The Act of Smuding

Hello Beautiful Souls! The act of smudging has been widely talked about and is under a lot of scrutiny and hearsay about who can and cannot practice the act of smudging as well as the use of White Sage specifically. So, I suspect this will be a controversial topic, but I am in no way telling you what you should or shouldn’t be doing. However, I will be offering up my experiences and revisiting my practices with you today as well as sharing some information.  

In a previous post, I briefly go over some herbs and my practices, and I will be expanding further into this subject here. I don’t feel I can really fit in all that I have to say about this subject in just one blog post, so this will likely lead to more in the future.

Is Smudging Race or Culture Exclusive?

I’d like to make note that I have Native American blood running through my veins, and my practices were passed down to me from my mother’s side. We have Cherokee and Blackfoot tribes in our line, but I’m also Welsh and Irish, which is why my appearance belies my Native blood. Many people feel that smudging is a closed practice only reserved for Native Americans. I personally don’t believe that is true when the act is done with respect to its origins, but I wanted to make sure that it was understood that my practice actually came from my ancestors. Many Native people are happy to share their stories and medicine with non-Natives because at that point it’s an appreciation of the culture, and they can then be taught the correct way of doing it. However, some are still deeply hurt and don’t want non-Natives to touch the practice, which is completely understandable. 

So, let’s start there. Is smudging, as the Native Americans do it,  a “closed practice”? In my opinion, it is not. That said, you will hear a lot of non-Natives gatekeeping on behalf of the Native people, saying that other non-Native people cannot perform the act of smudging. Again, this is my opinion, but it’s really not appropriate, especially since it aggressively turns people away from a beautiful practice that they could adopt in a respectable fashion. Not only that, but there are many cultures all over the world that incorporated a practice involving the burning of herbs for cleansing. We should embrace learning about this from multiple cultures of history instead of shutting people out.

Appropriation vs Appreciation

Now, we have the issue of what is appropriation vs appreciation of a culture’s spiritual prayer work practices. “When the dominant culture in society takes aspects from another culture that’s experiencing oppression, that’s best understood as cultural appropriation.” – Willy Street Co-op

What I have seen in the research that I’ve done and the medicine workers that I’ve spoken with over the many years of doing different ceremony circles is this… It is acceptable to practice the act of smudging yourself with the sacred herbs and the use of White Sage. However, one must understand a few things in order for this to be acceptable. Knowing the history of this practice for starters.

It was only 40 short years ago that the Native American tribes were allowed to practice their ceremonies freely. Before that, they were jailed, or worse, killed for these practices, so it is a very painful reminder that it was acceptable for non-Natives to use these herbs and practices without an understanding of why. Nor do many know the very real trauma that was caused and that the perpetrators never suffered any repercussions for doing these practices disrespectfully.

They were widely used by non-Natives to just be rid of “the bad vibes and negative energy”, but many of them had no understanding of why this practice is the way it is or if they did know, why it’s done. They weren’t aware of it coming from the Native American practices, which is what I’m referring to in this blog post. There are many different cultures that practice smudging for spiritual cleansing, and it even varies among different tribes as well. In some cases, other things are used instead of herbs like fire, water, salts, woods, and resins. 

“It wasn’t until 1978–a mere 40 years ago–that Congress passed the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. The Act declares that “henceforth it shall be the policy of the United States to protect and preserve for American Indians their inherent right of freedom to believe, express, and exercise the traditional religions of the American Indian, Eskimo, Aleut, and Native Hawaiians, including but not limited to access to sites, use and possession of sacred objects, and the freedom to worship through ceremonials and traditional rites.”  – Adrienne K.

It’s important to have an understanding of the history of how dreadfully the Native American people were treatd and still are treated to this day. Furthermore, we need to take actions to make sure we all are doing our part to support them and spread awareness so that attitudes and actions change. After which learning how to do this practice properly is extremely important. 

Why and How to Perform the Act of Smudging

Smudging is prayer work and done to cleanse your home and yourself of unwanted energies and to set intentions. You bathe your energy in the smoke from the Sage plant to cleanse yourself. Watch a video on it here.

What Herbs Should Be Used for Smudging?

  • White Sage, Black or Purple.
  • Ceder
  • Tobacco
  • Sweetgrass
  • Palo Santo
  • Juniper
  • Rosemary
  • Mugwort

Using White Sage

Then, we come to the use of the herbs themselves. If you choose to use White Sage, it needs to be harvested ethically and/or purchased through a Native American owned business. The best thing to do is to grow it yourself because you are building a relationship with the medicine of these plants. Some tribes believe that the less hands the medicine touches the more pure it is when you use it. You are asking to work with it, not just abuse it and take it. You also give something back, as in a gift of Tobacco, and always say thank you to the Creator and the plant medicine itself. I’ve always done this and it’s something I didn’t go into in my other blog which was more of a general overview of my practice.

Now, this being said, not everyone has the ability to grow it themselves. That is why I believe it is ok to still purchase it as long as you are supporting a Native tribe. I also believe it helps their economy. The use of Palo Santo, which one place this holy wood is from is Ecuador and White sage in particular when they are ethnicity and locally harvested they support families in those communities to make a living wage. (Please check out the resources I’ve listed at the bottom of this blog for videos and more information along with places you can purchase Sage, palo santo and other herbs.)


White Sage and Palo Santo

There are over 700 different varieties of sage in the world and 17 of those varieties are indigenous to California alone, White Sage being one of them. 

You can very easily sub out White Sage for Purple Sage or Black Sage, or you could even sub out sage altogether and use herbs like Juniper, Rosemary, Mugwort, or Lavender, or salts. 

White Sage and Palo Santo have been heavily abused in recent years with the boom of spiritual practices increasing and big businesses cashing in on the “trend” of these practices. The increase in use of these spiritual practices and the herbs commonly used, without many doing any sort of real research on where these practices come from and also where they are sourced and also what part of the world they come from, is a huge part of the problem. These plants are currently being monitored to make sure they don’t hit the endangered species list and unethical harvesting stops. 

The likelihood that you are over using what supply you have is pretty high. Do you burn your sage bundle while it’s tied together or do you break the bundle down? You probably have been burning the whole bundle. Honestly you don’t need more than just a few leaves at a time to cleanse your energy. A little goes a long way with all of these herbs, woods, resins, etc. 

I’ve heard of so many people gatekeeping these herbs and shaming others for using them. Don’t shame anyone, educate them. Show resources! Don’t tell them they need to stop using these herbs and to get rid of their supply. That is so disrespectful to the medicine of the plant. Build your relationships with these plants and find more mindful practices and sources for them. The medicines are there for everyone to use for healing, but be mindful of the histories and what is currently going on, not only with the plants but the Native tribes who hold these practices as deeply sacred.