Why I don't Smudge

In New Age, metaphysical, and spiritual circles, you have probably come across the practice of smudging. Many people in these communities burn sage bundles, sometimes also called smudge sticks, and walk around their space or waft it over themselves.

But did you know that more than likely isn’t smudging?

Smudging is a specific practice used by multiple First Nations groups. One specific practice, as was taught to me by Saginaw-Chippewa tribal members (for educational understanding, not for the passing on of tradition), involves multiple herbs, burnt with specific intentions, bringing in spirits, and spoken with specific words. All of this varies based on the situation and what the person was taught by their family.

What most people are doing is not smudging, because it doesn’t encompass the things above. Instead, what they are doing is an appropriated version of smudging that is really more in line with smoke cleansing.
Smoke cleansing is the practice of burning herbs or incense to cleanse self, space, energy, or others. This could include the burning of sage sticks, resins, sandalwood, rosemary, cedar, etc. Some times people call on the aid of their God, gods, or spirits to help clean the energy they are focusing on, but that is not always the case. Incidentally, the photo used for this post shows a smoke cleansing using a sage bundle, not smudging.

While there is some overlap between the two practices, they are ultimately different.

So why don’t I smudge? Because I would be appropriating and distorting a sacred practice. Because I would be sending the message that this is okay for others to. Ultimately, it harms groups of people. (Doesn’t this sound a lot like perpetuating U.S. history? Stealing and taking from Natives, the continued oppression of entire cultures.) And that is why I think you may not want to practice smudging either.

But don’t take my word for it. Read what some people from various First Nations have to say on this topic:
Here is a wonderful post with a diagram going over the difference between the two.
And here are two articles addressing Urban Outfitter’s smudge kit. One. Two.
Looking for more information on appropriation of First Nations cultures? Read NativeAppropriations.com. Adrienne K. has been writing on the issues of appropriation and other issues First Nations people face for over six years.

What are your thoughts on smudging? Agree? Disagree? Leave your comments below!

If you thought this was interesting, and want to be more culturally sensitive, you may also want to read why I don’t use the G-word. Read about it here.


  • Michaela

    I love, love, love the concept of smoke cleansing but I would never in a million years refer to it as smudging. Two totally different worlds and I have no right to overstep my bounds. That’s also why I try to make my smoke cleansing as dissimilar to Native rites as possible, so as not to inadvertently insult any Native spirits that may be nearby. From what I’ve heard, there’s nothing more disconcerting than having a very angry Native spirit come after you and frankly, I don’t want to commit an offense that would put me on their radar!

    • shelbymelissa

      They are definitely two totally different things! And more than just angry spirits, cultural appropriation is something that hurts living people and perpetuates oppression and power differences in society. But it is also good to look at things on multiple levels!

  • Andrew

    There’s also a parallel practice, attested to in H.C. Agrippa and other sources, called Suffumigation, from the Latin verb “to pass through smoke” or (possibly idiomatically) “to burn incense [specifically].” It’s a portmanteau word joining the verb to ‘to perfume’ and the verb ‘to smoke or to burn’, and so feels doubly appropriate.
    In suffumigation, incense is burned partly in order to ward off evil spirits, but also to call the helpful spirits. Agrippa (and his teacher Johann Trithemius the abbot of Spondheim) recommend (in a roundabout way) jasmine for the Moon (on Mondays), dragon’s blood or basil for Mars (on Tuesdays), lavender for Mercury (Wednesdays), cedar for Jupiter (Thursdays), Rose for Venus (Fridays), Myrrh for Saturn (Saturday), and Frankincense for the Sun on Sundays. Sandalwood can be used as a general purifier and space-clearer, as well. Trithemius and Agrippa spoke of the angels of the planets, rather than the Greco-Roman names we usually use today, but they knew the ancient associations and held that these still worked. (In part, it’s good to remember how much ancient magic is tied in with the stars and planets).
    Interestingly, when these burned scents are allowed to build up over weeks, months, and years, the result is a highly energized space where the scent of the air itself begins to put you in a magical mood the moment you walk into it. This was my experience, in any case (and I miss that space!! Had to leave that apartment behind). So if you enjoy the mindset that smoke-cleansing brings, and you want to deepen your practice, suffumigation is a Mediterranean/European form of it; it works very well, it’s not appropriative, and it will help you become mindful of astrological/celestial considerations in pagan and magical work.

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