Energetic Detox: How To Get Rid of Bad Energy
Written by: the Editors of goop
Updated: January 3, 2023
When she isn’t conducting crystal readings*, shamanic energy medicine practitioner Colleen McCann is clearing houses, apartments, offices of negative/stuck/unwanted energy, and helping her clients to detox energy that they can’t seem to shake off otherwise. In this article and two goop-exclusive videos, McCann takes us through the process of burning sacred herbs to cleanse yourself and your spaces.
A Q&A with Colleen McCann
What’s the purpose of smudging? How often do you do it?
Smudging is an ancient ceremony in which sacred plants are burned, and the resulting smoke is wafted throughout a space (or around someone’s body) to bless the space (or body).
If you’re feeling stuck, negative, sluggish, or perhaps as if a spirit is following you around like a creepy ex-boyfriend…it may be due to some bad energy in your field. Stuck energy can gather like unwanted guests at a house party. The most effective way to combat an energy traffic jam is smudging. (Learn how below.) Smudging can clear your emotional, energetic, mental, spiritual, and physical body—as well as your environment (home, office, or other physical space). It helps tackle any bad juju you sense looming, clears the energy in your field, and allows you to start anew.
A good rule of thumb is to clear your energy once a week and your space somewhere between once a month and once a season. But if you’re someone who interacts a lot with people on a daily basis at work, or is constantly entertaining at home, then you’ll want to up the ante and energetically cleanse yourself and your space more frequently.
Which spaces (at home and beyond) do you recommend people clear?
I recommend doing a thorough walk through of your entire space, spending more time in high traffic areas where people spend more time, like the conference room in an office building, or a living room at home. Pay extra-close attention to doorways, as this is where energy can get stuck. Same goes for anywhere that has a high concentration of water or metal (like the kitchen or bathroom), as both act as conductors for the spirit world. When I go into a home to help people move spirits out, 90 percent of the time, the clients report having had encounters with a spirit-like energy in one of the above-mentioned places. Oh, and don’t forget creepy basements—no explanation necessary.
What parts of the body should we pay attention to?
It’s important to do a little self-diagnosis. For example, if you shake hands a lot, then smudge your hands frequently. If you speak all day long at work, then sage around your throat when you get home.
How do we choose our herbal smudging tool?
Just as buying organic or locally sourced food makes a difference, the quality of your energy-clearing herbs matters. Be wary of vendors you are not familiar with; I recommend Shamans Market or Taos Herbs for their high-quality, ethically cultivated sacred herbs.
Sage: Has an earthy (just-smoked-weed) smell and a feminine energy. If you’re using sage, look for California white sage (which is different from the sage you would cook with). Burning sage is one of the oldest methods of cleansing a person, group of people, objects, or space. The practice dates back to prehistoric times and it’s been used in every corner of the world. The Latin word for sage, salvia, means to heal. Burning sage has traditionally been associated with increasing wisdom, clarity, and spiritual awareness. When sage is burned, it releases negative ions, a natural way of putting people into a more positive mood. On a practical level, scientists have observed that sage can clear up to 94 percent of airborne bacteria in a space.
Palo Santo: If sage doesn’t speak to you, try palo santo. It has a masculine energy and its smell is reminiscent of a temple, with notes of pine and lemon. Palo santo is a sacred wood that grows on the coast of South America and has been used by the indigenous shamans of the Andes and the Amazon for centuries. (In Spanish, the name literally means “holy stick.”)
What’s your favorite?
It depends on the occasion: I love doing large-scale house clearings with sage. When clearing people in a shamanic hands-on session, I use palo santo. For shamanic ceremonies and rituals, I burn a cocktail of copal, myrrh, and frankincense resin (part of the citrus family with palo santo) because it promotes spiritual cleansing, connection to the spirit realm, protection, purification, and heightened awareness. I burn cedar when I feel like I need extra protection in a space, and lavender and rose oils when I am looking to relax.
Can you take us through the essential steps for clearing energy?
Have an Exit Strategy: Before you light up, remember to open a door or window as the unwanted energy you are trying to clear must have a path to get out. Why? Let’s take a lesson from eighth-grade science class: Imagine that you took a bunch of chemical compounds and put them in a jar, sealed the lid, and shook the jar. You just created a chemical reaction, but the mixture has nowhere to go; so the jar could explode, crack, or not complete its chemical reaction because of the lack of oxygen/being compressed in a small space, and essentially not being able to change. If you are trying to get someone’s toxic energy out of your house after a weekend rager, or an intense meeting at work, you need to give that energy somewhere to go. Leave the door or window open for about an hour after clearing your space.
