Why I no longer smudge

Hi all! I’m thinking of getting into youtube – is that something y’all would be interested in seeing from me? I recorded myself talking about this, and think I’m going to noodle around with lighting and such before I start doing more videos. But! I didn’t want you to wait for this one.

Smudging.

You know what that is, right? You’ve probably seen it on TV, or in youtube videos, and on blogs that are perhaps similar to mine. So, I know I have a few First Nations readers, and if there is anything you’d like to add to this, please feel free to comment, or you can email me if you’d prefer to remain anonymous and I will post it on your behalf.

I’ve talked about how important it is to clear your energetic space – your personal space, and your environment – especially if you’re becoming more sensitive to energy. Old energy that hangs around from past conversations, thoughts and worries, even heavier emotions from big life events – the aroma of that, the impressions it makes in the energetic sand that surrounds us, it affects how we feel. It can affect whether we feel energized and happy ourselves, or if we just feel like shutting down when we come home, as though it were winter, even though it’s high summer.

When I talked about Dear David on the Joyful Telepathy Podcast, I may have mentioned that some of Adam’s followers suggested he burn sage or “smudge” in order to rid his apartment of the ghost of Dear David who was bothering him. (Spoiler alert: I’m pretty sure there’s no haunting there, however it never hurts to do an energetic clearing.)

In that episode I also talked about how my mother and I did a clearing on a house my parents were living in that was actively and aggressively haunted by something fairly nasty. It would wake me up at night, surrounding me with freezing cold air even though we had a large oil heater cranked in the basement room, it killed my cell phone, my electric toothbrush, and my watch, it flung the light fixture outside of the basement guest room down on to the floor, so the carpet was littered with hazardous shattered fluorescent bulbs, and on Christmas Eve, which is our family’s time to celebrate Christmas, the septic tank backed up and all of the sinks, toilets and tubs, upstairs, downstairs and in the kitchen, started belching liquid human waste.

My mother and I did not smudge, this was before I’d heard of that particular ceremony. We used techniques involving salt, blessed water, and smoking matches. That house and land had deep-seated problems, so of course our single clearing didn’t fix it entirely, but it improved things for a while.

Smudging is not necessary to release or banish a destructive entity from a home. Humans have been dealing with sticky low vibrational energy for thousands of years, and every culture has an effective way of dealing with it.

 

(I talk about this in a lot more detail in my course, by the way.)

Smudging is a First Nations ritual which has been kidnapped by spiritualist white folks. I didn’t actually understand this until I started to experiment with the elements of smudging myself.

You may have seen Theresa Caputo smudging a haunted building with either a sage bundle, or what is being *packaged and sold on amazon* as a “smudge kit” – a shell, individual smoking sage leaves, and a feather fan.

Folks, if you can buy it on amazon, all of the spiritual significance has been sucked out of it. You’re not going to have much luck trying to deal with a haunting with a kit you got off the internet.

Dealing with hauntings is so much more about what *YOU* bring to the table, not the tools you use. I have dealt with hauntings using an *apple*. That’s a story for another time.

As I’d had experience with other tools and I’m always interested in the “universal truths” which brings different cultures all over the world to similar spiritual conclusions, I decided to try this specific smudging technique. Out here in BC, “smudging” is really the thing. Sage bundles are everywhere, so are abalone, mussel, and clam shells – and feathers are abundant too.

I am a firm believer in the sacred found object. The sage bundles I have used I either made myself, were given to me friends who travel between the Rockies and the ocean and gently harvest wild sage, or I purchased these wild harvest bundles to support a friend’s art (same friend who gave them to me previously.)

I am lucky enough to live in an area where I can find abalone shells on the beach, and I have quite a rotating collection of bald eagle feathers which I hold very dear.

Why not bring these elements together and play with the energy, see what I can accomplish?

Well, it never felt quite right. It was just a lateral step from the effective techniques I’d used previously, I knew it was potentially powerful, and it did work – but something lingered. I didn’t feel quite right, as I said.

