Why Should One Smudge?
After almost a life time of being involved with everything and anything to do with Paw-paus, Pow-wows and Gatherings, except vending, with my own people, it has been a great pleasure to spend the last several years with a friend going throughout Indian country joining in on other nations' Pow-wows and Gatherings.
We are what you would call retired, me because of cardiomyopathy (congestive heart failure) Her because she just discovered her Shawnee/Cherokee bloodline and wishes to help others that want to know about their ancestors. Plus, she would like to help bring back Native American culture.
Because I am also a Vietnam Veteran with a POW/MIA friend a Chiricahuas Apache,
I go into their Circle for Grand Entry to pray for my Apache friend, Timmy, and to enjoy dancing and friendship.
My Shawnee/Cherokee friend on the other hand, feels more comfortable sitting back and watching.
She sells Native books to help pay expenses. She enjoys doing this because she loves books and she gets to share her knowledge and her books with the people that enter her tent. Most people in her line of work just sell books. She, on the other hand, teaches about her books.
One day I asked, "Why don't you go into a Circle?" "I do not feel worthy," was her answer. Knowing her for these last several years, I was taken aback with this answer. She continued,
"I stand around my tables inside our tent," she told me, "and I see people coming into the Powwow grounds with dark hearts.
Some are fighting with each other; others are yelling at their children or using bad language. Some are dressed not becoming someone who is about to go to church. They come from their cars and walk right into that Circle as if everything was fine.
"If there is a Supreme Being" she said, "one would wonder why all people would not wish to cleanse themselves before going into that presence." If one goes into a Circle with a bad heart, one could pollute those around them."
She does not wish any of their bad vibrations. This is just one of the many reasons for writing this chapter. The ways to smudge or clean your mind and area around you are many, and it mostly depends on which area of Indian Country you are from. I do not believe it to be all that important as to a correct way to smudge as it is to make sure your heart and mind are in the right place so that you feel the need to smudge.
If a person is involved in an honest smudging ceremony, that person should act and feel differently than before the ceremony. An American native should never allow smudging while people are taking pictures - N E V E R--smudging as a ceremony between you, the one smudging and the Creator.
A Catholic would never go into their church without first blessing themselves with their holy water. A person of the Jewish religion would never go into their synagogue without first covering their head.
We the American natives of Indian Country should never go into our Circle without first getting ourselves right with the Creator.
Some people believe that a Smudging Ceremony should be done privately --for them, this is correct. Some people believe that they must only be smudged by a medicine person -- for them, this is correct. The only important thing should be that you feel a cleansing of anything evil.
You should feel a peace of mind and a need to fellowship while in your Circle. My three favorite words are "Before first contact." That would be a time before our way was polluted by other than Native culture. The West Coast Indians (the Siouan-speaking language) used sage because sage grows plentifully around that area. The Plains Indians (the Siouan/Abenaki-speaking language) used sweet grass, a tall sweet smelling grass that grows in area that the buffalo should still be roaming around in, and they also use some sage.
The East Coast Indians (Algonquian-speaking language) used tobacco, cedar, and other herbs, such as kinnick/ kinnick -- no need for a fire. I can remember a time once, when I was very young, my grandfather, Sachem Tallfox, returned from a meeting out West -- a trip to help do land claims with another tribe. I am not sure which nation he was visiting at this time for I was very young,
At one of our monthly meetings at the church, he was teaching our people about the ways of our brothers and sisters over west of the Mississippi River, and how they do their smudging. It was at that time that we in our area included sage and sweet grass, along with our herbs while smudging. As my grandfather explained, our brothers and sisters out West and the Natives here in the East can now spend more time in prayer by using all of the things provided by our mother, Mother Earth. The Christians go to a church and pray, Jews go to a synagogue to pray and Muslims go to a mosque and pray.
The Siouan-speaking nations have what they call a Sun Dance that they go to for prayer; therefore, they do not get all that involved with smudging a Circle. After first contact, our non-Native brothers and sisters tell us that we must have some kind of meetings at least once a year, or we as a nation cannot be recognized as a people. So the Siouan-speaking people have a Gathering once a year that they can invite others to and enjoy a weekend. An East Coast nation that is the people who live within an area from the Atlantic to the Mississippi River, and from Canada to Mexico, do what was called a Pau-waus (Gathering of the People).
Today it is known as a Pow-wow. This is our church; we do consider this to be very sacred. Smudging our Circle
The first thing we must understand before going any further would be that only the Creator can bless anyone or anything.
After the Circle has been marked off and the Fire Keeper does what the Fire Keeper needs to do, the Keeper of the Circle can start cleaning and clearing the Circle and the area around the Circle. There is no set limit of how many people go about clearing this area; it is up to the Keeper of the Circle as to how many help. Once the Keeper is sure the area is safe for the dancers and clean of any unsightly mess, the Keeper should start the smudging of the area that is as long as it is being done long before any of the public starts arriving.
Again, there is no limit to the number of people helping -- this is up to the Keeper of the Circle. The Keeper of the Circle should start at the fire, light the smudge bowl medicine from the fire and start smudging the evil out of the Circle. First, the Keeper, while still facing the fire, starts smudging, stopping at each gate for prayer and guidance. Now when the Fire Keeper gets back around to the east, the Keeper should turn and face the east gate. The Keeper of the Circle usually starts smudging once again, while still standing at the fire, working around the Circle four times, stopping at each gate again for prayer and guidance. Once back facing the east gate, the Keeper should take one large step toward the east gate and start around the Circle again four times. This needs to be done until the Circle is completely cleansed and you can step out of the east gate. At the time just before Grand Entry, while the Keeper of the Circle is smudging dancers and flags with a talking feather in the left hand, the Keeper asks for a chance to speak to the dancers. It is at this time that the Keeper of the Circle asks everyone if they would place all of their bad feelings, gossiping, and bitterness on the ground outside of the east gate before entering through to dance.
Usually just before the prayer and before the Veterans' Dance, the Creator will be asked to come to the east gate to please remove all of the bad feelings and come in to the Circle to bless it for our Gathering.
Smudging Your Home or Other Property, to take a smudge bowl home and smudge a building takes a lot of concentration on the part of the person doing the smudging. The first thing that must be talked about is that many people wish to smudge their home to help get rid of spirits. I can see that no one should want the Trickster (coyote) running around your home causing trouble; however, remember good spirits are around you also, and these good spirits can and will help you if you will let them. We also have a third spirit around a home once in a while -- this spirit is one that became a spirit because of something very traumatic while in this life. This tragedy more than likely was not the fault of that spirit, and the spirit is lost and confused. This spirit only wishes to get help to cross to the good path. If one really wishes to do smudging, you need to do it correctly.
Sachem Walkingfox A Vietnam Vet