from StarLight Hands by Heather Eggleston (2014)
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, Infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
– William Blake
To maintain our energetic integrity we must remain aware of our personal light. This means that we must be strong and consistent in our personal cleansing practices. Practical day to day living puts us in con- tact with myriad contaminants physical and energetic. Therefore it is important we leave space in our lives to cleanse those poisons away and maintain the unique flavor of our own light distilled. Cleansing removes the energetic scent of others and rids us of most attachments. It is most important that particularly sensitive people, energy workers, and anyone who works closely with others take their cleansing practices very seriously. How we choose to cleanse is personal but there are a number of traditional practices that many have found useful for hundreds to thousands of years.
The best and most powerful forms of cleansing are those which take us into the natural world. A dip in the salty waters of mother ocean or communion within the hollowed out trunk of an ancient redwood cleanses, purifies, and protects more effectively than anything else we could possibly imagine. Soaking in the light of the full moon is perhaps the most potent cleanse I know. The cleansing practices suggested below echo the power of the great natural cleanses to engage us on an elemental level. We are elemental beings made of bone, water, heat, and mist. Earth, water, fire, and air. When we cleanse we commune with these elemental forces, clearing away the residue of civilized living to remind ourselves of our wild and dynamic power within the All.
The use of aroma to purify and cleanse a space is ancient. The Bible tells of frankincense and myrrh, both aromatic resins, as gifts to Jesus. The tomb of King Tut in Egypt had essential oils and resins buried within. The burning of sacred herbs has been used multi-culturally for cleansing and medicinal purposes. The Catholic Church uses thuribles filled with aromatic resins such as copal to represent prayers lifting toward God. Moxibustion in Chinese medicine involves the burning of the sacred herb mugwort to clear Chi. The olfactory effect, scent, is the most primal of our senses. It bypasses the conscious mind completely and automatically lifts us into another space. In the rituals of purification by fire and air (the burning and breathing of herbs) we honor the Earth from which the herbs were born, bathe in their fragrant power, and share our light with theirs.
Burning resinous incense is one of the most ancient traditional ways to cleanse. Frankincense (Boswellia thurifera) is a resin that looks like golden tears fallen from the trees. It has a warming quality and is used medicinally as a powerful anti-inflammatory. Frankincense evokes the Sun in splendor and is considered a masculine botanical and as such is a fitting gift for a newborn king. In the Catholic Church frankincense is used to purify in much the same way as sage (see below) is in American Indian traditions. Myrrh (Commiphora myrrha) is a tonic for the female reproductive system and considered a feminine botanical. It is also used for tooth and gum care, in cosmetics, and to calm the energetic and physical systems. It was used in funerary preparations and embalming. When Mary Magdalene washed the body of Jesus she was surely carrying myrrh. So while frankincense celebrates the birth of the Sun so myrrh solemnizes the death. These resins, along with benzoin, copal, and amber, were used by the Hebrew people, the Egyptians, and are still used in the Catholic Church as ceremonial incense. The simplest way to burn these resins is by lighting a charcoal tablet and letting the resins smoke. Inhale deep breaths of the smoky resin and wash yourself in the fragrance. Send your light and intention into the soft smoke and feel yourself lifted, cleansed, and loved.
The American Indian smudge stick is a fabulously elegant way to cleanse. While many different cultures over the centuries have used dried herbs to cleanse and purify when we use the word “smudging” it is a nod to the American Indian tribes and their sacred herbs. It is of utmost importance that when we learn from other cultures we work from a place of respect and not greedy appropriation. There is much to learn from the practices of others but there is oftentimes a seemingly utilitarian disrespect that sadly goes along with it.1
A smudge stick is a bundle of herbs burned to purify and cleanse a person or space. White sage (Salvia apiana) is the most common herb employed in smudging but it is often blended with cedar and sweetgrass for a balanced synergy. Sage has a chemical constituent called thujone, the active ingredient in absinthe’s wormwood, which causes heightened clarity and vivid dreams in small doses, and hallucination and even death in higher dosages. The potency of white sage gives the recipient a sense of being stripped and scrubbed clean. Nature abhors a vacuum and so once the sage has cleansed us we must put something in its place or that vacuum will be filled with something else, perhaps not to our liking. Therefore another herb is used to fill the cleansed space with something positive. We cleanse with the sage and then we bless with the cedar, sweetgrass, lavender, or Rosemary.
Each herb has its own character and brings with it a personality rich with flavor and nuance. Just as each human has personal light so does every plant. Sage brings strength, fortitude, and an ability to cut through the nonsense and get to the root. Its adaptability is obvious as it lives in many different climates including the most arid deserts. Sacred sage offers this power to clear and survive to those who are willing to share light with it.
Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) is also known as holy grass. It is a plant of offering whose smoke carries our prayers and blessings forward. Some say sweetgrass is the blessing breath of the Mother herself and so when she is woven into braids and baskets we weave our blessings with Hers. When paired with sage sweetgrass fills the cleared space with the blessings of the cosmos.
Cedar evokes the protection and power of the ancient trees whose root structures support the great forests. The great trees offer the security of boundaries, protection against the unpredictable winds, and the shelter of their green arms over our fragile heads. The great cedars: sequoia, juniper, cypress, and redwood are among the most ancient living inhabitants of the earth and many have guarded the forests for centuries.
