This is the first in an on-going series about plants and how we incorporate them into our lives. I’m aiming for a weekly article, but life is busy so it might not be that frequent. I encourage everyone to grow as much of their own as they are able. It will teach you patience, as well as appreciation. In the modern world filled with so much convenience and disposable mentality, re-acquainting ourselves with the slower earth-connected ways is vital for our well-being. Modern living has a lot of good things going for it. Looking for the best of both and finding a way to integrate that is, to me, a sensible way forward to a more equitable future for all of us.
So, onto today’s plant blog! as witches and pagans, and really, anybody, we often encounter others who gate-keep the field of practice. Or they attempt to control your thoughts, actions, beliefs and so on. Some of this comes from a place of insecurity and a need for there to be an absolute in order for their way to feel validated. Often it comes from a genuine vision of how something simply just IS (dogmatism, fundamentalism) and has more to do with them believing they are being truly helpful in showing you the ‘correct’ way. On occasion, there really is an absolute and what you are doing is problematic. Be flexible and always willing to learn and grow, and you can navigate all of these instances with grace. Learning new things and new perspectives and seeing all others as equally real is important. It doesn’t much matter in the grand scheme of things if you incorporate color magic or the intricate position of the stars in the night sky in your practice. What about things that are tied to specific people, places, cultures or religions though?
White sage comes to mind. Many people, myself included, have a knee-jerk reaction to being told to not do something, and when hearing “don’t use white sage” you may be thinking “oh, really? and who are you to tell me what to do”. But when you dig deeper and really listen to others, you will understand Why. While burning things that produce sacred smoke is a global practice done by nearly every indigenous culture (including the early caucasian indigenous cultures in northern Europe); white sage is a plant that is best not purchased without a lot of caveats.
The first thing to realize is that “white sage” is a specific plant, and that quite a lot of sage and sage bundles that are sold are sold simply as “sage”. Before you get too upset, check your product. If it is white sage, it will include the word “white” in the description.
Now back to the topic. Not only is the product on the market often poached, but it is done so with no regard for the spiritual connection between that plant, the land and the indigenous people who live there. White sage is an endangered species, it is sacred plant medicine to real existing people, and the borderline fanatical behavior of some folks who avoid it, is not without reason.
If you already have white sage, use it with gratitude and respect since it’s already been removed from the place it was growing, and then either a. search for a verified ethical tribal member who is selling it or b. research for alternatives instead of buying more.
Ask yourself what role & purpose smoke smudging has in your personal practice, and whether it is something you want or need to continue. You do not need a “smudge stick” to use smoke. You can use a loose incense blend on charcoal. You can use an incense cone, as well as an incense stick. These are all things with many different sources and formulations. You can make your own sticks and cones and loose incense blends utilizing abundant materials from your own region of the world, and materials from other places that aren’t at risk. You can absolutely make your own smudge stick if what you want is a fat plant-material wand to hold onto; and there are people who offer hand-crafted smudge wands for sale that do not include endangered plant matter.
If you have the room to grow things, you may be able to grow some of your own white sage. I endorse you growing your own. You will learn first-hand how plant materials are precious resources and not merely a product to gobble up indiscriminently.
About White Sage (Salvia apiana) – https://calscape.org/Salvia-apiana-(White-Sage)?srchcr=sc5dc62433e57e5 (this site also has a link to nurseries that sell the plants)
White Sage Protection: https://www.cnps.org/conservation/white-sage
So what if you don’t want to use white sage at all! The good news is that many of the salvias and artemisias are readily available, and/or super easy to grow. Garden sage will happily live in a sunny windowsill, but will do even better in your garden. Mugwort will grow in a lot of conditions, but it also has a mind of its own and will end up everywhere. It will send out root runners and pop up where you don’t expect it; and the seeds disperse readily (especially by bird) and you will have mugwort like crazy. The more arid your climate the less it will spread, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. Be prepared to be constantly vigilant in removing sprouts. I have it along one edge of my back yard, and the plants reach easily 5 feet high in the summertime. You can easily source seeds for many of the sage family plants. Some of the native wildflower companies in the USA have sage varieties available.
In a future blog I will go over the more expected data about herbs, witchy uses, culinary uses, all that jazz.