Be Prepared: Remember, you are lighting something on fire, so the right container for your smudging tool is key. Traditionally, people use an abalone shell to hold the sage (or palo santo) and then a feather to fan and spread the smoke around the space when burning it. Abalone shells are easy to hold when walking around a space, and they can withstand the heat created from the burning herbs. Feathers help to remove dense energy from the body and energetic field.
Dress for the Occasion: Wear black. Why? Practically speaking, you’re fanning lit herbs very close to your body. The first time I sage’d a house, I was wearing a white T-shirt and came home with brown spots all over it from flying ash. Rookie mistake. Ritualistically speaking, shamans wear black when performing rites/rituals/ceremonies/house clearings/exorcisms/healings to help the shaman remain invisible to the spirit/entity, and prevent anything from “sticking” to the spiritual practitioner. Psychologically speaking, wearing black gives you the feeling of being calm, in control, protected, and grounded—exactly how you want to feel when you’re telling the bad juju to get the F out.
Light Up: Once you’re ready to light your sage or palo santo, grab it as far from the burning end as possible. Hold it at a 45-degree angle, light it, let it burn for about 10 seconds, and then gently blow out the flame so that you see orange embers on the lit end. Clients sometimes tell me that they can’t get their sage to stay lit. If the sage bundle was packed too tight when made, then the oxygen won’t be able to get in, and the sage won’t stay lit. Loosen the ribbon around the sage and take the tip you are lighting and hit it against a hard surface to give it a little breathing room. This will help to keep your sage smoking.
Walk and Fan: Now you can start clearing your space. Walk slowly through the space while holding the abalone shell and fanning the sage or palo santo smoke around the room with the feather. If you start to see the glow of the embers fading, blow on the end that’s lit—but gently so you don’t send ash flying onto your outfit or carpet.
If you are clearing energy off yourself or someone else, be conscious of skin, eyes, hair, and clothing—again, sometimes ash will fly a bit. So, pull your hair back into a bun or ponytail, if relevant. It is customary to smudge yourself before moving on to someone else. When “fanning” someone else, remind them to shut their eyes. Start from the top, and bring the smoke around the head, down the torso, and toward the feet (covering the front of the body and then the back). Don’t forget to get the crown of the head, palms of the hands, and soles of the feet. Use the feather as a fan to help keep the smoke going and to direct it.
Say a Mantra: Once they have the area ventilated and the herbs lit, I tell my clients to ask the unwanted energy to leave the space—out loud. I have them say some variation of: Any energy that is not of my highest and greatest good get the f*%k out—with love, but it’s time to go. Please exit through the open window/door.
Lights Out: The best way to extinguish the smudge stick is by pressing the burning surface firmly against a stone, fireproof bowl, or in dirt or sand until smoke no longer rises. (Although the shell can stand the heat, you save the finish by not mashing the smudge stick into it.) Don’t use water to extinguish the hot embers—it will ruin the tip of the stick and it makes it harder to light next time. Once you are done using the smudge stick, you can keep it in a bowl or plate until you are ready to use it again: Make triple-sure that every bit of fire and smoke has been extinguished and rest the stock in the shell or non-flammable container.
What if we want to clear a no-smoking zone?
Sage spray is my go-to alternative when I am in a no-smoke zone. It’s easy to travel with and it smells great. I use it when I am in hotels—think about how many different people’s energy have been in just one hotel room.
What else is important for good “spiritual hygiene”?
Breath work, meditation and visualization practice, sound healing sessions, time in nature, energy healing sessions, and wearing crystals are all ways to maintain “spiritual hygiene.”
Tips for preventing toxic energy from entering our spaces/bodies in the first place?
1. I wear crystals around my neck, keep them in my purse—and yes, even squirrel them away in my bed and bra. The crystals that are best for grounding and for protection from all types of energy vampires and bad juju are: shungite, black tourmaline, black obsidian, hematite, and onyx.
2. Cultivate an energetic doormat so you’re not tracking “energetic mud” into your home: I like to sage my body off in my doorway before I even step foot into my home so I’m not bringing any unwanted energy with me.
3. Thoughts are very powerful things. Think about yourself, your life, and everything you want to create in a positive manner. We are the creators of our own destiny; what you put out into the world is what will come back to you.