Smudging Our Canoe
Smudging is an ancient practice of the burning of herbs or incense held sacred by many Indigenous cultures. It is a ritual for cleansing, purifying and protecting the physical and spiritual bodies. The effect of the smoke is to banish negative energies and to purify people, clear ceremonial and ritual space, and ceremonial tools and objects.
According to Indigenous traditions, certain plants, called medicines, give up their lives so that we can use their smoke for prayers and cleansing. The aroma produced by these plants help us place ourselves in a different state of mind, bringing us into a deeper part of ourselves and awakening the soul. Cedar, sage, sweet grass and tobacco are traditionally used in a smudging ceremony. Indigenous Elders say that the Spirits like the aroma produced when we burn sacred medicines.
With this in mind, and having smudged my home and myself on numerous occasions, I thought that it would be appropriate to smudge our new canoe. So about a month ago, on our first overnight trip with our canoe at Algonquin Provincial Park for the 150 for 150 event, we began a smudging ceremony on Joe Lake with some friends, who also had a beautiful new handmade cedar strip canoe on its maiden voyage which they also wished to be smudged.
In preparation for this, I had brought my smudge stick from home, and 3 feathers bound together by leather that I had made into a fan to wave the smoke. The feathers had been found on various trails we have hiked over the years.
We lit the smudge stick with a wooden match and let it burn for a moment until a steady, strong smoke developed. As we inhaled, a sweet, earthy, pungent aroma filled our senses. A sense of the sacred began to emerge as the smoke drifted upwards. We were ready.
As the ceremony began, my prayers included petitions for the safe passage over both water and land for all people the canoe would carry, and gratitude for the bountiful gifts Mother Earth bestows on us: the lakes and rivers, the forests, the creatures, and the medicines. I repeated the prayers for each section of the canoe, waving the smoke from the smudge stick into the canoe, starting at the stern and making my way up to the bow.
When finished, I handed the smudge stick and feather fan to my friend, who did the same for his canoe.
Then, each of us in turn, smudged ourselves.
As I smudged myself, I worked my way down from my head to my feet, waving the smoke over each part of my body. I silently said the following smudging prayer.
May my mind be cleansed to think good thoughts.
May my eyes be cleansed, that I might see the signs and wonders of the world.
May my throat be cleansed, that I might speak kindly and rightly when words are needed.
May my hands be cleansed, that they create beautiful things.
May my heart be cleansed, that I might hear its messages clearly.
May my feet be cleansed, that they might take me where I most need to be.
May I be washed clean by the smoke of these fragrant plants.
And may that same smoke carry my prayers, spiraling, to the heavens.
To close the ceremony, and because there would be no canoe without the water, I turned to the lake and sang the Water Song.
Ne-be Gee Zah- gay- e- goo.
Gee Meegwetch -wayn ne-me-goo.
Gee Zah wayn ne-me-goo.
Water, we love you.
We thank you.
We respect you.
We were now ready for the canoeing season and all the wonders it would give us!