Native Healing circle and smudging

The Native Healing circle and Smudging

smudge

Hello all

As I am attending a native healing circle tonight, I thought it was fitting to discuss the healing or talking circle and smudging, which often go hand in hand. What I mean here is that smudging will pretty much always be part of a healing circle (at the beginning) but you can also smudge on your own whenever you feel like it. Let’s start with the concept of smudging. As it was told to me by an Elder, smudging is like bathing in the herb medicine. You push the smoke on you as though you are washing away “dirt” or cleansing yourself.

In other words, smudging can be thought of as a purification ceremony, a native american healing ceremony. Plants, our living relatives, are used for this ceremony. Plants such as sage, sweetgrass or cedar. They are gathered fresh in nature in a ritual where only what is necessary is taken and something is often given back. For example, some will leave tobacco as an offering for the plants. Tobacco also being a sacred medicine, not to be overused or abused. I am also talking about a natural tobacco, not a chemical full tobacco. Each Elder might have a different blend of herbs. When taken, the plants are prepared and then grounded and mixed together.

Within the teachings of the Medicine Wheel, the four medicines are tobacco, sweetgrass, sage and cedar. Tobacco comes from the east direction and represents balance. Sweetgrass comes from the south and represents kindness. Cedar is the western direction and represents harmony. Finally, sage is the northern direction and represents protection from negativity (the meaning might vary according to each nation). When smudging, one will place grounded medicine in an abalone shell and light it. Using an eagle feather (connection to the Creator), one will keep the smoke active. You do not use your breath to keep the smudge going, as it would be giving your strength away. The setting below (mine) is pretty representative.

smudging

What you also see here are medicine bundles. I personally use sage. When smudging I can also light up a sage stick and use the resulting smoke. The smoke acts a container and holds me and my experiences while I smudge.

IMG_2108

Sage and smudging

Sage especially cleanses and purifies you and your life or negativity. When lighting smudge, one will face the East direction, the direction of the beginning, of birth. One will often “wash” their hands in the smoke, before bringing some to their eyes, mouth, ears (think of the three monkeys saying here). We do this as well to protect us against words of others that might offend us, visions that might trigger us and find the words to say what we need to say. You can also “wash” smoke over your head, up and down your arms, your legs and behind you. As I learned tonight (yes I am adding this later at night….), you can start my bringing smoke up your left arm (as you bring strength in), and down your right arm (to give part of yourself) then up to your heart and down your legs. I personally finish with bringing smoke to my heart four times and end with saying All my Relations. When alone, smudging for me, is always followed by a prayer. I call upon the great Creator to assist and guide me in my thinking, feelings and actions. I ask for guidance, strength, protection. It’s a personal moment to connect with my higher power. I also express gratitude for my blessings and for those around me and pray for my family and friends. I end my prayer with Miigwetch (meaning thank you) and once again Mitakuye-Oyasin.

Healing circle

In a group, as a healing circle, smudging will often begin the ceremony, as a way to invite the spirit world in and feel connected. Someone will typically go around the circle holding the abalone shell with the medicine and an eagle feather in their right hand. Each person then smudges. When done, you can send smoke to the person holding the smudge and say All my Relations. When someone is smudging, others will pray for that person and those in the circle.

Well, as far as a talking circle goes, it typically begins with a smudge followed by words and/or a prayer from the Elder. Some will speak in their native language, some won’t. But it is a way to give thanks to the Creator, invite the Creator in and recognize those in the circle. Some will also suggest a theme for the circle. An Eagle feather is then passed around and those who wish to share can one after the other. Cross talk is at a minimum as only the person holding the feather is supposed to talk. The feather is passed around in a clockwise fashion.

