Burning sage is more than just a TikTok trend, the practice has sacred Indigenous roots
Burning sage, also called smudging, has become a popular trend across social media.
White sage is considered one of the four sacred medicines in Indigenous culture.
Until 1978, Indigenous people in the US were banned from burning sage or practicing other forms of traditional medicine.
Burning sage, also known as smudging, has become a popular trend in recent years amongst TikTok users, with hundreds of videos ranging from how-tos and casting away bad vibes to prayers and witch rituals. Despite its newfound diverse acclaim across social media, the act of burning sage isn't new. In fact, it holds Indigenous roots dating back centuries.
White sage, or Salvia apiana, is considered one of the most sacred medicines in Indigenous culture for its numerous health and healing benefits. In addition to working as a potent cleanser for homes and our physical bodies, the herb is an antiseptic and packed with nutrients and vitamins. Native to southern California and northern Mexico, before white sage became a global trend, Indigenous tribes burned the herb in spiritual ceremonies to cleanse, purify, and pray.
The use of white sage in Indigenous culture goes beyond its ceremonial purposes. The herb is believed to help with a multitude of issues including constipation, anxiety, and sore throats. Additionally, white sage has been utilized to ease pain associated with menstruation and pregnancy, and even repel insects.
Until 1978, Native Americans were banned from burning sage
Indigenous people in the United States were banned from using traditional medicine, which included white sage, up until the 1978 passing of the American Indian Religious Freedom Act. It comes as no surprise that Indigenous activists are calling out non-Indigenous brands and individuals for profiting off an herb that is sacred, and was once banned, from their culture.
The use of sage looks very different online as opposed to its use in Native tradition. While the western wellness industry has commodified and exploited the herb through products like sprays and sage-infused body wash, Indigenous people practice using the herb sparingly, to avoid overharvesting, and ultimately endangerment. And since there aren't any regulations in place when it comes to sage trading, brands do not have to report where their sage is harvested, directly contributing to overharvesting as sage demands increase.
The use of sage in the western world
The traditional methods of burning sage also differ between Indigenous culture and the western world – a common byproduct of appropriation. While the TikTok standard is to burn sage alone, it is common for Indigenous people to burn the herb with tobacco, sweetgrass, and cedar. It also shouldn't be lit with a lighter because the butane in lighters kills the medicinal purposes. Instead, matches should be used. Sage also shouldn't be blown on, but a feather can be used to fan the flames.
As for purchasing and selling sage, it simply is out of the question for Indigenous culture because it's a form of commodifying prayer. Instead, sage is gifted by a family member, friend, or community organization. Buying sage that has been packaged and handled by multiple people poses the risk of absorbing negative energy since Native tribes believe people put their energy into the medicine they touch.
As a non-Native, in order to respectfully use sage, in the way that Indigenous people have for centuries, it should be used purposefully and mindfully. Additionally, it's important to support Native-owned businesses and causes, and educate oneself about the true origins of the practices they're adopting by following Native educators and influencers. Burning and using sage shouldn't be the only form of connecting with this sacred culture.
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