Abalone are mollusk-like ocean creatures in the snail family. The outer layer of their shells is matte and neutral in tone while the inside can be beautifully pearlescent and multicolored. Because of this, abalone is prized both as a food source and as a precious resource and natural material. Found around the world, abalone are indigenous to parts of North America, and have been harvested by Indigenous people from the US and Canada for centuries.
Every part of the abalone is used, and the abalone shell plays an important role in many Indigenous cultural traditions, including being used as a smudge bowl. Smudging is a traditional cleansing ritual that has been used by Indigenous people around the world for centuries, and involves the burning of sacred herbs and medicines to produce a cleansing smoke. A smudge bowl is used to catch the ash produced during the smudging ritual, and to save the burned medicines to be used the next time you need to cleanse.
Along with its practical applications, the use of an abalone shell as a smudge bowl represents the element of water, one of the four major elements represented on the medicine wheel. As with all things in Indigenous culture, balance is a vital component of smudging, and many people use the smudging ritual as a means of rebalancing their energy, mind, or emotions.
To smudge with sage, light the end of your sage smudge stick with a candle or some other fire source. The medicine should not actively be on fire, but should still be burning enough to produce smoke. Waft the smoke using your eagle or turkey feather, and try saying a prayer to keep your focus on your intended outcome. Finally, gently tap the end of your smudge stick in the abalone shell to put out the flame. Clean your smudge bowl as often as needed, and be sure to be careful not to crack the delicate shell.
While abalone shells are a common and traditional choice for use as smudge bowls, there are alternatives if you can’t find your own. Tempered glass, stone, and metal (like cast iron) bowls make great replacements, so don’t feel discouraged to try smudging if you haven’t yet found the perfect abalone shell.