beaded eagle feather

I wanted to show you the beading at the bottom of the eagle feather above. The stem of a talking or smudging feather is often beaded like that. When one is sharing, one can stroke the feather or play with the beads, as a way to relax. People tell their story, both aspects they are happy about or struggling with. Others listen. Native people believe in the power of talking, of letting it out in a safe environment. Our experiences and memories always remain with us. But in the circle, we release them to look at them, explore them and the associated emotions. We then put them back in our head always remembering how to deal with them. The ancestors, centuries ago, all sat in a circle and talked it out. That is how problems were solved, how healing took place. At the end of a circle, the Elder will often say concluding words or a prayer. It is meant as the name implies, as a healing process, as a way to connect with the Creator, the spirit world and receive guidance. Although it can be distressing for some (as they share painful experiences), the group remains as a container and holds of those painful experiences, just like the smudge would, helping one another. The Elder is also there to guide, redirect and soothe. It is a personal and group process (similar in a sense to group therapy) that has taken places for centuries.

P.S. The concept of balance is also important within the Native culture. The balance between the feminine and masculine energy, what some will call the ying and the yang. When I attended circles within the correctional setting, men would thank me for balancing the circle with my feminine energy. The woman gives the gift of life, has the sacred power of birth, expressed for example when one has her periods. However, a period (or when a woman is in her moon cycle), signifies a birth, the power of birth. A circle represents a spiritual rebirth. The sacred power of birth and the power of rebirth cannot be mixed together. Therefore, a woman in her moon cycle should not attend a ceremony or at least should pass when it is time to smudge.

All My Relations

69 thoughts on “Native Healing circle and smudging

    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Myrna
      I am not sure what you mean here? Permissions for the pictures, the traditions? I share traditions that are well established and known and used. If someone were to look up for example Pow wows, they would find some of the same information, I share here. I try to do it using my own experience as well and to do so in a respectful manner.

      Reply
      1. Emily Post author

        hi Carlyn
        it is up to you. I say a prayer every time. I asked for the Creator to cleanse my life of negativity using the medicine that is sage. And to bring positivity in, among other things.

        Reply
    2. Charlene 'White Deer' Heathwood

      Osiyo (Hello in Cherokee)
      What Myrna was asking was did you receive permission from the Creator or an Elder of pure blood if you could tell the sacred secrets to the world. Some true Native Americans feel that the ways of their people should be kept private and sacred. I do not say this as being wrong but to give you an understanding of how some Native American feel about this. Yet the reason that some tribes shared with others of other tribes was a way of passing on to others so that honor and tradition are not lost forever. Hence you share this. Being a Cherokee Medicine Woman I see both sides and I will say that you have shared this in honor and those of you that take from this must know it is sacred and nothing to play around with but take it to heart and honor it and also share it to teach others of the ways of the universe. We Native Americans are far from a dead race but one that is alive and it is not how much pure blood YOU have but what is in your heart to honor these things and not take them lightly. Wado (Thank you in Cherokee)
      Charlene ‘White Deer’ Heathwood

      Reply
      1. Emily Post author

        Oh the question of How much blood do you have! One I can understand but one that is also saddening. We all bleed red. My intentions here are pure. And I am well aware of the protocols to follow. I think that smudging and healing circles are a bit more known to the “public” and they are an integral part of my life. They have helped me so much hence why I share, if it can help someone else.

        Reply
        1. Sherrie

          I just want to elaborate a little more as well. We have teachings about what can be written and what can’t be. It’s not only about sharing our knowledge, it’s also about writing them down. Certain things are not meant to be written, and must be kept in the oral tradition that you’ve mentioned in a previous post. If you follow protocol and ask about this properly, you would know why you’ve been asked about receiving permission. It’s a huge misconception about Cree people and other tribes that say we didn’t have or know about writing. The Cree writing system called syllabics predates first contact, even though a priest took credit for “introducing” it to us…that is not the case. Please ensure you are following our protocols, otherwise this becomes another case of cultural appropriation.

          Reply
          1. Sherrie

            Also, it is a misconception that a woman on her time cannot smudge. We can, but only in a certain way with a certain medicine. And there are teachings about when it’s appropriate to use a shell to smudge…one shouldn’t use a shell all the time…but again another teaching not meant to be written. And I’d go on to add more about women’s time, but this is not the appropriate way to teach it because those are teachings meant for our oral tradition.

