Burning Sage Has Become A Strong Example Of Cultural Appropriation – Here’s Why
Today during our time together, we are going to talk about the Indigenous People’s practice of smudging and sage burning. In doing this, we will also talk about the cultural appropriation that is heavily linked to these practices. The goal of today is to leave this body of writing with knowledge surrounding sage protection. I will also provide you with insight on how to burn sage without oppressing Indigenous cultures and cover if this is even possible. There is a lot to cover, so continue reading to learn about how burning sage actually has nothing to do with how to cleanse your house with sage.
What Is Sage?
The first thing we should clarify before diving head first into everything you need to know about burning sage is simply what sage is. So, sage is a perennial, evergreen subshrub. This plant has stems that are known to be woody, leaves that are more gray in colour and flowers that are hues of purple and blue. Sage on its own has many healing properties and can be ingested as well as burned. What kind of sage do you burn? More specifically, what kind of sage do you burn for cleansing? There is a specific type of sage which is commonly used for smudging or sage burning. This plant is known as White Sage. As I continue to reference sage throughout our time together, I will be referring to White Sage as this is what is used during these practices.
History and Origin of Smudging
So what is smudging? Smudging is a word which often refers to a ceremonial practice which is taking place in order to cleanse the soul or space of negativity. Smudging is heavily related to prayer and is different from simply burning sage. There are four plants which can be used during smudging: cedar, sage, sweetgrass and tobacco. These herbal materials may be burned for spiritual reasons as well as healing, practical and ceremonial reasons.
Where does sage come from? Sage has always grown in the wild, but the ways in which it has been used and the overall history of smudging is rich. Sage smudging is heavily practiced in North America by Indigenous Peoples. Not all Indigenous cultures use smudging in their lives, however many Indigenous cultures do. Those who practice smudging don’t all have the same reasons behind their practice. Some Indigenous cultures may use smudging for their particular beliefs, whereas others may use smudging for ceremonies, or both. The information I will be sharing with you today is covering the broad topic of smudging and sage burning therefore we will not be honing in on every reason as to why or how it is used within Indigenous cultures. Knowing the smudging and burning sage origin is extremely important and the first step in understanding how this practice is being culturally appropriated.
Smudging Cultural Appropriation
What we are about to cover is extremely important and not talked about enough within society. Rather, as per usual, this act of cultural appropriation is being silenced. I am going to cover the relationship between smudging and cultural appropriation and how these two things unfortunately coexist. First let’s review what cultural appropriation is on its own. Cultural appropriation is when a more dominant culture, in the eyes and actions of society, steals that of which belongs to a culture that is oppressed by society.
So what is the tie between using sage for smudging and cultural appropriation? Well, there are many people who are not Indigenous who are selling sage bundles and profiting off something that is not their own. With no knowledge behind what they are selling or what the real purpose of using sage for burning truly is, they are following the current fads or trends of society for their own benefit. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be extremely oppressed by the system we live within. A white person selling and profiting off of giving people the tools to and teaching people how to smudge sage is culturally appropriating Indigenous cultures through and through.
A large belief in Indigenous cultures is that medicines should be gifted and never bought. Therefore, buying sage in stores in hopes of burning sage to clear energy is all wrong. White Sage is being overharvested in order to meet the demands of consumers, leaving little to no sage remaining for Indigenous Peoples. Society is quite literally stealing sage away from Indigenous Peoples and profiting off something that is being practiced all wrong. Another belief in Indigenous cultures is that energies can be passed on through plants or objects. So, if this sage is passing through the hands of farmers, production line workers and potential buyers before it reaches the hands of your own, who is to say this sage is positively charged?
Therefore, if you are buying negatively charged sage and cleansing your home with sage, then you are not actually able to successfully do so. To add more fuel to this fire, influencers are burning sage in house spaces, recording themselves, and sharing these videos on their social media platforms. This is only pushing more and more people to wonder where to buy sage bundles without knowing any of the histories behind these practices or the harm they are causing by doing so. There are many other reasons as to how the burning of sage, as well as smudging is being culturally appropriated, however these are just a few.
Where to Buy Sage
Now that we have the knowledge we do on the burning sage origin and the problems this practice is facing with cultural appropriation, the answer to where to buy sage is quite simple. Sage should not be purchased, therefore nowhere. We cannot continue to support fast fashion companies who have taken this Indigenous practice of prayer with little to no knowledge around the matter and are profiting off the loss of others. There is no reason as to why non Indigenous Peoples need to cause further damage on top of the damage that has already been done. Buying sage is out of the question. The effects of burning sage improperly are not only detrimental to Indigenous Peoples, but to the environment as well.
