Sunday, July 14, 2024

What Is Copal? | POPSUGAR Smart Living

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Smoke represents both the air and fire elements. It is important to many Indigenous spiritual rituals for its cleansing properties. Various herbs and resins are burned to create this sacred smoke, each carrying different meanings. Copal, a tree resin, produces a sacred smoke used in spiritual rituals and ceremonies for generations of Indigenous communities worldwide. Its distinctive, sweet smell sets it apart from other herbs and resins, as it produces a sensory experience that can help your spirit journey to the deepest parts of your self while inviting ancestors to participate alongside you. Burning copal can assist you in tapping into the crown chakra and clearing any obstructions to connect to spirit. Just as our ancestors used this sacred resin, it is still relevant and powerful today. As they used it to awaken and connect to their ancestors, we now do the same to connect to them. And so the cycle of Indigenous spiritual practices continues.

What Is Copal and Where Does It Come From?

Copal is tree resin from a copal tree. Before Spanish exploration and conquest, it was widely used by pre-Columbian Mesoamerican civilizations, which included parts of Mexico and Central and South America. Today, it is still used in spiritual practices around the world as a way to connect deeply to spirit.

“Traditionally, copal use comes from the Mexica traditions,” Yaqui Rodriguez, a healer and founder of Recuerdo Wellness, tells PS about the Nahuatl-speaking people known as the Aztecs, who called resin the blood of trees.

“Additionally, copal is found in Colombia, East Africa, and the Dominican Republic,” Rodriguez says, adding that it is important to purchase the sacred resin “from keepers connected to that spirit of the medicine, its sacredness, and when possible from the places of origin.

What Is Copal Used For?

“The sweet smell of copal acts as a bridge to connect with the spirit world,” Ana Mexia, a healer from Sonora, Mexico, tells PS. “One way I work with its energy is as an offering to the ancestors and the land.”

Mexia explains that when preparing ceremonies, rituals, or celebrations, she burns copal as an offering to grandparents and elders. Copal can also be used to prepare a space or a person for a ceremony, ritual, or any kind of spiritual work.

“Smudging copal with intention cleanses the energy of the space or person and can be very grounding,” Mexia says. “It’s important that this is done with intent, as copal amplifies your intention.”

Copal is used in annual celebrations like Dia de los Muertos to guide the spirits of the ancestors’ homes. The resin is also prominently used when working with tobacco, in teazels or ancestral shamanic rituals, and in psychedelic and cacao ceremonies.

“It’s also used for cleansing rituals or limpias, where people are smudged with copal to cleanse their energy and work through challenges and fears,” Mexia explains.

Rodriguez says copal can be quite powerful when used for one-on-one work. “The Mexica people believe that there isn’t only energetic and spiritually protective and healing properties, but physical ones.”

She was first introduced to copal through cacao ceremonies. Still, over time, Rodriguez’s connection to copal has grown stronger through its use during psychedelic ceremonies until she began working with it on a personal level.

“I pray with copal to clear space, move energy, and bring balance,” Rodriguez says. “It is used in my one-on-one sessions, group work, and ceremonies. I also burn it as an offering in my personal practice.”

Why Is the Difference Between Copal and Amber?

“Copal is a resin that comes from live trees,” Rodriguez explains. “When it’s young and soft, it’s copal. As it ages and hardens, it becomes amber.”

Through research, Rodriguez discovered an abundance of amber in her motherland, the Dominican Republic, which has only strengthened her connection to copal. Mexia learned from a trusted teacher that amber, like copal, comes from tree resin. “But it’s fossilized from ancient trees and must be mined for. So, amber comes from the solidification of tree resin from thousands, maybe even millions of years ago.”

How Do You Burn Copal?

Copal is typically burned on charcoal. Using a cauldron or another surface that can safely be heated, like a rock, sand, or shell, place a charcoal tab on top, light it, and let it turn gray. Take your desired amount of copal resin and place it on the charcoal tab. It will begin to smoke, producing the sweet copal scent that is intoxicating to the soul, can deepen your meditations, and send your spirit on a journey.

Rodriguez burns her copal in a copal burner traditionally known as a popoxcomitl. “I place charcoal on the inside, do some specific prayers, and place the copal on the charcoal,” she says.

Mexia uses a Copalera to burn her copal.”It’s a handmade, ceramic, or clay vessel used to burn copal,” she says. “It has a bowl where you place a small charcoal and a handle to carry it. I light up the charcoal, set the intention for using copal, and once it’s hot, add some resin to burn it and smudge.”

Like other sacred resins and herbs, working with copal should be treated with the utmost respect. Copal is a gift from Mother Earth that allows us to further deepen our connection to self and nature.

“Copal is an ancestral medicine used to clean, neutralize, and bless spaces or people,” Mexia shares from her teacher Tata Izaias, who also informed her that the sacred resin has a therapeutic, ceremonial use and can be used as a powerful gift to the creator.

“For me, the use of these ancestral tools has to be rooted in respect,” she says. “I use copal only for rituals, ceremonies, and offerings. I don’t burn copal just for the sake of it. It’s important to know how to work with it, where the copal comes from, and be respectful and intentional about its use.”

Zayda Rivera is a POPSUGAR contributor. She has been a professional writer for more than 20 years. Z is a certified Reiki Master Teacher, yoga and Zumba instructor, mindfulness and meditation guide, tarot reader, and spiritual mentor.

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