Don’t Smudge Me!

Thursday night of Sirius Rising, I was watching the opening of the show that Artists Dream was presenting. I had participated in my first sweat lodge earlier in the afternoon and I was completely wrung out. The sweat lodge had been an intensely emotional and physical experience and I was basking in the afterglow of having let go of some intense feelings and issues.

Artists Dream

Artists Dream

The whole week had been about a lot of intense ritual. I assisted in the elevations of two of the members of our coven and participated in Jason Mankey’s Morrison ritual (more about that later!). And all of that was after driving nearly twenty hours to get to New York where the festival is held and helping my partner get his band up to Brushwood along with us. There had been a lot of planning, work and details to see to up until that point and it was finally all done with except for the long drive home.

At that point I was pretty exhausted, but over all, I was feeling really good. The sweat lodge, while an intense experience, was a good one. My coven sisters survived their elevation, my partner’s band mates had all arrived and were sounding good together as they prepared for their Saturday night concert and I was successfully initiated into the Morrison clan. There was still a whole lot of festival to go, but I felt like I had done the things that I needed to do and could relax for the last few days. I was carrying a pretty positive buzz around with me.

And then…I started smelling sage.

I had been smudged earlier in the day. Before walking onto the island where the sweat lodge was held, I was smudged. Before participating I had to go to an instruction class about what to expect, what to do, when to show up, ect. ect. Sweat lodges can be dangerous if you aren’t correctly prepared for them. You are in intense heat for at least an hour, if not longer and wearing jewelry can produce severe burns. People have died in sweat lodges not done correctly. If handled properly, the sweat lodge is a safe experience, but it is definitely something you need to be prepared to do, especially if you’ve never been in one before. It is not a ritual to walk into without any preparation or forethought.

Frame of a traditional Lakota Sweat Lodge with the red ribbons...

Frame of a traditional Lakota Sweat Lodge with the red ribbons…from Inside the Lakota Sweat Lodge

In the instruction class, one of the things we were told is that before coming onto the island with the lodge, we would be smudged, and if we left the island at any point and had to come back, we needed to repeat the process. The woman who poured our sweat discussed that she tried to keep things as traditional as possible (her lodge was based on the Lakota sweat lodge) and talked a little bit about what a traditional Lakota sweat lodge was like in comparison to a lodge poured elsewhere. While sweat lodges can be found throughout many cultures of the world, each kind has different traditions and rituals. In the Lakota sweat lodge, modesty and purity are important qualities. You are there to work with Spirit, not worry about the physical world. We were asked not to drink alcohol or take any drugs for the rest of the week before the sweat. We were asked to wear clothing that covered our bodies. The women were asked not to participate if they were menstruating. Respect was a key component of our conversation. The smudging was a part of the process that I was gladly willing to do.

Smudging, for anyone not familiar, is when sage or sweatgrass (sometimes mixed with ceder, lavender and other herbs) is used to purify or bless a person, item or place. North American smudging has been traditionally practiced by the native peoples and has been heavily appropriated by NeoPagans and other new age-y sorts everywhere. My partner and I have many discussions over smudging and cultural appropriation. My partner also argues that smudging is not a part of our traditions (we practice mostly Welsh and Celtic). He sees it as being somewhat disrespectful to our gods and traditions as well. (The discussion on cultural appropriation is often discussed in the Pagan community and if you want to read more eloquent discussions on the subject, see the end of this blog).

Smudge "stick"

Smudge “stick”

I like smudging because it works. You don’t have to do an intense ritual, you simply burn your sage and it’s going to clear out excess energy hanging around. When I smudge, I know that it has absolutely nothing to do with the traditional Sacred Smoke Bowl Blessing and I don’t try to pretend like it is. I have no tribal affiliations and no traditional training. I am a Wiccan priestess that takes advantage of an herb that is readily available to me in my community. For me, burning sage works for my purposes. I like to do it when I’m cleaning my house and getting ready for something new or preparing for a ritual later on. It creates a neutral atmosphere and lets me set things up for whatever I am doing next. It’s sort of an easy reset button. Ever been home alone at night and suddenly realized things just feel off? Smudging will take care of it! Ever had an argument and can’t get away from that energy hours later? Again, smudging will do the trick!

But that’s just it, people often ignore the fact that it doesn’t just carry away negative energy. It’s a neutralizer. It cleans everything out.

That happy buzz that I had been carrying around with me? Gone. I felt violated. I had not gone to the concert to be smudged. No one had asked me if I had wanted to be smudged, someone just deciding that it would carry away the “negative vibes” and walked through the whole audience. There wasn’t a general announcement and they obviously didn’t think through all the possible consequences of their actions. We were not in a ritual setting, we were not in someone’s occult shop (in many occult shops, smudging happens regularly), I was not in someone else’s personal house or space…I was at an outdoor concert at a festival.

While the long lasting effects of the rituals I had participated in were certainly not gone, the happy energy that I was still carrying with me that night was. I had worked hard for that energy and I couldn’t easily get it back. I was immediately exhausted.

And maybe this is a part of the cultural appropriation discussion. We do magic and magic can blow up in your face when not done properly. We work with deity and one deity may not want to have anything to do with another deity. You also have to be very aware of what you are doing to those around you. Being a responsible practitioner, no matter what tradition or traditions you’re working with is hard work. It takes research and attention to detail. It also takes a level of awareness that most people just don’t have. This person obviously had no idea that their good intentions were going to have a negative side effect.

This person was working with energy and did not bother to ask people’s permission first.

Consent, as with everything else in life, is vital.

