A few years ago, I led a smoke cleansing (smudge) stick making workshop at the OBOD’s East Coast Gathering event. As that event often has upwards of 100 attendees, I spent months growing and harvesting materials for the event so that everyone could make 1-2 sticks. Sure enough, everyone got to make some smudge sticks and the workshop went great. After the workshop, one of my friends and event fire tenders, Derek, came up to me and asked me about the leftover materials. I had been placing them in a paper bag, and had planned on taking them home to make more sticks or return to the land. He said, “I want to make a smudge bomb and send healing smoke to this entire land.” I said, “Yes, what a great idea!” So we tightly bundled up the remainder of the material, which filled at least 1/3 of the paper grocery bag, and wrapped it with the same cloth string. The next day, as the Ovates were meeting around the fire circle in preparation for the ritual, he brought out the smudge bomb. The previous night’s fire had been a particularly large one, and in the morning, it still contained the embers from the fire the night before. Derek carefully placed the smudge bomb into the glowing embers. It worked just as we hoped: it smoldered and sent up a healing and blessing smoke into the surrounding land. And it lasted quite a long time! Ever since that experience, I’ve been working with fire in different ways to think about how we might use fire and smoke to bless and heal large spaces, and how we can also make offerings in thanks to fire, humanity’s oldest friend and companion. Today’s post compiles some of those ideas, big and small and is a follow-up to my ancestral Beltane fire post from last week.
Land Healing through Fire and Smoke: A Fire and Smoke Ritual in Three Parts
Using the “smudge bomb” experience for inspiration, I developed a larger technique for using fire and smoke for land healing and blessing, creating specific ritual objects that are created in a sacred manner and then burned to send that energy, by way of smoke and wind, to far off places. As I described in my earlier series on land healing, land healing comes in many forms. Energetic healing or palliative care can be useful in situations where the land is actively under duress (which unfortunately describes many places on earth currently), where physical land healing (through permaculture, seed scattering, etc) is not an option. One of the challenges with land healing, particularly on a larger scale, is that you don’t always have physical access to the land you want to heal. I do think that doing rituals directly on the lands you want to heal is most effective–but doing something else at a distance can be equally as effective if you have some good way of transmitting that energy. Thus, this ritual technique is very useful for spaces, far and wide, that are otherwise inaccessible: around here that would be large swaths of logging, strip mines, polluted waterways, etc. It is also very useful for healing more distant concerns: the plight of polar bears in the Arctic or deforestation in the Amazon, the oceans, or some other “far away” issue. Or maybe you want to do land healing working for the entire globe. Thus, this technique is one that you can use to send healing and blessing energy to the lands nearby–or quite distant, using air and smoke as a carrier.
Smoke is often seen in today’s culture very negatively primarily because of our challenging relationship with tobacco: we have secondhand smoke, smoking as a harmful and life-threatening, smoke from wildfires causing issues, and much more. And yet, smoke cleansing and blessing practices have been used throughout human history and in many cultures as a blessing and purifying agent (this link has a nice overview; this link is a study of over 250 plants used in smoke healing around the world). In the druid tradition and in other pagan traditions, we use these practices quite a bit: through smoke cleansing (smudge) sticks, incense, using tree resins– smoke helps us call in and establish air in ceremonies and connect deeply with that element. We often use smoke clearing, incense, and similar such things on a smaller scale–but why not consider it on a large scale for land healing or blessing?
Thus this technique has three parts. Each of these three parts has both a physical component and an energetic component. The parts are:
1. Creating a bundle or object that will turn to smoke and bring that energy, through the currents of the air, to other places.
2. Creating a fire in a sacred manner and opening a sacred space.
3. Burning and releasing the bundle and directing energy.
(And then, of course, closing out your space and giving thanks. )
Part 1: Making Your Healing Bundle / Healing Object
Now, I’ll walk through some potential options for how to create your own healing bundle. I am giving you options below to spark your own creativity, s. Before we get into the bundles, I want to offer a few general principles:
- *Everything* in these bundles should be all natural, coming directly from nature. This is because you are burning the objects, so obviously, you don’t want to burn something that pollutes the air. So for example, if you are using string, it should be cotton, hemp or jute (string can be plastic), wax (use soy wax or beeswax). Because non-natural materials can release harmful chemicals into the air, thereby rendering any particular healing work you want to do ineffective.
- Like most magical workings, I think its less important the physical form it takes and more the intentions you bring with it. Work with what you have and don’t worry about replicating what I have here–rather, create things from your local environment that speaks to you.
- Look for opportunities: a fallen conifer branch, a neighbor trimming a hedge of rosemary or hemlock, a huge number of pinecones, abundant material on your own land, etc.
- At the same time, a larger size bundle certainly does give a good ritual effect, which is something you might want to consider. Small ones work great too, but large ones burn longer, giving you more time to focus healing energies in a particular direction.
There are two kinds of bundles you can make: things that are meant to smolder and things that are meant to burn. Things that smolder are more traditionally used like incense on coals and are designed to be added to existing coals or a slow burning fire. Things that burn, on the other hand, are designed to burn when a fire is hot (and usually are wooden in some way).
