Palo Santo and Cleansing

On the blog, we’ve covered cleansing rituals before that do not focus on smudging. Palo Santo Wood is another cleansing tool that has a long, interesting history and folklore...and is more widely available than one would think. This particular wood has a long history with a variety of geographic locations including South America, Africa, and Asia. It’s long, widespread tradition as a part of medicinal treatment and ceremonial use have carried its story through the centuries.

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Although most popularly used in South America, Palo Santo can be found at the root of many folkloric traditions dating back centuries. Many of these traditions directly relate to healing or cleansing power of the wood. Palo Santo is the Spanish word for the tree (Bursera graveolens), which is part of the Burseraceae family like frankincense and myrrh. Palo Santo literally translates to ‘Holy Wood’ which denotes how important it is in healing practices.

Palo Santo is usually treated and then burned either by directly inhaling it by the person looking to be cured or cleansed or as a fumigant to cleanse larger spaces and groups. It has also been used in teas and orally through an essential oil.

Cleansing a space with Palo Santo is a fairly simple process. First, you light one end of a palo santo stick on fire (or, if you have a small bundle multiple ends), blow out the fire after a few seconds to produce the smoke, and then guide the smoke towards and throughout the space, you are looking to cleanse.

Palo Santo is often used before a more intense ritual or at the beginning of a ritual in order to prepare the space/body and usually amplifies the positivity in the space. In addition to cleansing a space, Palo Santo also helps to attract and sustain positive energy in a space, thus making it an even more desirable cleansing tool since it is able to harness and amplify ‘the good.’

As far as use, Palo Santo trees are still very populous in South America and buying Palo Santo sticks and/or bundles is much more sustainable and environmentally friendly than something like sage. In fact, it is believed that the best and most potent Palo Santo wood is gathered from branches and trees that have already fallen, instead of freshly felled trees.

Picture taken by wikimedia commons user, liscensed under CC by 3.0.