This is a contributed guest post.
I am newer than new to smudging. So when I was asked to test palo santo and sage smudging sticks for comparison, I had about a million questions for the Internet first.
Smudging, as I learned, is an ancient and sacred tradition that’s been integral to the spirituality of some indigenous peoples for thousands of years. Only in the past couple of decades has it peaked in the Western consciousness. Vibe-cleansing, energizing, and (in the case of palo santo wood), positivity-boosting, space clearing is welcomed in a variety of contexts, including home and office, meditation and yoga practice.
And as I discovered, the materials you start with - palo santo or sage, in this case - make a huge difference in the power and glory of your smudging ceremony. Hint: don’t smudge with sage for the first time in your tiny, tiny kitchen.
To test I observed palo santo and sage separately based on scent, the burning process, materials involved, price point, and the sense of space I derived from the experience.
Let’s get to it.
This ‘holy wood’ is native to the South American coastline and is referenced for hundreds of natural uses, including as a common cold remedy and for therapeutic healing. It’s typically sold in stick form, individually or in bundles. Palo santo is reusable - one 3-4 inch stick gives the user three or more smudging sessions. It has a raw, glowing look to it and was very chic on my kitchen counter.
The smell is sharp and clean. I have to bring my nose right up to it to take in the mix: mint, citrus, and vibrant jags of eucalyptus. It reminds me how I wish a shower in the woods would be. I sniff again and feel suddenly compelled to go for a run.
I hold a lit Bic lighter to a stick of palo santo and wait long enough for my fingers to start to singe. Feeling hasty, I light a sandalwood-scented candle to hold the stick under, and about twenty seconds later I have this enveloping flame. I watch it with a sort of trance-like admiration for a few seconds and then blow on it to cut the fire.
Thin, willowy strands of smoke pull off the stick as I move around my house, nudging into corners and letting the wood do its thing.
After I’ve covered the space, I take the stick back to its plate to tamp it down until the smoke disappears.
Lighter (or lighter and soy/beeswax unscented candle), fire-friendly plate/receptacle and the palo santo stick.
The kitchen area, despite having handled a pretty serious dinner scene only forty-five minutes earlier, feels and smells like a new room. I make a mental note to smudge the house after my next big cleaning spree. It felt like a blank, bright slate.
About eighty cents to a couple dollars per stick, depending on the volume you're buying.
Points for bright, delicious scent and minimal residual smoke the house after a full smudge ceremony loop. I liked how easy it was to handle in my hands and to put it out when I was done. It feels really minimal, like a simple and lovely tool to take with me anywhere, such as in my purse while I travel and maybe even in my car (with a responsible passenger!) on road trips for a quick clearing.
Salvia officinalis is a perennial subshrub with a long and varied history of practical uses. It contributes to everything from warding off evil to seasoning a holiday dinner. When bundled together to form a smudge stick, it becomes a utility in spiritual cleansing. Unlike palo santo wood, which is known for pulling in good energy while transferring the bad back out, sage is more focused on the baddies, and its tough and thickly-bundled exterior lends itself to visions of strength and protection. One sage stick typically lasts several smudging sessions.
The bundle smell reminds me of Christmas, treed and gregarious. A Vicks-like quality cuts through while the flaky leaves scratch my nose. It’s gigantic in scent; it’s familiar.
My place is small and so lighting a sizeable bundle of dried foliage in it did make me a little nervous. I panned over instructions for sage smudging three times before diving in. I held my lighter underneath the bundle, raw edge facing, and paced around the perimeter of the bundle with the lit lighter until heat started catching. A long line of smoke pulled up and the sage roasted. Licks of fire wrapped around the edges and I calmed it down with some light waving.
The sage took a little less as long to smoulder as the palo santo did, but once it got going, it really got going. I fast-walked around my place (clockwise ya’ll), focusing on smoke distribution. I felt like the Statue of Liberty, moving from room to room with this delightful torch. The smoke looked productive and smelled serious. From my bedroom to the living room, a thin film of smoke expanded in front of me.
After I’d visited every room, I returned the bundle to its tray, dabbing it out with firm motions, like sealing an envelope with a wax stamp.
Lighter (or lighter and soy/beeswax unscented candle), fire-friendly plate/receptacle and the sage stick. Pretty straightforward, like the palo santo.
What I quickly realized with the sage is that movement with smoke is benefited by focus. After smudging my house, I stepped back to observe the place through the stone grey layer and realized how absorbed I had been in the process. Points for present-mindedness.
After dabbing out the sage and going back to hanging out with my dog, I felt my nose flare up and my head swim. For my little home, the sage had an overpowering influence. It was hard to see past the smoke irritation growing between my eyes. When my boyfriend came home from rock climbing, he cracked all our windows and lit the sandalwood candle to try to flush it out.
$12.00CAD for two smudging sticks, purchased locally and wrapped in sweet tissue paper.
As an experience, sage smudging provided me with more richness in terms of art and focus. While smudging, everything feels honed in to this smoke source. As the human in the process, I felt soothed, strengthened and completely dialed. But afterward, I had to sit with so. much. smoke. I would definitely be in to using sage again, but maybe not in a 700 square foot garden home. Give me your stadiums.
Although the sage smudge made me feel mighty and focused, palo santo wins for scent, smoke quality and sense of space. I love the smell of palo santo (can I have it in perfume now?) and as a frantic dog mom I revelled in the efficient pacing in the palo santo smudge. I feel a little less new to the whole deal but certain I'm a palo santo fan for now.
Sage fans, I love you. To each his or her own.