Alternative Ways to Clear Sacred Space

    This article was originally published in the 2007 Llewellyn Magical Almanac.  I am posting it here for your reading pleasure.  Give it some consideration.


    Sacred Space – it is the space where we reside.  It is a place where we sit and meditate.  It is our “cube” at work; it is our backyard.  It is a place where we invite Deity.  It is our home, our hotel room, our tent, our circle or a park.  It is the places where we find comfort, where we shut out the mundane.  It is the place we make secure.  It is where we come home to at the end of the day or at the end of a journey.

    In other words, Sacred Space is all around us.  However, when I say We are going to clear our Sacred Space I bet you all reach for the smudge stick and a lighter.

    There are folks, like myself, who do not take too kindly to smoke.  With allergies, a history of being a smoker who quit and not wanting to deal with second hand smoke, this is awkward.  Most circles you go to, they smudge you before you enter a circle.  Many folks will use smudge sticks and incense to purify their house, their car and their tools.

    While being an accepted practice, what about those who are allergic to sage?  Yes, there are folks who are allergic to the stuff.  Ever notice the gal who starts to immediately cough when the smudging stick is lit?  The kids who walk into a room after it’s been smudged and start coughing?  Did you think that was just because of the smoke?  Well, it could be.  And it could also be the sage.  And if it is either, why do you continue to use the smudging stick?

    For most folks, it’s the smell, it’s the accepted practice, that’s how they were taught.  Smoke purifies.  Well, yes, it does.  It can also send someone home sick or to the hospital.  And with folks constantly worrying about the effects of smoke on themselves and their kids, maybe we should start looking at alternatives. Some folks are going to frown at this.  Nothing quite smells so good as scented smoke, does it.  Be it sage, frankincense, your favorite incense, the smell of scented smoke is a wonderfully calming and clearing trigger to the human mind.

    But, smoke is not the only way to spread scent around.  Let’s look at some alternatives to “smoke”.

    Aromatherapy does not rely on smoke to get the scent around.  It relies on oils delivered in a number of ways to fill the air, and yourself, with calming, relaxing scent.  The same can be done with the ritual scents we are familiar with and that trigger our minds into the “Sacred Space” feeling.

    The most popular way is to scent candles.  I am not talking about your ritual candles, but rather, the addition of candles to the circle with the purpose to provide a scent to denote Sacred Space.  You can either make your own or purchase the good varieties of scented candles.

    Another popular way is with an oil diffuser.  These are small candle heated or electric warmers that you add water and float your oil in, and it gently heats the oil and diffuses it into the air.

    I would like to make a recommendation on these.  There are several different designs.  I would not recommend any of these if you are the sort of person who “lights and leaves”.  The water and oil mixture will evaporate and usually in less time than the tea light will burn out or you remember to unplug the unit.  You will end up with a cracked plate, and possibly a fire hazard either way.  I have seen electric ones that automatically shut off.   You may want to check this out.

    I also do not recommend the ones with a metal plate.  First of all, the metal can turn the scent of the oil, and in some cases burn the oil with extreme heat.  Metal retains heat longer than glass or ceramic.  Also, I am not too pleased with diffusers where the stand, the tea light holder and the plate are all separate pieces.  They tip easily, break just as easily and again present a fire hazard.

    The one piece ceramic diffusers are my choice.  Electric or tea light versions are all very good, and with the tea light versions, look for a large space for the tea light inside the diffuser.  This prevents the ceramic from getting too hot on the sides, yet does a very good job at warming the water on top and allowing the oil to spread its scent.  Remember, you don’t have to boil the oil/water mixture, just get it warm.  Look for plenty of holes in the ceramic for the heat to dissipate and also look for it to be raised up off the surface it sits on.  You don’t want the heat from the tea light transferring down to the ceramic bottom of the diffuser and then heating up the counter or surface underneath, possibly charring or damaging it.  If the surface is not raised, be sure to place the diffuser on a ceramic tile.  These work best to disperse the heat.

