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There are two major genii and several varieties of each genus of Sage that are used for smudging.
Salvia, or the herb sage used for cooking, comes in two major varieties: S. Officinalis, commonly
known as Garden Sage, and S. Apiana, commonly known as White Sage. Salvia varieties have
long been acknowledged as healing herbs, reflected in the fact that its genus name comes from
the Latin root word *salvare*, which is the verb "to heal" or "to save." Artemisia is the genus
commonly considered "Sagebrush", and is more common in the wilds out here in California.
There are two major varieties to the Artemisia genus: A. Californica, or common Sagebrush, and
A. Vulgaris, or Mugwort. There are many other varieties of both Salvia and Artemisia, and all are
effective in smudging. Sage is burned in smudging ceremonies to drive out evil spirits, negative
thoughts and feelings, and to keep Gan'n (negative entities) away from areas where ceremonials
take place. In the Plains Sweatlodge, the floor of the structure is strewn with sage leaves for the
participants to rub on their bodies during the sweat.
Sage is also used in keeping sacred objects like pipes or Peyote wands safe from negative influence.
In the Sioux nation, the Sacred Pipe is kept in a bundle with sage boughs.
True cedar is of the Thuja and Libocedrus genii. Some Junipers (Juniperus genus) are also
called "cedar", thus complicating things some. Some Juniper varieties ARE cleansing herbs,
especially J. Monosperma, or Desert White Cedar. But for smudging, the best is Western Red
Cedar (Thuja occidentalis) and California Incense Cedar (Libocedrus descurrens). Cedar is
burnt while praying to the Great Spirit in meditation, and also to bless a house before moving
in as is the tradition in the Northwest and Western Canada. It works both as a purifier and
as a way to attract good energy in your direction. It is usually available in herb stores in chipped
form, which must be sprinkled over a charcoal in a brazier. A piece of charcoaled mesquite
works well for this purpose, rather than the commercial charcoal cake.
Very important to the Sioux and Cherokee nations, its botanical name is Hierochloe Oderata.
In these tribes, the sweetgrass is braided like hair braids. It could be burnt by lighting the end
of it, or (more economically) by shaving little bits of it onto charcoal in a brazier. Again, use
charcoaled Mesquite (I believe it comes packaged for barbecue use under the brand name
"Red Arrow") to burn it, not pressed charcoal tablets. Sweetgrass is burnt after smudging with
sage, to welcome in good influences after the bad had been driven out. Sweetgrass is very
rare today, and traditional Plains people have been attempting to protect the last of it.
Cedar, which is not endangered, can safely be used this way. Also Pinon pine
needles (used more frequently by the Southwest Teneh, like the Navajo and Apache as well
as the Pueblo people and the Zuni) and Copal (used by the Yaqui and in ancient times by the
Azteca and the Maya) have similar effect. The three mentioned here are readily available either
through gathering yourself or, in the case of copal resin, from any good herb shop.
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