By: Janik Shannon

When the word smudging comes to mind, most of us imagine a smeared mess on the wall, but for Phil Commonda, the opposite is true.

Smudging is an act of purification and cleansing done to lift spirits or help during a rough time.

“I do it as much as I can. There are some days when I feel like I need more than one [smudge],” said Commonda, 31, first-year student in the water and waste water management program at Algonquin.

The herbs burnt during the ritual vary depend on who is conducting the ceremony and what the purpose of the ceremony is.

“In aboriginal culture the medicine wheel is the four directions and the four directions are based on four different seasons, and within those four seasons there are four medicines,” said Aboriginal Counsellor Kimberly Smith. “Those four sacred medicines are used for different parts of our traditions in our culture. We use cedar for healing, we use tobacco to give thanks, we use sage to refresh and renew our spirit for the week, for the day, and then there’s sweet grass which is used for purification ceremonies. Sweet grass also represents Mother Earth’s hair so it has a lot more sacredness in how you handle and burn it.”

Being a sacred and private ritual, there are no restrictions to how often the smudging takes place, nor what the use of it is.

“Smudging is like washing your hands, washing your face, bringing the smudge down to the rest of your body,” said Smith. “For me I always put it on my heart. If an elder is smudging you they will do the back of you.”

The drum is seen as the primary instrument and focal point of their music for most aboriginal although the hand drum is more often than not used by woman as opposed to men.

The hand drum frame is made from a hollowed out log with rawhide, which is dried after the drum is made, stretched over the ring. Various skins can be used but elk and deer are preferred.

The drum beat representing Mother Earth’s heartbeat, the hand drum is used by the Cree, Ojibwe, Mi’kmaq and other Aboriginal people. The songs played in the different languages have various meanings and uses such as saying thanks, honouring, healing ceremonies, aid in meditation and welcoming the dawn.

“The songs have special meanings,” said Smith. “There are songs from everything and anything.”

Like all traditional rituals, there are certain protocols when it comes to these ceremonies. For students who come from Aboriginal communities, these protocols such as approaching elders and manipulating the ceremonial objects properly are known to them but for those unused to it, the procedures may not run as smoothly. In this case, it is encouraged to follow the leader.