Esfand and sage burning practices in Persian culture cleanse houses, bodies, and objects that may be occupied by evil spirits, spirits of the dead, or may be afflicted by the evil eye.
Described verbatim by informant:
“Esfand is basically these dried herbs that, every Persian household has them. And say um a lot of bad things have been happening like your car broke down, you got a bad grade, your boyfriend broke up with you, someone died, you know, so people feel like it’s obviously like it’s evil spirits literally are around your house and around your car and they’re around you so when you burn the esfand you walk around and its smells horrible and you walk around and you just you do it over everyone’s head you do it over even like around your pets head you do it around your car um everything you um walk through the room cuz you’re killing things by burning the esfand cuz it smells so bad and that like gives it’s like a cleansing to get rid of the bad spirits that are causing the bad things. It doesn’t even necessarily have to be evil spirits it can just be like people evil eyeing you and wanting bad things to happen to you. Negative Vibes.
Sage is kind of a similar process it’s just to clean whatever was in the house previously to be gone, it’s a fresh start, cuz you don’t know what happened someone could’ve died in that house, you know? Crazy things. So if you want a fresh start in a new home you can do that.”
Esfand to my knowledge is unique to Persian culture and this cleansing ritual. Ritual burning of herbs is common to many cultures, especially burning with sage. The idea of smoking out spaces and people for purification is something I know to be relevant to a lot of Native American tribes, Mesoamerican cultures, Aboriginal tribes, and countless others around the world. Though smoke is considered polluting and dangerous to many people, burning and beginning anew is a process found in nature, ie wildfires. This has since been observed by humans and emulated in swidden or slash-and-burn agriculture across the globe. Perhaps there is some root to the notion of burning and cleansing there, though that connection seems unlikely in the context of the Middle East, unless the practice of burning herbs was learned or brought in by some other influence (perhaps by trade ie along the Silk Road). This theory is purely speculative, though, as ritual burning could have begun in the Middle East or spontaneously come about for all I know.
I later got an email from my informant saying she wasn’t sure if she explained esfand and it’s relation to the evil eye well enough so she sent me a link to a website that she felt explained it well: