It’s safe to say we’ve all experienced the meditative qualities of fire, be it a crackling outdoor bonfire on a cold November night or the mesmerizing glow of a hearth full of burning logs. There’s something primal about the flicker of dancing flames and watching plumes of smoke disappearing into the ether. Hardly a surprise when you consider that fire has been an essential part of human survival – for light, warmth and cooking – for more than a million years.
Fire is one of the four classical elements and sacred to many spiritual traditions and practices. You might have already used it in a ritual yourself? Ever burned a love letter from an ex/a list of things you want to let go of/every page of your A Level coursework? Then you probably know the freeing power of watching something you want to get rid of go up in flames.
There’s plenty more to write on this subject but I’m going to try and keep this short and share some of my favourite fire/smoke-related indulgences, tools I like to use to help focus the mind, set intentions, banish bad vibes and bring on the good ones.
And if you’re reading this thinking ‘give it a rest, it’s just a bloody candle’, I hear you…but bear with me/ feel free to skip to my traditional SPIRITUALISM FOR CYNICS section below.
Romantic dinners, indulgent baths and cosy nights in, we’ve all used candles to set a scene, scent the air or cast a flattering glow on proceedings but there’s plenty more power where that came from. A lit candle represents the four elements in action (earth, solid wax; air, smoke; fire, the flame; water, liquid wax), creating an ideal focus point for meditation or intention setting rituals.
Candles don’t need to be expensive to up the magick factor, simple pillar or table candles will do the job just fine (there’s a list here that tells you which colour candle to use for which intention) but if you’re in the market for a spot of indulgence there are some beautifully scented and crafted products out there.
My favourite candles are by Mama Moon, lovingly hand poured with good vibes and positivity by eclectic witch Semra Haksever (she has a book out soon, available for pre order here) in her Hackney kitchen. Each candle is made within a protective circle with crystal infused oil blends for added cosmic power. Ten out of ten for effort, I say. And, my word, they smell divine.
Among Mama Moons magical wares are candles to provide focus and clarity, attract good fortune, manifest love and more… I can’t get enough of Spiritual Bleach candle fortified with sage, rosemary and lemon to clear negativity… just the ticket for heralding in a fresh start.
I also love Psychic Sisters range of organic soy wax candles infused with moon magic, crystals and reiki energy. Choose from candles for healing, abundance, love, power and protection among others. Each comes with an affirmation to repeat ten times as the candle burns.
Simple candle rituals
- Light your candle, focus on an intention/affirmation and say it out loud ten times
- Write down the things you wish to let go of on small pieces of paper and let them burn in the flame (on a fire proof surface please!)
- Light a candle as part of your meditation practice
- Use a candle as part of a morning or evening routine. Let a candle burn as you make tea, write, stretch or practice gratitude
- Choose a special candle (scented works well here) to light when you need to focus on a work or personal project. Rosemary, mint and lemon scents are great for clearing the mind.
If, like me, you grew up in the ‘90s, I’ve no doubt the smell of incense instantly takes you back to listening to John Peel in your teenage bedroom. I had quite the collection of scented sticks sourced in the tie-dye filled hippie shops of Leeds’ Dark Arches.
Even if you’ve never burned incense yourself, you probably know its aroma. It’s commonly used in religious ceremonies across the globe (from Catholicism to Paganism to Buddhism) to purify and connect to God/a higher power.
There’s something about scenting your home with a billowing plume of smoke (don’t forget to ventilate) that sets the scene perfectly for meditation or reflective practice. And the good news, if you fancy giving it a try, is that modern incense has come a long way since the cloying patchouli aromas I used to favour in 1993.
I like Earl of East’s hand-dipped sticks in scents of rose, sage and palo santo. Psychic Sisters affirmation sticks and the fresh modern aromas of Haeckels incense cones. Their futuristic brass bowl and glass funnel burner is a thing of beauty, too.
