Please Stop Gatekeeping Plants #WitchTok #GatekeepingWitchcraft



I appreciate the discussions that people are having about decolonizing their practices but...

Stop gatekeeping plants!

Plants are not closed practices. Nature is not a closed practice.

Plants were put here by the creator to be used by all.

There are a lot of plants all over the world that are sacred to a lot of people - this does not mean no one else can use those plants.

The problem comes in when those plants are unethically sourced and stolen from the people they are sacred to.

I'm not saying you can just grab any plant you want and use it. There are many exotic plants that have become popular for certain spells or because of their metaphysical or healing properties.

The two that we are hearing about most are White Sage and Palo Santo.

White Sage and Palo Santo have been unethically harvested, over-harvested, and sold by Capitalists to the point where the indigenous people that use these plants in their rituals and ceremonies no longer have access to them.

That's the issue with these two plants.

That does not make either one of these plants closed practices or cultural appropriation, however, you should consider the ethics involved before using these plants.

My big beef right now is the toxicity of witchtok - the constant gatekeeping and the parroting of incorrect information. Many people who are not indigenous keep repeating the same false information and using the same incorrect terminology. 

While many indigenous people are saying medicine is for everyone, just source it ethically.

I appreciate those who want to be an ally but the majority of what is happening is yt people are gatekeeping other yt people for clout and views. However, the majority of the info being shared varies from just using the wrong terminology to being completely inaccurate. 

But thanks to the algorithm that tends to bury the voices of marginalized groups, these videos from yt creators are screaming on everyone's for-you page while accurate information shared by POC and indigenous creators is being buried.

If you really want to be an ally stop creating gatekeepy tikky toks and start sharing indigenous voices. 

And when you do make your own videos please make sure the words and information you use are correct. Also, don't tell other witches how to witch. You can share information without being a preachy biotch.

Words matter, use the appropriate terminology when describing why these plants should not be used.

First of all, let’s discuss the main two plants involved in this drama.

When people first started asking non-indigenous people to stop using White Sage, it was because it was being overharvested from public and native lands to the point the Native American tribes had none to use for their rituals and ceremonies.

White Sage is sacred to certain Native American tribes, mostly on the west coast. 

One of the things being shared constantly is that because White Sage is a sacred plant to many indigenous communities in the US, no one else should use it (or even grow it, many green witches have been verbally attacked on social media for growing White Sage).

Numerous other plants like cedar, tobacco, and sweet grass are also sacred to Native communities. This does not mean no one else can use these plants or grow them. 

Should you acknowledge that these tribes have used it for hundreds of years, maybe thousands of years, in their ceremonies and rituals? Yes, you should definitely acknowledge that (not try to copy it). You should always honor where things come from. The history, the source of the power, and the energy should be known before using something in your practice. 

The thing is, cultures all over the world hold various things sacred yet others use them every day. Cows are sacred to some in India. It does not stop people from eating beef all around the world. What is sacred to one culture does not close it to other cultures and places. 

Please stop gatekeeping. Especially if you are not part of the culture you are screaming about. 

It is not cultural appropriation to use a plant. 

It is not cultural appropriation to grow a plant.

Sage is a tool used in a ritual or ceremony that is part of the culture of a community. Simply using sage is not cultural appropriation. If you were copying that ritual and claiming it’s your ritual- that’s the definition of cultural appropriation.  

Ceremonies vary by tribe and by clan and are usually only shared within their community. Most outsiders would not have any clue how to even attempt to appropriate a sacred ritual. 

But is it unethical to use white sage? 

Perhaps. 

It mainly depends on where and who the sage came from. You do not want sage that was harvested unethically from public land or from native land because indigenous peoples rightfully have a claim to this sage. 

The popularity of white sage bundles and the coverage of people talking about overharvesting have led to the creation of commercial farms for white sage. 

Independent growers have also added white sage to their farms and gardens. 

So now you can get a lot of white sage that is commercially grown specifically to be sold to the normal everyday person. If you buy commercially grown white sage you're not stealing it from the Native Americans, you are not taking anything from them. 

If the sage was grown for private or commercial consumption it is not unethical to purchase or use it because no one stole it from the indigenous people or their land. 

Better yet- purchase sage from indigenous people and shops to support their small businesses.

Will you still encounter Native Americans who tell you not to use white sage at all? 

Absolutely. 

Should you consider what they say before using White Sage?

Absolutely.

There are Native Americans who are angry about any and everything the colonizers do that threatens their way of life (and rightfully so). They feel it is wrong that yt people are running around making a mockery of things sacred to them when they could not even practice their religion and way of life legally in the United States until the 1970s. (Which I still don’t understand, freedom of religion should have protected them but apparently did not.)

BTW this drama applies to White Sage. Other types of sage are free to use and there are many, many other types to choose from.

