Bless this space: another approach to smudging

Like fragrance, our energy follows us; in our living and work spaces as well as our more ethereal creative and intimate spaces. Perhaps we’ve had a stretch of challenging times (hi there, 2020), maybe we’ve exited from an abusive partnership, maybe we are grieving the loss of a loved one, a way of life, a job, something that shaped a sense of identity. Maybe can’t stomach what we see in others, ourselves, the world around us. We are not quite ourselves. Or rather, we are quite ourselves – the self that is processing challenge and loss. It just feels uncomfortable. We feel lost, our cumulative energy clunking around the bottom of a riverbed like stones.

Notice, the focus does not rest on “toxic” energy.

Why? Because while life events, dynamic situations, and personal relationships may unearth the stuff we’d rather not expose ourselves to or expose in ourselves, here we are up to our necks in real life where we have no choice but to experience, process, learn, and cultivate practices that serve to support our growth and wellbeing.

The focus here does not rest on shielding ourselves from what happens to us in life. Life does not attack us. The burden does not lie on the events, things, and people that challenge us as being bad, evil, or toxic. Every small moment or event, every person, every job, every walk in nature is either a lesson or a blessing. We get to choose what we make of this energy and how it will become a part of our story.

The practice of smudging or fumigating our living and work spaces is an ancient one. Most cultures burned dried botanicals or their resins in some fashion as an offering to appease the gods while spiritually cleansing their bodies, homes, and sacred spaces (this practice evolved to save humans from sacrifice – thank goodness!). During the Middle Ages, fresh botanicals, like lavender, rosemary, and thyme, were strewn across thresholds and floors to both sanitize the area (the aromatic vapors from the plants being released into the air) and cleanse the space of harmful spirits. The Indigenous cultures of the Americas have their own rich history with this sacred practice. In all cultures, it is a practical and spiritual ritual that is intended to physically cleanse a space or person of unwanted germs and viruses while fortifying the mind, body, and spirit in the midst of life.

Personally, it’s a practice that directs my attention toward peace. I think of the possible cleansing rituals my Celtic ancestors practiced when I clean my space. In my previous home, I prepared a simple cleansing blend using lavender, rosemary, and sometimes hyssop, or simply just lavender, in a bowl of warm water to wash the threshold and entryway – not to keep evil or “toxic” energies away – but to bless my home and those who entered. I hum Scottish songs my family enjoyed and reflect on all the people I’ve welcomed into my home and my life and say “thank you”. I wish them all well, I wish my family well, and I ask that my space be always a place of comfort for myself and those who spend time there. An old Irish blessing hangs by door.

May the road rise to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face, the rain fall soft upon your fields and, until we meet again, my God hold you in the palm of his hand.

Old Irish Blessing

My body feels comforted. My mind is put at ease. Gratitude lives in my heart and my body is fortified. If I were to focus on protecting myself, shielding myself from what I perceive as toxic or bad, my thoughts would change, my body would steel, fear would loom around the dark corners of my mind. The process and my energy would look and feel quite different. Instead, I reflect on and give thanks to the lessons and blessings, which only serves to strengthen my emotional heart.

Cleansing my home with clean water and essential oils, or energetically cleansing with smoke from incense or an herb bundle helps me stay present with how I’m feeling in the moment. Yes, I’m washing away physical dirt and germs that need to leave and saying goodbye to old memories and challenges, but I’m also preparing my space, my family, and myself for new blessings, grateful for the ones that came before.

Suggesting essential oils for a smudge spray, or creating one, is a common request. I love working with people on this request because it provides an opportunity to educate about the wide world of suitable essential oils beyond sage to energetically cleanse a space as well as help someone notice a shift in their own energy when the focus of their cleanse shifts from the defensive to strength, gratitude and welcome.

There are so many oils to choose from, and really, I encourage you to select oils that help you feel a sense of comfort, love, joy, and expanse. Here are a few of my favorites beyond those I mentioned previously.

Essential oils for blessing your space

Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana)

Commonly used as a funeral herb since ancient times, the sweetly pungent yet lemony herbaceous scent of sweet marjoram is known to help calm and support “emotional renewal,” Peter Holmes writes in Aromatica: a Clinical Guide to Essential Oil Therapeutics (2016). The herb’s combination of monoterpenols and esters support a relaxant effect and, Holmes notes, possibly reduces deep limbic system (mood and memory) and basal ganglia (anxiety storehouse) hyperfunctioning.

Gabriel Mojay notes sweet marjoram’s ability to both strengthen and relax in Aromatherapy for Healing the Spirit (2000). He writes, “it helps to calm obsessive thinking, ease emotional craving and promote the capacity for inner self-nurturing.” When working with sweet marjoram, I can’t help but to feel a sense of deep, comforting peace. I notice it allows me the space to sort through, accept and let go of what emotions have served their role and what was never mine to hold. Freedom, is a word that comes to mind. Origanum marjorana means “joy of the mountains.” It’s no wonder the ancients named it so.

Lemon (Citrus limonum)

Lemon (synthetic or natural) has enjoyed a long-time association with cleaning due to its antibacterial, anti-infectious, and antiviral properties, and is a popular fragrance or essence included in myriad cleaning products. The citrus family is especially known to help clarify and uplift, but each citrus oil has their own special gift. “Lemon’s physiological functions revolve around two basic themes: restoring and decongestant,” Holmes writes. It has also been noted that lemon serves to break through mental fog, supporting mental acuity.

Restore and decongest. Revive and break apart, clarify. How might lemon serve to break down challenging, depressive thoughts in order to clarify and illuminate what is essential? What effect might this have on our emotional heart?

Hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis)

Classic, ancient, powerful. Sometimes you need the superhero of essential oils to guide you through particularly rough passages. Hyssop’s history is storied with use dating back to the Old and New Testament as one of the powerful holy herbs (the references and specific symbolisms are many and mostly center on cleansing and purging) and was a popular expectorant herb used during the Middle Ages.

Hyssop is known to support and strengthen the health and function of the lungs. Its herbaceous, sweetly camphoraceous, warm scent accompanies its ability to help decongest and expel mucus from the lungs while restoring the mind (due to mental fatigue). Hyssop’s emotional assistance, likewise, assists in helping us to dispel thought patterns that support feelings of shame and overall negativity. Holmes writes, “its deep, rich herbaceous honey fragrance has the particular ability to draw us inward, allowing us to explore discord in our emotional realm with due patience and humility.” Hyssop wants us to identify the patterns we’ve cultivated as a coping mechanism that keep us small and stuck in a place of shame, however they manifest, and purge them from our rituals.


As you choose the right oil (or oils) to create your blessing spray, smell them one by one and notice how they make you feel. Where in the body do you feel it? Do you feel expansion? Fortification? Peace? Love? Joy? Groundedness? What does the oil bring to mind? How does it make you feel, emotionally? What connections are you able to make? What context? How do you imagine working with it or them? Begin there.


References

Holmes, P., Mojay, G., Pollard, T. C., Lev, C., & Camp, M. (2016). Aromatica: A clinical guide to essential oil therapeutics. London, UK: Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley.

Holmes, P. (2019). Aromatica: A clinical guide to essential oil therapeutics. London: Singing Dragon.

Mojay, G. (2000). Aromatherapy for healing the spirit: Restoring emotional and mental balance with essential oils. Rochester, VT: Healing Arts Press.

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