Shamanic Practices and the Use of Incense – A Deep Dive

Shamanic Practices and the Use of Incense A Deep Dive

For centuries across many cultures and time periods incense has been used for its fragrant smell, calming effects, and for sacred purposes. It is made from various scented plant materials and burnt to release smoke into the air.

Harvesting and drying herbs is a wonderful time-consuming activity that connects us to the soul and power of plants for spiritual, ceremonial and magic use.

Burning Ritual

In the past and in many cultures, smoke cleansing has been a powerful ritual practice. It’s a way of leaving behind that which no longer serves us, clearing space for what does, and creating an inspirational mindset of new beginnings.

Burning ceremonies are often done on meaningful holidays like New Year’s Eve to help release the past and welcome in what is to come. This can be a deeply moving experience and can help you feel cathartic in leaving behind what no longer serves you.

To perform this ceremony, it’s important to be in a calm and peaceful state of mind, so make sure you are in a safe place where nothing can catch fire or cause harm. It’s also recommended that you write down what you want to let go of on a piece of paper, then ignite it in a bowl or other safe container. You can choose to add scents to this as well – lavender is a great relaxant, while rose or jasmine are natural aphrodisiacs, and vetiver and cedar are grounding.


Smudging is a spiritual practice involving burning herbs, plants or resin to create purifying smoke. It is a popular ritual among Indigenous peoples of the Western hemisphere and has become increasingly popular with non-Indigenous folks as well.

Smudges are often led by an elder or spiritual leader, such as a shaman. But they can also be performed alone. Grandmother Walks on Water notes that it’s important to use the correct herbs for smudging, adding that certain herbs dispel specific energies – sage is known to clear negativity, while sweetgrass brings in positive energy.

To smudge, a person will hold the bundle of herbs in one hand while using their other to fan and distribute the smoke. They will then pray, asking for negative energy to leave and positive energy to enter the space. The ashes from the burned medicinal herbs are then deposited onto the ground, symbolizing respect for the Earth and all that she offers.

Rituals of Cleansing

Many different cultures and religions use incense to help cleanse and purify their physical spaces. The fragrant smoke is believed to carry prayers and offerings up to the gods or spirits, allowing the user to connect with their spiritual side.

Different types of incense have unique properties and scents, which make them ideal for specific purposes. For example, sage is a great incense for cleansing because it is known to bind and remove negative energy. Other popular options include cedar and juniper, both of which are known for their healing properties and protective qualities.

Regardless of the purpose for using incense, it is important to note that all incense should be ethically and organically sourced. This ensures that the herbs and resins have been grown without any harmful chemicals. It is also recommended to always burn incense in a well-ventilated area and keep the embers away from any flammable objects.

Rituals of Healing

The shaman treats illness at the soul level. Shamans are able to communicate directly with the spirits of nature (including rocks and trees) and spirits of animals and people such as their ancestors. They use a trance state to gain this information and to heal themselves, their patients and others.

Often shamans use medicinal plants native to their region and will use medicine songs to evoke spirit helpers called power animals. They may also wear a mask or headdress, and they will often drum or use a metal rattler to bring themselves into a trance state for healing or spiritual journeying.

In some hunter cultures, shamans are called upon to find game animals, placate angry deities, guide new ghosts into the afterlife realm and even hex enemies in war. This detached style of shamanism differs from the more introspective, disciplined practices of highly organized religions, which are less likely to produce a trance-like state and have limited capacity to heal.