Look, I get it. Someone told you that you need to cleanse your energies with white sage. Maybe they even told you it was called smudging. In every occult and even slightly witchy shop across the country you’ll find packages of white sage, either loose or bundled, often with vaguely Native imagery designed to make you believe it’s “authentic.” Nearly every witchy themed instagram has at least one post featuring a smoldering bundle of the fragrant plant somewhere on their feed. It’s everywhere.
Just because something is prevalent or widely accepted doesn’t mean it’s moral or right.
Use of white sage and the term smudging by Non-Natives is cultural appropriation. This isn’t an opinion or debate, it’s fact. Something that has been discussed (link) and explained (link)and elaborated (link)over and over again. And you cannot uphold the beliefs of paganism while also participating in the oppression and erasure of a vulnerable community. Repeat that again. Say it out loud.
You cannot uphold the beliefs of paganism while also participating in the oppression and erasure of a vulnerable community.
Not only does the prevalent use of white sage erase and misrepresent Native culture, it also misrepresents what witchcraft is about and ignores the many other types of cleansing practices that are available for anyone to use!
So here are five alternative ways to cleanse your space without stealing from other cultures.
Smoke cleansing can be done with any dried herb! Cedar, bay, and rosemary are all readily available, and will do the same job as white sage. Cedar and bay are good for healing and protection as well, while rosemary has particularly useful purifying qualities. I like to burn rosemary after an illness to help clear out that lingering funk that often comes from being sick. You can even use steam in place of smoke by placing loose herbs in a pot of boiling water. Try mixing different herbs to make your own personal incense blend bundles. (Remember: these are NOT smudge sticks.)
Elemental Elixir Spritz
This is alway my second choice for cleansing, and has an added bonus of being handy for several other uses like warding or adding to ritual baths. An elemental elixir can be made from any four ingredients aligned with earth, air, fire, and water. My usual choices are lavender (water), mugwort* (air), basil (fire), and chamomile (earth). To make the elixir, combine all ingredients in a pot of boiling water and steep for 13 minutes. Let it cool, strain (optional), and transfer to a dark glass bottle. Add equal parts cheap vodka as a preservative. Store away from sunlight and transfer to a smaller spritz bottle as needed. (Remember, never store your witchery in plastic bottles or containers! Glass, wood, or stone containers only. I like to save and reuse glass wine bottles for this purpose, but there are many sources to purchase glass bottles from as well.)
*Mugwort is from the ragweed family, so choose something different for this element if you have ragweed allergies!
Dusting (Smokeless Herb/Incense Cleansing)
This method is exactly the same as smoke cleansing, except you don’t have to actually burn anything! It’s especially great for those with asthma or allergies, and yes it works. Make the same motions you would if you were using smoke, but visualize a cleansing energy being released in place of the smoke. If you like, you can break off small pieces of the bundle and scatter them across window sills and doorways (hence the term dusting).
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Use your regular household broom and quite literally sweep the floors, or take a more ritualistic approach by using a decorative hand broom and simply making sweeping motions in the air. Begin at the top corner of your house or space and sweep towards the main entrance. (Remember, witchcraft is 99% about intention and focus.)
Bells are used across many cultures to both “call up” energy and cleanse or prepare spaces. Be aware that some specific kinds of bells or sound makers can belong to closed cultural practices and should be avoided. In general, hand held bells or chimes are an open practice that anyone can use. Some people like to use the same motions they would use for smoke cleansing, while others use a “four corners” approach. Choose whichever suits your practice.
**As always, whenever using any plants in your home, research them thoroughly and make sure they won't have any harmful effects on you or anyone else within the space, especially if there are pets or children present. Just because it's natural does not mean it is safe!**
UPDATE 3/4/21: When I wrote this post months ago, I did so at the request of a few friends who'd specifically asked me for tips on other ways to cleanse a space. While I'm very open about being pagan, I'm usually very private about my actual practices. I decided to put it here on my blog because I thought hey, this will be an easy way to keep this as a reference!
I had absolutely no intention of being The Authority on cultural appropriation around white sage and cleansing. In fact, I very specifically meant this post to be NOT about that. In the months since writing and publishing this, I've had to turn off comments on this post cause I just don't have time to manage them all. While I've gotten a lot of support, I've also managed to piss a lot of folks off. Those types of comments seem to fall under two categories:
A. "Stay in your lane, you don't get to speak for everyone." I am Native. This is my lane. I encourage you to read posts by other Native/Indigenous folks to further your understanding on the nuances of this topic.
B. General hate/name calling with no purpose other than to try and hurt my feelings - please by all means, as someone who has spent their entire life doing things sheerly to spite folks who have told me I can't, continue to motivate me to be louder. Have a blessed day. :)
To those who've reached out in support of this post and have asked about ways to compensate me: Thank you for your support, but I don't feel comfortable accepting monetary tips for this type of content. If you'd still like to show your support, you can make a donation to the Native American Rights Fund, or the Covid-19 Emergency Response Fund at FirstNations.org. And of course, I'd love it if you stayed a minute to check out my work as a lacemaker, sharing is always appreciated as a small artist!