(this is the second in a three-part series covering crystals, herbs, and rituals – to read the first article on crystals, click here)
In this installation, I want to go over the different herbs (no, not that kind of herb) that are available for personal protection, and all the various ways you can use them. Some of this comes from general metaphysical knowledge, some from kitchen witchery, some from old wise women’s practices, and some just from my own experimentation.
Again, as I said in the crystals article, personal protection is all about what works for you. These are just jumping off points for you to create your own path that works for you. The most important thing is that you connect with your rituals and your supplies – everything else is malleable.
Speaking of supplies…before we get started there are a few things you’re going to need to work with most of these herbs in different capacities. And what you use depends on how much you want to spend, because there are certain things made specifically for these purposes, but there are also everyday household items that can work just as well in many cases. Oh, and remember that local metaphysical store I’ve repeatedly urged you to find? Yeah, you can find the non-grocery store items you need from this list there.
So here are the basics:
1.) A lighter or matches (or flint, stone, and tiny kindling, if you’re feeling lucky)
2) Charcoal discs
3.) Something safe to burn an extremely hot charcoal in – this is one of the things that has specific products created for this purpose. There are small charcoal burners, small cauldrons and large cauldrons (don’t worry – you don’t have to cackle or say “double double toil and trouble”). But some things you have lying around the house will work just fine, too. The main consideration here is that the charcoal discs burn hot, and for a very long time. So whatever you find must be able to withstand that heat – like a metal pot, pan, cookie sheet, or cake pan. A cast iron skillet would work in a pinch, also.
4.) Something to distribute the smoke – another thing that you can buy or find at home. In the metaphysical stores, you will find amazing pieces that have been hand-crafted just for this purpose. They are made of feathers, and usually have a leather-wrapped handle of some sort, along with beading or other decoration. They are truly pieces of art, and I cannot wait until my bank account says I can have one. If you have to wait for permission like me, you can use a stiff piece of cardboard, a spiral notebook, or even your hand.
5.) A safe space to burn the herbs. Many of these create a large amount of smoke and a distinct, strong scent. It is best to work where there is ventilation (best case scenario – outside), and where your smoke alarm isn’t going to wake your neighbors at 3am. While we’re on the subject of neighbors, white sage smells quite a bit like marijuana, so you’ll want to make sure you either warn them beforehand, or have your innocent little herbs ready should police officers appear at your door. Probably won’t ever happen, as I’ve lived in all kinds of situations and never had it happen to me, but who really wants to take that chance?
6.) The herbs themselves. Duh.
Okay, I think we’re ready. Let’s do this thing…
The go-to metaphysical herb, this is the major-league hitter in the spiritual world when it comes to cleansing and general protection. White sage comes in three different ways – small bundles, large bundles, and loose. It is at its best when burned and smoldering, and there are (as I’m sure you’ve guessed) a few different ways to go about it.
The first way is by using the large or small bundle. How this works is actually pretty cool – you light the top of the bundle, where all the leaves are, until it gets a good flame going. Then you blow it out, and continue to blow at it for a few seconds to set it smoldering well. This should produce a pretty good amount of smoke, but if it doesn’t, just repeat the process until it does. (obviously, smaller bundles are going to produce much less smoke than larger ones)
Once you have it smoking, you’re ready to cleanse. You can use this for a small, personal space before doing a working, a meditation session, or prayers; or you can use it to cleanse a whole room or even your entire house. The way you will do this is largely personal, as any spiritual work is wont to be. The basic ritual is to travel around or through the space (or person, if you’re doing a personal cleansing), using whatever you have chosen as a fan to distribute the smoke. This process is called “smudging”, and it is an ancient tradition in Native American culture, as well as many others.
While you are spreading the smoke around, be sure to concentrate on any entrances or exits to the house or space – windows, doors, etc. – and also on the corners of each room. You can do this in silence if you prefer, or you can choose words of cleansing and blessing that suit you and your personal religious preferences. And this doesn’t have to be difficult or involved. It can be something as simple as, “I bless this (house, room, whatever) in the name of (God, Shiva, Hecate, whoever). May only love and light exist in this space.” See? Simple.
Another way to utilize white sage is to burn the loose leaves by themselves or in a mixture on a charcoal disc. To do this, you need to get your heat-safe receptacle, a lighter or matches, and your charcoal disc.
First, you light the charcoal by holding it with the concave side on top, then holding your lighter or match at the edge of it, slightly toward the top side. Don’t get discouraged if it takes a minute – sometimes they can be tricky to light. You’ll know you’ve succeeded when a line of sparks begins to make it’s way across the disc. This is the point where it gets incredibly hot, so once it starts sparking, quickly place it in whatever you’ve decided can take the heat.
After all the sparking is done, your charcoal is ready to burn, baby, burn. Sprinkle the loose sage or herb mixture on top of it, and it will begin to smoke. You can use this in the exact same manner you did the bundle(s), but you might want to procure a potholder if you’re going to be carrying it around with you.
Also, if you are wanting to use a mixture of the herbs below on a charcoal, you’ll need to keep extra of that mixture on hand, because what you sprinkle on the charcoal will burn out faster than you think. All you need to do when that happens is gently scrape off the burned herbs with the end of a lighter or something that is not your finger, and then sprinkle more. Lather, rinse, repeat.
In my opinion, the benefit of doing it the charcoal way is that I can use my preferred mixture, and I honestly hardly ever use just white sage. (My bundles usually end up as crumbles to make loose sage.)
So what other fun things can you throw on the coal? Here are the other top picks for personal protection, banishment, purification, cleansing, and ridding a space of negativity – in order of my favorites.
Rosemary: This one is a close second to white sage, for me, because aside from all its spiritual properties, it is representative of feminine energy and the feminine divine. This can be sprinkled (along with a little sea salt) in the corners of children’s rooms by their mother for protection. When burned, it aids in protection, purification, healing, and banishment of negativity. Rosemary is edible, and can be added to food for protection, as well. (Cook in soups, knead into bread dough, add to pot roast, chicken, etc.)
Whole Cloves: The bonus to this one is when you burn them, your house (or space) smells absolutely delicious. You can add this to any mixture or use it alone. Aids in banishing hostile or negative forces, clearing your mind, protection, cleansing,wisdom, and peace. These are edible, and can be added to food for protection, as well. (Cook with ham, add to tea, use in mulled wine…what? Wine is a food. Don’t judge.)
Mistletoe: The stems of the mistletoe plant are used, but the berries are highly poisonous. So please be careful if you are harvesting this in the wild, so to speak. This herb provides protection and helps to strengthen visions, and when burned it banishes evil. (And just think – you’ll always have a bag to hang over your head and finagle a kiss!)
Nettles: This is kind of a specific-use herb. It does a lot for the physical body, but when it comes to the metaphysical, nettles are what you want to have around if you suspect someone has been negatively affected by a curse or spell that needs removing. Burning this aids in that removal.
So there you have it – Mother Nature’s endless bounty. And it really is endless – there are hundreds of herbs for all different purposes, either available at your metaphysical shop, your local healthy food store, or a field near you. Some you burn, some you sprinkle, some you eat, and some you do all three.
The main thing I want you to remember is that She has provided all of these things for us, and given the stones and the herbs we’ve discussed special, specific energies. They’re out there. This is for real. These things have stood the test of time and come out still kickin’. We need to honor these gifts – it’s up to us to harness that power, and to use it for the good of ourselves, the greater good of all people, and the good of our sweet Mother.
Next week I’ll walk you through a few basic protection rituals. Until then, remember to practice safe spiritualism – and wrap up those herbs.