August 04, 2020

White sage is a traditional tool of North American Indigenous cultures. The sage plant also provides food and medicine as it is rich in anti-bacterial properties. In recent years, sacred bundles of sage usually known as ‘smudge sticks’ have taken off in popularity around the world, and if you spend any time at all in occult, magick or spirituality communities you will have witnessed many discussions (and arguments!) over the use of white sage outside of Indigenous cultures. The use of white sage to cleanse the self and surrounding spaces of negative energy is a sometimes fraught topic, as the practice is based on Native American ceremony for purifying or cleansing the soul of negative thoughts, and is considered by many to be a cultural appropriation devoid of understanding of the culture from which it is taken.

white sage and copal resin

Native Americans were prohibited from practicing their own religious rituals in the US until 1978, so for hundreds of years tribes have fought and died for the right to practice and pass on their traditions, and have tightly held on to the importance of herbs such as white sage.  Additionally, the harvesting of sage for traditional uses is an action performed sustainably, leaving the root behind (with a prayer of thanks) to ensure the plant would regrow. In many commercial productions, the root is harvested along with the rest of the plant, creating sustainability issues exacerbated by the herb’s popularity today.

Because of this, the use of white sage by witches who practice outside of Native American lore is seen by many as exploitative; erasing cultural heritage and silencing Native voices, as those who use white sage to smudge often don’t know the full cultural history of its use and just know it as a cleansing herb.

If you use white sage in your spiritual practices, please ensure it is harvested from a sustainable source by either growing your own or checking with the supplier you purchase from.  All sage sold at Tragic Beautiful is sustainably sourced, as is Palo Santo wood, which also suffers from sustainability issues due to over-harvesting. If you see either of these products being sold cheaply, they are probably not ethically sourced.

If you are looking for alternatives to white sage for smudging or other magickal rituals, here are a few suggestions. Bear in mind that some of these also have connections to Native cultures, and so you might want to research those uses to decide if these are appropriate alternatives for you.  Researching the ancient practices behind our modern use of herbs and other plants is not only enriching to our spiritual learning, but often fascinating to learn about. 

Yerba Santa

(Eriodictyon californicum or Salvia Shasta)

Widely used by Indigenous people of Central America, the herb Yerba Santa is useful in purification ceremonies and in rituals to gain vision and expel negative energy and entities. It can be burned to warn of illnesses as well. Additionally it makes an ideal altar offering and to release the ancient and wild within you while you practice magick.

yerba sage smudge wand

Cedar

Eastern White Cedar is a sacred tree that has many magical qualities. It is not actually a cedar, but a cyprus tree. It is effective as a smudge for protection and clearing, and has symbolic connection to the element of fire and the planet Jupiter, so makes a useful offering in rituals involving these aspects. Like the Yew, this tree symbolises eternal life and this aspect makes it an important addition to workings of banishing, success, and magical power. This particular symbology was used by ancient Druids, Norse people and in ancient Greece, where it was associated with Persephone.  It also has a great woody aroma that leaves your space feeling closer to nature. The ash of the burned shavings can be used to consecrate and purify your tools as well.

cedar smudge wand

Rosemary

Rosemary has numerous medicinal and spiritual uses. It is associated with Aphrodite & Venus, so is a key ingredient in powerful passion spells (to use on yourself, not on an unwitting stranger though!), wearing it can improve memory during exams or in important meetings, and is useful in a range of sun magick rituals. Like sage, it is used in purification rites and cleansing, leaving behind a beautiful aroma. Rosemary and juniper burned together drive staleness from your home after a bout of illness. Use it to cleanse and consecrate athames, wands, crystals, and other tools between workings. Rosemary in a ritual bath removes worries and will invigorate your spirit.

 rosemary smudge stick

Juniper

Juniper is another tree that is called a cedar, but is actually a cyprus. In Western esoteric traditions it is tied to fire workings, driving out disease/negative entities, and purification. Its astrological aspect is Mars in Aries so is powerfully symbolic as a fire element in rituals. Smudge or burn it to fill your space with passion, energy and warmth. Because Juniper can grow in places that few other trees can, its use in rituals and spells related to regeneration and hope in dark times can be particularly powerful as well.

 juniper smudge stick

Eucalyptus

Eucalyptus has a fresh and herbaceous fragrance and has long been used as a natural remedy for colds and similar ailments. When burned, it brings a fresh energy to the atmosphere and is used in rituals to clear away regret and worry and to treat mental exhaustion. It is particularly powerful at clearing away irrational worries that interfere with daily life and distract from genuine problems. Use the oil in purification water or flick droplets of the oil around your home to cleanse the air. Eucalyptus is also useful in bath, shower or foot bath rituals, due to its cleansing vapours. Other uses include protection, solitude, discouraging bad vibes, and rejuvenation rituals.

dried eucalyptus

All magical ingredients sold by Tragic Beautiful, including herbs, wood, and crystals, are ethically and sustainably sourced. It is a painstaking and often expensive process to source ingredients this way, but we feel strongly about sustainable and respectful magical practices. You are welcome to contact us if you are seeking particular ingredients and we will do our best to source them ethically for you. 

To see our full range of herbal cleansing and smudging supplies click here.