ethical alternatives to white sage and palo santo

Ethical Alternatives to White Sage and Palo Santo + thoughts on Silicon Valley Shamanism

What’s up witchy pals?!?

What a world we are living in right now! If you’re feeling some intense energy right now, it’s because THERE IS A WHOLE LOT OF SHIT GOING ON. No planets to blame it on, just chaos happening all over our planet. But I’m pretty sure you don’t need me to remind you of that, so let’s move on to what you can do to reset the vibe of your personal space to at least momentarily savor a sliver of inner peace (or something like that).

More specifically, let’s talk about ways to connect with our own spirituality while being respectful of Indigenous people and traditions. We’ll cover ethical alternatives to White Sage and Palo Santo and explain why it is harmful to appropriate sacred Indigenous practices. And I’ll leave you with plenty of inspiration to develop your own cool tricks for keeping vibes high.

And first, an apology! I am sorry to have recommended these plants in the past without fully understanding the history of their use! It is so, so, SO important to research the historical context of a plant’s use thoroughly before using it, especially as a part of a spiritual practice. Lesson very much learned and will be applied to all future endeavors!!!

The ultimate goal here is to help you develop your own unique spiritual practice! The more personalized to you, the more powerful. We don’t need to rip off anyone’s culture to make magic happen, ok?

And that’s the thing. Let’s break this down starting with “smudging”…

What is smudging?

“Smudging” is a sacred Indigenous ritual that involves cultivating and sustainably harvesting a plant, drying and binding it together into a wand, and calling on the spirit of the plant while burning the wand to help cleanse the energy of and / or bless a space.

For more information on smudging, I highly recommend watching this very informative video from a very awesome and magical YouTuber, Mintfaery!

Please note that cleansing the energy of or blessing a space with
“smoke cleansing” / sprinkling herbs over a cauldron flame has been practiced all over the world in many ancient cultures; smudging is a very specific practice sacred to Indigenous people. In addition to this, there are particular plants used in these traditions that have been unethically over-harvested due to their sudden “trendiness,” making these materials less accessible to the very people who originally used them.

What’s the deal with White Sage?

White Sage is sacred to the Indigenous people especially here in California. Its popularity has made it harder to come by and more expensive, and from an ethical standpoint, it is disrespectful for white people to appropriate the traditions of smudging with sage sticks on unjustly occupied land.

And Palo Santo?

Palo Santo has a long history of being used as a part of sacred South American Indigenous traditions. The trees have now become so over-harvested that there are now less than 250 of them in the world. There is even illegal “tree poaching” occurring because of the high demand! Its heightened price and limited availability have made it hard to obtain for the very cultures it originated from.

Think about it this way…

For more insight on exactly why it’s so wrong to appropriate these sacred traditions, I checked in with my friend Avi Barajas, a Bay Area resident with Indigenous South American heritage, who explained:

“Indigenous people from Canada to the tip of South America were punished for our cultures and practices when colonizers first arrived in the Americas. Even as recently as the 20th century America was passing laws to ban our practices in an attempt to keep us out of the country and force us to assimilate to Christian hegemony. When we as Indigenous people use things like Sage and Palo Santo (depending on your region and practice) we are healing ancestral wounds, we are telling those that came before us that we are safe here now, we are reclaiming who we are. When white people then turn around and use these things it feels like a slap in the face to us and everyone who came before us. If my ancestors had to hide who they were and what they practiced for fear of their lives. White people shouldn’t be able to buy these practices at fast fashion shops and other major retailers and say they’re about love and light. Your love and light is accomplished on the backs of our people.”

Look, if you are burning plants for good vibes, it kind of defeats the purpose to have bad vibes behind how the plants were obtained, right? It all boils down to respect.

After all, what is the ultimate goal of “clearing the energy” in a space?

Doing this allows you to kick out any dusty, musty, or crusty funky old energies hanging around that don’t belong there! It allows you to reset the mood and even bless or designate a space for magical workings.

The whole point of this is to get a fresh new start energetically. Why not start off on the right (respectful) note?

So with that being said, let’s take a look at…

MY TOP 8 FAVORITE ETHICAL ALTERNATIVES TO WHITE SAGE AND PALO SANTO!

