What Is Smudging?
Burning sage, usually called Smudging, is shamanic; that is, it has been practiced by indigenous groups for spiritual or even supernatural purposes, and it is common in the New Age and modern Witchcraft and Wicca. As a New Ager, I had many friends who did smudging.
“Smudging is the common name given to the indigenous American tradition known as the Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing. This is a powerful spiritual cleansing technique which calls upon the spirits of various sacred plants to drive away negative energy and to restore balance to an individual, a group, a space, or all three.……Smudging is a way of connecting the material plane to the realm of the spirits.” –– From Spiritual Scents
So it is a practice based on calling on spirits. The New Age is a network that draws from many belief systems, and there are aspects of New Age that draw from some Native American traditions, such as the sweat lodge (which I did as a New Ager), the vision quest (I did that as well, led by a Wiccan who had allegedly studied for 8 years with a Native American shaman), and smudging.
New Age Take on Smudging
Here is a typical New Age view of smudging from the Deepak Chopra site:
“If you’re feeling stuck, negative, sluggish, or even downright depressed, it may be due to some stagnant energy in your field. Your field can include your emotional, energetic, mental, spiritual or physical body, and your environment—whether it’s your home, office, or other physical space……Smudging can help combat this negativity, clear the energy in your field, and help you start anew.” — From Deepak Chopra’s website
Note the reference above to “your field.” This is the energy field, a field believed to surround the body. It is part of New Age views of health and the body, which is one reason why I warn against New Age doctors/healers and New Age healing. Note also the references to the “energetic” and “spiritual” body – another New Age belief. This is the alleged subtle body, an unseen body existing alongside and inside the physical body.
The belief that there is negative energy affecting us that can be cleansed or cleared away is part of the pagan view of unnamed and unquantifiable energy, a core New Age principle. Diagnosing health and emotional problems is usually done by tuning in to or feeling a person’s “energy,” and treating such problems is through affecting the “energy” or “energy field” of the subtle body with various New Age methods, or by applying a supposed healing energy from an outside source (however, these methods and explanations are often disguised with scientific sounding language). There is no credible basis for these beliefs; they are absolutely spiritual.
What About Incense in the Bible?
The Spiritual Scents site states this:
“Smoke also is deeply symbolic – it ascends to heaven, as if bringing any prayers and intentions up to the gods with it. From the incense of Asia and Europe to the sage and cedar of the indigenous Americans, the smoke generated by plants has a primordial history of use as part of spiritual practice.” Spiritual Scents site
Smoke is symbolic in many beliefs and is found even in the Bible. When God gave instructions on the temple, he included incense:
“When Aaron trims the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense. There shall be perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.” Exodus 30:8
While the incense was possibly also used to cover up odors of dead animals offered as sacrifice, it was primarily symbolic of the sacrifice being pleasing to the Lord. This idea is fleshed out later in the New Testament regarding Jesus:
“…and walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma.” Ephesians 5:2
The sacrifice on the cross of Jesus was a fragrant aroma, which could be likened to the aroma of incense. Those who have trusted in Christ symbolically become a fragrance, an aroma, of either life or death:
“But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life.”– 2 Corinthians 2:14-16a
The news of Jesus is fragrant to those drawn to Jesus but is repellent to those rejecting Him. This is echoed in 1 Corinthians 1:18 where it states that the message of the cross is “foolishness” to those who are perishing (rejecting Christ); but to those who are believing, it is “the power of God.”
Incense is also symbolic of prayer in the Bible:
“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” Revelation 5:8
“Another angel came and stood at the altar, holding a golden censer; and much incense was given to him, so that he might add it to the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, went up before God out of the angel’s hand.” Revelation 8:3,4 (See also Psalm 141:2)
The Most Important Message
Incense is used literally in the Bible with sacrifices in the Temple, but also represents the sacrifice of Christ and prayers of those who have believed in Christ.
The use of incense in the New Age is completely different, since it allegedly has properties that can clear or cleanse supposed negative energies (or evil spirits) and/or bring “balance.” This is ascribing supernatural powers to a substance and/or to the ritual involved using it, but the basis for this belief rests on beliefs in unverified, unseen “energies.”
Burning sage simply for the aroma, especially to get rid of a bad odor, is a physical and practical use that is not spiritually problematic. But to burn it believing it has power to actually effect a change beyond fragrance is to enter an occult worldview of the New Age “energies.”
(Claims that it is antibacterial in a practical way have been debunked — see links at end).
In contrast to vague energies or vibrations that supposedly react to the scent of sage, there is a more truthful message about incense and aroma: the historical person of Jesus whose very sacrifice on the cross to pay the penalty for sins was the most fragrant and pleasing aroma, a true aroma of love that offers a true cleansing to those who believe.
Why should anyone – especially Christians – fool with smudging when the true cleansing is the aroma of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross?
“…but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” I John 1:7
“…how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?” Hebrews 9:14
Answering claims that burning sage kills dangerous bacteria:
Be aware that inhaling smoke in closed areas especially can be toxic for the lungs:
“it’s pretty clear that smoke in general — even wood smoke — shouldn’t be inhaled. Incompletely-burned plant material contains polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, organic compounds that have been identified as not only carcinogenic and mutagenic, but also directly toxic.” – Source
“smoke generally contains particulates that are carcinogens, and contains poisonous gases (like carbon monoxide). This wouldn’t just kill the environmental bacteria, but would also kill your own bacteria (the good and the bad) as well as the cells that make up your body.” Source