Approaching my friend’s apartment this past weekend, we noticed a cloud of smoke wafting away from the porch and feared that the place was on fire. On closer inspection, the smoke was emerging from the apartment next door. A neighbor emerged from inside with a fat bundle of burning vegetation in his hand.
The neighbor was burning dried sage, “purifying” the apartment after an unpleasant event. The entire area was enveloped in stinky gray smoke. I believe this type of “cleansing” is mainly performed by white folks in North America who think they have borrowed something authentic from Native Americans.
The bundle of herbs is called a smudge stick, and the practice is called smudging. To quote Wikipedia, “The American English term ‘smudge stick’ is usually found in use among non-indigenous people who believe they are imitating North American Native ceremonies.”
If you search on “smudging” you’ll find a bajillion web sites telling you how to do it: “Easy House Smudging Step by Step,” “Clear Your Energy and Lift Your Spirits with the Sacred Art of Smudging.” You can find “smudge kits” for sale, along with sticks and herbs – accoutrements of all kinds plus manuals.
It’s reminiscent of the “plastic shaman” appropriation of native culture found in many places, such as the books of Lynn Andrews. There’s a short film on this subject if interested.
Setting aside the fumbling, culturally blind part of this, what do people believe is actually happening when they light up some sage? Maybe it’s a symbolic way of turning a new page and putting the past to rest. I can understand that, though I think I could come up with my own creative way of marking it.
From reading about this on various new age sites, however, many think that there are actual “bad vibes,” troubled spirits, and disruptions in The Force in the environment that must be eliminated. They can’t be, you know, actually found, but you can just feel the bad energy. Maybe the spirits of the sage plant are released upon burning, and they go forth and chase away the misbehaving imps and unsightly vibrations in the environment.
Getting back to the neighbors with the cloud of smoke pouring out of the door –- they soon set off the smoke detector in the apartment and rushed to turn it off. In retrospect, I think they realized that a huge burning bush full of sage wasn’t required.
I wonder if they needed to burn a little more sage to eradicate the bad effects of too much sage? Or maybe there’s a different herb to combat over-smudging. If you over-smudge you might get too much sage energy and create invisible energy stalagmites that have to be trimmed.