I had been schooled previously on First Nations cultural appropriation a high school drama club friend of mine who is Ojibwa, and completely reamed out our drama teacher for asking us to make a dreamcatcher on stage (it was a performance about dreams). She was right, of course, and we cut the dreamcatcher scene from the play.

That was my first education / exposure to the spiritual harm that’s caused by cultural appropriation. I think that I was tapping into this when I felt uneasy replicating elements of a traditional ceremony that has been kidnapped by spiritual white people. I didn’t completely understand it at the time, and I *wanted* to like this elegant ritual. But it never felt comfortable.

Because it was never mine.

Here is what I have come to understand: When we perpetuate cultural appropriation in new age spiritualism, we are committing spiritual harm. First Nations folks have actually been very clear on this: they have been polite, they have been assertive, they have yelled, they have joked. (Joking about what white folks do in ignorance does bring a bit of sad brevity to the situation.) They’ve said stop using dream catchers. Stop stealing parts of our ceremonies. Stop wearing imitations of our sacred regalia.

If you’re new to the idea of cultural appropriation, what you need to know right now is that I am talking about this in the context of North America. On this continent, we were probably taught in school that our ancestors “built this country”, as though there was no one here when our colonizing ancestors arrived. My own ancestors have been colonizers for CENTURIES! I’m literally descended from the Nordic / Germanic Viking type people who have invaded, conquered, killed, enslaved, then farmed / settled Europe, the UK, and North America. I have inherited this history – I didn’t end up in Canada by accident. None of us did – we are all the products of, and live in the context of, the history of our ancestors.

That is huge. The energy of who we are and where we are right now resonates back for centuries – even if you’re disconnected from your family and heritage – that’s energetically significant too!

So there I was, daughter of survivors and settlers, here on the beautiful Vancouver Island, playing with elements of a sacred ritual on the *unceeded territory* of the Tla-o-qui-aht people. Elements of a ritual that has been BANNED by other white colonizers. It is only in the past couple of years that I have come to recognize my hideous entitlement in that moment.

I felt it subtly, through time. I think that my future self was screaming back at my past self, PUT THE ABALONE SHELL DOWN!

Even though I was using found objects, gifts from nature and in particular, an eagle friend we used to live close to, gifts from my own garden grown with love, the effort of clearing my own space was subtly tainted by the spiritual crime of cultural appropriation.

I look back and realize I had *no business* attempting to play with elements of a ritual which has been so attacked, devalued, stolen, and exploited for profit.

The proper smudging ritual is held sacred by many different First Nations tribes out here, and I am not going to speak as an authority about this ceremony. I have only twice witnessed a *real* and proper ritual performed in the tradition of one of the local people. It’s performed by spiritual leaders and their apprentice(s), with willing participants following the leaders. Right there. Bang.

That’s why I don’t smudge, my friends.

As a daughter of survivors and settlers, as someone who can claim ancestors in ancient Europe, I have rituals of my own which I am spiritually and energetically tied to, and entitled to. I was using brooms to energetically cleanse my space before I fully understood their significance. Brooms are just as powerful as feathers, and I can use brooms with joy and rightful entitlement, knowing it ties me to a culture that connects with nature and survived centuries of persecution. I swear, when I do my ritual spring sweeping, I can feel my ancestors smile. My partner (future wife!) Sweetie has had powerful dreams involving joyful spiritual gatherings of her own Scottish ancestors, who reminded her she has a home in her ancient Clan, even though she may feel alienated at times, in life. Through her spiritual heritage, she is heard, seen, respected, revered, and deeply loved by all those who walked her spiritual path before her.

I mentioned before that I’ve studied wiccan ritual, though I was never indoctrinated in that faith, just like I’ve studied Zen Buddhist meditation (I was introduced to the faith as a teen by my mother who was indoctrinated after decades of practice). Neither my mother nor I proactively renounced Christianity, because it’s not about throwing something away. Christianity is a part of our background too, and also a living piece of history to be reckoned with.

