February 25, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Somebody told me that Japanese incense was superior to Indian incense; is that true? Rosalind B., Norwalk, CT

morning star musk incense

Morning Star Musk Incense

Dear Rosalind: That is an interesting assumption I have yet to hear. However, I am ready to address it. First, I would have to ask why is it superior, although I must admit that some times I like Japanese incense because the scent seems to hang lighter over the room in which I meditate. By that I mean Japanese incense fragrance appears to dissipate more quickly and is useful for quick meditations before husband and children might appear in the common room. In that regard I prefer Morning Star incense scents that are packed with a small, porcelain burner tile that fits the width of Japanese sticks. And if you want to know my favorite, it’s the Morning Star Musk Incense Sticks.

Morning Star Musk Incense sticks are truly eco-friendly in that plants like musk flowers, muskwood and musk seeds are used as opposed to the glands of the sweet musk deer used in ancient times. And Morning Star Musk also has that subtle fragrance that means I can use it daily without any residue left over after I do a short meditation of approximately 20-25 minutes, just right for a wake-up meditation.

Did you know that musk is the basic ingredient of many perfumes? The scent itself is hailed as a superior perfume. However, it also has medicinal uses such as a tonic for the heart, a cure for ‘melancholy” and a general safeguard against weakness and disease. Many people find that the smell of musk can invigorate the system to such a degree that they are inspired to put in that extra hour of pleasure or work.

Japanese incense, similarly to many Indian brands that Ma’s India purchases, are made from natural ingredients that combine to produce a spiritual atmosphere. Most Japanese incense is made from a combination of flowers, sandalwood, aloeswood, cedar, cinnamon bark and pine.

The Morning Star Musk Incense sticks are 4.5” long and are packed 50 to a box. If you haven’t tried Morning Star Musk Incense, you are in for a real treat!

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February 20, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: It is discouraging to see that misogyny and backward peddling of women’s issues is on the rise. Any inspiration you can give me at this time? Paula P., Butte, MT

coloring-mandalas-3

Coloring Mandalas 3
Circles of the Sacred Feminine

Dear Paula: I cannot offer you any inspiration as to any sustained change that I see ahead; I can only perhaps send along a book that has inspired me and filled me with pride about being a woman. I think it is important that we maintain our sense of selves and identity returning to the feminine and seeing our great progress, endurance and ability to not only survive, but prosper and maintain, despite numerous obstacles. Coloring Mandalas, Circles of the Sacred Feminine, by Susanne F. Fincher provides not only a historical background but also an interactive exploration of the sacred feminine through words and mandalas.

Some of the mandalas in this book are adapted from the sacred art of eastern religions. Ms.Fincher encourages us to set aside a sacred space and to approach these mandalas in an atmosphere of reverence, appreciation and gratitude.

It is Ms. Fincher’s desire that by engaging with the mandalas through choice of colors, you may bring the sacred feminine into the present through your own creativity. Coloring mandalas can energize and provide a welcome release of energies. Mandalas are a wonderful way to bring us into our own centers and guide us to an experience of the moment. We can see how these smooth and repetitive movements through coloring the mandalas can lull our minds into a state of receptivity, thus allowing us to forget the minor distractions of our minds, and bring us into a state of peace and equanimity. And truly that is the only way, other than staying politically active and interactive with our politics, that we can continue our fight for equality and equanimity

What you might find of great interest is how Ms. Fincher points out that what is seen as normal activities such as giving birth and mothering is truly how the creative energy of the Goddess comes alive in the miracle of birth, when the mother herself personifies the great Mother and Earth Goddess.  We can see how modern women too have responded to this powerful energy as shown by a return to natural deliveries, midwifery and particularly the return of breastfeeding. Many of the mandalas capture the essence of femininity and the female goddess.

Ms. Fincher also points out that for ancient people, it was obvious that the goddess held their lives in her hands. It was she who generated the rhythms of the season, and who held the power of the moon that made plants grow. It was basically she who presided over life and the life-giving energies of nature. This is why it is called Mother Nature and not Father Nature.

