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Opening the Way with a Sweetgrass Ritual

Sweetgrass (Hierochloe odorata) is often used at the beginning of rituals and ceremonies, as it is an invitation to positive nature spirits and the ancestors. A fragrant herb reminiscent of warmed vanilla, sweetgrass is sometimes called vanilla grass. It is beloved by various First Nation peoples, particularly the Sioux and Aniyunwiya or Tsalagi (called Cherokee in English). The Lakota people connect this scented rush with the compassionate create goddess Wohpe.

Wohpe is a striking, well-balanced, spiritual goddess associated with the mysterious seventh direction. She is thought to appear at the moment a puff of smoke appears. According to Lakota stories, the braided grasses symbolize the beautiful plaited hair of Wohpe though other nations associate sweetgrass with various other creation mothers. Sweetgrass herb creates a quiet, seductive incense that assists during the process of spiritual cleansing, clearings, rituals, and blessings.

Like many beloved plants, sweetgrass is growing endangered in certain states, especially in some states along the East Coast and in New England. Sweetgrass grows in both North America and in Europe around the Arctic Circle. In fact, the sacred nature of sweetgrass is shared among Native Americans and European groups who have utilized it as a strewing herb on church stairs during saint’s days. Sweetgrass of different species is utilized to make the traditional baskets of the Gullah people as well. Truly, a multicultural herb, sweetgrass has been cultivated for at least ten thousand years. Thirty species have been indentified. Since the species Hierochloe odorata is disappearing rapidly, it is worth considering using the slightly less fragrant H. alpina, H.hirta, H. occidentalis, or H. pauciflora. Sweetgrass can also be cultivated and some people even grow it as an indoor houseplant under the right conditions.

Burning sweetgrass in the home is a simple yet evocative way to reconnect to the earth in accord with the advent of spring. Cultures across North America burn braided aromatic grass and rushes, not only sweetgrass but also whatever is fragrant and available locally. The smoldering grasses become a spiritual invitation for a fertile, vibrant spring with abundant rains that guarantee a safe harvest. Moreover, sweetgrass is noted for its antiseptic qualities. Create your own spring sweetgrass (or other aromatic wild grass) clearing ritual based on the following directions:

1. Cut wild aromatic grasses, or sweetgrass if available in your area, to about forty inches. Braid loosely in three strands. As an alternative, obtain a braid of sweetgrass from a reputable supplier.

2. Stroke the grass gently, and after that, whisper your wishes for the spring season.

3. Treat the sweetgrass as though it is the actual braid of Wohpe or another creation mother goddess. 

4. Light the braid in a dark room, and implore the earth to open the way for you and your family to have an enlightened and abundant spring. 

5. Tamp the flame and travel through your home, clockwise, in the four cardinal directions (east, south, west, and finally north) spreading her delightful vanilla scent and inherent wisdom along the way.

6. Focus on encouraging the positive vibrations from the smoke to bless your home as you travel carrying the braid.

Opening the Way with a Sweetgrass Ritual is an excerpt from Four Seasons of Mojo: an Herbal Guide to Natural Living.