Moving from smudge to smoke bathing

In asking Meghan to join the team, I brought to the table right away that I was conscious about cultural appropriation, and that Rogue Wood was immediately going to change gears as soon as I worked out the kinks in how I wanted to make a stand about it. She joined while I was still deciding, and it was in talking with her that I felt gifted with my answer. And it was going to really impact RW's direction.


With the extremely heavy divide that came out of the American election, my naiveness from my "Liberal Cotton ball" (a great term coined on Ashley Neese's IG) opened my eyes to just how many contrasting views there are in the world. For example, in Canada, there isn't the stark racism toward black people as there can be down south, but racism is totally alive here in different cultures. Though I may never hear someone say the N word, in certain parts of Canada we atrociously promote racism toward Aboriginals.

We all feel entitled. White privilege is extremely alive, and quite frankly as a white woman - it's terrifying.

I surround myself with people of diverse backgrounds, sexual preferences, ideas, spiritual beliefs and personalities, and for me, it's easy not to realize just how much hatred, racism, sexism and prejudice exists. And after learning everything that happened in the United States, I knew I didn't like how I felt about my world anymore. I cried and felt heavy all day. I was supposed to post this then, but I needed to pause because it wasn't a time to talk. We were grieving.

But. This needed to happen. And while it's easy to get angry and think malicious things... that only breeds more hate. We need to be more clever than we have, stand taller, and combat darkness with light. We are never given more than we can handle, and for those who were naive like me, we needed to be reminded of just how different we all are.

And that we all think we're right.

Cultural appropriation is when a dominant culture (white culture) adopts cultural elements from minority cultures, sometimes using them out of context and consequently oppressing the minority culture. The real meaning in the cultural practice is lost, and the dominant culture may swallow it up in a way that extinct the true meaning, forever losing it. While many people may pull inspiration from different cultures, they are naive in the fact that sometimes their innocent interest could actually be hurting someone.

Aboriginal cultures are often cultures of language and stories - but specifically through the spoken word. They cherish and value the power behind the spoken word, passing on many of their sacred traditions through shared stories. I completely share this belief and have adopted its inspiration into my own carnal spiritual identity, even though I'm not of a Native American cultural background.

But I am a storyteller. Words and their power resonates with me. And my son and husband are of a Native American cultural background, so for me, it is extra important.

It is in respect for this culture's sacred traditions that I want to remove the smudge branding from many of Rogue Wood Supply's shop items. Instead, it will now be talked about as smoke cleansing, smoke bathing, or cleansing smoke because that's what I'm actually talking about. I have made an error and have incorrectly used a powerful word. And I hope this is something that spiritually hungry individuals adopt. The items in the shop will be rebranded as smoke bath herbs rather than smudge, and I have a very specific reason for this.

There is a certain way to smudge. Depending where you are in the world, the etiquette and method around smudging is different. But since I'm placed in North America, I am immersed in Native American culture and here it is done a specific way. It doesn't feel right to me to promote something otherwise, when I am surrounded by Aboriginals and deeply respect their cultures and beliefs. And while I really believe in finding our own sacred traditions to work for us in a way that is modern and effective, I don't believe in doing so at the expense of someone else. Besides, white people are often not staying true to what it means to smudge. They are actually talking about smoke cleansing but using the wrong language. Smoke cleansing with different herbs is totally fine but smudging doesn't belong to you.

I ask that you're patient with me as I make these changes behind the scenes, because it's not something that happens with just the click of a button. It's actually a lot of work, and because it's so heavy and hard, it's taking me some time to complete.

I take a lot of honour in my smoke cleansing rituals because it is such a part of my life. But to stray from the formal teachings around smudging is actually quite disrespectful to Native American culture - a culture that I am now tied to. In order to maintain respect, I think we should celebrate the formal smudging teaching, honouring its sacred rituals. That doesn't mean if you're not Native American that you can't burn herbs. You absolutely can.