Festival can be a hard experience to deal with. There are tons of people around you doing all kinds of crazy things with music, dance, art, ritual and magic. You are out of your comfort zone and the societal rules that most of us live with disappear. There are different traditions and practices going on all around you. It is easy to be overwhelmed. That does not give you the excuse to be irresponsible with magic and energy in a crowd of strangers. In fact, I would say that it increases your responsibility in how you handle your magic and your energy.

No, smudging isn’t “casting a spell”, but it is an action with magical and energetic intent. Whenever you do something with magical and energetic intent, you need to stop and contemplate it’s effect on other people. You should never mess with someone else’s energy without their consent.

So think before you do something “simple”, even if you think you’re only getting rid of the negative. You might just be throwing the baby out with the bath water.

Further reading:

Cultural Borrowing/Cultural Appropriation: A Relationship Model For Respectful Borrowing by Christine Hoff Kraemer

Pagans and Cultural Appropriation by Lupa

How to follow the eclectic path, minus the cultural appropriation – In the Garden of Proserpine

8 thoughts on “Don’t Smudge Me!

  1. I’m a little confused here. So you were smudged before the sweat lodge, which you agreed with and which worked as it should. But someone before the concert smudged you against your will and without asking and that is what you think wiped out the positive parts of your elevation rituals?

    • Lauren says:

      I’m talking about the immediate ritual energy that I walked away with. When I walk away from ritual, there are the long term effects of the ritual and there is the immediate energy that I take out with me that usually fades away throughout the rest of the day. I like that energy to fade away naturally. The buzz I take away from a ritual is usually pretty powerful stuff.

      Smudging was a part of the sweat lodge experience. One that I consented to. Walking into the sweat, having the energy I carried with me before that ritual neutralized was a part of the experience. The sweat made me burn out a lot of things and built up some really great new energy for me.

      During the concert, someone walked through the crowd smudging people. There was no warning, they didn’t ask, they just did it. It wiped out that immediate, excess buzz that I walked away from the sweat lodge with. Did it take the long term effects away, no. As I said, the overall effects of the rituals I had been participating in were certainly not gone, but that immediate energy I was carrying around (which was keeping me upright after being so wrung out by the sweat) was gone. A sweat lodge is an intense experience, the one that I did took about 3 1/2 hours. I worked hard for that immediate energy to help ease me back into the real world.

      Smudging is a neutralizer, it doesn’t just get rid of “negative” energy, a concept I have issues with anyway. I consented to being “neutralized” or purified for the sweat. I did not give permission to the person that was walking through the crowd to “neutralize” or purify me again. I was not in ritual space, I was carrying energy that I worked to create in the sweat that I wanted to dissipate on its own. Instead, it was just cleaned away without a second thought. It hurt. If they had asked me or told us they were going to do it, I would have left.

  2. Lauren says:

    The sad part is…I think it was someone in the band that thought they were creating a better atmosphere for their performance.

  3. C Anderson says:

    Ugh. As a First Nations person, I find the fact that you use a plains indigenous tradition as an ‘easy reset’ just as problematic as being smudged at a concert. Both are forms of cultural appropriation. You’re acknowledgement of the fact that you do not associate your activities with tribal affiliation affirms the fact that what you are partaking in is cultural appropriation.

    As an analogy, would wearing a tribal headdress from the comfort of your home be less offensive than a white person wearing a headdress at an outdoor concert? I don’t think so.

    • Lauren says:

      And I’m absolutely not saying that it isn’t. You could also probably say that I culturally appropriate many of my European practices as well. Am I European at this point? Absolutely not. My family has lived in the U.S. since the 1700s and intermarried with people from many different cultures. I think there is a big difference in understanding that what you’re doing is cultural appropriation and how you treat it and not being aware that you’re taking a practice from some other culture and what that means in the context of the work you’re doing. I also think it’s an issue when you force it on someone without that conversation or acknowledgement. I am very well aware that I am assuming another culture’s practice when I sage my house. And I think I discussed that in the blog. As an American, it becomes very hard to not culturally appropriate practices from the mixture of peoples here. I think this is an issue that needs to be continually discussed and addressed, especially in the context of the NeoPagan movement.

      • My two cents after decades of practicing BTW witchcraft in our coven but on my own practicing many other eastern and western systems is this – It is always a difficult discussion between Native Americans who are of the blood and Invaded Americans who if here long enough fact is we All have a little Native American and African and Far Eastern blood in us. One of our HPSs and one of our Probationers have a Lot of Native American blood in them, and can trace it, and were taught by their grandmother or father, and they both look it too. Our founder Lady Phoebe had a Lot of Native American blood in her too so she combined back in the 1960s both the BTW she got from Sybil Leek and the Native American ways she got from her grandmother and mother. Now in our coven i feel it is time to come full circle incorporate both the BTW we got and the Native teaching some of us got into one yin-yang circle. I am committed to doing that before i pass on and know our HPSs will do so too. So Mote It Be and BB. Lee / Shawnus

  4. The only issue I take with this article:

    This idea of smudging be “from the natives here”, and being misappropriated or even just “appropriated” by everyone else. – This is an incorrect assumption, at least as far as my own research into some of the other of the world’s cultures. – Smudging was also practiced by the ancient Egyptian priests (and priestesses) as part of their ceremonies and rituals, to include especially – the honoring and burial of their dead.

    Many of the old Eastern Religions have had smudging (IE: from the use of specially-designed/designated incense herbs) of some form for many thousands of years; Well before the European migrations to the North American (and South American) continent.

    – Just my own “two-cents”.

    – Rev. Dragon’s Eye

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