(excerpt from a lecture by Kay Whitaker from her Teacher Training
STUDENT: The plants, when you pick them, do you offer
KAY: Yes, I was going to get to the collecting process. Itís always
important to offer something - what ever you have.
Weíll talk about the juniper trees first. Theyíre very, very similar to
cedar. The bushes can be OK too, but the trees have a more specific and
stronger medicine for smudge. Genetically the trees are fairly close to
cedar and they have a very similar kind of medicine. Now, their
personality, that vibration personality signature, is strikingly
different. But the medicines are very close. So what you can use cedar
for you can use juniper for Ė aura and space clearing, etc. In the
Southwest we donít have the cedar trees and it is common to see juniper
used where others use cedar. Iíve even heard some people call it cedar.
Juniper also has a little extra benefit in helping with some body
diseases, body conditions. Anything thatís in the kidney, bladder area.
Female problems, cramps. Cancers. Both juniper and cedar are antiseptic.
Way too much of it, like cedar, can bring on uterine bleeding Ė you need
to be careful where women of bleeding age are concerned.
The smudge of juniper is extremely effective. Especially if you talk to
the spirit and ask it to help for just that specific problem. The trees
get so excited to be used as medicine Ė they donít see too much of that
Sweet grass will also clean the psychic air. Not quite as dramatically
as sage, cedar, juniper and tobacco, but it does. And it is also said to
call the spirits, the good spirits. One thing that often happens with
sweet grass is Indian spirits who grew up with that sweet grass, will
come. If youíre burning it, theyíll come. Thereís one here on the ranch.
He loves to come to these ceremonies. And if I donít have the sweet
grass there on the charcoal, he asks for it every time. Iíve come to
call him ďSweet Grass.Ē One time he asked for it and I couldnít find
sweet grass anywhere. We were out of it. I started searching all through
the house. He was really adamant, ďWhereís the sweet grass?Ē
STUDENT: How do you recognize sweet grass?
KAY: It looks like dried yellow/tan long grass; usually braided or tied
at one end. The smoke smells like really, really sweet grass. Iíve got
all these things here, youíll get to test them and see what they look
like and sniff them, touchy-feely them and all that kind of good stuff.
STUDENT: It doesnít smell sweet when itís growing. Itís only when itís
dry that you can tell. The grass is flat. There are some long grasses
that have a kind of vein that runs up the center, and the leaf will sort
of fold around it a little bit. Sweet grass is pretty flat. And because
it doesnít have that vein, when you pick it, to test it you just dry it
for a little bit. Then you can start to smell it, but it will also kind
of roll into a very fine tube, where other grasses donít do that. Ö Have
you seen it here. Ö No, I have some growing at home.
KAY: Itís supposed to have grown wild here historically. There are big
pockets of it in Montana here that folks try to keep secret. If you
planted it you should be able to do pretty well with it.
STUDENT: Indians that Iíve talked to say that cedar drives away the
negative, and so they always use it first because all the spirits like
sweet grass and theyíll come running. If you smudge with cedar first
then youíre safe to use sweet grass. So they always have it in that
KAY: Each cultural group has their own variation of plant stories and
practices. You can expect all those details to change from group to
group. You can learn a lot from all of them. The real treasure we have
available to us today is that we can learn about them from all over the
world and actually try them all out for ourselves and see what works
best for us in our situation.
Resins: a tiny bit goes a really long way. Especially if you have a hot
surface like a charcoal that youíre going to be putting it on. You can
overwhelm people very easily with a resin.
Itís hard to light if you just try to light it like a little wad of
sage; it doesnít work. You need to have something hot to put it on. And
a teeny-weeny bit makes a lot of smoke and itís very, very strong. Very
concentrated. The colors will range anywhere from yellows to oranges to
reds to browns.
Sometimes when you buy it, it just says ďresin.Ē Or itíll sometimes say
ďcopal.Ē The word copal has come to mean, up here in the States, any
kind of resin from any kind of conifer or even any kind of a mix of
sawdust with a resin, kind of squished up together. But originally itís
a specific tree in Central America, a copal tree; and the woods of it,
the leaves of it, the resin of it, they call copal - from the copal
Resins arenít always labeled very well when you buy them in the store,
so you might want to ask about what kind of tree it came from. You can
even get myrrh and frankincense from the Middle East. Those are ancient
favorites and a lot of incense is made with them.
STUDENT: What kind of store can you buy those things in?
KAY: Any place that sells incense or smudge will often have bags of
little chunks of resin.
In a little while weíre going to be divided up into several groups, and
Iíve got samples here of all these different smudges for each group.
Weíll have three different little cast iron pans. Weíll put a charcoal
on each one. And you all get to play in the smudge. I recommend that you
go kind of far away from each other, lest you all choke to death in the
huge clouds. But thereís a little bag in each of these collections here
with some resin in it. This is the typical stuff bought in one of these
stores where the label just says, ďresin.Ē We donít know where it came
from. These two have kind of a similar smell, but obviously you can see
theyíre from some kind of different conifer trees.
The medicines of resins tend to follow the medicines of the trees they
come from. All of them have been used worldwide for eons to clean the
air and aura. Some cultures prefer resins to the needles, leaves, bark
or wood Ė the blood or life flow of the tree. They have been so valued
they have even been used for money.
