Sweetgrass is one of the sacred medicines of our people. It is formed into a braid (picture above) as it is considered to be the hair of our precious mother earth. When it is lit and wafted with a feather, it smoulders and a continuous smoke is created. Smoke that is created by the burning of a sacred medicine is ethereal, that means that it has the ability to travel between the worlds. It may carry our thoughts and feelings to those who have gone before us, and carry our prayers to the Creator. The smoke that is created by the burning of a sacred medicine also has the ability to cleanse and purify and protect us from negative influences.
The sacred smoke is brought towards the body in what is called a “smudging” ceremony. “Smudging” is simply the bringing towards the body of the sacred smoke. There isn’t any right or wrong way of doing this, everyone usually creates their own relationship with the smoke and each person has their own particular way of smudging. Some bring the smoke towards their heart and up over their head, while asking the Creator to help them to always speak from the heart. You may bring the smoke first to your eyes, ears, mouth, then arms, trunk and lower extremities. Then you may or may not turn around to have your back smudged. If you turn around, the leader doing the smudging will start from the top of your head and smudge all the way down to your feet. When the leader is finished, he/she will tap your shoulder with a feather. A feather , often an Eagle Feather, is used to waft the sacred medicine to keep it smouldering. If the spark goes out, the sacred medicine is re-lit. You should only use matches to light a sacred medicine. “Smudging” is also done to sacred objects like the drum, rattles, etc. that will be used in the ceremonies. It is also used to smudge the area and the rocks that will be used to create the medicine wheel. Smudging cleanses and purifies and breaths life into the sacred objects.
Remember also that if you attend any traditional ceremonies, you may or may not partake in the “smudging” part of the ceremonies. Observers are always welcome, there is no pressure placed on any individual to take part in “smudging”. When the leader comes towards you with the sacred smoke, if you don’t feel like smudging, you may simply wave the leader on to the next person or you may say the word “Nugumah” (spelled by sound) and the leader will go on to the next person. The people will be arranged in a circle for smudging and the leader will begin smudging in the east where the sun rises and continue around the circle in a clockwise direction, in the direction of the sun, smudging people until the circle of people have been smudged.
“Smudging” is usually the first thing that is done at various ceremonies. It is a means of preparing a place and people and objects so that everything and everyone has been cleansed, so that only positive influences will be attracted to the ceremonies.
There are some rules that apply when it comes to the smudging ceremony. Some spiritual leaders enforce these rules and some don’t.
The first rule is that you must abstain from the consumption of alcoholic beverages or drugs for at least twenty-four hours, (other leaders will say four days) before taking part in a smudging ceremony. The reason for this being that there is a belief that alcohol invites negative influences and persons under the influence of alcohol are spiritually at their weakest. It takes at the very least twenty-four hours for alcohol to leave the body.
The second rule and this applies only to women is that women on their “moon time” may not smudge but they will be asked to form another circle outside the inner circle of people present. This is done in order to strengthen and protect the people. You see, women on their “moon time” are already being cleansed by mother nature and it isn’t necessary for them to be smudged. Women on their “moon time” are spiritually at their strongest. “Moon time” is the term Mi’kmaq people use to describe a women’s menstrual cycle. The reason our ancestors called it “moon time” was because of the belief that the moon controlled the woman’s cycle just as the moon controls the tides.
The third rule was that everyone remove any jewelry (except wedding rings or anything that was blessed or had a special significance to the person). This was symbolic of the shedding of material things so that one could be more open to the spirit.
As stated, some spiritual leaders want participants to follow these rules and some don’t. The main thing to remember when you are taking part in these traditional and sacred ceremonies is that you always show the proper respect and reverence for what is taking place and for the person who is leading the ceremony and keep an open mind and heart.