How to Burn Sage Yourself
If you are not Indigenous and are still wanting to burn sage or practice the prayer of smudging, it is not impossible. However, in order to fully appreciate this culture rather than appropriate it, you must be fully educated on the history this practice stems from. Additionally to education, you must follow the beliefs of said culture surrounding said practice. What does this mean? Well, you cannot buy your sage from stores. Rather, you can grow your own sage or find a place to harvest your own sage. If you are opting to harvest your own, you must ensure that you know how to do so properly to avoid damaging future growth. Once you have obtained your sage, you must not profit off it. Your sage can be used for your own needs and can be shared and gifted to family and friends. If you are not Indigenous and choose to grow your own sage to sell and profit off of, you are welcoming cultural appropriation back into the picture. This is exactly what we are trying to avoid. When questioning how to burn sage in your house or using sage to cleanse a house, know that this practice should not be referred to as smudging. Smudging and simply burning sage are two different things. Smudging is a practice of prayer, burning sage with no intention is not the same thing. Taking a practice from another culture can be done without appropriating it, however you must do your research in order to know exactly what you’re doing.
As stated earlier on when answering “what is sage cleansing?”, specifically smudging, smudging is a practice that is used in order to cleanse any negative energies that are in not only a space, but within your mind and body as well. This is a large benefit of this practice. What does burning sage do other than cleanse negative energies? Quite a lot. The list of burn sage benefits is quite extensive. Some other benefits from the act of burning sage are that it can increase our sense of well being, increase energy and provide a relaxing effect. I do however think all of these benefits are a result of the cleansing of negative energies. The house cleansing sage benefits are quite positive. If done properly, your space should feel lighter, more energized and more positive. Energies are powerful, and if we allow ourselves to, we can really feel them in a space with us as well as within us. So, does smudging work? Yes, if done properly, this practice can be extremely abundant in the benefits it provides.
What to Do Following Smudging
Following a smudging prayer, after using your sage bundles for smudging, all that is required is that you extinguish your sage. To do this step of your practice, simply choose a fireproof vessel such as a container with dirt or sand and dip the tip of your sage into said substance. When burning sage in home, and anywhere, this step is important to avoid any risks of fire.
When and How Often?
Now that you have the information to answer the question, “Why do people burn sage?”, you may be wanting to implement this practice into your life. This may leave you wondering when and how often this act of burning sage or prayer of smudging should take place. The beautiful thing about smudging is that it can be done at any time. As its purpose is to cleanse the energy in a space, whenever you feel this needs to be done is allowed. As long as done in a respectful and educated manner as mentioned before. There are four times during the year when it is a good idea to smudge. These times would be during the change of seasons. Therefore from summer to spring, spring to winter, winter to autumn and autumn back to summer. These are times of transition within our lives therefore practicing smudging is beneficial. If you feel someone has entered your space and left behind negative energies, this is also a good time to use your sage. Once again, there is never a wrong time to practice smudging. If you feel you are needing to turn to your sage, it is more likely than not that the energy within you and around you may not be quite right.
Alternatives to Sage
If you are not able to, or are not going to practice smudging in a way which appreciates Indigenous cultures rather than appropriates them, there are alternatives you can choose instead of opting for the overharvested white sage in Urban Outfitters.
- Black sage
- Garden sage
- Holy basil
- Lemon balm
As you can see, the list of alternatives is quite extensive. Perhaps some of these plants are more accessible and native to the land you are living on. If you can opt for one of these options in order to avoid unsustainable practices, then I suggest you do so. The practice of smudging as well as simply burning sage is beautiful, however there are many other ways in which we can achieve similar results.
I know we covered a lot of information today that may have left you feeling overwhelmed or slightly confused. I will end our time together today by talking about some of the takeaways today’s writing provided. I think one of the most important pieces of information to take away with you today and to share with others is the cultural appropriation that surrounds smudging. If you are going to say it is a practice of cultural appreciation this is only valid if your actions prove this to be true.
So what does this mean? Properly harvesting or growing your own sage rather than buying it from stores who are profiting off of stolen practices. Knowing the history of the practice you are welcoming into your space. Choosing to keep this as an intimate practice rather than sharing it on your social media.
I’m sure I am missing some, however, this is a good starting point. Furthermore, after leaving today I hope you are going to share this information with other people in your life and not be afraid to stand up in the face of oppression. If you see a white person doing what they seem to think is smudging on their social media, perhaps send them a message and inform them that this is not okay. It is always good to give people a chance to learn before embarrassing them on their social platforms. The more we know, the better we can do. We should not assume that the people practicing cultural appropriation know they are in the wrong. Rather we can share all the knowledge we have and hope their actions change. All in all, smudging is a sacred act of prayer which originates and lives within Indigenous cultures and communities. If they cannot sustainably practice smudging due to unhealthy consumerism, there is no reason any non Indigenous individuals should be able to do so instead. Let’s continue lifting the oppressed up, and being the voice for those who have been silenced. Let’s use our privilege to do better.