Smudge is, at its most basic, just dried sage that you burn to purify your home or items, such as things you might buy from a second-hand store. You can buy it loose or tied up in a little bundle like in the picture. The kind you use to purify things is not the kind you have in your spice cabinet. Many different kinds can be used, but most prefer white sage, which is what's pictured. You can usually get white sage bundles at Whole Foods or any kind of metaphysical store. Otherwise, there are tons of online sources to use. One thing to know is that many say burning sage smells like marijuana, so you might not want to smudge just before you go out the door to visit the local police station.
Sage is one of four sacred Native American herbs used for ceremony, purification and healing. The others are cedar, sweetgrass and tobacco (or, alternately, lavender). Often you can find bundles with more than one of these herbs included.
What kinds of things might you "smudge" or "sage" or purify with sacred smoke? You might smudge a house you're trying to sell or a previously owned item you've received to release the energies of the previous owner. If you buy crystals or other metaphysical items, you might want to smudge them to clear any energy that gathered before you bought them. You might smudge yourself as part of a healing ritual. And if you're taking part in a spiritual ceremony, the facilitator might smudge you upon arrival. Most likely, though, you'll probably be smudging your own home to release negative vibes, ease a change or transition, clear out stale energy or as part of a regular energy cleansing of your home.
How do you smudge? It depends on what you're smudging. If it's an object, just light the sage until it catches fire. Then blow the flame out and let it smoulder. Then just run the object through the smoke, like you're bathing it in the smoke. That's it. The sage will probably go out on its own, but if you have a stick, you can douse it in sand or earth.
Sweetgrass puts out less smoke than sage and needs to be re-lit more often.
The braids are usually a couple of feet long. I keep a sweetgrass braid in my
car as an air freshener. It has a sweet, fresh, vanilla-like scent.
If you want to get fancier, then it's good to know what each of the herbs does. Sage and cedar remove negativity, heal and purify. Sweetgrass and lavender draw in positive vibes. You'll find a lot of different thoughts on what I've just said and that's OK. Really, any of the herbs can be used to cleanse. Sometimes cedar is used on the heels of sage to purify after negativity is removed. And sometimes lavender is used to call in beneficial spirits. What's most important is the intention you place behind the smudging.
To smudge a home for any of the reasons mentioned above (though for harmful ghosts, you will probably want a professional's help), light the sage stick on fire and blow out the flame. You will probably have to re-light the sage several times during this process, so bring your lighter with you. Start at the North end of your home on the lowest floor and "bathe" the space, following inner perimeter of your home in a counter-clockwise direction (in other words, move from north to west to south to east). By bathing the space, I mean blow the smoke toward your walls and into corners, wave the stick up and down and make sure the smoke gets everywhere, including in the middle of the room and in closets. All the time you're doing this, you can repeat your intention, such as "this sacred smoke cleanses and removes all negativity from this space."
Once you're done with the lowest floor, then move up to the next floor and the next until you've cleansed all levels of your home, moving in a counter-clockwise direction, starting on each floor on the North wall and repeating your intention throughout. Then you can open your windows long enough to air out your home, if you like. Or you can just let the smoke settle in there. It depends on your tolerance and preference for that sort of thing.
Most won't have to go far to find a some cedar to burn. It's always nice
to use homegrown ingredients when you can.
You can stop there and that's cool. You'll probably notice your home feels more lighter and more open. Your house should now have neutral energy. But if you'd like, you can repeat the process IN REVERSE with sweetgrass to draw positive energies in. So in this case, you start in the North on the top floor moving clockwise (or north to east to south to west.) Then work your way down from the top level of your home, all the while repeating your intention, such as "I fill this space with light and positive energy." As an FYI, sweetgrass has to be lit more often than sage, so don't be discouraged if it's more difficult to work with.
Now, as I said before, you can buy smudge bundles with multiple herbs in them. If that's the case, then I would just follow the instructions above for sage. Personally I prefer doing the separate thing. And my habit is to add the sweetgrass step maybe every other time I sage. If you google "smudging ceremonies" along with the specific purpose you want to smudge for, you should find tons of information to help you accomplish your goals. Mine is just one way to do it. Again, the intention behind it is more important than the steps you take.
Whether you believe the smoke has any "power" or not, sometimes just the ritual of doing something like this can help release emotional things we're holding on to. Even when done symbolically, it could be just thing you need to draw a line in the sand between yesterday and a new tomorrow.