  1. Incense: There are seriously so many varieties of incense, as it has been used by humans starting with its use in religious rituals throughout ancient Egypt, Babylon, and Greece. It is inexpensive and widely available. Let its smoke waft around the room for an instant energetic refresh.
  2. Dragon’s blood: Popular with the ancient Romans and widely traded since at least the 15th century, dragon’s blood is generally sold as a resin. It is not actually the blood of dragons, but a blood-like extract from certain plant species. Please note that while I drew the most iconic variety of Dragon’s Blood tree for dramatic effect (they are so cool looking!), this is a vulnerable and rare species native to one island in the Arabian Sea off the coast of Yemen. But dragon’s blood is typically extracted from its more common relatives, some of which you can even grow at home, like Dracaena Draco! This powerful ingredient brings protection and added power to all magical endeavors.
  3. Mugwort: Ahh, this is one of my favorite witchy herbs! Believed to bring psychic visions, it has been considered a sacred herb since the days of the earliest pagan traditions. Sprinkle over a candle flame before meditation for help connecting to your intuition.
  4. Lavender: Don’t forget about lavender! Its delightfully floral aroma will chill you the fuck out. (And who doesn’t need that big time right now?) You can burn it, sprinkle it over a flame, or simply place it in a sachet under your pillow for sweet (and scented) dreams.
  5. Cannabis: What kind of green witch would I be if I didn’t mention cannabis as an EXCELLENT way to reset the mood? If you are someone who enjoys the company of this helpful plant, add this to your list of its many benefits: it can help boost your magic! After all, you are appreciating a beautiful flower that brings feelings of peace. Simply imagine it to be infused with blessings as you use it, as it is! And even if you’re not looking for a psychoactive buzz, CBD-only varieties can still help bring a little extra chill without the heavy body high.
  6. Spray oils & flower essences: A wonderful alternative to burning things is spraying a mist instead! You can use flower essences, essential oil mixtures, crystal water, moon water, or any combination of these as a spritz for yourself, your magical tools, and your space! You can make your own or shop around online. It’s a great way to keep things fresh, especially if you’re not a fan of smoke.
  7. Rosemary: This readily available kitchen herb is a powerhouse when it comes to magic, too! It is believed to dispel negative energy while attracting positivity and abundance. And let’s face it, burning it makes the entire vicinity smell like absolute deliciousness!
  8. Yarrow: This plant grows abundantly here in California, as well as throughout much of North America and in parts of Europe and Asia. It has numerous health benefits and can be used to make flower essences, steeped as a tea, or dried and sprinkled over a flame to create a mellow atmosphere.

And about “Silicon Valley Shamanism”…

I also want to bring up another related topic to start a discussion about something I think people (ahem, white people) are tiptoeing around when it comes to the spiritual community, and that is appropriation of shamanic traditions.

The rising popularity of ayahuasca has led to its widespread use outside of its originating cultures, with various ramifications. (Ayahuasca is a mixture of plants originally brewed by the Indigenous people of the Amazon.) Rumor has it there are now even ayahuasca circles in California’s Bay Area frequented by the wealthy elite, far removed from its original context.

Please note that I have not personally done ayahuasca, and I mean no shade to anyone who has sought it out! I support you on your healing journey, and I understand the allure of plant medicines to help you along the way.

Yet there are important aspects of this that are worth taking time to consider. While “ayahuasca tourism” has boosted some cities’ economies and stirred up a cultural renaissance, it has caused harm as well.

“Pseudo-shamans” have popped up, taking advantage of the opportunity to sell expensive yet inauthentic “retreats.” Some get rich while leaving Indigenous practitioners in poverty.

The plants used to make this brew are disappearing from areas of Peru, and the price of them has recently tripled.

And practicing these plant medicine rituals without proper context or help with integration can lead to avoidable difficulties and dangers with the experience.

There is also a similar issue here as with “smudging” with wands of White Sage, in that non-Indigenous people are practicing these stolen sacred traditions on stolen land.

Peyote is also becoming increasingly endangered here in North America.

Just a thought, but you could try another psychedelic, such as mushrooms… they’re becoming increasingly decriminalized, they grow on every continent and they have been with us since the early days of our evolution!

On a “lighter note”:

To add one last lovely (and trippy) way to adjust your energy, why not try sound healing? Sound healing instantly adjusts the vibration of you and your surroundings.

I made this super short video to show you how just a minute (okay, 1 minute and 11 seconds!) of good vibrations can shift your mood and reality. Check it out any time you need a quick reset!

You can find more information on sound healing here!

To make a positive impact…

Lastly my friends, I wanted to leave you with a couple great options to support our Indigenous communities!

Did you know that in many areas, you can pay a “voluntary tax” on the land you live on to your local Indigenous community? Here in California’s Bay Area, there is a badass group of local women doing just that! Many local tribes are still denied basic rights by our government. Contributing even a small amount to this tax helps them obtain services such as healthcare while supporting their work to preserve sacred sites and traditions.

Learn more on their website!

If you are going to purchase herbs, buy from Indigenous sellers! It’s great way to show them support while also obtaining quality ingredients for your magical endeavors!

Check out Prairie Edge and Sakari Botanicals!

As we connect with sacred plants and practices, it is important to understand their historical context. This allows us to create magic that is not only kind to our own spirits, but kind to our world as well. Wishing you endless streams of magical kindness, flowing to and from you in all directions. Blessed, and so it is!

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