No One Can Cancel Your Paganism

M. made these smudge sticks — from Artemisia sage, not Salvia sage, because we live in the Mountain West. In English, the verb “to smudge” goes back to the 1400s, at least.

I am handing the microphone today to Tom Swiss and his excellent “Smoking Out the Pagan Gatekeepers” post at his blog The Zen Pagan.

He begins,

In some of my recent internet interactions, I’ve noticed a troubling pattern of young people feeling that they need to ask permission to be Pagan.

To some extent this seems to be connected to the bogus ideas of “closed practices” and “cultural appropriation” (one of our favorite topics here at TZP, cough). Rather than the freedom to worship and practice as we are called (subject to the usual “your right to swing your fist ends at my face” considerations), certain social currents have these new Pagans afraid they will step on a cancel culture minefield and be publicly shamed in the permanent record.

You may have heard of overharvest on species of genus Salvia sage for the smudge stick market. Swiss links to an article about that. That is true, it happens, but you can smudge with all sorts of things. I came up with the acrid smell of genus Artemisia sagebrush; various junipers also work well, because they are oily. Use what you got — all Paganism is local.((Or you may also hear, “All sorcery is local.” “All magic is local.” Same thing, basically.))

“The gods decide who to work with,” Swiss writes. I totally agree. No Intenet busybody can stand between Pagan X and Deity Y. If the god/dess does not like what you are doing, you will most likely just get sort Inner Planes busy signal. No harm, no foul. You are unlikely to be hurled into the 32nd dimension, and your little dog too

And just to reinforce what he says about the antiquity of the verb “to smudge” in the English language, I offer this from the Online Etymology Dictionary.((I love etymology.))

early 15c., smogen “to soil, stain, blacken,” of obscure origin. Meaning “to rub out or in” is by 1865. Related: Smudged; smudging. The noun meaning “a dirty mark or stain, spot, smear” is attested by 1768, from the verb.

The smudge meaning “make a smoky fire” is by 1860

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, also of unknown origin, but perhaps related. According to OED now dialectal and North American. OED also gives it in an earlier, obsolete sense of “to cure (herring) by smoking” (1590s).

The related noun smudge is attested by 1767 as “a suffocating smoke” (to repel mosquitoes, etc.); from 1806 as “heap of combustibles ignited and emitting dense smoke.” Hence smudge-pot (1903). Smudge-stick as a Native American (Crow tribe) artifact is by 1908

It only gets tricky if you claim to have human teachers whom you did not, or to have be blessed by a group that you do not belong to.

If anyone critiques your personal practice (as opposed to setting yourself up as an authority), tell them to go sit on a non-psychoactive cactus.

5 thoughts on “No One Can Cancel Your Paganism

  1. Elizabeth Geraghty

    Thank you for your amusing and thoughtful commentary on an unreasonable topic. Especially Pagan X and Deity Y….

  2. Absolutely agreed. I am particularly concerned that fears of cultural appropriation might keep pagans in the U.S. from paying the proper amount of attention to their local land spirits, due to a misguided idea (perpetrated largely by white people from what I can see) that the indigenous peoples somehow own the worship of those spirits, or very basic, cross-cultural acts like making offerings and smudging. There are ways to honor the spirits here without being a colonialist asshole.

    1. Put it this way: Anyone who thinks that smudging is “cultural appropriation” can kiss my etymological ass. Even the ancient Greek historian Herodotus wrote about it.

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