Which Type of Feather to Use to Smudge with Sage
Smudging, which involves the burning of sacred herbs and medicines, has been practiced by Indigenous peoples around the world for centuries, and continues to be popular today. One of the traditional elements of the smudging ceremony is the smudging feather, which is used to waft the cleansing smoke around the body, around items that require cleansing, around a room, and so on.
At Tribal Trade Co., we have helped thousands of individuals to find their ideal sacred medicines, and have taught countless people to smudge to cleanse themselves physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We get lots of questions regarding smudging on a daily basis, but we’ve noticed a common one regarding the smudging feather. Why do we use feathers in the first place? Is there a right or a wrong type of feather to use? What is the significance of feathers to the Indigenous culture? Keep reading to find out.
Why We Use Feathers While Smudging
As with many traditional Indigenous rituals, the smudging ceremony is full of symbolism. Many of our ideologies and beliefs are based on lessons taught to us by the medicine wheel, which emphasizes the importance of balance between all things.
The Four Elements, for example, are each represented by a different quadrant of the medicine wheel, and rely on one another to complete the circle. In the smudging ritual, the elements are similarly represented. The feather, used to waft the healing smoke, represents air, and helps to complete the balance of elements.
The Importance of Birds In the Indigenous Culture
While the symbolism of the feather and its connection to the element of Air is one factor of why Indigenous peoples use feathers in their smudging rituals, birds in general play an extremely important role in the Indigenous culture. Because of this, feathers are found in many rituals and ceremonies, and are often included in traditional clothing and costumes.
Birds share many messages and lessons with Indigenous people, and play an active role in daily life. For instance, as a new day arrives and the sun begins to rise, the birds greet the new day with their song and help to wake everyone up for the new day. Each bird plays an important role, each with its specific work and tasks to be done each day.
Birds are also believed to have a special connection with the Creator, and the use of their feathers helps us to forge a deeper connection with the Spirit, the Creator, and ourselves.
Types of Feathers Used for Smudging
There is no one answer for which type of feather you should use while you smudge, but there are some traditional options commonly used by North American Indigenous people. Some of your choices include:
The Eagle is perhaps the most important bird to the Indigenous culture, since the Eagle is believed to be in closest contact with the Creator. Able to soar high above the Earth, the Eagle is thought to carry messages on its wings to the Creator, and is therefore given a place of honor and respect. As the wings of the Eagle carry messages to the Creator, the feathers of the Eagle are used during smudging ceremonies to lift our messages and intentions and gain the attention of the Creator.
Feathers from the Golden Eagle, the Bald Eagle, and other indigenous North American eagles are traditionally used in smudging rituals and are often given as a gift or as a sign of respect to an elder.
Though not held in the same reverence as the Eagle, the Hawk also flies high in the sky close to the Creator, playing a similar role in the Indigenous culture. Feathers from a variety of indigenous North American hawks, like the Red-Tailed Hawk, are used for smudging, and are similarly gifted to elders, friends, family, or guests as a symbol of respect.
The Wild Turkey, which happens to be one of the largest indigenous North American birds, also plays an important role in Indigenous life. The Turkey helps to keep the lands safe and healthy, providing both gentle care and vigilant protection. The Turkey has also been an important food source for Indigenous people for centuries, generously sharing itself with us for the purpose of our health and survival. Because of this, Turkey feathers are commonly used in smudging rituals.
Though many people choose to use just a single feather, decorated or plain, during their smudging ceremonies, some people prefer to use a dedicated “feather fan”. Feather fans or smudge fans are made from two or more feathers, bound together to form a fan. Some smudge fans may include charms or trinkets, intricate designs, wooden handles, and other decorative features while others may be kept plain and simple. Whether you opt for a single feather or a smudging fan, it all comes down to personal preference and your connection with the object.
Feather Alternatives for Smudging
If you do not have a feather on hand, or have not yet found a good place to sustainably and respectfully source your feathers, that doesn’t mean you can’t start smudging! The smoke produced by burning sacred herbs and medicines can easily be wafted around your person and your environment with a feather alternative which can be as simple as your hand.
Imitation Eagle feathers are also a popular option for non-Indigenous people wanting to try smudging. Because of the important role played by the Eagle in the Indigenous culture, some people prefer to leave these feathers to Indigenous people only, using painted imitation feathers instead.
How to Choose Your Smudging Feather
If you don’t already have a Turkey or Eagle feather handy for your own smudging ritual, and are interested in acquiring one, there are a few basic ways to do so. You could be gifted one by an Indigenous friend, you could purchase one from an Indigenous-owned store, or you could find one in Nature yourself. *Note: if you find a feather, be sure to research local laws and policies regarding the collection of bird feathers.
At Tribal Trade Co., we offer a variety of smudging supplies including both decorative and individual feathers. We use materials like guinea feathers, turkey feathers, eagle feathers, leather, and other decorative elements, and offer our smudging feathers individually or in one of our complete smudging kits, which includes bundles of sage, cedar, and sweetgrass, an abalone shell, a feather of your choice, and a basic guide to smudging.
Are you interested in discovering more about the Indigenous culture? Visit the Tribal Trade Co. website to learn more, and be sure to check out our Tribal Teachings Blog for more articles just like this.