Is burning incense the same as smudging?

HI Paula

I have moved into a new apartment recently, which I would love, if only negative things didn’t keep happening here.   A German friend of mine (we are all in the music business) is, like me, very interested in American Indian traditions, etc., and recommended sage smudging.   I am handicapped and a bit frightened to light any kind of fire in the home for the smoke, so bought some sage incense sticks which burn and smoke, so I hope they will do the same job, or rather, have the same outcome.   What do you think?
Best wishes,
Rosemary

Hi Rosemary,

It depends on how traditional you want to be about your smudging.

If you want to burn incense, that’s one thing. If you want to purify your surroundings in ceremony, that is quite something different.

Perhaps you haven’t read this article on our website:

http://www.horsekeeping.com/smudging/smudging-about.htm

Here is a place you can browse smudging supplies.

http://www.horsekeeping.com/smudging/smudging.htm

Smudge kit consisting of white sage, sweetgrass braid, a smudging bowl, a feather fan and a medicine bag in which to carry it all.

Recommendation for Protection against Evil and Bad Luck

Hello,

My friend is interested in a native indian amulet or “charm” for protection against evil and bad luck.  Would these medicine bags be appropriate?  I specificially like the Crazy Horse bag with the gemstones, however, I am not sure about their spiritual powers or purpose.  Would you please be able to direct me to the proper item that I could buy for my friend.

Thank you. IJ

Hi IJ,

Every person has their own belief system when it comes to good spirits and good luck so it is not so important what is used, but what one believes. Picking up a special stone can do more to change one’s luck than purchasing a lottery ticket !!

With that said, you know your friend and his or her habits and propensity to ceremony and ritual. Here are some ideas.

The Crazy Horse bag is very nice.

Crazy Horse Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

I’d highly recommend any of the bags made by Apache artist, Cynthia Whitehawk as she makes each of her items in ceremony and with great attention to detail. They are filled with a wonderful spirit already !  She acknowledges that each of us tends to be drawn to certain animals, stones or other healing spirits, so she makes many bags and shares her thoughts on the protective and healing powers of each totem.  That is indicated at the bottom of each page describing the bag.

Eagle Spirit Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

Carved Zuni fetishes can also be very powerful talismans – many are suitable to carry in a pocket or purse making them handy to hold or rub.

Rainbow Calsilica Medicine Bear by Zuni artist Kenny Chavez

Some of these fetishes are available as pendants so they can be worn on a chain or leather choker.

Sacred White Buffalo Pendant by Zuni artist Cheryl Beyuka

A cross might be the perfect answer.

Sterling Silver and Turquoise Cross by Navajo artist Derrick Gordon

For those who are looking for good luck, such as would come from a finding a four leaf clover, there are Authentic Lucky Horseshoes.

Authentic Lucky Horseshoe

I hope I’ve given you some ideas to find the perfect item for your friend.

Native American Terms – Fetish, Totem, Amulet, Talisman

Paula,
I wondered why in your web store you describe some Indian animal carvings and jewelry pieces as fetishes and others amulets or totems. Are they all the same thing? – Stuart

Stuart,
The terms fetish, amulet, totem and talisman are often used interchangeably to describe an object that provides good fortune and protects from evil. The exact meaning of any of these terms depend on the culture and location in which it is used. Briefly, here is how I see them:

Talisman

Alaskan Thunderbird Talisman by David Audette from Sitka, Alaska

A talisman is an object that is considered to possess supernatural or magical powers and is used especially to avert evils, disease, or death. A talisman is typically engraved or cut with figures or characters, constellations, planets, or other heavenly signs. It is often worn as an amulet or charm. From the Greek word “telein”, which means “to initiate into the mysteries”. The word talisman is often used synonymous with amulet.

Amulet

Turquoise and Sterling Silver Lucky Horseshoe Amulet by Navajo artist Wilbur Muskett Jr.

An amulet is a protecting charm – any object worn to bring good luck and to ward off evil, illness, and harm from supernatural powers and from other people. Amulets are typically carvings, stones (especially with naturally occurring holes), plants (such as sage, 4-leaf clover, shamrock), coins, and jewelry (crosses, horseshoes, gemstones).

Totem

Horse Totem on Horse Spirit Medicine Bag by Apache artist Cynthia Whitehawk

A totem is an object that symbolizes a person’s or a tribe’s animal guide. This could be a totem pole, an emblem or a small figurine or carving. Native American tradition holds that different animal guides come in and out of a person’s life depending on the direction that person is headed and the challenges he faces. A totem animal is the one animal that acts as the main guardian spirit and is with a person for life, both in the physical and spiritual world. Traditionally, it is the totem animal, such as an eagle, wolf, bear, horse or dragonfly, that finds the person, not the other way around.

Fetish

Bear Fetish by Zuni artist Emery Eriacho

A fetish is a sacred object used in religious ceremonies, for spiritual awakening and to communicate with and direct supernatural powers. A fetish can provide protection, promote healing and ensure success in ventures such as hunting or farming. A Native American fetish is most often a carving, usually of an animal, that has some sort of power, and is sometimes decorated with stones, shells, and feathers. A carving without power is merely a carving. A person’s own beliefs determine the difference between a fetish and a carving.

So, whether an object is a talisman, totem, amulet or fetish is up to you. Just as the beauty of an object is in the eye of the beholder, so the power of an object is in the belief of the seer or wearer.

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More on Native American Prayer Feathers and Fans

Red Hawk Prayer Fan by Apache artist, Cynthia Whitehawk

Hi Paula,

I’m looking forward to receiving the prayer feather. If I’m not bothering you to ask, is there anything else you could tell me about this particular feather?

Many thanks,

Dave from Australia

Hi Dave

No bother at all. My pleasure. I posted a little bit about Prayer Feathers in a previous post.

The only other thing I can say about the feather fan you are receiving is that Alan Nash calls his smudge fans a Talking Prayer Feather which is from the Navajo.

Navajo Talking Prayer Feather

Many other artists of other tribes refer to them as Prayer Feathers.

Since using eagle feathers is illegal, artists use turkey feathers, either natural or hand painted to look like eagle feathers.

Lakota Prayer Feather

According to Navajo legends and teachings:

The Eagle was created to help the Dine’ with healing and guidance. Eagle plumes and feathers represent faith, hope, courage and strength. Individuals often receive eagle plumes as they make their journey in life. The plume acts as a shield as one follows the Corn Pollen way of life.

Lakota Prayer Feather


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