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:
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.