For modern ways to spiritually cleanse using smoke; say cleansing your crystals, cleansing your home, or burning herbs while you meditate, we may simply refer to it as smoke bathing or smoke cleansing. If you feel connected to a specific herb, say lavender, use that. If you can grow it yourself, even better.

Smudging is part of an indigenous ceremony that essentially welcomes spirit, and most who celebrate new age smoke cleansing are burning sage for the purpose of removing negativity. But other herbs do that, too. And here's another reason why you should care:

White sage is being over-harvested. Why? Take a guess. White people want it for smoke cleansing.

Even just changing this wording of smudge/smoke bathing takes note from Aboriginal wisdom because it underscores the power of the spoken word; something so important to their traditions. And I really like that. So if you want to smudge, I hope you'll smudge the way that respects the culture it comes from. If for whatever reason you don't want to honour smudging, then please recognize that you are using cleansing smoke, and adjust your language and your herbs accordingly.

If you want to buy herbs and use them to cleanse your home, an object or yourself, this is smoke bathing/cleansing and not smudging. Buying herbs for this purpose does not follow Native American teachings.

Here's the thing: You can walk into any "new age" store and find "smudge" there. But the fact of the matter is, aboriginal elders use gifted herbs or herbs they have grown themselves in order to hold a smudging ceremony. They believe that once the exchange of money happens, the herbs are rendered useless. Their magic gone. When they see it being sold in a store, it's offensive because the item is sacred. The culture is built around sharing, not taking more than you need, and working together.

Many cultures, some similar and some contrasting, have overlapping spiritual practices around sacred herbs and burning or ingesting them. But each culture believes their way is right. But I'd like to encourage the mindset that there is no right, but there is no wrong either. All we have is what we believe as individuals, and no one has the right to tell us otherwise.

Spirituality is deeply personal. Your relationship with God, the Creator, Source, Goddess, the Universe - or whatever you feel connected to (names are important!) is something no one else will understand, because it is unique to you. It's not the same for everyone. And I don't want to tell you how you should be spiritual.

I have heard many people tout how watered down the spiritual community is by privileged middle class - culture-less - white women, and while it bites a bit, I think some of the points are valid. And when I want to quit, I remind myself that it's people like me who need to change. So I should speak up. Especially after the recent election. It was tricky to admit that to myself because I was essentially agreeing with the idea I was naively contributing to a community that, though with good intentions, was creating harm. You can imagine how this idea is so vast from my original goal, but something to think about as a human being. So I want to change how I brand my shop because my awareness has changed.

And you know what? I had gene testing done just to look for a Native American influence in my genetic makeup. I felt like I needed that to validate something in me, and with what I do. I was devastated to find none because I felt such a connection to it. After all, I live here! But I am French and Austrian, and 100% derived from Europe. I felt my heart break initially, and then said a silent thank you that I chose a man who did have an Aboriginal line in his blood, and that now my son did, too.

But it doesn't matter where I'm from, what my nationality is, or what culture I've been adopted into, because we are all human beings and we are all trying to reconnect and rediscover who we are.

So fine. I'm culture-less. I'm a white woman in a privileged society. I am privileged to live in a place that anoints itself a melting pot of cultures, cross cultures, hybrids and mutts, because I am aware there are places that don't value this even though we are all a blend of many different things. I'm sheepishly frustrated that I'm not allowed to feel frustrated for "being white" and privileged, and I feel shame that white people promote white privilege at the treacherous expense of others. I fucking hate that.  

And, I think I understand that I can't actually understand how less privileged others are because I will never experience their hardships. Nor could I. So I suppose, I realized at RW, I'm often speaking to the other people out there like me. The ones who are a mix of cultures but for all intents and purposes are basically white. Or the ones who are of a different cultural background, but have maybe been white-washed and have no idea who they are or where they come from. 


Inspired by other cultures.

I'm aware that my born culture is starved for spiritually. Many, innocently and unknowingly, steal from other cultures as an attempt to understand and heal themselves. We don't know where to look. 