          2. Emily Post author

            hi Sherrie
            I think the teachings vary according to who your teachers are. I was taught never to touch medicine on my moon time. But I was also taught about the wonderful tradition that is the moon lodge. I was taught that it is a time to take care of one self. But some might have different teachings.

          3. Emily Post author

            hi Sherrie
            you make good points. The oral tradition is a strong one and one that has survived centuries. I understand some people’s reaction. I was actually given some of this info in a written form by a Lakota Elder. Hence why it is included here. And yes it is absolutely a misconception that the Europeans introduced the written language!

  1. Matthew

    Emily, thank you for the insight of a healing circle! It sounds very spiritual, relaxing, and healing to partake in one. We could use with similar traditions to be created. It’ll take some of the pain out of the world!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Matthew
      I love healing circles. They are simple but help so much. The energy in those circles is great and so healing. I attend them every week and they have been so helpful

      Reply
  2. Sharon

    Emily, I find this to be a fascinating topic, and your website is very educational.
    Is the feather similar to a talking stick, as far as their functions?
    I read something about the talking sticks once.
    I will visit your site from time to time.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Sharon
      yes it is. The only person talking should be the one holding the feather. Some will also stroke it as they talk, as a soothing mechanism. And come back any time!

      Reply
  3. Laura

    I’m fascinated. I really am.
    They were, are, so wise. And it’s so amazing to see the similarities among all healing traditions. Like in yoga for example, energy will enter through the same points here and there. People are feeling the same, only express it differently.
    Sage is worldwide used to remove negativity. Even from the house. The smoke of sage and incense was used by priests of all times.
    Only that “your natives” have the flavor of a fairy-tale. Or, it’s just your gift of expressing them… 🙂

    What’s the significance of “all my relations”?
    Laura

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Laura
      thanks for visiting. I agree with you that there are a lot of similarities across certain cultures and I certainly use sage every chance I get. I did not know it was used by priests though. They have picked it up from the Native people.
      I did not intend on my version to sound like a fairy tale, might be as you say how I expressed it.
      All my relations means we are all related, we all are one, all brothers and sisters. Everything I do affects others and vice versa. Our relations extend past human beings to include animals, plants, nature, birds, etc. Everything is then to be treated with respect.

      Reply
  4. Jason

    Brilliant website,
    I also believe that it is incredibly powerful that in the times we live the boundaries that once existed between cultures and religions are slowly disappearing, In my opinion the knowledge of life and the methods for spiritual enlightenment were never given to one person, or one race or one religion, they were meant to be shared openly with all people assisting each other to achieve enlightenment. This is a remarkable site.
    Jason

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      thank you Jason!
      I could not agree more. This is a collective knowledge not an individual one. We need to all work together in order to go in the right direction.

      Reply
    2. Ingrid

      That is very well said Jason, I agree with you too. If you know that all life is sacred you also know that no one group is going to make it alone, we all have to get enlightened and fast. So to me sharing is very good thing. If I had to label me I am a druid but I love to read about native practices because the culture has done a much better job at keeping the traditions of their ancestors than we have.

      I am going to bead a smudge feather which is how I got here, it’s a very nice example you have.

      Reply
      1. Emily Post author

        hi Ingrid!
        Welcome here! I am glad to hear that you are open to new practices and that they resonate with you. And yay, you are beading a smudge feather!

        Reply
  5. John

    I liked the beginning where you explain the symbolism of the plants/herbs. I love history, great way to start of f anything. Good post!

    Reply
  6. Wayne

    Hi Emily,

    I’ve never attended a healing circle but it sounds like something I would really like to experience. I think that native Americans had it right long before the white man showed up on the seen. I have always viewed native Americans as a peaceful and spiritual people.

    I thing the closest I have ever come to a healing circle is a drum circle. I wouldn’t imagine they are even remotely close to each other though. Even so I love attending drum circles, they have a way of making everyone feel connected to each other.