Buddhism is subject to a lot of cultural appropriation too. It’s not cultural appropriation to study under willing Buddhist teachers, to accept invitations to meditations and teachings, to accept a Buddhist name or bring Buddhist elements into your home when you actively participate I the faith.

It is appropriation to decorate your bathroom with a Buddha head. Would you put a Madonna on top of the toilet? No? Let’s not do that to the Buddha then.

It’s about context. As well, Buddhism is actively and openly practiced in South East Asia. It gets complicated to compare oppressions, so I just want to shine a light on how different it is for people to have the freedom to openly practice this faith all over the world, versus the continuing oppression and outright ban of First Nations spiritual rituals here in Canada and in North America at large.

In living memory, people remember having to interrupt their spiritual gatherings and hide the regalia from the RCMP who came demanding they stop, arresting those who refused. These are the same police forces who literally hunted the children with dogs to take them to residential schools, some of which had a death rate of 30 – 50%.

(I was looking for some art to link to in order to invoke some of the emotions around the history between settlers and FN people, and I found this artist, Kent Monkman, a Cree man living in Canada whose art is incredibly compelling, subversive, confrontational and beautiful. It’s powerful. I encourage you to check it out here.)

That’s the history I was tapping when I handled the elements of the smudging ritual. That’s whose shoulders we stand on when we appropriate this beautiful ritual for ourselves. When a First Nations person practices this beautiful and ancient right, she is tapping into her ancestors, her strength and survival. She is the living embodiment of her ancestors’ will to exist despite centuries of genocide. That’s powerful.

Those spirits don’t come for me, descendant of the settlers. That ritual is not mine. They may show up, they may understand that I mean no offense or harm, they may even lend a gentle and tolerant hand if I’m having problems with a nagging or negative entity, but the spiritual power connected to the elements of the smudging ritual is not mine to claim.

A part of what makes ritual powerful is the repetition. Who has done the repetition before you? What is your connection to them?

I know this is a big moment for some people, and many white folks claim First Nations ancestors. Heck, there are rumours of Dakota blood in my family, resulting from conflict between early settlers and defending native people. I grew up in a majority white culture, something I didn’t realize until I moved out here to the coast, where the majority of people here are First Nations. I didn’t realize that I was raised to feel entitled to First Nations things, even as I was being educated by First Nations folks about their culture.

So to honour them, to avoid perpetuating spiritual harm, and to protect myself from the terrible connection that exists white spiritualism actually causing spiritual harm to others, I abstain from any hint of First Nation ritual in my own spiritual practice.

My abalone shells sit on my bookshelf, being beautiful. My eagle feathers sit appreciated in cedar baskets which I wove at a culture-sharing workshop, but do not use in spiritual practice. My sage thrives in my garden, which I use in ritual thanksgiving dinners. I have returned to my broom, my candles and matches, my water and salt.

That’s the right choice for me, and it’s something for you to consider.

5 thoughts on “Why I no longer smudge

  1. I respect what you have said here. Call it cultural appropriation if you will, I’m eclectic and “borrow”, or “appropriate” truth where I find it. I do not claim to any that they should follow anything I do on my path and I don’t tell others what they should do on theirs. That said, I certainly agree with you that ALL people and their traditions be respected, not mocked or made fun of or used in a fashion that brings harm. Much of what I do has been taught to me by the various practitioners of whatever path has that nugget of truth and if one receives wisdom, know3ledge, and teachings from some reasonable member of any group, I believe that is ok. Follow your own heart and path as best as one can and may your path always reveal that which you seek. Thank you for your views. Blessed Be..

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  2. Wow, you give a very deep reason for not smudging. I have smudged in the past and a few other suggested things. I no longer feel the need. First of all, the act of smudging is very harmful to my allergies, so I quit that first. I didn’t know all the things you have discussed here. Simply as I have walked my own spiritual path still deeply rooted in Christianity, I simply fill my home and my body with love and light. These are on my good days. I still have days that the darkness of grief and lonliness seem to be in charge.

