Since the dawn of time we’ve been fascinated by smoke. It symbolises our constant striving to reach heaven and the beings that might dwell there. Since man first turned his eyes skywards, smoke has been used as a conduit for prayers, seen as the souls of the dead rising into heaven, for energy shifting and even communication.
The most evocative image of smoke being used to lift us was in a Viking funeral, where the departed were placed on a ship or raft and pushed out into the fiord. Flaming arrows were fired at it until the entire ship was ablaze and the spirit of the Viking carried into up into Valhalla by the smoke.
Before that, primitive cultures burned their dead, seeing in the rising smoke the material manifestation of the soul’s journey.
In temples, churches, monasteries and pagan ritual sites, it matters not which particular form of religion is followed, smoke permeates it.
Smoke was used in Aboriginal rituals. A woman giving birth crouched over a fire and then held her baby in the smoke to seal his spirit into his mortal body. At each big step in the child’s life he would be purified and sealed by the smoke again. This was particularly evident at the coming of age.
Males were circumcised and then they stood in the smoke to help heal the wound. The boys also believed that if they placed soaked lily leaves or damp grass on some heated stones, the steam rising from it would not only purify them, as it passed through their bodies from anus to mouth, but would also make them grow into strong men.
Native Americans smoke in communication; smoke signals. Damp leaves were burned on a high place to create clouds of dense smoke, which could be seen for miles. A blanket was dropped in sequence over the fire, causing gaps in the up-pouring smoke and delivering a message to a far off friend. Because the transmission was of secret information, the number of ‘puffs’ would be devised in advance by the transmitter and the person receiving.
|Native American Smoke Signal|
Another Native American use is ‘smudging’. Smudging is done to drive away bad energy and to help centre the people taking part in the ceremonies. A bowl is filled with tobacco (ah-say-ma), sweet grass, sage, and cedar and singed. The smudge pot is fanned with a feather all around the room so that the smoke reaches every corner and every person present. They bathe in the smoke, starting with the heart area first, the head area, the arms, and then downward toward the legs
This story tells of the origins of the Native American peace-pipe.
Two young, handsome Lakota saw a woman walking toward them. When she came closer, she stopped and looked at them. On her left arm she carried what looked like a stick in a bundle of sagebrush.
One of the men said, "She is more beautiful than anyone I’ve ever seen. I want her for my wife."
The other man replied, "How dare you have such a thought? She is wondrously beautiful and holy--far above ordinary people."
The woman spoke to them. "What is it you wish?"
The first man laid his hands on her as if to claim her. Instantly, from somewhere above, came a whirlwind. Then a mist came that hid the man and the woman. When the mist cleared, the other man saw the woman with the bundle on her arm, but his friend was a pile of bones at her feet.
He stood silent in wonder. Then the woman spoke to him. “Among your people is a good man whose name is Bull Walking Upright. I come to see him. Go ahead and tell your people that I’m coming. Ask them to move camp and pitch their tents in a circle, with an opening facing north.”
When the woman reached the camp, she revealed the gift, which was a small pipe made of red stone, with the carved outline of a buffalo calf.
She gave the pipe to Bull Walking Upright, and taught him prayers he should pray to the Strong One Above.
"When you pray to Him, you must use this pipe in the ceremony. When you’re hungry, unwrap the pipe and lay it bare in the air and the buffalo will come so you can easily hunt and kill them."
The woman told him how the people should behave in order to live peacefully together. She told him how they should decorate themselves for ceremonies.
"The earth is your mother. For special ceremonies, decorate yourselves as your mother does--in black and red, in brown and white; also the colours of the buffalo.
Above all, remember this is a peace pipe. Smoke it before all ceremonies and before making treaties. Use it when you pray to the Strong One above and to Mother Earth and you will be sure to receive the blessings that you ask."
|Native American Peace Pipe|
Every little while Bull Walking Upright called his people together, untied the bundle, and repeated the lessons he had been taught. He used it until he was more than one hundred years old.
Then he gave the pipe to Sunrise, a worthy man. In this way the pipe was passed down from generation to generation. "As long as the pipe is used," the woman had said, "Your people will live and will be happy. If it is forgotten, the people will perish."
( http://www.ilhawaii.net/~stony/lore30.html ) Stonees Weblodge
In Trinidad the Caribs burn corn, and a feather is wafted over it so that the smoke covers the male participants. Tobacco smoke is puffed over the men by the Shaman to cleanse and strengthen them. Smoke that enters body orifices takes in with it the power of the spirit from the smoke.
In Christian religions smoke from the incense, with its sweet-smelling perfume is seen as the symbol of the prayers, rising up to God in his heaven.
Rev. 8:3-4 Another angel with a golden censer came and stood at the altar; he was given a great quantity of incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar that is before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel.
|Angel with censer|
The Catholic Church has a very significant use of smoke. As well as burning incense in ceremonies, they also use it for smoke signals!
During elections of a Pope the cardinals conduct secret ballots until one person receives the critical vote of two-thirds plus one. Each time a vote is complete, the ballots are burned. To signify an unsuccessful ballot, straw is mixed with the papers to produce black smoke. When pure white smoke is seen pouring from the Vatican, it indicates that a Pope has been elected.
Taoists believe that holy smoke from joss sticks can ward off negative energies and evil spirits, and will also attract the blessings of the Gods. Another use of smoke by the monks is in burning joss paper. One sort sends up perfumed smoke as a sign of thanks to the Gods, and the second sort the smoke washes away their sins.
There are a myriad of different herbs used in smudging and incense burning:
African Violet: for protection and to promote spirituality within the home.
Basil: to exorcise and protect against evil entities.
Clove: to prevent the spread of gossip.
Dragon's Blood: for protection when spell-casting and invoking.
Fumitory: to exorcise demons.
Galangal: burned to break curses cast by sorcerers.
Mint: to increase sexual desire, conjure beneficial spirits and
Rose: to increase courage and induce prophetic dreams.
Sage: for protection against all forms of evil.
Vervain: to exorcise evil supernatural entities.
Why is smoke so multi-denominational? It effortlessly crosses the paths of every belief system, from Pagan Ritual to Christian Mass.
The essence of smoke is mystical and evocative and is a fundamental human symbol.
Since man’s first fascination with fire, which remains at the heart of civilisation, smoke has been seen as the embodiment of this powerful element. Imagine early man sitting around life-giving fire, watching the smoke rise and appearing to reach to heaven when man could not.
There is a propensity for using smoke for protection against malign energies. Not surprising really, because after all, fire is pure energy, and so the smoke would be seen as a concentration of that benevolent force. And it’s easy to see how its swirling vapour would be seen as something which could envelop and destroy any evil that might be near.
Smoke is the quintessential centre of sacrifice; as prayer, wafting up to God; a symbol of our love, being sent up to the Gods; of the union of people, when used in a pipe, as a means of signalling, and with its ethereal qualities as the obvious manifestation of spirits or ghosts.