    Thanks for the great insight!

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Wayne
      you are absolutely right, there is the same kind of feeling in a drum circle as in a healing circle. It’s about being connected, related and sharing a beautiful experience. Hope you get to attend a healing circle too!

      Reply
  7. Chris

    What an awesome article. It makes me really want for us to conglomerate one day in some way. Your information is so clear and you really provide such an enlightening view on the truth within this whole niche. Having traveled to South America with a shaman myself and being familiarized with Eastern philosophy, your views and info are spot on. I hope more people in the future come across this and it can really take hold.

    Love and Light!

    Chris

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Chris
      thanks for stopping by! and thanks for your kind comment! I would love to know about your experience with a shaman in South America! That must have been a once in a lifetime experience!

      Reply
  8. Larry

    Hi Emily,

    My wife is a small percentage of Chippewa and Potawatomi and a member of the Sault St Marie, MI tribe of Chippewa Indians. I have attended a couple of tribal meetings with my father-in-law. I have been searching out information regarding the Anishanabe primitive ways of life, beliefs, stories, ceremonies, medicines, and the effects of modern civilization.
    I am considering building a traditional Wigwam next to my modern home and slowly supplying it with handmade articles of primitive life. I would like to experience the primitive way of life while maintaining my desk job of 20+ years. In the process, share what I learn with my grandchildren to strengthen the knowledge of future generations of my family.
    I have inquired with local native people if anyone lives the primitive way of life, so far I know only of modern pow wows and some ceremonies being practiced.
    I am a believer in the teachings of Christianity and am surprised at the similarity between many of the Anishinabe stories and the stories of the Bible. I have always not been able to imagine how the native peoples could be excluded from heaven before the introduction of Christianity, as they were people of extreme faith and supernatural beliefs.
    This week I will be tent camping in the northern Michigan wilderness I hope to find some Red Willow Bark and visit with Mother Earth.
    Perhaps I will check in with updates from time to time on your very informative site.
    Larry

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Larry
      It is awesome to meet you!You seem to be on the right path for sure. It is harder, in our modern world, to live the traditional way. However, I think of the traditional ways I think of beliefs as well and just a philosophy you know. Of respecting the land, all your relations and just being thankful. Respecting each other in conversation, taking only what you need and give back. The traditiona values which are absolutely doable in the modern world. Hop you have a wonderful camping trip and touch base with me when you get back 🙂

      Reply
  9. Johnathan Tarter

    Very informative, beautiful, and insightful post! It’s so interesting to learn about Native American Culture and their practices in regards to healing. This is great information and should be viewed my many different people! Thank you for this information and have a great day! 🙂

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Johnathan!
      thanks so much for visiting!
      I am glad you are liking the learning. It is a fantastic way of life that I certainly recommend 🙂

      Reply
  10. Matthew

    Wow, this is completely news to me. Could you add a video to demonstrate how it is done? I think this would help me and others to understand the process since this is so new to me it is hard to fully grasp by words alone.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Matthew
      totally understand your point. However, I consider smudging to be a ceremony and it is considered disrespectful to film such a personal and spiritual ceremony. However, there are a few videos on Youtube that shows parts of it.You will find them by typing smudging ceremony.

      Reply
  11. Hindy Pearson

    Hi Emily, I really enjoyed your post, and learned a lot about smudging and healing circles. Several years ago when I was still living in Toronto, my friend and I volunteered to go out and feed the homeless one night. It was through a native organisation, so before we set off, the leader performed a smudging ritual (if it is considered a ritual, sorry not sure). I felt it really added something to the help we were on our way to offer.

    I would be very interested in learning about spirit guides and medicine bundles. Are these subjects you think you’ll be talking about?

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Hindy
      it seems like a wonderful experience you had! smudging before would help to bring positivity and cleanse negativity. Balance things out. I have discussed smudging herbs before but spirit guides could be a topic. I have also written about medicine bags. Not sure if you have seen it.

