Every witch out there who has been into a witch shop (or even an occasional basic store like urban outfitters) has seen white sage being sold out the wazoo. It is very popular with witches and non-witches alike. It is marketed as the “cure all” for getting rid of negative energy in your home and to help relieve personal negative feelings. Many people refer to this as “smudging”, all the while not fully knowing the connotations and true meaning of that phrase. And because white sage is sold so much many will purchase them to use in their ritual, not knowing there are better herbs to use and for better reasons. To clear the air on the topic of smoke cleansing, let’s discuss the origins of the practice and how to respectfully perform this ritual and with the proper tools.
Smoke cleansing has been a popular practice throughout history, and has been called many names. Smoke cleansing is the act of connection to the elements of fire and air. You are combining these forms of magick and setting intentions to create a positive energy and space. This is a practice that is performed by witches across various cultures and traditions. However, not every smoke cleansing ritual is in the same, and many specific practices similar to it are sacred practices to a closed tradition* and/or culture.
A prominent example of this is comparing“smoke cleansing” and “smudging”. While smoke cleansing is visually similar to smudging, they are by no means the same and have different uses and meaning. Smoke cleansing is simply using smoke to cleanse your environment. Such as your altar or work space, tools, yourself, etc. It can also be attached to a religious ritual, used to enhance a spell, or help with a meditative practice. Smudging is a sacred form of ritual preparation for members of a tribe or culture. Members of Native American, some Native Mexican, and other indigenous tribes use this ritual as a form of offering or invocation. It is a connection with their ancestors and the spirit realm. Rituals that involve smudging are sacred ceremonies and require a decent amount of experience or guidance as to not anger or disrespect the spirits or bring any negative results.
Smudging is a sacred practice that many indigenous people have fought to perform in public healing spaces and as a religious practice. They have worked hard to be able to practice this act in peace, and we need to be respectful of their history and the meaning behind and intentions of smudging. It comes down to being conscientious of the difference between these two practices, and performing smoke cleansing rituals properly and respectfully with this information in mind.
Sage and Other Herbs To Use
White sage has been commonly used to remove spirits, cleanse, heal, and prepare for ceremonies all around the world. It is in very high demand due to recent trends. But with this high demand, that has resulted in this herb being overharvested. White sage has other important uses such as curing colds and postpartum healing. It is also an important part of its surrounding ecosystem. Many Native communities have brought attention to this issue as well as incorrectly using the term “smudging” and how it is exploitive to their culture. But many don’t listen.
Another issue is white sage is not being harvested properly or sustainably. Leaving the root is important to the herb being able to regrow and thrive. By taking the root, they’re not only preventing that plant from regrowing but affecting the surrounding plants as well. As of 2018, the United Plant Savers have white sage listed on the “to watch” list.
Many witches beginners and professionals alike may not be aware of the environmental impact of using white sage in their rituals. But luckily there are many alternatives that can be used that are better for the environment and respectful of indigenous cultures who have used the herb for their sacred practices. Many of which you may already have in your garden or kitchen!
- Other Varieties of Sage: There are so many varieties out there that mostly have similar protective effects.
- Lavender: Used for protection and cleansing. Can help calm the mind and great for love spells, grief work, and relieving anxiety.
- Pine: Like all evergreens, pine is associated with prosperity and good health. They are traditionally used for cleansing space and protection.
- Rosemary: Used for protection and purifying energy. Can be used for meditative rituals and also to connect to past lives.
- Basil Leaf: Wards off harmful spells and other people’s negative energies towards you.
- Cloves: Can drive away hostile and negative energies. It is also known as the “psychic enhancer” and can be used in divination practices.
- Cinnamon Sticks: Aids in healing and relaxation.
- Thyme: Great for health, strength, and purification spells and rituals. Also great to use before doing any magickal work to cleanse the space.
- Cedar: Commonly used for protection, banishing unwanted energies and influence. Also good for money spells.
- Mugwort: Opens spiritual channels and great for meditative rituals and divination readings
Smoke cleansing is a peaceful and thoughtful practice for witches of all backgrounds. It allows you to enhance your magickal work space, free up your home of negative energies, and can bring strength your way. And with education and conscientious action, we can create a more respectful community and safe place for all our fellow witches. So keep learning, keep reading, talk to your local shops about herb bundles you can try and inspire witches everywhere to work with local plants and to be more culturally conscious with their smoke cleansing products.
*A closed tradition is a tradition of witchcraft that is specific to a race, ethnicity, culture, history, and/or beliefs.