Lavender (lavandula angustifolia) is a beautiful purple plant with incredible cleansing properties. It is antiseptic, antimicrobial, and evocative of a summer day. The word lavender comes from the Latin lavar, which means to wash, and is used effectively in soaps to wash the outer body and teas to wash the inner body. Lavender is a medicinal adaptogen. This means it will adapt to our physiology. If we are in a high stress state it will calm and relax. If we are lethargic and depressed it will uplift us. Lavender works to lovingly balance our physical and energetic systems.
Rosemary (rosmarinus officianalis) is a fragrant green shrub that has mythological associations with the goddess Aphrodite and the Virgin Mary, both of whom are evocative images of the sacred feminine in patriarchal traditions. Because of its hardy and resilient nature rosemary offers protection and blessing. My household keeps rosemary plants in front of each door that we may be always protected with the understanding that we will extend that protection to others in need and that we may always be blessed that we may share that blessing with others. Rosemary is used clinically to sharpen memory, invigorate, and strengthen weakened systems.
Any of the herbs can be engaged individually or combined for smudging. Pre-made smudge sticks can be purchased or you can weave your own. If you do not have an actual stick it is fine to burn the leaves of the dried herbs individually or as loose incense. In smudging you are bathing in the smoke of the herbs who share their blessings. This is a way of communion with the people of the Green places through the elements of fire and air.
Floral waters are cleansing agents directly gifted to us from the flowers of the Earth herself. The official term for these aromatic waters is hydrosols and they are by-products of the distillation process that gives us the powerful essential oils used in herbalism and aromatherapy. Floral waters are one of my favorite ways to cleanse as they offer a cleansing by water and air. The flowers imprint their fragrant light onto the waters, gently blessing them with soft petal kisses. The main trinity of floral waters are rose, jasmine, and neroli (orange blossom).
Rose (Rosaceae) is the royalty of flowers. With her subtle, deep notes she evokes the magic of movement and the light of the sacred in all she touches. Rose offers transcendent peace and comfort and has been used throughout the centuries for everything from calming to offering to cosmetics. Rose evokes beauty and sacred purity. Many who experience apparitions of the Holy Mother smell roses in Her wake.
Jasmine (Jasminium) is the night blooming flower of mystery, moon- light, and wisdom. She is the full moon in the darkest night who reaches her vining fingers to those who adore her. Jasmine has been engaged for her aphrodisiac qualities and as an element in love tinctures of all kinds. She ever so subtly stimulates those who wish to stay up through the magical night with her to learn her many secrets.
Neroli (Citrus aurantium subsp. amara or Bigaradia) or orange blossom has a musky sweetness evocative of earth and air. The optimism of citrus blends with the magic of florals in Neroli’s soft, sweet breath. Neroli is uplifting; she heals moodiness, and challenges us to brighten our lives. Neroli is kindness in a flower.
You can work with each flower individually or combine these floral waters into a spritzer to spray your space and clear yourself. I’ve found these flowers shift space quickly and with very little fanfare. Gently powerful, these evocative florals purify and bless our inner waters while clearing the clouds from darkened skies.
Another traditional and very powerful way to cleanse is a salt bath. This is cleansing by earth and water. Salt is the sacred cleansing agent of the Earth who scrubs our wounds clean and when mingled with the waters of the bath pours itself into all the spaces that will welcome it. Sacred baths are ancient and powerful. When we literally wash off the residue of the day with a salt bath we are exfoliating the dead skin of the day to make ourselves fresh and new. Adding fragrant oils, flower petals, candles, and soft music makes the bath more evocative and purifying. Particular oils and herbs are chosen based on the needs of the moment. Lavender carries his precision of healing and balancing. Rose offers her noble purity and Rosemary her brilliant strength and intelligence. Cedar and the trees give their steadfast, unwavering protection. Sage steps in with his gift for stripping away and cleansing. Jasmine holds court with her sensual wisdom while Neroli brings her joy and laughter. The possibilities are endless and present themselves based on need. When we ask for help from an honest space of heartfelt desire Nature conspires to offer it.
A recipe for a salt bath
1 cup sea salt
1/2 cup epsom salt
1/2 cup baking powder
3 drops rose oil
2 drops lavender oil
1 drop sweet orange oil
a handful of rose petals and dried lavender
Yet another way to cleanse is a ceremonial fire. This is the way of fire and earth. Naturally fallen tree limbs fuel the flames and we meld our light for purification by fire. As we sit by the fire, fanning it with our breath and warming our skin with its touch, the dark places inside are burned away and the resentments and attachments disappear with the smoke. Sitting with fire is a form of communion in which the flames teach his secrets to those willing to listen. You can add aromatic incense to the fire, keep time with a steady drum, and connect deeply to the heartbeat of the Earth.
Aromatic Fire incense
External cleansing is only part of the equation. We must also occasionally cleanse our inner physical workings. A fast is an appropriate traditional way of detoxification in which we allow our physical body to slow down, reserve its energy to heal rather than digest, and purify ourselves of toxins regularly consumed. How often and how long you choose to fast is wholly individual however there are traditional times that lend themselves to sacred fasts. Fasts do not have to be long and I’ve found brief 24 hour fasts to be the most effective. When we exceed our body’s reserves we take the risk of damaging our personal light.