cross-posted from The Dream Antilles
Monday evening, January 19, 2009, is the last night of the Bush Administration. This could be a time to exhale and to celebrate having survived eight long, lawless, disgraceful years, a period that will go down in history as the US’s worst administration. But the big party won’t begin until after the Inauguration. We will want to celebrate a hopeful New Beginning rather than the final moments of Bush. So it makes sense, then, that Monday evening should be used to prepare for the New Beginning.
This brief essay is about a traditional way to prepare through cleansing and smudging.
Many North American indigenous traditions purify and set the stage for ceremonies by smudging. Smudging is the simple practice of burning particular plants and of allowing the smoke to purify and clear. You can purify and clear people, places, buildings, and in my view, entire nations and planets. This is mostly a matter of your intentions and having the right kind of smoke.
For example, you might remember when Guatemalan Mayans burned incense to cleanse sacred space after Bush visited a pyramid in their country. And many of you might have personally experienced how the Original Americans burn sage, cedar, and/or sweet grass to cleanse participants before and during ceremonies. These same sacred plants are also used to prepare the Sweat Lodge. Mayans have for many years burned copal so that its smoke might carry prayers to heaven. And the Q’ero, descendants of the Inca, burn palo santo both to cleanse and sanctify. These kinds of smoke have special qualities, and they have been used for centuries especially to purify and cleanse.
Some people have said that the White House should be smudged with sage. This is a good idea. But it’s too limited. After the past eight years, the entire nation deserves to be cleared, cleansed, purified, and sanctified before the new administration begins. Monday night would be a perfect time to do just that.
How do you do it? First you need to make special, sacred smoke. You can light a smudge stick (white sage, sweet grass, cedar and/or lavender) and then, after it catches, blow it out. You don’t want a fire, you want the smoke. Or you can light in a sand filled container or seashell (do not use glass) sage, sweet grass, cedar and/or lavender, and after it flames a bit, blow out the flames, making a nice, dense plume of smoke. Or you can light a charcoal disc (be sure this is in something that is well insulated so you don’t burn yourself) and then drop copal or sage or cedar on top of the burning coal, making a beautiful, thick, continuous cloud of smoke. Or you can light a piece of palo santo (it’s a stick), let it get hot and red, and then blow out its flame to make an aromatic, sweet smelling smoke. Be sure to be safe with this. You want to purify with smoke, you don’t want to burn yourself or destroy your home or start a forest fire.
Then, lift the smoking object high over your head, and let the smoke spread. If you’re in the house, be sure to open the doors and to walk the smoke throughout the house. If you’re outside, hold the smoke up and let the wind carry the smoke. If you want to purify yourself, cup the smoke with your hands and bring it over and around you.
Once you’ve got the smoke, focus on your intention for the smoke to cleanse and clear and purify and offer your thoughts or prayers. These thoughts, your intentions, are also an essential part of smudging. You don’t have to say them aloud. Thinking them is often enough.
What I plan to say goes something like this (it always changes on the spot):
Father Sky, Star Brothers and Sisters, Pachamama, Sweet Mother Earth, thank you for this day and for this wonderful smoke and for cleansing and purifying me, my home, this land, and this country, thank you for teaching us to walk in beauty and in harmony on the earth and in peace with other people and nations, show us the beauty way, and help us as a nation to be compassionate, understanding, courageous, and just. Let it be.
Please join me on Monday evening. Our nation deserves nothing less.