Vanessa Kunderman, Rogue Wood Supply

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How to smoke cleanse with Birch

We're trying to do our part in promoting awareness around some of the over-harvested smoke cleansing items out there, primarily the ones that have become "trendy" in New Age spirituality. These trendy items are white sage, palo santo, rosewood and more, but we are focusing on these three, specifically, because these three are the ones we used to offer in our shop.

That's right. We screwed up. Now we are holding the shop accountable and we are trying our best to correct some of these wrongs, and we hope to bring you along for the journey so you can continue to evolve, too. So here's what we're doing.

Before getting into it, I'm not here to scold you if you're using these items. I have used these items. I'm right there with you. Feeling bad isn't what this is about. This is about awareness and making informed decisions when you can.

While I'd love to say, "Stop harvesting and burning these items all together," I'm actually really OK with people growing their own and using them. That's how it used to be done. The problem lies when we purchase these items from distributers who are contributing to the over-harvesting of these items. So where are you getting yours from? Do you know? Are you comfortable buying these items knowing that they are depleting faster than we can grow them?

Why should we care about endangered items? Well, aside from the obvious, these items are actually sacred tools to a few specific cultures around the world. And while we are using them for spiritual practices too, the true meaning behind them is actually not celebrated in the way that they were originally intended. This contributes to cultural appropriationIf we continue to harvest these endangered items, we risk abolishing the spiritual practices of a few cultures who have built much of their spirituality around these items, and that would be a grave tragedy.

Something that we at RW also contributed to incorrectly is smudge. Smudge is not what you use to remove those negative vibes from your home. You're actually smoke cleansing, and there is no reason why you need to use white sage for that. All sage has the same properties, so you can use purple sage, pineapple sage, prairie sage or any other sage variety. Or you can use rosemary, peppermint, white pine, or birch. And you should try your best to remove the word "smudge" for your vocabulary when you actually mean smoke cleansing. Read more on my first steps through cultural appropriation and smudge here.

Now, if you are in fact, smudging, then all the power to you.

Smudging is a sacred indigenous practice that invites spirit and ancestors in to some of their most sacred ceremonies. These herbs should never be purchased, rather gifted or grown. You may be smudging, but chances are you're smoke cleansing. And if you're smoke cleansing, it's you we're talking to.

We aren't asking you to quit your spiritual practices. We would never do that. Spirituality and self-care is deeply unique to the person, and you should always find a practice that makes you feel your absolute best. But can you feel your best knowing you're contributing to something that is hurting someone else? I couldn't.

We've switched things around in the shop, offering Mystic Kindling, our birch wands that hold a sweet, spearmint-like fragrance. Yes! Sweet Birch smells like spearmint! It's really lovely, and Rogue Wood Supply happens to be located in the middle of a birch forest. Coincidence? I don't think so. That's why we harvest it and are telling you about it.

We burn birch in our home, chopping it up to create great, easy kindling that lights with little effort. Since we are not primarily a wood burning heating system anymore, we have swapped oak for birch. Birch burns quicker than oak (and not as hot, so its not the ideal wood choice if you're heating your home solely with wood) but for us, it's easier to get going and a better match to our life's needs. We keep seasoned logs in a wood shed, load them into a trap in the basement from outside, blow heat on them to dry them out even further, and bring up the wood when we burn it. When we do this, I harvest some for the shop.

When I was deep in the throws of guilt around burning - and selling - items that were endangered, it was hard for me to navigate how to get out of the situation I found myself in. My biggest flaw is burying my head when I'm upset, hiding, and not always dealing with what is ailing me. This time was no different, only I shared my woes with the forest I live in, and was surprisingly gifted an answer. I wasn't sure if people were going to get it, until I uncovered the folk wisdom around birch.

Birch is fascinating: it is a cleansing and purifying wood - just like white sage and palo santo - and it invites restoration and healing to you. These are perfect properties for smoke cleansing. The wood and the bark are both great items to burn, but you should never peel birch bark from a living tree, stripping the tree of its skin. Yes, some birch varieties (there are many), like the papery birch, will naturally shed its bark - these are great to use! Scoop them up and salvage them! - but removing the bark yourself when it is still attached to the tree can potentially harm the tree, ultimately killing it.


BIRCH IS CLEANSING, PURIFYING, RESTORATIVE AND HEALING ACCORDING TO ANCIENT FOLK WISDOM.


Bark is how the tree passes nutrients up and down its trunk, deep into the roots and up to its canopy. When a ring of bark has been removed all the way around the tree's trunk, the nutrients are no longer able to flow up and down the tree. This spells a slow and painful death.

The beautiful white birch that stands out on our prairie landscapes changes when the bark is harvested. It turns a dark, dull, grey-brown, a little reminiscent to oak. 

For the wood that we burn in our fireplace, I have been collecting small wands from a few of our spare logs. I remove the bark from these, and have been collecting them for safe keeping for future projects. We are working on loose blends with this birch bark as the base, but they are still in the prototyping phase. I'd encourage you to check back in the shop if you're reading this post and we have moved forward with loose blends. 

I chop down the logs into small wands, and sand them lightly before consecrating them. These are bundled in five wands with white twine, and then labeled with our green Mystic Kindling label and some information on the folk wisdom behind birch.

No matter where you are placed on this planet, there is an item in the plant kingdom around you that has healing properties. All over the globe, in every culture, there are ancient, sacred spiritual practices you can find, and every single one had a relationship with the earth and items it offered them. So regardless of where you live, the people of your land used certain items for their self-care and spiritual practices, whether you're genetically from that land or not. Whether you migrated, or are a really cool hybrid and blend of multiple cultures, I encourage you to support and use the items in your own habitat.

California? White Sage. Ecuador? Palo Santo. But I'm in the Canadian Prairies, so why should I be seeking items that don't grow in this northern climate? 

I totally recognize that you may not be able to wield an axe, or maybe you don't have a green thumb. That's OK! We just want to help make you more aware so you can make informed decisions. That's all we can ask.

Just like how you would light a bundle of dried herbs, or even holy wood wands, birch can be burned in the same manner. Snag some of our Mystic Kindling here.


DIRECTIONS

1. Hold the birch wand so its tip points to the floor. Set the wood into a flame, holding it there until it ignites and catches. Pointing the wand downward will help the flames to lick up the wood, giving it a better change to be set aflame.

2. Blow the flame out once the wood begins to char.

3. Waft the gentle tendril of smoke around you, your space, your crystals or any objects (especially thrifted objects). This smoke is cleansing and will remove negativity, purify and cleanse your space or person, and leave you feeling restored and fresh.

4. Birch wands do not ignite boldly the way dried herbs do. This makes them a little more fire-safe, but you should always execute caution when burning anything. Don't leave your wand unattended. If you need to re-light your wand, set it back into the flame until it catches again. (Using a candle is a good idea)

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You can also burn birch bark, however it is very flammable and will ignite easily. This requires a little more fire-safety and smaller pieces blended with other herbs to help keep the flames under control. Using a large piece of birch bark in a fire-safe dish could still grow out of control. Opt for tiny pieces and always practice mindfulness.


 


A NOTE FROM VAN

I would love for you to read my words on cultural appropriation. It offers a better understanding as what we have gone through as a small business, and a voice in the self-care community. You can check it out here, in Am I actually causing harm? Don't worry: it will open in a new window so you don't lose your spot.


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