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Smoke, Sage, and The Honorable Harvest



Burning sage has become commonplace in new age spirituality as a way to cleanse spaces or for use in ceremony work. White sage in particular is a favorite, with it's beautiful thick white smoke which can strongly shift energy. But using sage or other traditional plants to clear energy is complicated - it asks for us to pause and consider what exactly we're doing and what the impact is.


Human cultures from all over the world have build relationships with certain plants and trees for making smoke. "Smudging" is a term to describe Native American practices of burning sage for cleansing, prayer work, or other ceremonial purposes. If you aren't Native, rather than copying or appropriating a smudging tradition, I encourage you to investigate what plants your ancestors used for clearing or ceremony. My ancestors, from northern Europe, burned mugwort, rosemary, thyme, juniper, and many other plants for ceremony, magic, or to shift energy.


It's also important to consider the impact of harvesting on ecosystems and plant communities. White sage only grows wild in certain areas of California, and due to its explosion in popularity, is a victim of over harvesting and illegal harvesting. Check out this article from 2022, White Sage in Danger, about the plundering of wild white sage. Instead of buying wildcrafted white sage, try growing some of your own, or build a relationship with other plants and herbs that interest you.


The smoke I offer during Heartland ceremonies is often a mix of Oregon Desert Sage Brush and Mugwort. Although a lot of the habitat for native species in the Oregon desert has been disrupted, sagebrush is still very common and in dry areas across the state. Each spring I make a trip to the John Day River and do my best to practice what Robin Wall Kimmerer describes as "The Honorable Harvest". In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer shares her personal experiences and wisdom from her Native elders about how to harvest while keeping the earth whole and healthy:


"The guidelines of the Honorable Harvest are not written down, or even consistently spoken of as a whole - they are reinforced in small acts of daily life. But if you were to list them, they might look something like this:


  • Know the ways of the ones who take care of you, so that you may take care of them.

  • Introduce yourself. Be accountable as the one who comes asking for life.

  • Ask permission before taking. Abide by the answer.

  • Never take the first. Never take the last.

  • Take only what you need.

  • Take only that which is given.

  • Never take more than half. Leave some for others.

  • Harvest in a way that minimizes harm.

  • Use it respectfully. Never waste what you have taken.

  • Share.

  • Give thanks for what you have been given.

  • Give a gift, in reciprocity for what you have taken.

  • Sustain the ones who sustain you and the earth will last forever."


-Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass


As I sit among the sagebrush and try to prepare to begin harvesting, I feel the stark contrast in my body between the way of the Honorable Harvest and the other ways our modern culture relates to land. The way of the colonizer, the capitalist, the way of monoculture farming, pesticides, the way of the grocery store. There is a lot feel into here.


My ancestors are all from Europe, where the history of colonizing runs deep. What does it look like to retrain the way I think and feel and engage with land? Can practicing the Honorable Harvest be a de-colonizing force? As I ask these questions I feel the deep well of wisdom here in this grove of sagebrush.



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