Smoke cleansing is a global practice that’s been used by many cultures since ancient times, but has become more mainstream lately. With anything that goes mainstream and is commodified, it is often taken out of context and used inappropriately. I know we have good intentions, but it’s important to evaluate our practices and learn where they came from to see if and how our actions affect others.
I’ll start by saying I’m a white girl who’s trying her best to make her practices less harmful, so I don’t have all the answers and I’m certainly not a spokesperson for the Native community. What one Indigenous person finds problematic may not be to the next, but what I’m sharing here is what has shaped my practice over the years.
You may know smoke cleansing as “smudging,” burning sage and fanning it around your room with a feather. They are similar in that they use smoke to cleanse, but smudging is actually part of a larger, sacred, ceremonial act of purification used by various Indigenous groups. Terminology is important—smudging is pulled out of a more spiritually important context that is beyond just burning herbs.
Why is terminology important? Words have power, and smudging simply does not belong to non-Natives. Just four decades ago, they were legally prohibited from essentially practicing their own religion, and many are still fighting for the right to do so.
The wellness boom has also led to the over-harvesting of white sage, making it less accessible to the communities who use it in their spiritual practice. They have asked non-Natives to stop selling sage and smudge kits. So you may see how it’s an issue when non-Native people take something so easily for themselves that others fight so hard for, without giving a thought to its weight or history.
I’m sharing the following effects this can have from a blog post by Hauswitch on the topic:
Not all Natives practice smudging, nor do they all use sage, but it can be disrespectful to those who do. So it behooves us (behoove is a great word, isn’t it?) to find alternatives that are more ethical and aligned with our intentions. It’s much better energy to be cleansing without harming marginalized communities.
Alternatives to sage for cleansing
You don’t need a white sage bundle to cleanse your space. If you are using it, however, ensure that the way you include it in your practice is not culturally appropriative or harmful. For instance, grow it yourself instead of purchasing it, make sure it has been sustainably sourced, or purchase from an actual Native-owned shop to support the community.
Cleansing energy, especially in your home, gives you a fresh start that really shifts the feel of the room, and there are plenty of other ways to get the same result:
- Explore the traditions of your lineage. What herbs did they use? How did they use them? Smoke cleansing is used all over the world and it’s likely your ancestors had their own specific traditions you may want to incorporate into your own practice.
- Make a mugwort bundle. This is considered an invasive weed, there’s likely plenty of it around you to harvest for your needs (but remember the golden rules of wildcrafting). Gather 10-15 stalks of mugwort, lay out to dry a little bit until they’re wilted (could be overnight to a few days). If you let it dry out fully, it’ll be harder to tie together, so you want them wilted but not crispy. Then tie the stalks together with string, knotting it at one end and wrapping it around the leaves to the other end. Mugwort has a similar scent to sage, and works just as well without harvesting sacred, endangered plants. You can do this with rosemary, too, which smells wonderful.
- Find a more specific plant to use. What’s your intention for the energy in the space or the object you’re cleansing? We can find new herbs that are even more specific if we fine-tune what we’re really wanting. Use a resource like The Green Witch to help you choose the right plant for your needs, or just google “herbs for [purpose].”
- Make a floral cleansing bowl. This is my preferred way. I personally find herbal smoke’s scent to linger in a way that feels heavy to me, which is the opposite of what I’m going for! This blend works perfectly (and smells amazing!) to get rid of some undesirable tension and energy. Mix up (dried or fresh) lavender, thyme, and salt in a bowl and stir in some hot water. Open the windows and let the mixture cool, add a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a few drops of lavender oil and take it around the house with you in whatever way you like to cleanse. You can also strain and bottle some of the mixture in a spray bottle for later use, and pour the rest of the mix into the ground outside or in the soil of your potted plants.
I’d love to hear other ways you like to cleanse. Share them in the comments!
I do what my mother did: I open the door and say “Out in the name of Jesus!”
My mother called the entire church over to cleanse our house when I was 6 and said I saw a demon—
Alexis rose says
Dude, I have been hearing whispering everywhere, as well as scratching in the vents and outside my door. I’m not allowed to burn incense and I’m can’t sleep. WHAT DO I DO?????? I am not calling a church because my mom doesn’t believe me and I don’t know WHat to DO!!! I am FREAKING OUT MAN! FREAKING OUT!
it could be a small animal, stuck in the attic perhaps. but if nobody else has heard it, then it could be something otherworldly. whatever it is, it seems to have taken a more physical form. authentic dream catchers seem to work for spirits that manifest themselves in dreams, although I’ve noticed it works better if you’re holding it. I’m not sure how to stop one that can impact the real world.
