Published on 1 December 2019 in the Philippine STAR.
I think it began when I decided to clean my room.
I’m a firm believer that the state of your living space is a reflection of your internal and mental state, and mine, after the tumultuous and messy ending of a ‘situationship’ that had gone on for far too long and hurt far too much, had become just as tumultuous and messy as I was inside. I felt an intense urge to clean, which I did, bit by bit. It felt therapeutic, as though by getting my things back in order, I was getting myself back in order, too.
But when I finished cleaning and everything was once again in its right place, something still felt wrong. I felt like I needed to do more. Like cleaning wasn’t enough, like I wanted to burn the recent past away somehow. I wanted to watch it go up in smoke, and then blow away the ashes. And only then would I be able to start over, start fresh.
I don’t consider myself particularly superstitious (says the girl who reads the Tarot, has at least five astrology apps, and blames everything on Mercury Retrograde) but when several friends suggested smudging my space with white sage and palo santo, I might have raised an eyebrow for a few seconds. And then I remembered how much I believe in the power of ritual, and decided to give it a chance.
Smudging is a ceremony that is meant to cleanse a space or a person of negative energy with the smoke of sacred herbs. It’s derived from Native American tradition, though many cultures have used smoke in rituals for similar purposes. Essentially, what was being suggested (by a surprisingly large number of people I knew!) was that I smoke all the bad feelings out of myself, out of my room, and out of my life. It was a little woo-woo (my new favorite word these days), but it was also exactly what I was looking for: a ritual exorcism of sorts.
Friends started jumping in to point me in the right direction. “Sage clears all energies, good and bad,” explained one in the US. “And palo santo drives out the negative and brings in the good,” chimed in another in France. Later in the week, yet another friend sent me a white sage bundle and a stick of palo santo to burn, with a mother-of-pearl shell for the ashes. (All four elements are represented in smudging: earth, in the herbs; fire, in the flame used to light the herbs; water, in the shell used to catch the ash; and air, in the smoke.)
I cracked open a window, giddily lit a candle, then set my sage bundle alight, letting the sweet-smelling smoke waft around myself, then from my doorway, all through my room, then out the doorway again. I repeated the process with the even better smelling stick of fragrant palo santo. And I really can’t tell you if I believe that doing that changed anything physically. Some people on the Internet claim that sage clears airborne bacteria and releases negative ions. I don’t know how true that is; I certainly don’t think I made enough smoke to burn out all the germs in the air. But I know that doing the ritual did something for me, emotionally.
I had already cleaned my space physically. And now, I felt like I had done something that cleaned it energetically. It was a symbolic clearing of the slate. Maybe there is no science behind it, but there were intentions, and my intentions made it real to me. That was what mattered: I wanted that lingering sadness gone. I wanted my resentment gone. I wanted a blank page upon which to write new hopes and good intentions.
If blowing fragrant smoke around a space can help shift one’s mindset for the better and burn out negativity, if it can make someone feel a little more new, then it can only be a good thing. I burn palo santo every night now, to remind myself to let go of anything bad that might have happened during the day, and to remind myself to stay open to any and all goodness still to come. To stay positive, to stay hopeful. It’s a lovely thing to do before going to sleep.Continue reading