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  3. I respect your thoughts however, saying smudge kits purchased on the internet are no good is ridiculous. No offense but I’m guessing you are not a witch or true metaphysical person because those people know that all things that we use must first be spiritually cleansed and then empowered. We don’t just use things off the shelf because who knows whose energies it contains? Perhaps the shop person was in a bad mood when they wrapped it and sent it out and now that energy is in the items and has to be cleansed. Secondly, witches, lightworkers, and many other types of metaphysicians from all over the world have bundled and burned herbs for all different purposes for 10s of 1000s of years. Just because the Indigenous people of this land did the same doesn’t mean they were the only ones and get dibs on using it. Nobody respects them more than me since their blood also runs through my veins but you have discounted all of the other magical folks all over the world who have been using it for millennia as well. I do agree that one should inquire about where the feather was obtained although most are turkey feathers gotten from those shed on farms. I do wish you would consider that the Indigenous folks who I love and adore and who are a part of my DNA did not invent smudging. We witches have been doing it forever as well. Peace and Blessings to you.

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    • Hi Rhonda

      There’s a difference between “smudging” which originated as a FN ceremony and this is what I’m talking about, and simply cleansing objects, yourself, your space, which is ubiquitous. It’s like the difference between a sweat lodge and a sauna.

      I will elaborate in a future post, but to quickly do so here, when you buy smudge bundles from amazon, do you know where the sage came from? How it was harvested? (is it grown with pesticides? What are the workers living and working conditions, or was the labour exploited?) Same questions for the Abalone shell. And those farms where the turkey feathers came from – factory farms. These are not happy turkeys.

      Many of these kits are put together simply because they sell and make money. Our natural environment provides everything we need to cleanse ourselves and our space, there is no need to buy tools online. You can buy tools online if you want, you can cleanse your cleansing tools before you use them if you want to do that, but that won’t take away the potential harm of the farming, harvesting, the environmental cost of shipping, etc. and it doesn’t address the spiritual harm of white people such as myself performing a first nations spiritual practice. Now is the time to be sensitive and empathetic.

      Maybe you buy your smudge kits from a FN owned online business, the materials were gathered sustainably and you’re supporting your FN community. Maybe you’ve been indoctrinated into the practice because you have a close relationship with your local FN community.

      Your relationship with your FN communities will inform the privileges you have within those communities to perform ceremonies, so that’s your call. I’m a white lady, living on unceeded first nations territory, and I feel lucky to be alive during this time of healing and growth. I’m choosing how I will participate within my own community, and you’ll do what’s right for you.

      Just as you know in wiccan practice, you don’t *have to* have specific elements at hand, you can improvise based on where you are and what resources you have. That’s what I’m talking about.

      These are things which many people do not consider when they buy a “smudge kit” off of amazon.

      Simply burning something as a part of energy cleansing belongs to many different cultures, you’re right. Burning sage shows up all over the world. But the smudging ceremony, with a smudge stick, and / or abalone shell and feather – that’s first nations. That’s what I’m talking about in this post.

      I have chosen to step well-clear of this practice as I live immersed in a majority first nations part of Canada. The spiritual harm of cultural appropriation didn’t really sink in until I had lived here for quite a while. The energetic effects of perpetuating appropriation is real. Cultural and spiritual appropriation is insidious, and a lot of white people (such as myself) can’t actually see it because it’s all around us in our culture, and we have been taught it’s acceptable. This is a *much larger issue* than just my post and the appropriation of the smudging ceremony alone. It can take years to take in the definitions, the impact, and the harm of cultural appropriation.

      It’s not as simple as “everyone burns sage”. It’s not as simple as declaring the practice honours or respects to another culture.

      This is not a black and white issue either. I’ve written about the choices I make based on my experience, knowledge and the context of my community. Everyone is responsible for their own choices, and you will decide what is right for you based on your own experience. I share my experience and thoughts for others’ consideration.

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