One can see through her historical perspective how the sacred feminine predated the arrival of patriarchal influence. In fact, the first civilizations of Europe, have been described as feminine, multifocal, peaceful, earth and sea-bound cultures. Unfortunately for the earth, the goddess was gradually displaced with destruction and competitiveness, and war mongering was allowed to predominate.

Besides giving an historical perspective of the sacred feminine, we are treated via the book and the attached mandalas to the outlines of the many goddesses with their attributes, some of whom have been forgotten and some whom we continue to resurrect.

I think you will love the myriad of mandalas that at once soothe the mind, re-energize one’s commitment to femininity and provide a sense of belonging and delight that accompanies the experience of being a woman. Thank you for this delightful question. Spiritual Explorer

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February 18, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I notice you have a Sunseal Loving Kindness decal; Is loving kindness a Buddhist practice? Barbara S., Pittsburgh, PA

loving-kindness-decal

Loving Kindness Decal

Dear Barbara: I love our Loving Kindness Decal which I have hanging in the window of my kitchen. When the sun shines through this decal, it’s inspirational and feels almost church-like in that the decal appears to be like stained glass.

Yes, you are quite right in assuming that the art of loving kindness is a Buddhist practice. Loving kindness is an adjunct to support insight meditation practice.

I don’t know anyone who could not benefit from this practice especially called for in these troubled times where it seems that so many people are in conflict, both on the worldly and domestic stage. What loving kindness meditation does in addition to keeping our mind free of negativity is actually improve our lives to such an extent that we can allow joy into our beings. The practice of loving kindness helps to also keep your mind open instead of closing upon or fixing upon somebody or something with a negative attitude.

The actual practice of loving kindness was taught by the Buddha to develop the mental habit of selfless or altruistic love. In the Buddhist text, the Dhammapada there is this saying, “Hatred cannot coexist with loving kindness and dissipates if supplanted with thoughts based on loving kindness.”

As an extra anecdote to this ode to loving kindness, I am reminded of a time in my life when I spoke unkindly to someone who was my employer. She reacted very strongly and let me know that if I had any desires to improve my position, she would use her power to deny me my wishes. It was a very difficult time, but fortunately I had read a book called “Detachment,” in which there was this practice noted of sending loving thoughts to this person. Since I had no other recourse, I followed the book’s instructions and every time I thought of this woman, I allowed loving kindness to enter my mind. Within a very short time, actually, I found her responding to me more favorably, and in fact, when I actually resigned from my position, this woman offered me another position within the company. So, I know this works.

Someone once referred to the practice as a form of self-psychotherapy, a way of healing the troubled mind to free it from pain and confusion. I do know that therapy attempts to free the mind from habituated thoughts of negativity so that the patient can live a freer and happier life. How wonderful if we could dispense from the therapy and do this practice; it certainly would go a long way towards assuming personal responsibility for our attitudes.

I have heard practicing Buddhists tell me that when the practice of loving kindness matures, it naturally flows into compassion, as one empathizes with other people’s difficulties. In that regard, loving kindness can produce three other qualities of love besides compassion: friendliness, appreciative joy and equanimity.

Consulting a Buddhist friend of mine, I asked how this loving kindness practice could be done: She told me that the practice always begins with developing a loving acceptance of yourself. However, it is my experience that once you begin to practice it with others, it naturally flows towards yourself also. It is “self” and “other” healing for sure.

And lastly, one should attempt to develop loving kindness towards four types of people: 1. A respected, beloved person; 2. A dearly beloved person; 3 A neutral person, someone whom you have no special feeling towards; and 4. Someone for whom you might have feelings of negativity. I have found that as I start with my own self and then engage with the other people in my mind, the divisions in my own mind seems to dissolve and I feel freer and happier.

What a wonderful practice this is, and thank you so much for asking this question; it was very inspirational. Spiritual Explorer

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February 13, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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copal-soap

Copal Soap

While I’m on the subject of soaps, I am going to explore this wonderful product called Copal Herbal Soap with its enticing scents of jasmine, lavender, musk, night queen, sandalwood, and patchouli.

