The Profound Cultural & Environmental Harm Of Buying Random 'Smudging Kits' Online

Photo: Pam Walker / Shutterstock
Why You Should Stop Buying White Sage Online
Contributor
Self

It has become trendy to buy and sell sage in the form of “cleansing kits", which people use to cleanse or purify a home or other space of bad energy.

However, the way the products are being sold and marketed seem to be coming with their own bad energy, as many brands and stores are being accused of cultural appropriation and even over-harvesting the key herb in the smudge kits.

The larger contextual practice of smudging is used extensively by many indigenous tribes in North American, who use various herbs, some region-specific, for cultural ceremonies. Some of these kits include herbs like cedar, flower white sage, or mixed bundles of various ingredients.

Brands like Sephora, Anthropology, Whole Foods, and Walmart are facing criticism for selling sage kits or so-called "witch kits." Versions of these kits are all over Etsy stores as well. But even venues that have stopped selling sage still promote cleansing rituals and toos intended for smudging, such as Goop.

Through them, you can purchase a “Cleanse and Purify Smudge Kit.” 

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However, many stores and even influencers misuse sacred medicines by taking them out of the context of their intended use without knowing the historical meaning behind them. 

It's also being reported that the herbs are being over-harvested. Kimon De Greef, writing for Vice, explains that “Such rampant exploitation has severely stunted the sage, which grew shoulder-high less than a decade ago, forming impenetrable thickets, but now seldom reaches above the waist.”

The market for white sage has exploded. As a result, the plant is becoming more and more scarce. Poachers are incorrectly harvesting and over-harvesting sage to meet demand. 

White sage is a keystone species, meaning many organisms in its natural ecosystem rely on it to survive. And as the population is diminishing, it's negatively impacting adjacent plant and animal life, some of them endangered. 

People post on Instagram about smudging and cleansing negative energy. But few can pinpoint the exact source of their sage and whether or not it was sourced sustainably.

It isn't always easy to track the origin of a particular crop of sage, even for the authorities. Local police are often tasked with the job, and they lack the proper resources. Sage can be legally harvested on private property, if one is given permission.

Otherwise, it's possible that your sage has been poached. 

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Smudging is a ceremony. Smudging is medicine. And it used to be illegal. 

The United States was occupied by people who were fleeing religious persecution. The Constitution offers protection against persecution for religious affiliation. But that hasn't applied to Native American people or slaves, because by law they were not seen as people and their beliefs were not respected.

In 1883, the United States passed a religious crimes code that banned native people from doing, “Native dancing and ceremonies, including the Sun Dance, Ghost Dance, potlatches, and the practices of medicine persons.” This allowed agents to use force, withhold rations, and imprison when they saw Native people breaking this rule. 

In 1860, the Bureau of Indian affairs established boarding schools where Native American children were taken from reservations and then assimilated into a white American standard of living. Richard Henry Pratt, head of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School, founded in 1879, used the motto “Kill the Indian, save the man.”

In these institutions, children were beaten and shamed for speaking their own language or trying to take part in cultural practices. As a result, generations of young adults were created who didn’t pass down their cultural knowledge because they were taught to feel shame and fear just by its association.

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This is the historical context you should have known before you even bought sage or a smudge kit

It was not until the 1978 American Indian Religious Freedom Act was passed that these ceremonies were made legal again. Now, many tribes are doing a lot of work on cultural revitalization, relearning and sometimes modernizing beliefs that were lost to them. 

Tribes are attempting to undo some of the destruction that befell them due to government boarding schools and fear.

By taking part in the practice without the correct knowledge and application, and using cleansing kits from sources that are not ethical, people are appropriating in a destructive way. Why should a non-tribal member take part in a ceremony that was otherwise illegal just 43 years ago? 

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Taking part in the online influencer spirituality trend is wreaking havoc on an entire species, not to mention, it's culturally inappropriate.

People who take part in this do not understand the significance of the ceremonies or the herbs they require. By engaging in a market that's over-harvesting sage and other herbs only servest to cut off the supply to tribal members themselves, further limiting access to their own cultural beliefs.  

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There's nothing wrong with holding a spiritual relationship that's connected to or informed by the natural environment. It's encouraging, in fact, with the effects of climate change looming just over the horizon. 

But when finding a belief system or a new routine that's related to cleansing and spirituality, it's imperative to ensure that you put the time in to research the context that surrounds it.

Is this a ceremony that you can should part in?

Here's what to ask yourself: When sourcing for your practice, are you being environmentally respectful? Can you look back in your own cultural lineage and find earth-based spirituality?

No one can tell you what to do here.

But it seems the first step, if you're a non-Native person who continues to buy and use sage, make sure to buy from ethical sources, don’t post about it on social media to get likes, and be respectful to the Native peoples who have lost so much to allow you to burn an herb. 

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Leeann Reed is a textile artist, poet, and writer who covers news, entertainment, and lifestyle.