So instead of wishing I was Cree or Ojibwe instead of Austrian, it's me as a white person who needs to change. It's white people who need to change what we are doing, and to lift up and support others. Because we know we are losing that sense of connection; that feeling of something more. We are whitewashing others to be culture-less and sick like we are, but we should let them paint us. Teach us. Inspire us. We need to celebrate what they're doing and bring more awareness to it. We need to stop swallowing up their practices and changing them to suit us.

We are getting cancer. We are depressed. We have chronic illnesses. We are losing our sense of self. We don't know who we are. And we can learn from everyone else and carve out a unique, deeply personal spiritual practice that makes us feel healthy instead of the way we are currently suffering.

When we look at a culture such as North American Aboriginals and the hardships they have bore because of some of the atrocities a dominant culture forced upon them, one of the worst things we can do is steal, distort or disrespect their spirituality because this is the basis on what their people stem from. And since their culture doesn't scrounge hieroglyphics or bibles but shares through spoken word stories, you can imagine how there is a huge threat to losing this special sacredness, when there are so many books out there stating a watered down, distorted teaching of what is actually true to the founding culture. We are very close to the extinction of a culture but because it's not ours we don't care. 

I mean, come on.

I come from a place that has problems with race. I come from a small town that pinned them against us, when the entire time we were the ones contributing to the hurt and creating negative environments for them because we were attempting to view them through a white lens. That's all we ever do. We whitewash the shit out of everything and try to look at everything in life with a white lens. We are never willing to look at ourselves.

Time for some new glasses, people. Or laser eye surgery. Something.

And it's not just Native Americans. Yoga is another - now mainstream - practice that is a stolen spiritual practice from Indian culture. Indians were once murdered for practicing yoga. Yes - there are so many healing benefits to practicing yoga, but every poster promoting yoga shows a white woman in downward dog, feeling zen from her mat. But this isn't even saying the right thing about yoga because most people don't know about its deep spiritually based intricacies.

White culture loves to swallow up minority cultures. And while it is absolutely wonderful to explore other cultures and celebrate them and reap the benefits of how good they make us feel, most of us don't even know we are contributing to something that hurts someone else.

And that's the problem.

Look, a lot of people know the spiritual undertone of yoga. But a lot don't.

Globally, there is a vast array of cultures that cherish cleansing our spirit through sacred smoke using herbs. I don't think it's an accident that hundreds of cultural practices use a sacred herb or item to help cleanse their spirit, bringing it back to a neutral state - whether they burn it or ingest it. 

In fact, I think that's really amazing that so many vastly different spiritual practices all share this. And I think it's too bad we were never taught it in white culture. Because our spiritual selves are growing sicker and sicker.

The methods and teachings around ingesting and burning sacred herbs are all different depending on where you are, so I hope we can begin to adopt a neutral word or phrasing, such as smoke bathing (similar to forest bathing, the Japanese scientific study), that keeps this idea and essence alive, without hurting someone else. Explore what you feel drawn to explore, but bring an awareness with you. Bring a couple pairs of glasses if you have to.

You may also find deep insight in exploring your roots and finding out where your ancestors come from, and then integrating their spiritual wisdom into your own life. You may distantly be a part of some cultures that ignite something within you - an excitement and inner knowingness - and you can help keep those sacred studies alive and thriving by honouring the way they do things.

But don't let that force you to stay within that culture's walls. There is no reason why you can't be an Aboriginal woman, and find great healing through feng shui, a Chinese practice. There is no reason why you can't be a Chinese woman who is deeply interested in the nature focus of Celtic Wiccan ideas. There is no reason why you can't be an Irish Wiccan and find solace in yoga.

Just bring your glasses.

Vanessa Kunderman is a writer and poet, mother, smoke bath addict and cancer survivor. She created Rogue Wood Supply after reconnecting and rediscovering her spirit self; a surprising side effect of surviving her cancer diagnosis at sixteen years old. She plays six instruments, loves a smooth honey bourbon, and starts each day with a warm fire.