Collecting resins is always fun and challenging and very intimate with
the trees spirits. Many times the amount of resin on the bark and ground
is small and it can take a while of treasure hunting to fill a tiny bag.
You donít need to dig a hole in the tree to make the sap run, the trees
have offered out plenty for your use already. Donít forget to make an
offering and ask for permission to collect. And talk with the tree
spirits. They love it.
Another thing that is used by the Indians on the west coast and some
other parts of the country, is oak. Celts also used to use oak leaves.
Pretty much from any kind of oak tree is good. What oak does is it deals
with loss, sadness, sorrow. It helps people recover from loss and grief.
I highly recommend burning oak when people are doing the Power Animal
and Soul Retrieval Ceremonies. And when they come back from the journey
and theyíre dancing and maybe writing or talking about their adventure
thereís an enormous amount of pain and loss and grief connected to the
loss of the soul pieces. Very often people dredge up old, nasty memories
going through this ceremony. Old grief is just thick in the room. And by
burning oak leaves you can help ease a great deal of that grief. You can
help clear it out of the air so it doesnít collect into a big, dense,
clinging cloud. And it just helps people move it, deal with it and let
it go. Oak helps with that goal: face it and let it go.
Thereís a little bag of mullein in each of these piles here. Mullein is
a respiratory herb, and when itís used as a smudge itís very, very
soothing for most anything thatís wrong with the lungs and the sinuses.
So if you have somebody that youíre working with and they have a real
terrible time dealing with the rest of the smudge because it brings up
all their allergies and theyíre coughing and theyíre sneezing. Or they
have a bad cold. Or they have some kind of a bronchial disorder. Mullein
is what you want to put in the bowl. Burn it all by itself for these
serious conditions and only a very small amount.
STUDENT: Is it that lime-green furry...
KAY: Very furry. Yes. Sometimes grey-green. Itís a plant that has a
long, single stalk that the flowers grow on, and the leaves are real big
and long and theyíre thick, theyíre very velvety-fuzzy-furry. Itís a
very powerful plant. And itís used a lot in all kinds of different teas
and ointments. Itís really a good one. If you do wild herb collecting
every year, mullein is one to add to your list if it isnít there
Itís not as soft as it looks. All those fuzzy, soft, velvety, tiny
little fibers Ė theyíre actually an irritant especially when they are
dry. You need to be very careful not to get the dried leaves on your
skin or eyes or breath them. Itís the smoke or oils in a tincture that
work as medicine.
Somebody that has a real serious respiratory problem, something thatís
really chronic like emphysema Ė a real lung disease - you want to keep
the smudges away from them, donít smudge them directly. If you really
need to smudge them, use mullein. And just a little bit.
There are a lot of native tobacco mix formulas for sacred smoking, pipe
mixes, that theyíll put mullein in. Itís a real popular additive.
STUDENT: Did you burn mullein yesterday?
KAY: Yes, today and yesterday.
STUDENT: Because when I came here, my lungs had been hurting for a week.
I woke up this morning and my lungs feel fine. I have no pain.
KAY: Yesterday I had quite a bit of mullein in the pan.
Eucalyptus is native to Australia. We have an awful lot of it up here,
especially on the west coast. Itís become an herbal favorite. As a
smudge, itís extremely good for anything in the sinuses and the
bronchial tubes and the lungs. A tiny bit goes a long way. It makes a
great big, pungent cloud of smoke. And if you get a big whiff youíll
just cough a whole lot. It might bring up a lot of phlegm and make you
feel better in the long run, but thatís strong stuff; itís really
potent. The only time Iíll use it in a class is if somebody has a cold.
Itís extremely disinfecting, so having it in the air with the rest of
the smudges, you at least have a chance of wiping out some of those
germs floating around that people might decide to share. Itís a smell
that most smudge users are not used to.
Iíve heard osha root being called ďbear root,Ē but Iíve also heard about
a hundred other things being called ďbear root.Ē Iíve only seen it
printed in one book, and I have a hand-written herbology that has it in
it. It can really be a difficult thing to find outside of the Four
With osha root you can make teas, tinctures, ointments, poultices, steam
or just chew it. Stems and leaves are used by some as well, even fresh
and raw. A friend of mine actually stirred it into honey - fresh honey
that just came out of the hive - and jarred it up that way. And wow!
Thereís some in the fridge here, actually. You should try it. Itís a big
chunk of osha stirred up into the honey. You can see the root. And then
just the essence, the medicines, of it gets out into the honey, flavors
it. Any time youíre feeling sick or youíre starting to get sick, youíve
got a cold, itíll help draw it out. And also on infection in an open
wound. Itís an expectorant, makes you cough to bring the phlegm up out
of your lungs. Itís got a lot of healing properties. It cleans the
blood. Itís used for migraines. Itís very, very potent. In any form it
will lower a high fever. Itís very disinfecting.
STUDENT: Whereís it found?
KAY: Thatís a big Indian secret too. It grows at very high altitudes.
There arenít many folks who collect it wild Ė and wild is by far the
best. Itís extremely healing and the smudge is very, very good for
anything that you have thatís sinus or bronchial. But osha will initiate
the bleeding in some women. So you really need to pay attention to that.
Itís something that you may not want to have happen.
STUDENT: You havenít said anything about tobacco.
KAY: Iíll be talking about that next.
Part 3 of The Ancient Arts of Smudging will be coming soon in Song Magic