      Reply
  12. Brad

    Hi Emily,

    This is really interesting, I had no idea that smudging is a native american healing ceremony.

    A few years ago we had a break in at my office. Luckily nothing was taken or damaged, just a big mess to clean up (mostly left by the police when they dusted for fingerprints then just left!)

    My wife got a sage smudge to cleanse the office afterwards. So it is fascinating to learn it’s origins, particularly because we are in Australia and obviously do not have a strong native american influence.

    Do you believe that smudging can cleanse a place, or is it more at a personal level?

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Brad
      I used smudging in my place or my office all the time. It cleanses the negative energy of a space. Further, in Australia, your Indigenous population would be called Aboriginal like it is in Canada. I would think that the practice of smudging would be one used by them too. The herbs might be differnet but it seems like my favorite, sage, is used 🙂

      Reply
    2. Leah

      Sage is used in the Irish tradition but to stimulate as in to liven the senses and to clean the air after an upset.

      This is an age old tradition and not related to or drawn from the Native American tradition.
      It is not wrapped in a stick as such but burned from a small dish and carried.
      Other herbs are used, depending on the reason for using them – eg. to anoint the dead, clear a house, fend off an angry spirit, story telling etc. I see a lot of recommendations to “smudge some sage” whenever someone asks what to do about a supernatural issue in a house because it’s a popular suggestion on the internet.
      But in our tradition, one should never smudge sage in a ‘busy’ house as it tends to ‘wake up’ whatever is there and can make things worse.

      I noted the blood question in an earlier message to you. I, too, recoiled when I read this as this has never been an important factor for me either. It simply doesn’t matter.

      Reply
      1. Emily Post author

        Thank you so much Leah for sharing your own background and experience. I do also use loose safe to smudge. In a healing circle, loose sage will also typically be used. So interesting that in your tradition, sage could make things worse. I use sage when I have spirits in my house. I smudge everywhere but I also talk to the spirits if I do not know what they want. I think the goal is to not be afraid and see the spirits as maybe needing something or being lost. But from my traditions and teachings, sage will help clear the negativity.

        Reply
  13. Rawl

    I smudge my house, the kids, my roommate, the dogs, the fish and I every full moon. I know it sounds silly to do the pets but the first time I did it I didn’t do the fish and over night he jumped out of the tank and died. So we got another fish and when I smudge the kids make sure I don’t leave him out.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Oh I am with you! I smudge everything! I smudge myself at least twice a day and my house once a week. And if I had pets, I would smudge them too! It just calms me down and grounds me.

      Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Hi Sarina
      You do not absolutely have to use a feather. However, the feather is used to keep the smudging burning and direct the smoke. The Eagle is our connection to the Creator, the one who carries our prayers and message. Hence why it is used. But it does not have to specifically be an Eagle feather.

      Reply
  14. jagulba

    I heard about this in a psychology class how Native American also had sort of Group Therapy which they would sit in a circle and share their experience and feelings. But this ceremony is full of symbols, and I just love it. Tell me if I’m wrong but you have to get naked and go inside ” the womb of mother earth” (like when you are born). The darkness was representing the shadow or sadness inside you, and as you talk about your fear and sadness, you could see better (going from darkness to light).
    In modern group therapy, you can choose to be silent and this amazes me how Native American also understand this fact that you should be able to participate in this kind of meetings without being forced to talk.
    Thanks for reminding me about this beautiful ceremony.
    Cheers

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi there
      Circle is a sort of group therapy yes. Where one listens to others and shares when ready. As for the sweatlodge, if it is not co-ed, some will ask that participants be naked. So they can be fully cleansed and reborn. However, today, most will be dressed. The lodge does represent the mother’s womb but there are also protocols as to what to wear inside the lodge if one is dressed.