If you want to use incense as part of a ritual, ceremony or meditation you can use most of the candle ritual suggestions above (other than the one requiring a naked flame obvs).
Smoke cleansing* by burning dried herbs is a technique used to help dispel negative energy or clear a space of bad vibes. Based on the idea that negative energy (from arguments, bad influences, difficult times or just straight up life’s-too-busy-right-now chaos) can linger about places and people, lighting herbs and sending the smoke billowing into the corners of your world is a way of sending bad vibes packing and inviting in fresh new energy.
You can use a smoke cleanse when you move into a new house (or years later if you didn’t when you first moved in), to symbolically wave goodbye to an ex, mark your resignation from a job or simply as a way of letting go of negative thought patterns. Handily you can also use smoke to cleanse your crystals.
There are lots of pre-packaged bundles of herbs on the market. I make sure I avoid any containing white sage as it is not only endangered but not native to the UK. White sage is traditionally used in Native American smudging ceremonies and its use is sacred to that culture, making it an inappropriate choice for modern mystics wanting to clear the air.
You can make your own dried herb bundles using rosemary, culinary sage, lavender, bay and other herbs you grow yourself or buy ethically made bundles that don’t contain endangered or appropriative herbs.
How to Smoke Cleanse
- Open windows, doors and any dodgy cupboards under the stairs (bound to be harbouring the bad stuff, right?!)
- Light your loose herbs (in a flame proof dish) or stick (with a dish to catch any falling embers)
- Once you’re smoking it’s time to waft those plumes into every corner you wish to cleanse. Some say you should start on a left wall and follow it up or down stairs (as it leads you) until you eventually end up back where you started. I favour a more intuitive (or lazy?!) approach, simply wandering around and sending smoke into the corners that feel like they need it most.
- Ask the negative energy to leave by repeating anaffirmation. Here’s one to try: Cleanse this space of negative energy, thoughts or intentions. If there are energies here not of the light, you are not welcome. Be gone and do not return. Surround this space and everyone in it in positivity and white light.
*I think it’s important to recognise that smudging is a culturally important Native American spiritual practice and should be respected and acknowledged as such. Burning herbs for smoke cleansing is not the same thing and shouldn’t be referred to as smudging
I dismissed palo santo as another instagram fad when it started cropping up on feeds I follow a few years back. But then a few months ago, I popped in to the brilliant SLC London and vintage queen Rabbit Moon lit some for me… the smell! I was instantly hooked.
Palo santo (known as holy wood) comes from a tree found across Central and South America and has been used in spiritual practice for thousands of years. The wood is traditionally harvested from only the fallen branches of the tree, which, is it believed, must lie dead for several years to achieve maximum potency.
This is another one where care must be taken to ensure your desire to get your hands on that awesome smell/vibe isn’t damaging the planet. Be careful to ensure any palo santo you buy comes from an ethical and sustainable source. Once you’ve got your hands on some you can use it in much the same way you would herbs: to cleanse your home, your crystals and invite positive energy in.
If you’re a mystical thinker you probably don’t need much persuasion to add a few more fiery tools to your intention setting repertoire. If there’s something above you’ve never used before why not get in there and try something new (the upcoming new moon is surely the perfect excuse!)? Palo santo smells particularly amazing (far better than the musty student smoking den scent of some herb bundles) and getting back into incense has proved brilliantly nostalgic for me. It’s all about keeping that mystical toolkit well stocked, right?
SPIRITUALISM FOR CYNICS
Like many ritual practices, I think much of the power of a smoke cleanse/candle ritual lies in taking the time to focus in on what’s going on in your life and make conscious choices to release anything that’s no longer serving you. You don’t have to believe in magick or crystals or the power of the universe to benefit from a spot of low key reflection, right? And even if the idea of cleansing, intentions or negative energy is too much for you, I reckon there’s still something to be gained from the meditative qualities of a lit candle, taking a moment to think or even the simple pleasure of fragrancing your home with a new stash of incense. Lighters at the ready…