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All North American native nations burn sage, cedar, sweetgrass and juniper as incense to purify the atmosphere in a place, around an object or a person.
Here are the most common applications of fumigation: before a ceremony, before meditating, before starting an important meeting or spiritual encounter, before offering help or healing, to purify a new house or apartment before moving in, to purify a place where the public circulates, e.g. a store or an office, in the home after painful events such as theft or illness, in places where events involving violence and/or anger have taken place, in rooms where therapies are carried out, sometimes before and after each client, etc.
Plants used for fumigation
White Sage (salvia apiana), a variety of sage that grows freely in the deserts of the American Southwest, is the most masculine of Native American incenses. It is a powerful purifier.
Canadian Cedar (thuya occidentalis) also known as the Tree of Peace, has a perfect balance of masculine and feminine polarities. It grows throughout Quebec. It is an excellent purifier. It predisposes to prayer, serenity and calm. It is used to purify and attract beneficial energies.
Juniperus (juniperus communis) also comes from the American Southwest. It is used to remember dreams and purify sleeping areas.
Sweetgrass is the most feminine of Native American incenses, often referred to as Mother Earth's hair. It is used to attract beneficial energies.
The medium : Abalone shell
These incenses are often burned in a shell. Abalone shell - or sea-ear - has been used traditionally for a very long time. We still use it today, as it's beautiful and highly heat-resistant.
That said, any shellfish can be used. The use of a shell, in addition to being an unprocessed natural element, symbolizes the element of water. In the alchemical transformation process of fumigation, all four elements are represented: the shell comes from water, the match that sets the incense alight is fire, the herbs and ashes represent earth, and the smoke, the element of air.
To burn these herbs, place a few sage leaves in the center of the shell. Sprinkle a pinch of cedar powder over the sage, then add a few sprigs of sweetgrass. Light with one or two wooden matches to set the mixture alight. If necessary, activate the burning of the herbs by fanning with a feather or fan.
You can add cedar powder to the initial mixture when it is almost consumed, to prolong the burning time. Pass the shell and smoke around yourself, from your feet to your head, and also all around your back and sides.
If it's possible to place the shell in front of you (it's often traditional for one person to hold the shell while the other purifies), bring the smoke towards you with your hands, like a purifying wave or mist.
It is traditional to offer the smoke to the four directions, starting in the North or East, and to say a prayer while holding the shell.
Native American spiritual teachings say that the smoke from sacred herbs takes our prayer into the spiritual world (as we quietly watch the smoke dissipate into the air, it is said to go directly into the universe of the ideal form, this spiritual world or "Ungawi" in the Cherokee language, where the spirits of all beings reside).
So, as well as being an offering for which the Spirits are grateful, the smoke from sacred herbs carries our prayer to the Creator Principle, the Great Spirit or Great Mystery, the Being who has so many names in so many languages, but who is beyond our human comprehension. As fumigation is a spiritual activity, the ashes that remain in the shell are sacred. We dispose of them respectfully in a natural place. In some nations, ashes are accumulated throughout the year and returned to the earth in a special ceremony.
To purify a house, we open a door and a window in every room and start from one side of the door and follow the wall, being careful to send smoke into every corner, cupboard and wardrobe. Eventually we'll reach the other side of the door and our house will have been completely purified.
To purify another person, ask that person to stand in front of you and bring the shell from his or her feet to his or her head and then to his or her back in the same way.
The chemical purification process
An elder of the Apache nation wanted to verify this purification technique in the laboratory. With the help of scientists, she discovered that the smoke from these herbs had the potential to capture the positive ion, an electrical charge in the air molecule, and carry it outside. That's why it's important to open a window when burning these herbs. If there's no opening, you can't really get the harmful elements out of the room.
High concentrations of positive ions are harmful to health. They are found in large quantities in the air of highly polluted places or places that have been sealed off for a long time without any ventilation.
Negative ions, on the other hand, are beneficial to health. After an electrical storm, it is found in abundance, as lightning releases billions of negative ions into the air. That's why the air is so invigorating after a thunderstorm. They are also found in large quantities in coniferous forests, on granite mountains and near the sea.
There are air purifiers on the market today that generate negative ions, which have the potential to reduce pollution. Negative ions cancel out the positive ions that keep pollution suspended in the air, and this pollution is then deposited on the ground or surrounding surfaces. So, after a few months' use, when these machines are moved, you can see their silhouette, the dirt having left traces on the wall around the purifier.
Native American incense carries away positive ions, leaving room for negative ones. Burning sage, cedar, sweetgrass or juniper has been proven to drive out unwanted ions or "evil spirits".
Energies of a heavy, harmful, malefic or noxious nature need a vehicle to transport themselves, and that vehicle is the positive ion found in the air molecule. As a result, burning Native American incense is beneficial for our environment.
You can use a single plant or a blend of the four mentioned.