Many times we speak of exciting new products without knowing or acknowledging the manufacturers’ ethical and moral business practices that accompany their products. In this case we are proud of the wonderful Copal Herbal Soap manufactured by R. Expo. Similar to other companies with a strong family lineage, this family has made it their business to combine ethical practices with Ayurvedic and health formulae that both heal and restore. The business today supports more than 10,000 families in Indian along with supporting a number of orphaned children.

People have loved buying these products not only because of the healing properties of the soaps but the moral standard that infuses these products. Their soaps are free from animal fats and are based on the restorative and healing qualities of pure coconut oil. Herbal extracts and natural essential oils are also added to enhance the soaps.

Here are some of the fragrances.

Lavender has always been known to be the foremost fragrance in any line of aromatics. It’s whistle clean properties combined with good antiseptic qualities make this a showstopper.

For those of us who have been around aromatics a long time, nobody will forget Night Queen Soap. It has a very strong and distinctive scent not always a favorite of everyone. But for those who love a strong scent reminiscent of old time India, this soap is for them. Again, it has the same oils reflected in all the soaps.

Musk soap is actually created from muscone, an organic compound that one need not be frightened of. There are many fake “musk” scents around, but you can be assured that this musk smell is natural and organic. Musk is a true favorite of all scents.

Patchouli is reminiscent as always of our hippie days in San Francisco when we began the Age of Aquarius. I don’t think anyone who lived through the sixties will ever think of Patchouli in any other way. It has a very strong odor, which also fights anxiety and expression. The scent itself seems to lift you right out of any despair you might be filling into a light-hearted place. I can imagine why those old hippies loved this bright and uplifting scent.

Jasmine is a strongly feminine and floral scent reminding one of sensual nights in a garden of delights. While evoking a sensual and sybaritic quality, it is also claimed that jasmine can purify your emotions.

Lastly, sandalwood is one of the strongest smelling fragrant plants on earth. It brings spiritual protection and stability to any meditative practice.

All of these listed soaps are combined with pure coconut oil, aloe vera extracts, jojoba oil, wheat germ oil, rose water and essential oils, and you can be sure that this soap will never rob your skin of any oils and will keep it refreshed and soft.

Any one of these wonderful scents will add harmony and beauty to your life.

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February 11, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Is your Chandrika Sandal Soap free of animal fats? How did soap get started? Linda P., Winnetka, IL

chandrika-sandal-soap

Chandrika Sandal Soap

Dear Linda: Yes, Chandrika Sandal Soap 75 grams is free of all animal fats. You’ll be happy to hear that tbe preponderant oil is coconut oil and there are also added emollients with the beautiful sandal wood fragrance, which adds a decided spiritual cast to our sandal soap. The wonderful thing is that after you have bathed with this soap this sandal wood fragrance will remain on your skin the whole day, an added bonus indeed.

The word sapo, Latin for soap, first appeared in Pliny the Elder’s Historia Naturalis. The first soap was made by Babylonians around 2800 B.C.While the Babylonians are traditionally known as the first purveyors of soap, ancient writers also suggest it was also known to the Phoenicians as early as around 600 B.C. and was used to some extent by the ancient Romans.

I can understand why you might ask about whether animal fats are in this soap since it was a common ingredient in soaps for many thousands of years. However, different oils in more natural soaps are also used other than coconut such as castor and olive oils.

During ancient times soap was made by boiling tallow (animal fat) with alkali containing wood ashes. This was to be a costly method of production, but a harsh method of cleansing.

What appears strangest of course is the negative social attitudes towards cleanliness which made soap a luxury item only to the rich until the late eighteenth century. As soap production became less expensive and attitudes towards cleanliness changed, soap making became an important industry.

During the middle Ages, filthiness was considered a sign of holiness. Members of some holy orders bragged that they washed only the tips of their fingers. That old saying “cleanliness is next to godliness” was certainly not in vogue then.

Even doctors believed that a layer of filth on one’s body protected one from disease. Not until the 17th century did bathing and soaps become common again in Europe. The discovery of germs in the mid 1800s certainly encouraged people to get and stay clean. It’s hard to believe, especially now with our emphasis on cleanliness and demand for it in hospitals and other hygienic places, that it took so long to grasp the concept of cleanliness.

