Cleansing vs. Smudging: Understanding Spiritual Practices and Cultural Appropriation

Posted by Brandon Tomich on


In recent years, the practices of cleansing and smudging have gained popularity as means of purifying energy and promoting spiritual well-being. While these rituals can be meaningful and beneficial, it's essential to consider the cultural origins and the concept of cultural appropriation when incorporating them into your spiritual journey. In this blog post, we will explore the differences between cleansing and smudging, as well as the sensitive topic of cultural appropriation.

Cleansing: A Universal Purification Practice

Cleansing, in its broadest sense, refers to the act of purifying energy, spaces, objects, or individuals. It is a universal practice found in various cultures worldwide, and it often involves elements like water, salt, sound, or intention.

Key Elements of Cleansing:

  1. Water: Many cultures use water as a purifying agent. Rituals may include sprinkling, bathing, or immersion in water to cleanse and renew.

  2. Salt: Salt is another common cleansing tool, believed to absorb negative energy and purify surroundings. It can be sprinkled around spaces or used in baths.

  3. Sound: Sound cleansing utilizes instruments like bells, singing bowls, or chants to create vibrations that disperse negative energy and restore harmony.

  4. Intention: Intention setting is a fundamental aspect of cleansing. The power of intention is believed to enhance the effectiveness of the ritual.

  5. Smoke Cleansing: Burning the plant matter is believed to release pent up low vibrational or negative malicious energy typically bundled lavender, sages, cedar, sweetgrass, palo santo, rosemary, dragon's blood, frankincense, myrrh, and many more. 

Smudging: An Indigenous Sacred Practice

Smudging, in contrast, is a specific ritual rooted in Indigenous cultures, particularly among Native American and First Nations peoples. It involves the burning of sacred herbs, such as white sage, cedar, or sweetgrass, to create smoke used for purification.

Key Elements of Smudging:

  1. Sacred Herbs: Smudging primarily uses white sage, cedar, or sweetgrass, chosen based on their unique properties and purpose in the ceremony.

  2. Abalone Shell and Feather: Traditional smudging involves the use of an abalone shell to hold the burning herbs and a feather to waft the smoke, ensuring it reaches all areas requiring purification.

  3. Spiritual Intent: Smudging is deeply spiritual and is often accompanied by prayers or intentions. The smoke is believed to carry these prayers to the heavens and create a sacred, purified space.

Cultural Appropriation: Understanding the Issue

Cultural appropriation occurs when elements of one culture are borrowed or taken by individuals from another culture, often without understanding or respecting the cultural context. In the case of smudging, it has been observed that non-Indigenous individuals have adopted this practice without acknowledgment of its Indigenous origins, often without permission, and sometimes even commodifying sacred traditions.

Respectful Engagement with Spiritual Practices

To avoid cultural appropriation while incorporating cleansing or smudging into your spiritual practice:

  1. Educate Yourself: Learn about the cultural origins and significance of the practice you wish to adopt.

  2. Seek Permission: If possible, seek guidance or permission from Indigenous communities or practitioners when engaging with sacred practices.

  3. Show Respect: Approach these practices with reverence, refraining from commodifying or commercializing sacred rituals.

  4. Support Indigenous Communities: Consider supporting Indigenous communities through education, advocacy, or financial contributions to cultural preservation efforts.


Cleansing and smudging are powerful spiritual practices that can enhance your well-being and promote spiritual balance. However, it's essential to engage with these practices respectfully and responsibly, understanding their cultural origins and the potential for cultural appropriation. By honoring the traditions from which these rituals originate, we can embrace their wisdom while ensuring cultural sensitivity and respect.

Share this post

← Older Post Newer Post →


Leave a comment