Why It's Time To Rethink Burning Sage And Smudging

Today, we want to bring attention to why it’s time to rethink this “trend" of smudging.

There’s a wellness trend you may have noticed popping up on your Instagram feed of folks smudging, or “saging,” to cleanse their homes of negative energy. But the appropriation and capitalization of a sacred Indigenous practice more than cancels out any “good vibes” you may get. Today, we want to bring attention to why it’s time to rethink this “trend.” 

Ceremonial items, regardless of the culture they belong to, are a sensitive topic. So as a disclaimer, while we got the opinions of many different Indigenous people on this topic, everyone has a different stance. Rituals are very personal, and people are allowed to differ in their interpretation of them. Furthermore, there are over 600 different tribes in Canada and they all have their own teachings, traditions, languages, beliefs, and protocols. 

Why Burn Sage?

The burning of sage and other traditional medicines is a cross-cultural practice. There are many Indigenous cultures from across the globe, dating back to more than 4,000 years ago, each with their own medical and cultural practices. The ancient Egyptians, for instance, also used sage. Here in North America, however, it has historically been used to cleanse the home. It is believed that burning sage can cleanse the air of harmful bacteria or any negative energies that might be in the space. Different tribes may use different types of sage, like buffalo sage, white sage or mountain sage. It is important to note that not every single Indigenous person smudges or uses sage. There are tribes on the west coast that do not smudge. It’s not a part of their culture. So it is ignorant to assume that all Indigenous people smudge and use sage. 

Smudging in North America

In 1876, the Canadian government put into law the “Indian Act”, a piece of legislation that broadly outlawed Indigenous religious and cultural practices. Among those practices was the use of traditional medicines, and the process of smudging. The act of smudging was outlawed until the 1960’s – almost a hundred years. It was a process that had to involve the Human Rights Commission.

Settlers Using Smudging

If you’re a settler and want to burn sage or smudge, it’s important to ask yourself why and how come you are choosing to do this “practice” when even Indigenous people were historically not allowed to. Even today, there are still Indigenous people that don’t have the privilege of accessing and using medicines such as sage. Furthermore, it is often taught in Indigenous culture that sage should never be bought or sold, exploited, mass-picked or used under the influence of substances.

“Smudge Kits”

Frankly, non-Indigenous people should not be selling sage or “smudge kits.” This is exploitive and it is not their place to be selling these sacred items. The only time that you should spend money on obtaining sage is if you are paying an elder to go and pick the sage for you. That is the only exception. Otherwise, you should pick your own sage and you should pick it with the appropriate intent. It is for yourself and never to sell. Before you pick sage or take anything from the Earth for that matter, you must first give something before you take. A laying of tobacco, for instance, is an appropriate gift before taking sage.

Can Non-Indigenous People Smudge?

Once again, this depends who you ask, but if you are going to do this, follow the proper protocol. Pick the sage yourself and offer something in return, and make sure you are educated on the purpose, the traditional use, are using it with the right intent, and are respectful of all of these things. It is all about intention. Also – smudging is part of ceremony and it should not be filmed or blasted all over social media. It is not a trend, it is not “cool” and it defeats the purpose if you are just doing it to post on your Instagram story. That is blatant appropriation.

Resources on Smudging and Indigenous Education

If you want your house cleansed,  the best thing is to ask an Indigenous elder to do this. This is the protocol when someone is trying to cleanse their homes of say, negative energy or spirits. If you live in an urban center, find your local friendship centre and ask to speak to an elder or knowledge keeper. Every friendship center has someone from the appropriate territory to do these things. And, like with the Earth, when asking for something you always offer something. Bring the person you are asking tobacco or a small gift. You must also provide them with your intentions – why do you want your house cleansed? There are plenty of Indigenous resource centers to turn to for guidance.

However, it’s important to remember that not every Indigenous person will say yes or believe it’s ok for non-Indigenous people to smudge and cleanse their homes. You must respect that. Different Indigenous peoples are all at different parts in their healing journey. If you find yourself uncomfortable or upset with Indigenous people saying it’s not ok, then you must look inwards towards white fragility.