Mrs H says
Try getting some protection essential oils by Art of the Root or comparable product. Put a few drops of a protection oil in a bowl of water with a pinch of salt and keep in your room. Keep a small light on in your room when you’re sleeping. It will help. The church probably wouldn’t come to bless your house anyway.
i was wondering if you or any readers had any tips for my current predicament. I’m moving into what was my stepdads mother’s home. she died there (i used to be her caregiver and she died within an hour after me having left her for the day). She died in bed, in the room i will be in. Due to the problematic nature around sage i’ve been doing a lot of googling and i keep coming back with inconclusive answers. I was wondering some of the best ways to clear the space. She wasn’t a very nice woman and i’ve lived in homes where i’ve been tormented before and i would not like to have to live through that again. I know my first steps will be to clean the room thoroughly and to get those windows open. but any helpful advice would be GREATLY appreciated.
Hi Sarah, Thanks for sharing. If you let me know what feels inconclusive I might be able to better answer your question. All of the above suggestions can help, as well as sound clearing (such as with a bell) or your own voice.
I use essential oils in a spray bottle mixed with moon water and witch hazel, and have crystals that have been cleansed and charged. It has NEVER failed me. You can look up what qualities you want the spray to have and use those. I like to get it all together, charge it, shake and go to town spraying.
Jennifer Brigman says
Hi I was wondering where I can find the crystals your talking about?
I get my crystals from Village Silversmith: https://www.villagesilversmith.net/
SARAH RILEY says
My son has severe/ difficult asthma, aswell as anaphylaxis to main food groups.I don’t know why, but my guides and spirit always leave me feather gifts, always on either my front or back doorstep. The most memorable one, was one threaded through a magnolia leaf directly in my sight outside my front door. I have now, a beautiful collection of feathers. I recently started using them to cleanse my energy with. I really don’t know why, or how I started this, other than it felt right. My largest old feather was looking a bit bedraggled, so, I asked spirit to send me a new one. Unique, is how I would describe it, and, recieved the very next morning 😂😂🥰
i would use a cleansing incense, i’m not an expert but that’s what i use. i would also have a protective crystal🙏
I would not pour a mixture containing salt into a planter.
Hello! I’m in a coven over discord, and they’ve told me a couple alternatives for sage are things like rosemary, bells, singing bowls, crystals, and white candles. I hope this helped, as I’m new and also need guidance.
Amanda harris says
I’m in my step mother’s home where she died iv talked to her she’s still here I dont know the after lifestyle I dont have words I’m trying my self to cleaning my home of bad spirits as they’ve said they where here
This is both mindful and sustainable thinking. As someone who’s cultural elements have been appropriated by non-natives, this post truly resonated with me. Thank you for this!
Thank you for this post. I actually love the idea behind cleansing, but I have never been a fan of using sage or palo santo. I also feel more enlightened by this article in respects to the practice. I love the idea of floral cleansing.
Is there any special salt recommended or just table salt?
I tend to prefer sea salt, just because I feel that it resonates with nature a bit more than your standard iodized table salt, but any kind of salt should work 🙂
Do you think himalayan salt could work as well ?
That’s what I use!
I’m worried bout the bad spirits that’s been with me I know since I was young I even buried my 1 yr old I think do to this my grandmother was a bad wife user and she never liked me I dont know what to do
You could burn incents. Thats my personal favorite way of cleansing. Or bless the space by burning a white candle and meditating upon it.
Funny u say that iv not knowing till now I bought 6 white candles
Is there a way to cleanse with music?
There is such a thing as sound cleansing and I use a bell or clapping my hands. I use music more for grounding myself during a ritual, but I’m sure there’s some info out there about what music would be best for cleansing specifically!
When I was in 4th grade my mother cleansed our house with a sage smudge stick. The next day I foolishly decided to play with a candle and next thing I know I burnt almost the whole house to the ground. By accident obviously. So the sage thing has been sorta a bad luck thing in my family. Me and my boyfriend want to cleanse our house we share with our kids. Is there any other type of smudge stick that would be best to use & I can find in a store that isn’t sage ? Any recommendations would be helpful. Thank you!!!!
You should be able to find other herb bundles on Etsy!
Alexis Bell says
Can I use ground thyme or ground sage for smudging?
I’m trying to get an answer to this exact question…there is some unsavory shit going down in my house and I wanna deal with it NOW RIGHT NOW. I have sage in my herb cupboard, will that work?
hey i would get crystals if you can or black salt and spread it around the edges of your room
I wish you would just say non-Native instead of white and non-Native. The point is about non-Natives using plants and actions that may be unappreciated by some Native Americans and that includes all non-Natives. By the way, while some people glom onto what they see as cool to do or a current trend, some people really honor what they have learned and adopting a practice uses by Indigenous can be paying homage to them and their ways, being respectful of their customs, and being grateful for their wisdom.
Hi Corrie, You are right. I’ve adjusted the wording to simply say non-Natives, and of course, there are many people respectfully honoring traditional practice. As smoke cleansing has become more “mainstream” I felt like it was important to talk about it for those who may be new to the idea. I appreciate your insight and thank you for sharing with me.
My mother my mother used to slow boil lemon and orange skin along with cinnamon sticks, during the holidays or special occasions, sometimes before guests would come over… Or just because to make that house smell fresh. It was always a beautiful sense. These days I do the same thing once in a while, I also add nutmeg, and any essential oil that I love, to the pot.