The other plant so many are currently discussing in TT is Palo Santo. This one is honestly a larger problem than White Sage because Palo Santo is being overharvested in South America and the loss is destroying habitat in the dry tropical forests of Peru and Ecuador. It goes on and off the endangered species list, but either way it is a threatened species and the overharvesting is creating a loss of habitat.

And Palo Santo is critical to the spiritual practices of native populations where the tree grows. 

I do not buy Palo Santo at all. I have been gifted sticks of it several times but I honestly don’t like the aroma and I just don’t vibe with it. So it tends to stay in a box and never get used.

I think Palo Santo should be avoided because it’s not grown in the US and is not easily replenishable. “Growing a Palo Santo tree is not easy. Seeds are produced by trees that are at least 6 years old, which typically are consumed and passed by pigeons. The Palo Santo wood used in rituals can only come from the densely resined heartwood of trees, which grow to maturity then die naturally.”

Words and Proper Terminology

Now let’s talk about words and why they are important because everyone on social media just seems to toss them about and repeat the same shit over and over without understanding their meaning.

Cultural Appropriation- is 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.

Smoke cleansing has been done in numerous cultures all around the world with a wide variety of plants. So the simple act of using smoke to cleanse is not appropriation nor is it a closed practice. 

The plants used to cleanse with smoke are not a closed practice because plants are not closed to anyone. However certain plants like White Sage and Palo Santo may have ethical issues that you should consider before using them. That does not make them a closed practice so please stop using those words. 

Closed Practice – A closed practice is one that you can only be a part of if you were born into the community or if you have been initiated into it. Vodou and Jewish witchcraft/mysticism are two of these. Many cultures have closed practices- Native American, Yoruba, Santeria, etc. 

The closed practice involving these two plants would be in the way they are used. If you are mimicking an indigenous ritual without acknowledging the source, or by using it when it is not meant for you (because it's a closed practice), that is cultural appropriation. 

Using either of these two plants for smoke cleansing is (probably) not cultural appropriation because there is little to no chance that the things 99% of non-indigenous people do with these plants actually resemble a sacred ritual from any of the indigenous cultures that hold them sacred.

(Sidebar- I acknowledge that there have been many in the "spiritual community" who have definitely appropriated Native American customs, rituals, and items. But this is a much deeper discussion for another time. Right now I am addressing sage usage by the average witch who is not trying to emulate any custom or ritual but simply clear the energy of an area)

So let’s agree the practice of burning herbs to clear energy is an open practice. There are many, many herbs that can be included in bundles. Rosemary, cedar, and lavender are three of my favorites. There are also numerous types of sage that can be used other than White Sage. 

So we’re burning herbs- what should we call it? 

The word smudge does not seem to be an indigenous word, it seems to have originated in England and was what yt people that came to the Americas called the ritual when they saw natives doing it. The word possibly originated with the Middle English word smogen meaning "to soil, stain, blacken," by 1860 the word smudge was recorded as meaning "make a smoky fire”. Indigenous peoples have their own terms and phrases for smudging, including atisam├ónihk (Cree for “at the smudge”) and nookwez (Ojibwe for “smudge medicinally”).

But many people, even natives, consider the word smudge to be part of Native American culture.

Simply changing your mindset to use the phrase smoke cleansing instead of smudge can easily fix that problem. 

Saining is another term that gets tossed around. Saining is a Scots word for blessing, protecting or consecrating. Saining with smoke has roots in Scottish and Irish cultures. However, there are those who would prefer you not use this term unless you have connections to these cultures and understand what Saining involves because it’s more than just burning some herbs.


To sum everything up plants are not closed practices, using certain plants is not cultural appropriation, and growing plants is not cultural appropriation. 

However, there are plants that have ethical issues surrounding them. 

White Sage and Palo Santo are not the only plants that are being over-harvested from their native regions thanks to greed and capitalism.

Please do your research on the plants you use or plan to use. When in doubt it’s best to use locally grown plants native to your region.  You can find plants native to your region that have the same or similar metaphysical properties that can be used for smoke cleansing or for spells.

It’s your practice. The best thing you can do is be ethical, informed, and respectful.


Several sources were used while writing this post including:

https://witchyspiritualstuff.com/what-is-a-closed-practice/   

https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/smudging

https://www.idtdna.com/pages/community/blog/post/investigating-latin-america-s-holy-wood-the-palo-santo 

https://cailleachs-herbarium.com/2019/02/saining-not-smudging-purification-and-lustration-in-scottish-folk-magic-practice/

https://magicnorthstar.com/the-tradition-of-scottish-saining-smudging/ 

https://thedruidscauldron.org/2020/09/10/the-druid-and-fairy-doctor-practice-of-saining/  

https://www.etymonline.com/word/smudge


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