But even now there is a move towards using soaps that are free of caustic cleansing agents and that use the purest ingredients possible. India is one of the countries to which we look towards for pure ingredients within soap. I think you will enjoy bathing with Chandrika Sandal Soap, which uses only the finest oils and ingredients to cherish your body.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer.

February 6, 2015 on 12:06 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: I am a worldwide traveler and need an icon I can carry with me to keep myself centered and spiritual. Lawrence P., Manitoba, CANADA

shakyamuni buddha

Shakyamuni Buddha

Dear Lawrence: I recommend for you the Shakyamuni Buddha Statue, a favorite of mine. It is small, but carries a big message.

Who was Shakyamuni? Buddhism originates with the teachings of Shakyamuni, which is another name for Gautama Siddhartha Buddha, who was born in Nepal 2500 yeas ago.

Siddhartha or Shakyamuni was born a prince, but was aware and troubled by the problem of human suffering which his parents had diligently attempted to keep from him. Nevertheless, the well-known story is that Buddha escaped from the confines of his well-appointed castle and encountered death, illness and old age, which tore the veil of unreality from him. Eventually Buddha embarked upon a spiritual quest to understand how human suffering could be overcome.

I particularly resonate with the story of how Buddha subjected himself to ascetic disciplines but found it impossible to achieve the freedom he longed for though self-mortification. Story has it that near the city of Gaya, he seated himself under a tree and through his “surrendering the struggle,” attained an awakening or enlightenment to the true nature of all things. Because of this enlightenment he came to be called Buddha or the “Awakened One.”

According to tradition, Buddha then traveled widely throughout the Indian subcontinent sharing his enlightened wisdom, promoting peace and teaching people how to unleash the great potential of their lives. Buddha’s compassionate intention was to enable all people to attain the same awakened state of life that Buddha had attained.

While we are all inspired by the great story of Buddha, I am struck always by the fact that once Siddhartha renounced his asceticism and relaxed in a fashion, he was able to attain the wisdom he aspired to. Similarly, I see in many spiritual aspirants disappointment with themselves that they cannot maintain certain forms of renunciation and similar asceticism that they have decided is the way to achieve enlightenment. Some of them even get lost on a path that is so arduous and without heart that they lose sight of their eventual goals. One might attribute that as just another function of the ego attempting to will something that is not within one’s grasp. However, I feel if one is truly sincere and wishes to achieve a certain amount of peace in their lives, eventually the false parts of one’s aspirations will just naturally drop away as experience deepens. The important thing is that we have come to a certain realization and have set out on our path.

Following the death of the Buddha, his teachings were recorded by his disciples in the form of sutras and spread throughout the world, and I would say Buddhism has thence been generally characterized by an emphasis on peace and compassion.

Enjoy your small big Buddha; it will keep you reminded of your quest. Thank for writing, Spiritual Explorer

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February 4, 2015 on 11:05 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: What is a phurba? Rae P., Honolulu, HAWAII

phurba-necklace

Phurba Necklace

Dear Rae: Do you remember the old saying: a rose is a rose is a rose? I think about that saying when I see the multitude of spellings for a phurba, a spelling I am more familiar with. Here they are: purpa, phurbu, purbha, phurpa or phurpu. Even more confusing, the phurba is also known as a kila. The kila is associated with the meditation deity, Ishtadevata. A phurba is a three-sided peg, stake, knife or nail traditionally associated with Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and Indian Vedic traditions. This item, however, spelled as phurpa, is sold at Ma’s India as part of a necklace in our Buddhist collection.

Said phurba or phurpa is used in ceremonies to symbolically cut out the three obstacles to enlightenment, which are: greed, hatred and delusion. Atop the dagger we usually see a skull to remind us of the impermanent nature of our lives. It is a ritual dagger not meant to actually hurt in any way a sentient living being, since the blade is not sharp. However it is used against evil spirits by the tantric practitioner. The idea, however, more benevolently expressed, is to release a misguided or evil spirit out of its suffering and thereby guide it to a better rebirth, thus making the idea of a phurba much more palatable. So how does a phurba destroy violence, hatred and aggression? It ties them to its blade and then vanquishes them with its tip.

