Beyond the Smudge Stick
Do you find the smoke of smudge sticks to be, well, wimpy? Is what you need a truly cleansing smudge? Then try some Hibachi Herbal Magic. Tossing loose herbs on hot charcoal is style of smudge favored by the Mesoamerican indigenous for a few thousand years, like this recent experience of mine in the Mayan Yucatan:
A red glow danced across Paloma’s dark skin as she leaned toward the modest bonfire, using a small stone rake to draw steaming embers to the edge. She deftly a large terra cotta chalice with one hand to scoop up hot charcoal and tossed on copal granules from a bowl with the other, quickly rising up and walking toward me in a cloud of thick white smoke. With a few swift motions up my body, she enveloped me in swirling copal fumes.
To become immersed in smoke is a baptism, a complete submission to another world. The animated smoke feels alive with strong aromas that can transport the mind and liberate the spirit. If you have herbs, a fire container and charcoal, you can do this, too.
More Than Sage
In making a smudge stick you’re limited to herbs still on their stems. But with loose herbs on hot charcoal, the possibilities are boundless, with not only leafy herbs but resins such frankincense, sandalwood and other woods, plus seeds, flowers, berries and a plethora of essential oils.
Ooomph up a sage smudge with super purifiers like blue vervain. Add in protective herbs so that the vigorous cleansing doesn’t leave you vulnerable. Tailor the smudge for your event, using a rich, sweet myrrh and mugwort-based blend for the emotional openness of Moon ceremonies. Salute the Sun with a mix emphasizing rosemary and bay laurel for a sharp aroma that will quicken the mind.
A smudge can be fashioned for any sabbat, with Beltane and Summer Solstice bonfires having strong herbal traditions. A male-honoring smudge might be musky with highly spiced overtones. One for women could reflect their complexity, with sweet and warm aromas brightened with elements of green herbs and grounded with earthiness.
Here’s an example of a woman-honoring smudge:
Aroma: resinous – sweetly musky with spicy overtones
Ceremonial Use: purifications; Venus, Moon and women’s ceremonies
Significant Days: New and Full Moons; goddess and divine feminine days
Preparation Notes: Crush the cardamon pods, myrrh, sandalwood and valerian root, if necessary, and grind into a rough powder. Add thyme and blue vervain and blend.
cardamon (or cardamom) pods1/2 cup 1 part
myrrh resin 1 cup 2 parts
sandalwood 1/2 cup 1 part
thyme 1/4 cup 1/2 part
valerian root 1/2 cup 1 part
vervain, blue 1/2 cup 1 part
The warm aroma and purifying qualities of the lunar myrrh and sandalwood are paired with purification punch of blue vervain and thyme. Valerian provides relaxed grounding, while cardamon adds spice and pays tribute to Venus, the goddess of love. (See note about balancing with solar blends in Lunar Purification, below.)
More Than Smudge
You can push smudges a step further with adult-only blends that I call immersents. The smudges are done naked or lightly clothed. Active ingredients in the smoke are absorbed through bare skin and inhaled into the lungs. They should only be done with lung-buffering herbs like coltsfoot and great mullein to counter the stress of inhaling smoke.
Immersents are ideal for situations when you want to create a mind-altering effect in participants in a mild and gradual way so the gathering doesn’t go all wacko. Hibachi Herbal Magic is not for parties, but can be used to take your mind to new places.
Psychotropic herbs can be used to foster passion and induce trances, deepen divination and cause prophetic dreams. Some facilitate deep meditation. None should be used if driving within three hours of partaking.
Even if mind altering is not what you seek, you can guide your gatherings with non-ceremonial inhalants for sharpening the mind when folks have gotten too loose or chilling out when overly revved up.
It’s Better Together
One of the cool things about Hibachi Herbal Magic is the way it puts the herbs and their power at center stage. When being blessed with a smudge stick, I’m always aware of the person who’s doing the smudging. But with loose herbs on a hibachi of hot charcoal, it’s just the smoke and the smudgee.
Everyone’s been through the interminable wait while the circle is smudged with a stick. But with Hibachi Herbal Magic, to smudge a group of people they just have them stand downwind, or use large hand fans to direct the smoke. Using the Mesoamerican chalice technique you can still smudge people individually, while doing it quicker and with a more potent smoke.
Hibachi Herbal Magic can also sub for a Beltane or Summer Solstice bonfire in places where open fires are not allowed. A leap through the smoke of special seasonal herbs can be a perfect conclusion to a ceremony. It’s very tactile and memorable!
But the technique also excels for individuals and small groups. It’s an awesome experience to do Hibachi Herbal Magic alone; it’s like a dance with the smoke. Either way, you can even straddle the hibachi and smudge the goods!
The whole igniting-charcoal-in-the-hibachi thing can be intimidating for the barbeque-impaired. It all depends on the charcoal you use. Self-lighting charcoal briquettes are a breeze; one flick of a Bic will get them started.
Natural charcoal or regular briquettes are by far the more environmental option. Both use waste from lumber processing, with pre-charred wood scraps making natural charcoal and sawdust mixed with binder for briquettes. Or look for treeless briquettes made from coconut shells, which have a great aroma.
Use ethanol a plant-derived lighter gel, which is essentially liquefied Sterno, for the complete green approach. Using a charcoal chimney can will help the lighting process immensely.
Charcoal fires can a bit of an art, and a messy one at that, but worth it. The poised glowing fire of the hot embers provides a powerful focus point for any gathering. The clouds of smoke redolent with complex aromas can focus and entrance a crowd, quickly transporting them out of the ordinary in a very whole-bodied way.