Is the white sage used for smudging practices actually endangered? Is using white sage, or palo santo, as a practice, actually engaging in cultural appropriation of spiritual traditions that are not my own? If you run in New Age spiritual or witchy circles, you’ve probably at least encountered the practice of smudging with white sage, if not encountered these two questions.
What if I told you there was a way to embrace smoke cleansing that was rooted in traditional European folk medicine/witchcraft ancestry, that was both sustainable and not appropriative? Wouldn’t that be lovely?! And what if it was as easy as going to your local grocery store? Would you be into that? Who wouldn’t want to jump on this easy, sustainable and conflict free form of spirituality?
So, a few years ago, a trusted witch friend from high school posted on Facebook about her practice of smoke cleanings (smudging, without that label) using traditional European herbs, and I was intrigued. I love the practice of burning sage, but hadn’t thought deeper about the fact that many tribes were criminalized until the 1970’s for these very same spiritual practices.It seemes wrong that my 20-something spiritual white girl body was able to do these practices without a second thought about the bigger picture. The more I sat with my friend’s words, the more I was impacted by the colonial mindset that had permeated my spiritual practice of smudging.
And thus, entered my experiment with “returning to my roots.” There are many herbs that were used in ancient and medieval Europe for the same spiritual and practical purpose that white sage and palo santo are used by new age spiritual communities today. And so I began my own practice of tying and burning herbal bundles that my witchy ancestors would have used. Some grocery store versions are:
- Garden or cooking sage
Yes, just like the song! Cheesy, but maybe the hippies were on to something…
Below I’ve outlined a step by step guide for tying your own herbal bundles from ingredients easily found in grocery stores. And for those that are more foraging inclined, herbs like mullein, lavender, or mugwort were also traditionally burned to clear spaces of negative energy.
Step 1: assemble materials. I use cotton twine for “sausage making” found on Amazon, scissors, garden sage, and rosemary.
Step 2: Identify size of herb bundle that you want to make. Remember, it shrinks when it dries!
Step 3: Tie a knot at the bottom of the bundle, begin winding the twine around the bundle, tightly packing the herbs together.
Step 4: Once you’ve wound all the way to the top of the bundle, wind back down and tie off at the end. Leave some room on the string to hang it to dry.
Step 5: Hang to dry in a sunny window. I choose my kitchen window because blinds are so handy for hanging. It take a week or two to get fully dry!
Once they’re dry, they can be burned just like a white sage bundle. Make sure to have a bowl/dish below the bundle to catch any ash, and don’t leave unattended!
There are so many different traditional herbs that can be used for this spiritual smoke cleansing practice, so feel free to experiment (but do your homework and be safe!). I’ve found this practice of connecting with my ancestry, rather than just easily adopting a spiritual practice that comes from a different lineage, to be really rewarding for me. Not only do I feel more connected to my lineage, I also feel more connected to the plants. There’s something amazing about the smell of sage and rosemary lingering on my fingers for hours after I’ve tied my last bundle, and the reward I feel when I take one of my dry bundles and light it to clean my house. Short of growing these herbs myself, I’ve had an intentional hand in the tying, drying, and frying of them, which leaves my house smelling great and feeling light and free.