The Hazy Ethics of Smudging to Cleanse Negative Energy

Decolonizing Practices for Smudging

You’re likely familiar with the term “smudging”, otherwise known as the practice of smoke cleansing. However, “smudging” is actually a word to describe a closed spiritual practice of the Indigenous people in North America and Canada. We do our best to avoid using this term, as we are located in Seattle, Washington and are very aware that we occupy the traditional land of the first people of Seattle, the Duwamish Tribe. As a business, we strive to live with honor and gratitude toward the land itself and the Duwamish People, past and present.

Using words, medicines, or traditions from closed practices is appropriative, exploitative, and insensitive to a culture which has been devastated by colonialism, so we believe that the ethical response is to change both our actions and our vocabulary. We have altered our language and offer the suggestion of “smoke cleansing” instead of “smudging” as the term used around this practice.

Decolonizing Medicines for Smoke Cleansing

The most popular material for smoke cleansing is White Sage, and it’s now endangered due to unsustainable harvesting. White Sage is a traditional Indigenous smudging material, and we do not suggest its use unless you are Indigenous yourself or have purchased it from a tribe, as they know how to harvest safely and sustainably. Culinary Sage and Desert Sage work well as replacements for White Sage, and using them does not appropriate the medicines of other cultures.

Palo Santo is a wild tree found in Central and South America, and is another popular smoke cleansing tool. Unfortunately, it is in danger of being over-harvested as well. If you wish to use it, it should be sourced from someone who collects sustainably — from naturally fallen (already dead) wood. Unsustainable practices have decimated Palo Santo, and this sacred medicine needs to be protected and preserved.

We highly encourage you to find medicines that are non-appropriative, locally abundant, and easily sustainably harvested. Cleansing your space and your crystals is a wonderful practice to maintain, but to honor those around us and those who came before us, as well as instilling properly high vibrations into your crystals, it should always be done ethically and sustainably.

Some of the best plant medicine available grows in your own backyard. There are all types of materials that can be bundled and/or dried to use as a smoke cleansing tool, not just sage. The most powerful medicines are actually ones that are close to you and to your generational or ancestral ties. Learn all about which herbs are good substitutions to appropriative medicines, how to harvest plants, and how to create your smoke cleansing bundles.

Appreciating Spiritual Practices

So how do you know if something is exploitive or appropriative, versus appreciating and sharing different cultures? What’s the difference?

Whether it’s yoga, meditation, or smudging, many of the popular spiritual practices in today’s world have been borrowed from other cultures. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing — cultures grow, evolve, and learn from each other all the time. Ethics start to get murky, however, when a predominant and more powerful group of people take the practices of another oppressed or less powerful group of people. Adopting smudging as a practice, if you are not Indigenous, is a perfect example of this dynamic. Even though an individual might not feel that what they are doing is harmful, when people in an oppressed cultural or ethnic group are chastised, penalized, or traumatized because of their practices, and someone in the dominant power group can do these things without either harm, or fear of harm, it highlights the unbalanced power dynamic.

This is especially true if adopting these practices causes harm to the tradition or tools of the culture the dominant power group is borrowing from — like it has done to White Sage. The popularity and unsustainable harvesting practices of this sacred herb have threatened the very medicine that North American Indigenous people have been using for a millenia.

We understand that this is a difficult topic to explore, and by no means are we perfect. We are all learning and growing every day, and adjusting our practices and lives as we learn. Our goal is to become more decolonized, anti-racist, and working to root out exploitation whenever and wherever we can. As a diverse team made up of a wide array of ethnicities, neurodivergence, genders and sexualities, we believe that the highest spiritual vibrations are possible when all people and cultures are honored and respected.

We hope that you will join us in this mission to change ourselves (and thereby the world), and that if anything, it will inspire you to ask questions and allow for honest, critical answers, even if they might disturb your current paradigm. We don’t get better until we all get better.

We hope you will join us in healing.

With Love,
Crystallography Gems

Learn more about the Duwamish tribe, or about the movement to Pay Real Rent to the Duwamish people for the uncompensated occupation of their territory.

Learn who’s Indigenous land you occupy.

Learn more about Cultural Appropriation.

Michelle Ferris

Michelle Ferris is the owner, curator, and buyer for Crystal Lounge by Crystallography Gems. Born & raised in Seattle by first-generation parents, she has worked to create authentic, connective, and inclusive events for the better portion of her professional life. Since 2013, Michelle worked to create community-activated Rock, Gem, Art, & Music shows, at which Crystallography Gems was a cornerstone. At the start of the pandemic, moved her operation online, and opened a shop in Georgetown, expanding into a larger showroom in 2022. In November 2023, she moved her shop to downtown Seattle, rebranding it as Crystal Lounge by Crystallography Gems. Her shop offers crystals, minerals, gems, rocks, jewelry, and metaphysical tools, and focuses on getting her customers the tools they need, and the education needed for them to make informed, confident decisions about their purchases.