Is It Safe To Use Abalone Shells When Smudging?

November 28, 2019

A few weeks ago we had a conversation in our private Elemental Space Clearing® group about abalone shells and smudging.

I’m a mentor for the group and am often answering questions or providing support as well as learning from the depth of knowledge from other practitioners and students.

One of our lovely members asked a question about abalone shells – and what followed was a really interesting conversation about abalone shells and the role they play in Elemental Space Clearing®.

This conversation was the momentum I needed to write this article and answer the question –

Is It Safe To Use Abalone Shells When Smudging?

Just in case you don’t know what an abalone shell looks like, this is one I have in my collection. The shell is so beautiful – the inside of it glistening in the sun (some pale like mine; some a darker blue, pink and purple), the back of it a smooth-ish rough texture, and small evenly spaced holes along one edge. Size wise it fits in the palm of my hand very comfortably.

The first thing I think we need to think about is – Is an abalone shell deep enough from a safety perspective to use in smudging?

In researching this article for you my first port of call was the content I learnt in my Elemental Space Clearing® training.

In my course notes, Denise Linn, my teacher and mentor advises:

“Sage … must be burned in a fireproof bowl, which is large enough to contain at least several inches of soil, sand, or salt. The fireproof bowl must also be placed on some fireproof surface in the unlikely event that the heat causes it to crack.” Denise Linn, Elemental Space Clearing® Training Workbook

According to The Moonlight Shop “Abalone shells are a very popular material for use as a smudging bowl. But be careful not to handle the shell midway, since heat also transfers to the shell. Abalone shells, being shells, are not bowls, so they sometimes have holes in them.”

And Grandfather’s Spirit® says “When burning in the shell be certain to protect the surface of whatever the shell is resting on as the shell may get quite hot and damage surfaces under it.”

In my mind this wisdom guides us toward an important fact when burning sage – we must consider our safety and that of our clients and the home we’re clearing.

With this in mind, I think if you’re planning on burning sage and are looking for a bowl, it’s best to use one that’s known to be fireproof and can hold enough soil, sand or salt to catch any embers that may appear while smudging.

This is the bowl I currently use when burning sage or palo santo (the stick of wood in this photo). It’s the third bowl I’ve had over the years – the first was too heavy, the second I dropped and broke, and now I have this one.

Sage, Palo Santo and Bowl - Helen Joy Butler

As you can see, the bowl is small enough to hold easily and has beach sand in the bottom to catch any embers. Once I’ve finished my Clearing I also use the sand in the bowl to put out the sage (please remember to do this and leave it safely somewhere to cool fully before putting it away – a sage stick can stay hot for a very long time!).

The second thing to consider is – Is it a good idea to combine the element of water and fire in our Clearings?

Abalone shells are by nature from the sea, so their element is water.

And sage, given we light it and it burns, represents the element of fire.

Put the two together and we’re combining the element of water with the element of fire.

My friend Sherry Trentini knows a thing or two about Feng Shui and she tells me that “yes the abalone represents water, and fire and water cancel each other out in one way”.

According to The Moonlight Shop “A lot of people also hold off on using (abalone) shells since symbolically, the shell represents the element of Water, and Fire and Water do not mix well.”

And Grandfather’s Spirit® says “Please note that although it is very popular to use abalone shells in smudging, there are many Native elders concerned that abalone shells are being used when burning the herbs. On the Pacific Northwest Coast, for example, some holy men have said that abalone shells represent Grandmother Ocean, and that they should be used in ceremonies with water, not burning.”

When doing a ceremonial Elemental Space Clearing® it’s always lovely to use a combination of elements – earth, water, air and fire – but we do want to be respectful of each element and use them in a way which honours the unique properties they bring to the Clearing.

The third question – How safe are abalone shells anyway?

I know in our Space Clearings we’re not going to go and cut up an abalone shell or anything, but this is an interesting fact.

According to Wikipedia, “the dust created by grinding and cutting abalone shell is dangerous; appropriate safeguards must be taken to protect people from inhaling these particles”.

I’ve tried to find information on what happens if an abalone shell is heated or burnt – as may happen if you use it as a bowl when burning sage – and haven’t had much luck. There’s actually quite a lot online about the relationship between sage, abalone shells and smudging a space; but not a lot about whether the shell itself can be damaged when burnt. If you have found a resource on this please share it with me – it would be great to put this question to bed fully!

Again, safety is important, so perhaps my answer to question 1 helps you make a decision anyway?

My plan in writing this article is not to dismiss abalone shells in anyway. I love them and definitely use them in my Clearings – just not to burn sage.

If you’d like to use an abalone shell in your Space Clearing, how could you use it?

  • As a bowl to support your smudge stick (with a back up bowl for when you burn your sage)
  • To represent water on your altar
  • To call in the water element to your Clearing
  • To hold a small amount of water on your altar
  • To meditate with before starting your Clearing

Any thoughts? Feel free to share them in the comments!

With much love,

Helen xx

Helen Joy Butler - Sanctuary Creator, Elemental Space Clearing® practitioner and #HSP Warrior


  • Sherry Trentini

    I’ve smudged forever and I recall years & years ago in after clearing my first house thinking that I had extinguished my bundle only to be woken up in the night, to find that it had continued to smolder well after I had finished. Yikes, it worked out okay but it certainly is something to be mindful of. Secondly, having just recently upgraded our smoke detectors in the house whilst smudging I set them off! They are far more sensitive and are now connected to each other so I had quite a robust symphony.

    • Helen Joy Butler

      Oh my Sherry, that’s pretty full on! I’m glad you were OK and that the smudge stick didn’t cause any harm. xx

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