Some Possibilities for Things that Smolder:
The Herbal Healing Bundle: This technique uses a bundle of aromatic dried healing herbs, very similar to the “smudge bomb” I described in my opening–a mix of carefully chosen herbs for their healing effects. You can design a specific bundle for a specific healing purpose based on the herbs that you choose (see my list here). I like to create these at the end of the season when I’m clearing out my garden, and I have to cut plants back anyways. This is also a great use of the stalks of plants; so if I’m harvesting sage, rosemary, wormwood, tobacco, and other plants after I harvest the leaves, I am often left with a lot of stalk matter that I don’t know what to do with–and it goes in the bundle. Any material (other than poison ivy) would work fine for such a bundle, but I think it’s particularly good with aromatic healing herbs that burn well–rosemary, sage, thyme, mint, scented geranium, wormwood, mugwort, etc. For this technique, if you are using dried herbs, I suggest using a paper bag (which you can write your intentions on and then place the herbs inside) and wrapping it tight with cotton string. Depending on the nature of the herbs, you might be able to make your bundle without the bag, especially if you have a lot of long plant stalks, etc. If you are using green/fresh herbs, you probably want to just bundle them without the bag using cotton string so that they will have a chance to dry out. If you don’t grow your own herbs and/or don’t do wild foraging, this option probably isn’t as good for you as it requires a good amount of herbs, and obtaining them may be more cost-prohibitive. Never fear, there are many other options!
The Resin and Herb Bundle: Conifer resins are a great addition to the herbal healing bundle; they smolder and produce a very good deal of smoke and last for a long time. You can add conifer resins to a standard herbal healing bundle or use them on their own. You don’t want to throw these directly in a fire; they are better off smoldering on coals. You can also add conifer needles and branches, which will sometimes crackle and pop.
Pine cone / Herb Bundle: Pine cones make great smoldering options, as they often contain a lot of resin in them. I like to sprinkle my pine cones with herbs and then bind them together.
Shapes, Rings, and Effigies: Rather than putting your materials in a bag, you might instead choose to shape some form–a wreath, for example, offers additional symbolism. Certain kinds of herbs and plants are obviously better for this than others. An easy way to do this is to get a wooden ring started (see my instructions here for how I did this for a different project) and then from there, you can use cotton string to wrap dried or fresh herbs around the ring, layering until you have something you are happy with.
Things that Burn:
The Conifer Bundle: Conifer trees love to burn, and many of them have needles that are flamable, even when they are green and not dried out. Eastern white cedar and other cedars, in particular, go up well. You can create a bundle of fresh or dried conifer boughs (or create a wreath or other shape). This would be a good way to use up material from your Yule tree or else if you or a neighbor were trimming hedges of confiers, etc. Bundle them up with cotton string and watch the sparks fly!
The Wax and Herb Bundle: An alternative to the large bundle described above uses beeswax candles wraped in herbs. Beeswax will burn very brightly and leave off a powerful light, and thus, is particularly good when you want to be bringing energy into a situation. Take 1-2 beeswax candles (or a small brick of beeswax) and then layer the outside with herbs. Or, you can heat wax up till it’s just soft, and then, roll herbs into the candle. When you throw this into the fire, it will burn brightly and send energy outward quickly.
The Wooden Message Bundle: A final option is to use wood itself to fashion something–a bundle of sticks, wrapped with messages or healing words. A wooden round with wood burning or natural ink messages, a wooden object bound together with string; a vine wreath with tucked-in messages, and so on. The sky is really the limit here.
This first photo is for a simple healing for my own land; working with a wooden slab that I created and later burned ritually. My own land was damaged through logging the year before I bought it, and I’ve been doing a lot of healing work here. Burning this in a central fire helped send that blessing energy out to the land (and after burning it, to help further the intention, I did some cleaning up of a burn pile left by the previous owners that I had found a few weeks earlier).
The second was a more in-depth bundle I created for holding space for species in decline and in danger of extinction and for ecosystems under direct threat. Each of the sticks in the bundle was a message that I wrote and tied to each stick; each stick became part of the larger bundle, which I sealed with wax. Each of these prayers was global in nature, thus, the smoke would carry the energy where it needed to go.
Part 2: A Sacred Fire
The bundles can be made anytime in advance of your fire ritual. You can also make them together, as a grove or group of people. To do your ritual itself, you can choose an aspicious day for your ritual (a full moon, a new moon, one of the wheel of the year holidays, etc). I used Beltane for my most recent bundles–which are what the photos are of in this post.
If you can, I suggest building the fire intentionally and using traditional techniques (or in the least, not starting your fire with fossil fuels like lighter fluid–this is a healing ceremony, and using fossil fuels which are causing so much ecological damage sends the wrong signal and energetically, has issues).
Prior to starting your fire, I suggest that you open up a sacred space using whatever method you typically use (for druids, this might include declaring peace in the quarters, calling in the four elements, saying the druid’s prayer, and casting a circle or protective sphere around the space). Once you’ve set up your sacred space, light your fire and tend it till you have what you need: good coals you can rake into an open area (for the smoldering bundles) or a blaze (for the burnables).
Part 3: Burning Your Bundle and Sending Energy Out
Once you are ready, place your bundle before you. I like to do an elemental blessing of my bundle at the fire, blessing it with the four elements: earth, air, fire, and water, inviting those elements into the bundle to help with the healing work. You could do other things here, for example, if you are a reiki practitioner, you could send some reiki energy into the bundle, etc. You might also raise energy in the bundle in other ways; drumming a steady beat into the bundle also works great.
State your intentions for the bundle, and offer it to the fire. Observe as it burns, watching it and seeing if you see any messages within the fire. As it burns, you want to envision that energy going to where you want it to–that the winds take that energy to the places you wish it to travel. This may take some time, and my suggestion is to hold space for the duration of the bundle burning and smoldering. You might also do other things to help the energy get there: drum, dance, sing, etc.
Once you are done, close out the space, and if at all possible, allow the fire to burn out naturally.