In 2013, I was schooled in a loud, and what some might consider scary, way that taught me to put down the smudge stick.
I was in week four of a six-week intuition development class. We were exploring topics like angel communication, oracle cards, and cleansing spaces. The teacher seemed reputable; she was a full-time intuitive practitioner with a decent following. She was kind and respectful, and I appreciated the way she taught.
The first three weeks seemed harmless, light, and fun.
On week four, she taught us how to cleanse and purify homes using a smudge stick. Since I had just moved into a new home in downtown Napa, I was looking forward to this week. I usually get a house clearing whenever I move into a new space, but I knew this was coming, so I waited.
I couldn’t put my finger on it then, but something just felt off.
I was a Feng Shui practitioner already and had learned various ways to clear space. I thought maybe my ego was resisting and tried to convince myself to stay open to learning.
Oh wow, did I learn—just not in the way I hoped.
I followed the instructions and smudged my home with a sage stick. She instructed us to start at the door, move around the home in a particular way, and directed us to use the smudge stick around our bodies in a specific pattern.
The classes the weeks prior had left me feeling energized and full of enthusiasm.
However, at the end of this class, I was exhausted and had this draining feeling take over my body. I was a flight attendant and had worked on a long, demanding flight from New York to San Francisco the day before. My sore body and tired eyes convinced me the depletion I was feeling was from working such a long shift.
I was craving sleep, but I pushed myself to do one energy practice for the following week. I had all of my class notes out as I diligently studied and practiced. Alas, the fatigue took over, and I fell asleep surrounded with subtle energy tips and my oracle cards laid out on my chest.
I went into a deep sleep, my tired body heavily imprinted on my cozy pillow-topped mattress. The next thing I knew, I was suddenly startled awake by what sounded like a hammer hitting my metal bed frame. I felt the bed move, and then it jolted to the center of my bedroom. My eyes popped open as quickly as my heart began to race.
I saw what I could only describe as a smudgy black blob above me. It looked like someone took the smudge stick I was using the evening before in the class and drew a mark in the middle of the air above my bed.
I shot up in a panic and stayed still for about five seconds. My first thought was that a drunk person hit the wall with his car. That was the only thing that made sense to my sleepy brain at two in the morning.
I immediately ran out the door, down the stairs, took a quick sharp left turn to look at the side of the house, expecting to see a car slammed up against the outside of my bedroom.
But there was nothing. Nor no one. That was the only time in my life I have been disappointed for not seeing an accident.
I went back inside my bedroom, flipped on the light, and stared at my bed in disbelief at how much it moved. I am not sure if it was me or the home, but the space felt eerie, even with the lights.
I couldn’t bring myself to lay back down on the bed that was now in the middle of the room. I moved to the couch and immediately sent an email to a long-time mentor and space clearing expert I had worked with. I lay, staring at the ceiling until she responded, which was morning.
She came to the rescue quickly. I was happy that I was leaving for a four-day trip the following day to be out of the house. She did a space clearing when I was traveling for work. The day before I returned home, she emailed me that it was complete. She doesn’t like to say much about what she clears. As she explains, when we talk about it and put energy on it, we give it space to stick around. She did say what was there wasn’t mine, was not of this world, and was now gone.
She also shared that what was there was angry and disturbed and wanted to know what I had done in the days prior. I told her about the class and clearing with a smudge stick.
She explained that using a sage stick for smudging was a sacred and critical component within some indigenous cultures and was only to be used with proper medicinal and ceremonial knowledge. The knowledge that I didn’t have and was never going to learn from a 101 intuition class.
I took in what she said and immediately reached out to a Feng Shui teacher to ask to be connected to an indigenous teacher he had mentioned. I wanted to learn and respectfully remove and dispose of the sage if necessary.
I was happy for the clearing to be complete. It certainly took care of the issue; I came home to flowers growing in front of the house, which were not there prior. There was different energy when I walked in, and it felt peaceful and calm.
Several years later, in 2018, I read an article in the Huffington Post by Indigenous Reporter Haley Lewis. It was titled “Indigenous People Want Brands To Stop Selling Sage And Smudge Kits.” The first line states, “The unfortunate thing is people take a little bit of our culture and twist it into their own liking.”
I do see this message more. But I am also still seeing the how to use a sage smudge stick, and the beautiful on-trend images on Instagram that raise the vibe and clear the space. We have to change the message.
I wish that I had known years earlier.
If that isn’t reason enough, here are three additional reasons to stop burning sage as a trend:
1. It can be a form of harmful cultural appropriation.
In the United States, cleansing with sage wasn’t allowed until the 1970s. Indigenous people have been asking non-indigenous people not to burn sage for cleansing purposes for years. People continue to ignore this request. My excuse of “I didn’t know” was a crappy excuse.
Looking back, I wish I would have paid closer attention to my feeling and understood that the draining energy I felt wasn’t from work alone.
2. Too much demand.
Because burning sage has become a trend, there is an overharvesting of sage that has been destructive. Indigenous people are now having a difficult time accessing it for a reasonable price.
3. Lack of knowledge.
If the intent is actually to clear a space: learn from me. If we use a sage smudge stick without proper instruction (and I don’t mean from a White female spiritualist on Instagram), we can cause more harm than good and seriously piss entities off.
There are many other ways to cleanse a space; use intention and subtle energy medicine, diffuse essential oils, bring in live plants, declutter, use sound, or when we feel something really intense, we can hire a space clearing expert.
If reading this does nothing and a sage stick still seriously calls to the heart, then learn.
Invest in an indigenous teacher or indigenous education. That can help to speed up our vibration in the world, strengthen land and governance rights, and improve cultural resilience.