The phurba is also regarded as possessing magical powers and is an essential artifact in sacred mask dances. It is a powerful weapon which subdues evil spirits and negative energies, transforming them into positive forces. So we can see that the phurba is in actuality not a physical weapon but a spiritual implement and should be regarded as such. Don’t think that you can just threaten and instill fear in someone by wielding your phurba.

One of its magical qualities that it is reputed to be quite capable of moving under its own power by flying about and capable of lifting someone off the group. It is said that the phurba has the strength of four, so you will not be able to outrun it.

While all of these magical properties are quite fascinating, your Spiritual Explorer prefers to think of the phurba as being used to cut through the illusory nature of the mind and destroy negativity in the form of hatred, sadness, fear, etc. noble uses indeed for the magical, mystical phurba.

As a last admonition, wield it wisely.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

January 30, 2015 on 12:19 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: What does it mean to have unconditional love? Sam P., San Diego, CA

madonna-child-pendant

Madonna & Child Pendant

Dear Sam: When I think of unconditional love, I think of the Madonna, the mother of Christ. You can see the devotion and love she is giving to her child in the Madonna and Child Pendant at Ma’s India. Devotees have always looked to the Madonna as the representation of unconditional love.

Catholic friends of mine, mostly of the female persuasion, tell me when they go to Mass in the mornings, they are seeking the Madonna’s love and protection. Ultimately, isn’t that what we all look for, especially if those needs have been unfulfilled for us by either mother or father?

If we were to look at humanity as a whole and their manifested respective religions or beliefs, we would see that people have looked towards religion to manifest those feeling of unconditional love as represented by the Madonna. Unfortunately, what they sometimes receive is dogma and love that calls for surrender and faith in outmoded, restrictive and fundamentalist beliefs.

Sometimes in relationships people make unreasonable requests for unconditional love from someone who is quite incapable of it. When we meet somebody we suddenly project upon them the mother and father feelings of love that are unfinished and incomplete in our lives. Frankly, it becomes an unreasonable request, especially if one does not give to oneself the consideration, respect and love that one desires. It is a hard task indeed.

For me, the Madonna represents someone who realized early in her life that she had a role to play in history, and that the role included ultimately sacrificing her son for the sake of mankind. The love of the mother as represented by the Madonna is also the great mother love expressed in different forms by the female Hindu, Zoroastrian and Tibetan goddesses also, to name a few lineages.

When we look towards these representations of unconditional love, such as the Madonna, we are seeking a source that is always present for us, that inspires us to open our hearts to many peoples and situations, and that allows us to feel divine love dwelling within us no matter what dire circumstances present. The Madonna represents the unconditional love that can be available to us as opposed to looking towards our families, friends or spouses.

When I asked my guru Ma Jaya about what love was, she told me that if I merely looked to my physical heart for those feelings, they were ones of sentiment and attachment. But if I were to look towards the “heart space” that resided above my head, that would add to my sentiment a necessary detachment. That loving detachment would be the wisdom and compassion I could give to the world. It is noteworthy that many eastern religions do not even address the concept of unconditional love. For them, the compassion of the Buddha suffices, for it combines both love and detachment.

When I look at the Madonna and Child pendant, I feel a feeling of peace and serenity and can imagine for myself what it is to be loved by a divine mother who desires nothing else but the well being and comfort for her child.

This Madonna and Child Pendant is truly lovely, cast by hand out of an extremely strong and warm ivory substitute material.

May we all find the love in ourselves and for ourselves that we seek in the Madonna!

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January 28, 2015 on 12:00 pm

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: My Hindu granddaughter who is eight years old is very playful and loves to wear pendants. Can you suggest one appropriate for her age? Lana P., Santa Fe, NM

Dear Lana: I don’t have to think very hard to suggest the very colorful Ganesh Deity Pendant here at Ma’s India.

ganesh-deity-pendant

Ganesh Deity Pendanthere at Ma’s India, a splendid reflection of joy, lightness of spirit and devotion against a lovely blue splash of color.