      Reply
  15. Ann Hollinger

    Thank you very much.It’s nice of you to take the time to share.I have taken an interest in Native Americans,,because my 5 year old grandson saw something he found interesting,so once a month we go to library.Even though I started doing this for him I find myself learning so much.The photos on Tbilisi have been Awsome.I do not have words that I could use for the horror your ancestors went through. I realise not many of us could even go without electric,or have to walk somewhere.I am enjoying all the good things I read,and could just cry for days over the bad stuff.I want my grandson to know your ways,your traditions,your way of life. The rest he can learn when he is older.God Bless all of you.Thank youtube u so much . Please excuse my spelling mistakes.I am new to the computer and when I make a mistake I do not know how to fix it yet,but learning .Our next trip to the library will be food.I can hardly wait . Sincerely Ann Hollinger

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Ann
      So glad that you are taking an interest and enjoying doing the research and reading about the history. The life was not an easy one but at the same time it was a simpler one. One i am trying to get back to. With the irony of me using technology to do so!

      Reply
  16. John T

    Thanks for sharing. I didn’t know about leaving something behind when you find a feather. I lived in Ks most of my life. I lived in the country. I found turkey feathers and took them home with me. I live in Pennsylvania now and still have the feathers. I also bought an eagle feather at a flea market, and a walking stick at a yard sale. What do I do?

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi John
      It’s okay to buy some of those items. Feathers are typically not bought. They are given to you or you find them. I would say that if you can go back to where you found those feathers, make an offering to the bird who lost them. Bring tobacco if you can. Or make a prayer thanking the bird for its sacrifice. Or if you cannot go back to that place, go somewhere in the country and do that. As for the eagle feather, I would say you can keep it and follow the same process or give it to someone who might need it.

      Reply
  17. Charlene 'White Deer' Heathwood

    Osiyo
    PLEASE to everyone who visits this site, read the About Me to see who this person is. Most people do not even bother about that but it is important on a site like this. I have read it and now understand and feel everything that the author has put on this site is meant to help teach others about ways the Creator has given to us to pass on to others who are Native in heart as Blood is blood but no one has the right to ask any individual ‘How much (insert any Native tribe) are you’. Percentages do not matter. Your Heart does!

    Wado
    White Deer

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      Thank you White Deer for your kind words. “how much native are you” is a question I have had more than once. But one that I cannot answer unfortunately. But I know it runs in my blood and that I was guided to do this work. I did not choose it, it chose me. My heart and my spirit know though. A’Ho

      Reply
  18. Sherrie

    I’ve read the About Me and correct me if I’m wrong but I haven’t seen a single comment asking about blood quantum…lol…all I’ve seen is questions asking if protocol was followed…mine included.

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Sherrie
      are you asking about my blood quantum? I unfortunately do not know it and those who could potentially answer some of my questions have gone into the spirit world.

      Reply
  19. Judy Hart

    Do you believe that some people have demons in them and must be cleanse to get rid of them? With the eagle’s feather and bear root

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      hi Judy
      Thank you for visiting. I think it depends on your teachings. I personally believe that spirits are among us. And sometimes one might pick up something from them that could make one ill. Ceremonies such as smudging, brushing off ceremony or a sweat can then be helpful. But those are just my teachings. Some might think differently.

      Reply
  20. Judy Hart

    This is what I was told I been trying to learn to be a cleanser..It’s hard to be one with what they make you do…I’m told I have lots of demons in me that it is still okay that I can become a cleanser…Is this true

    Reply
    1. Emily Post author

      I think caution is needed here. To be cleanser is not necessarily something that one chooses. One just is one. To help others, take in their stuff so they feel better can be quite tiring. Hence why it is also very important to take care of yourself and deal with issues you might have or the healing you might need to do. I say this with caution though, as I do not know you. But you must be careful when helping others that they do not pick up stuff that you need healing with.

      Reply
      1. Judy Hart

        Thank you! I feel I could send them to someone I would try to help..I will keep my fight up about being a cleanser.I can’t take that chance..Is their a way I can work on my own demons without them helping me?An3

        Reply
        1. Emily Post author

          hi Judy
          you could find a healer for yourself. Or working with an Elder might also be useful. I have found that, for myself, attending healing circles was very beneficial.

          Reply

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