The Art of Smudge:
More than Smoke & Mirrors
(extracts from ‘Re-enchanting the Forest’ by William Ayot)
Let me learn the lessons you have hidden in every leaf & stone.
Chief Yellow Lark
‘Smudging is an age-old ritual that involves the purification of people & places with the smoke of particular plants, herbs & resins, each with their own distinctive scents & properties…I held the intention to clear away the miasma of stale old feelings that had engulfed me…’
The few lines above capture in a nutshell the immense potency of what at first glance appears to be a very simple act, the art of purification. This is a pre-ritual ritual, the getting ready to enter liminal space, the realm of the sacred.
‘Purification rituals using smoke, water or salt are common to most cultures, & are familiar to many of us, be that through dense clouds of joss sticks at Taoist temples in Hong Kong, the throwing of salt by the sumo wrestlers, or the simple Judaic washing of hands before a Shabbat meal. The aim is to clear the individual or area of impurities & by extension, spiritual, psychic, or energetic clutter – though from a lay perspective you could say it simply serves to settle the individual or group into the right frame of mind, a useful bookmark to separate the time of ritual from the humdrum daily round…’
We as Druids, practicing ‘ritualists’ (even if is only a matter of yourself taking part in the eight fire festivals of the Druid calendar through the year) need to refine our own individual & group smudging to a precise yet delicate art. From the gathering, making & use of the ingredients, every stage of the process is done with ‘heart felt thanks’.
Smudge - Foraged Love
‘As a Native elder might say, you need to enter a ceremony with a clear heart, so that you can pray, chant, or walk in a scared manner…I came to grasp the power of smudging & to realise that I could also use the occasion to focus my own attention where it needed to be – on the person I was smudging in the moment – inside & out…’
There are a myriad ways & preferences when it comes to smudging, over time you may have already developed your own manner of smudging or just may be embarking on developing this, what I feel to be an essential skill, the art & act of smudging.
‘This can involve a jolly, conversational way of preparing both site & participants, intercut with moments of penetrating observation, fierce attention, & most important of all, perhaps, a perceptible flow of energy from the smudger to the person they are smudging…While some practitioners smudge people with meticulous care & intensity, concentrating on the person before them, others would smudge as if casually playing a musical instrument: not quite cool, not quite self-conscious, but a performance that drew people into the process nonetheless…occasionally an experienced practitioner would give an individual more time than others, though always somehow referring to the group as a whole…gradually, watching & practicing these various forms of smudging, I found a balance between religiously ‘getting it right & a laid back comedic routine, so that smudging become a natural, ‘un-thought’, emotionally engaged, yet instinctive process that allowed what needed to arise to do so…’’
In order to reach the point where you can shape ***nwyfre effectively through any of the symbols – the elements, pentagrams, stations of the Wheel – you need to make the transition from theory to practice. We must continue to develop the methods by which we can consciously choose to adapt, modify & transform our various subtle bodies (energy fields of nwyfre etc.) & thereby, as magickal theory posits, our life also.
Through these changes we are then, hopefully, fashioning ourselves as better & clearer tools for the will of Universe or the Scared Ones (being in balance, harmony & spiritual growth). Thus 'smudging' is a simple yet very effective way of beginning to work on our subtle bodies.
***Three Druid Elements
Druid Revival lore contains a system of its own, a set of three elements that first appears in Iolo Morganwg's writings. Whether it's an invention of Iolo's or a surviving scrap of some older teaching is anyone's guess, but the three elements have been part of Druid Revival teaching ever since his time. Their names are nwyfre, gwyar, & calas.
•Nwyfre (pronounced "NOOiv-ruh") is an old Welsh term meaning "sky" or "heaven." As an element, nwyfre is the source of life & consciousness, & modern Druids often refer to it simply as the life force. Its image in nature is blue sky.
•Gwyar (pronounced "GOO-yar") literally means "blood" in old Welsh, but its more general meaning is "flow" or "fluidity." As an element, gwyar is the source of change, motion, growth, & decay. Its image in nature is running water.
•Calas (pronounced "CAH-lass") comes from the same root as caled, Welsh for "hard," & means "solidity." As an element, calas is the source of form, differentiation, manifestation, & stability. Its image in nature is stone.