray that within your struggles you find answers and wisdom. May it purify you, connect you with Spirit, and guide you safely through the bramble-filled path of Truth.

     

    Jezabel and Jonathan

    Co-Owners of Deschampsia