Cultural appropriation in witchcraft, why using sage to cleanse the energies in your home is bad

By: TAYLOR LAMBERT

Witchcraft has gained mass amounts of attention in recent months; with apps like Tik Tok housing a plethora of information and witchy content creators, it’s hard not to know a thing or two about neopaganistic practices. Unfortunately, with its growing popularity, witchcraft has become more mainstream, diluted, and capitalized upon. False practices, misinformation, gatekeeping, a lack of respect for the customs, etc., are all examples of ways that mainstream media has twisted some of these age-old traditions into something far from what they are meant to be. Cultural appropriation, in particular,  has been a huge issue in the witchcraft community. Cultural appropriation is a phrase that has grown exponentially over the past few years; via the dictionary definition, “The unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society.” An easy example of cultural appropriation could be the Kardashians in their cornrows, or festival-goers wearing Native American war bonnets. These are examples of cultural appropriation and not cultural appreciation because they are not respecting the cultures that they are stealing from; they are using the cornrows or headdresses as fashion statements and accessories. Furthermore, Native war bonnets are a practice restricted to the Plains nation indians, and beyond that they are further restricted in the culture, and only men that have earned them are allowed to wear one. 

Within Paganism, there are many customs wrongfully adopted from other cultures such as Native American tribal practices, Latin Brujeria, and more. A common example of cultural appropriation in modern neopaganism would be sage smudge sticks or sage bundles. Smudging is a practice sacred to Native American tribes such as the Lakota Sioux; they use this custom as a form of spiritual cleansing, and the message behind it is much deeper than just “good vibes”. The harvesting of sage is a large part of its cleansing abilities; the collection of sage must happen with good intention to respect and honor the plant and the earth. When gathering sage, you must leave the root of the plant, say a prayer of thanks as you gather, and leave tobacco or cansasa as an offering to the earth. In more recent years, it has become trendy to burn sage in your home to get those “good vibes” that the instagram witches claim to possess. Cultural appropriation has gone beyond just being offensive and wrong, it is now affecting the environment. Due to white sage becoming a trendy thing for people to use as an energy cleanser, it has been capitalized upon on a massive scale. The overharvesting and poaching of sage for mass produced smudge sticks has affected this sacred and spiritual plant so deeply, that it is now considered an endangered species. This is devastating not only for the earth but for native cultures as well. Due to white commercialization of smudging, white sage is now an extremely limited resource for native peoples that use it in their cultural practices. Rather than play into racist witchcraft by appropriating native culture, make an effort to find alternatives to closed or sacred practices. There are many herbs besides sage that have wonderful cleansing properties such as rosemary, lavender, sweetgrass, mugwort, cedar, juniper, and more.

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