September 30th is Truth and Reconciliation Day in Canada. It is “a day where Canadians reflect upon the experiences and history of First Nations, Metis, and Inuit communities in Canada. It is a day to acknowledge, reflect, and learn about the injustices they faced through the residential school system and the way it continues to affect Indigenous Peoples in Canada.” (From the Ottawa Citizen)
I thought it would be a good time to discuss the problematic relationship (depending on your political bent) Pagans have with the use of sage and Smudging.
I would like to take a quick step back and point out that Indigenous spiritual practices are “closed religions” meaning people from outside the culture or not direct descendants are not encouraged to participate. Examples of open religions would be many Pagan religions where anyone is welcome to participate, along with many Christian religions.
There has been a huge uptick in folks from all walks of life using sage and palo santo in smudging. You can find white sage just about anywhere, and a huge portion of lifestyle blogs are touting its incredible effects. They’re not wrong. Sage is incredibly powerful! But at the end of the day, it is cultural appropriation.
Pagans have a complicated history of cultural appropriation and there are as many opinions on it as there are Pagans so I’m not going to go into that here. My goal is to offer this view point and it’s up to you to decide your ethics. I am the last person to judge anyone on their life choices.
Many of us have chosen to not use sage in our rituals, and we do perform smoke cleansing, though the herbs we use are the more traditional rosemary bundles, sandalwood incense, copal resins and the like. For a quick look at substitutions check out my post here.
As effective as sage is we know as Pagans that our intent behind our actions dictate what we manifest. Therefore, there is no reason for us to use sage in our practice.
As keepers of the Earth and nature worshipers I would like to leave you with a quote from an article written by Helen A. Berger “Native Americans who normally pick the herb as they need it are complaining that they are unable to find enough for their spiritual needs. Fears have also been raised that overharvesting could result in the plant’s becoming extinct, resulting in the extinction of the animals that are dependent on it as well.
It would be both ironic and sad if in celebrating Mother Earth, Pagans helped to make a sacred herb extinct.”
I am hoping this post resonates with most (if not all) of you and we can all be responsible for our contributions to Mother Nature and our brothers and sisters with whom we share this beautiful planet.