    Oils are sometimes considered expensive.  Essential oils can be expensive per bottle, depending on size, quality and the oil itself.  Some I’ve known to be over $100 for a small bottle and more.  But how much do we actually use?  How about that smudge stick you use?  Is that the big chunky $8 each variety?  How many uses do you get out of that?  You light it, you smudge, and you place it in a fireproof tray, where it continues to burn till it goes out.  How much is left?  Do you wrap it up and use it again?  Or was it one of the smaller $3 ones; use once, throw away?

    How many drops do you use in the diffuser?  I use about 5 drops total.  For some of the stronger scents, three drops per diffuser will do it.   I think if you add up the costs both ways, you will find that it will be just about the same, or maybe just a little less for the oil, depending on how heavily you apply the oils.

    What about the cleansing issue?  Smoke clears the space.  It also cleanses the individuals coming into the circle.  An older practice was to anoint members with scented oils, sometimes mixed with water.  Looking at a variety of old myths and legends, and you will read about washing with scented water, placing oils on a person’s forehead as an anointment, or sprinkling someone with scented water to cleanse and bless them.  Some of these traditions still are used today. These traditions are adapted from even older traditions.

    There are many ways to produce scented water, from allowing water to sit with flower petals in it overnight, to adding some oil for scent.  The water should always be at room temperature.  Water can be placed in a bowl, with flowers and petals floating in it, and the members come in, dip their fingers in the water and flick the water on themselves.  I’ve seen High Priestesses take a small hand made broom and flick the water on the membership as they entered the circle before a ritual.  Adding the same oil to the diffusers gives the air the same scent as the cleansing water.  The High Priest would then also place a small “pentacle” on the forehead of the member with his finger that had been dipped in the same oil.  There are many variations.  Find one that works for you.

    Finally, there is the actual cleansing and grounding of Sacred Space.  From clearing a circle, to a house cleansing, the trusty “sage smudge” can be dropped from the list in favor of a favorite mixtures that is applied dry and then “swept away” in 24 hours.

    Most hotel rooms would not appreciate your setting off the smoke alarm with incense or sage smudge sticks.  I have a favorite “herbal cleansing mixture” that I take with me. The housekeeping unit will be sweeping and cleaning after I leave, so placing the mixture on the bed, floor or furniture does no harm here.

    The herb mixture is also good in your own house.  I used it to cleanse our new home before we moved in.  We sprinkled the mixture around the house, on the counters, in the closets, on the rugs.  We used the same mixture, with a small variation, to cleanse the apartment we vacated.  Ingredients are simple, easy to obtain, and can be mixed from the base to suit a number of purposes.

    The base of the mixture is equal parts salt, pine needles, rosemary and sage leaves.   The combination is obvious:  salt to ground, pine, rosemary and sage to cleanse.   The pine needles, rosemary and sage leaves are cut and crushed up fine.  I prefer kosher salt because it is a larger grain, but sea salt ground fine can be used just as well.  Remember, you are going to vacuum this up after 24 hours, so it will not remain anywhere to do any harm to carpet or furniture.

    You can use this mixture as is, sprinkled around the room, house or circle.  With a circle, this is the time to bring out the broom after you have sprinkled and sweep the material out of your working space.  It also gives you a reason to actually use the broom, not just have it as a “cute” addition to the ritual.

    If you are leaving a house, you may want to add cedar for grounding out your energy and leaving a clean space behind.   For a hotel room, add cedar or lavender to ground energy and suppress vibrations from previous tenants.  For a bedroom, add rose petals or lavender buds for love and serenity.  For circle, you can add magical herbs like meadowsweet for love or love spells, calendula for clairvoyance, lily of the valley flowers to attract the fey, mugwort for divination and clairvoyance, or any combination of herbs that you feel will enhance the activity you have planned.

    At my office, I always keep those little packets of salt you get at the fast food joints in my desk drawer.  Anytime I feel the office has gotten to be too much, I sprinkle the salt around my “cube” area.  Works every time!  And the cleaning service will sweep it away on a regular basis.

    Remember, once you have grounded and cleansed the area, you may want to enhance the area by adding back the herbs that will aid your project.  Make a second batch of just enhancement herbs, and add those to the floor while you work.

    Anything can be cleansed without the use of smoke.  Sometimes smoke is not practical, and sometimes smoke can be annoying or a health issue.  Give some of these ideas a try the next time you have a cleansing or ritual.

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