Ganesh here is represented as a boy God, not in his prime yet, where he appears more fearful and formidable. He is still allowed to be the playful and mischievous young god that he shows to his friends and family. That Ganesh also has an elephant head removes some of the “formidability” of this great god.

One of the interesting things is that Ganesh is known as a non-sectarian deity. Hindus of all denominations invoke him at the beginning of prayers, important undertakings and religious ceremonies. Dancers and musicians particularly in southern India begin their art performances with a prayer to Ganesh. Of course, it is also customary to invoke Ganesh at the beginning of any undertakings, including my friend who calls on Ganesh before starting her car.

Interestingly, Ganesh is connected with the first chakra, which also has the color red. And because of Ganesh’s identification with the color red, he is often worshipped with red sandalwood paste or red flowers. I also find of interest that Ganesh is not only the remover of obstacles in one’s life, but he is also the deity to look towards for education and purpose in one’s life.

We are all familiar with Ganesh’s role as gatekeeper to his mother Parvati’s home where he lost his head defending her privacy, thus gaining an elephant head which of course adds to a feeling of playfulness and mischief when considering Ganesh. What I didn’t know and discovered in my research, is that Ganesh is also considered as the god of transitions and is placed at the doorway of many Hindu temples to keep out the unworthy, similar to his role as Parvati’s gatekeeper.

Ganesh is one of the most loved gods in the Hindu pantheon, and if worn as a pendant, would give me assurance that a great and good god was blessing my granddaughter for sure.

Om Sri Ganesh Ki Jai!

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

January 23, 2015 on 11:00 am

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Dear Spiritual Explorer: Is there a difference between saging and smudging? Barbara R., Kansas, MO

sage-smudge

Sage and Smudge

Dear Barbara: Until you asked that question, I don’t think I ever thought about a difference between saging and smudging. Viewing our Mountain Sage Smudge with the words “saging and smudging” side by side, I can see why that might be confusing.

Doing a bit of research, I have come to find that saging and smudging are indeed words that are interchangeably used. Contacting a shaman friend of mine, I was interested to hear him refer to bundles of native plants as smudges rather than the commonly referred to “sages.” He told me that he used the smudges in his sweat lodge rituals, healing rituals and even in Native American festivals.

For those not in the know, shamans serve as intermediaries between the material world and the spiritual world. Their main focus is to call back someone’s soul that has perhaps been lost through injury or trauma. They are travelers in the best sense of the word, willing to accompany the spirit or entity back into the spirit world to retrieve someone’s soul.

Sage or smudge originated in Native American ceremonies and its purpose is to disperse negative energy and vibrations in a particular place. I think that everybody is aware of sometimes walking into a residence or place of tragedy and feeling a very inharmonious and unsettling vibration. Sage or smudge has been known to clear the air of these unpleasant feelings. In fact, many shamans are hired to clear out negativity or bring in newness in recently purchased, previously owned homes.

Mountain Sage is sustainably harvested by a Native American reservation cooperative. Not only sage and smudge are used, but people also burn tobacco, cedar, sage and sweet grass and offer them to the Four Directions of east, west, north and south. When doing so, the person opens themselves to guidance and wisdom from spirit.

Saging and smudging becomes a ritual of purification and cleansing. Similar to invoking the spirit of Ganesh in Hindu rituals, when one sages and smudges, it also speaks of a new time in one’s life and the asking of blessings for the new journey. Mountain sage in particular is often used to promote success in new undertakings, whether physical or spiritual.

My shaman friend tells me that he smudges his own home regularly and keeps his sage in a medicine pouch. He then places the sage in an abalone shell and fans the embers with a feather to spread the smoke. He then leaves a window cracked open to allow the spirits to leave. He advises that all you need is a fireproof bowl and sage.

One last tip on saging and smudging: My own personal experience with saging is that it sometimes leaves a residue in a room and you often have to wait a while before re-entering it after a ceremony. Nevertheless, there is no doubt how saging and smudging work to dispel negativity in one’s space. However you refer to it, saging and smudging are wonderful clearing out tools.

If you have a question you would like to ask, send me your question. Ask The Spiritual Explorer

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