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Cleansing: A ritual to purify and shift energy using incense, palo santo and sage

Cleansing is an ancient sacred ritual used to cleanse, purify and shift energy. Many different cultures have their own ancient tools and their own ways to cleanse themselves, their spaces and objects. I personally use incense and palo santo in my day to day and if I’m cleansing bigger spaces I will use sage. I pay my respect to the people and cultures that use and taught others about palo santo and sage as cleansing tools and pay respect to my people and culture who use incense daily for cleansing and representation of fire.

What is cleansing?

Cleansing is an ancient sacred ritual used to cleanse, purify and shift energy. Many cultures have their ancient tools and ways of cleansing themselves, their spaces, and objects. Cleansing dates back to many moons ago and no doubt your ancestors used some form of cleansing to clean their themselves and their spaces.


In Bali we use incense and holy water to cleanse our hands, face and body before prayer and we make our holy water by burning a sacred wood, mixing the smoke with the water and performing a ritual. Incense sticks are also placed on offerings (canang sari) and are laid within temples and homes. Each intrinsic piece of the offering represents something with the incense representing fire.

Palo Santo

Palo santo is a tree found in parts of South America and in Spanish translates to ‘holy wood’. Traditionally used by the Andean and Indigenous people of the region, palo santo is used to treat pain, stress and clear negative energy. It has been used for centuries by shamans in ritual prayer, ceremonies, and healing and is known for its grounding and focusing effect, which can enhance creativity, and productivity and increase good fortune.


Another well-known cleansing tool is sage – traditionally used by Native Americans – when burnt (also known as ‘smudging’) it is associated with wisdom, clarity, and increased spiritual awareness. Sage comes from the salvia plant family which when derived from the Latin word salvere translates to ‘to heal’.

Studies show that burning both palo santo and sage has clears bacteria, has antibacterial qualities and serves as an insect repellent on top of its spiritual and grounding benefits.

Each culture cleanses areas with different things – cinnamon sticks, crystals, and candles, and the Indigenous Australians use gum leaves during ceremony. You may not even realise it yourself, but you are probably already cleansing your space with candles, mists and diffusers.


How do you cleanse?

  • Set an intention for your practice
  • Always make sure you have a fire safe dish and tray so you can place your cleansing tool on it when completed. 
  • Understand what you’re burning – incense will burn slowly; sage can burn quickly and produce lots of smoke and palo santo can go extinguish quickly so may need to be ignited with fire more often.
  • If cleansing your home, open the windows and doors to allow the stuck energy and smoke cleanse and clear your space. This will help promote a flow of fresh air to sweep through your home too.
  • If cleansing yourself and objects use slow circular movements to promote the smoke and be sure to cleanse from your feet to your head.
  • Never leave your cleansing tool unattended. If you need to leave and it’s still burning, please place it in sand or under water to extinguish.

There are many videos online about how to cleanse an area and there are many people who say there are right and wrong ways to do it. Personally, I think it’s nice to see how others cleanse a space but if the way you do it feels right for you – then do it that way. Be guided by your own inner guidance.

If you feel drawn to burning incense, palo santo or sage, I highly recommend you find high quality and ethically cultivated cleansing tools where possible. There are many mass-produced, commercial sellers out there who aren’t connected to its sacred use. It’s important that we remember it’s a sacred plant that has been used in ceremony for centuries and as such should be cultivated ethically and honoured by its producers and buyers.

Full disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate, meaning if you click on a link and make a purchase, I may earn a commission at no extra costs to you. I only endorse things that I’ve personally used, researched or come highly recommended from trusted peers.

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