Monday, 16 July 2018
My Big Dilemma at Making Lavender 'Smudge Sticks'
The lavender is blooming in my garden. Last week I decided to use some to make a herb bundle to burn when cleansing my circle before spells and rituals. But I am in a bit of a quandary as to whether I should have done so or not.
You see, the act of ritually using the smoke from burning herb bundles - "smudging" - is controversial.
As most witches are aware, smudging is a ceremony used by some indigenous people in America. It involves burning tied bundles of sacred herbs for spiritual cleansings or blessings. The details of the ceremonies and the specific herbs used vary from tribe to tribe. However, it is often considered taboo for those outside those particular traditions to attempt to perform the ceremonies or borrow elements from them.
The problem is that loads of modern pagans and followers of new age paths have been copying elements of the practise without the necessary permission. That can be considered cultural appropriation.
Tied herb bundles or "smudge sticks" are sold all over the place. They usually contain white sage. That is the most well known herb used in traditional Native American smudging ceremonies, but there are others. I admit I have used white sage myself in the past. That's something I feel guilty about and I have decided I won't buy any white sage smudge sticks ever again, out of ethical considerations.
So, why did I decide to make my own herb bundle?
Well, mainly it was out of curiosity from a crafting point of view. I'd long wanted to try out the technique of making one, just to see if I could. Having now made a tied herb bundle, I can confirm it works. But, I might not do it ever again as I really don't want to offend anyone.
That isn't to say I won't harvest my lavender and use it to ritually cleanse my circle. I've been doing that for years, but I've usually collected the seeds then burned them on charcoal, often as part of an incense blend. That method is part of European traditions for ritual cleansing and is a bit different from tying the flowering heads up in twine, drying the bound bundle for several days and then burning that to create a purifying smoke.
I don't have any specific ethical problems over using lavender. It is not a taboo Native American herb - it grows naturally in Europe and has been used there for all sorts of cleansing purposes since ancient times. White sage doesn't grow naturally in England and there are environmental as well as ethical issues associated with importing it.
There are some other things in my defence for making a tied lavender herb bundle too. I won't be making loads and selling them. I won't be making any false claims about them and I won't be pretending to be an initiate of any Native American tradition. I'm just a bad British witch using the herbs in my own garden for my own purposes. Nevertheless, I still don't feel very comfortable about what I did. Was it too close to taboo Native American traditions?
I'm curious to learn about different techniques for suffumigation, but I don't want to piss anyone off.
What do you think? Do leave a comment.
The photos on this page show various stages involved in the making of my lavender dried herb bundle.
Links and previous related posts