As far as cleansing and purifying herbs go, I’ve never really liked white sage (despite its many recommendations). It does the job of course, but it does it rather too well
No, my problem with white sage is far more complex than that.
Over the years of having many homes in many different places, I’ve found several things to be true: upkeep is always preferable to repair, it’s the little things that make a home, and the home is like an ecosystem shared between the various beings (both seen and unseen) that inhabit it.
In my home, there’s myself, my human family, my dog, two cats, and various ancestors, Aelfe, and cofgodas to take into consideration. Between us, we maintain relationships built over years and continued over continents. Again and again, we’ve moved and gone through the process of cleaning, unpacking, and (re) building our shrines in each place. Again and again, we’ve made offerings, invited our wights to join us, offered to the wights of the new place, and so on and so forth. If there’s one thing this kind of nomadic life does though, it’s build appreciation of those you travel and move with. As much as you might make friends in a place, your most important bonds are to your more immediate kin group, be that kin living or dead, human or otherwise.
Cleaning and Cleansing
By now, it’s probably become obvious that when I talk about ‘upkeep’, and a home ‘ecosystem’, my words have a double entendre. That I’m not purely talking about upkeep in the mundane ‘a stitch in time saves nine’ kind of sense, or necessarily referring purely to the various layers of organisms and microorganisms that make up a space (any space) on this planet. So, what do I mean by this kind of ‘upkeep’? And how does that have anything to do with white sage?
Over the years I’ve heard a lot about the more sacred side of housekeeping, and talk of ‘women’s roles’ in Heathenry. First of all, I’m going to dispense with the idea that this is purely the domain of women, living in a clean environment is the concern of everyone that lives in that place. We all know that if you don’t keep a home clean to a certain standard, then the inhabitants will get sick, insect populations will move in – in short, the place will become unhealthy.
It will become unhael.
Ah, haelu, that old chestnut!
For something to be hael, it’s means that it’s not only healthy, but whole, lucky, and holy. A place that is unhealthy to inhabit, that is unhael, is by definition, unlucky, lacking in something, and…I don’t want to say ‘unholy’, but for those of us that believe in things like hauntings, it’s no coincidence that there is a correlation between negative hauntings and unhael living spaces.
When you clean, you aren’t just removing physical dirt, this kind of upkeep isn’t purely about dominance over the dust motes, or staying on top of the washing up. It isn’t even purely about physical health. It’s about luck and creating a place where holiness might reside from time to time. You want to live in a home in which gods and ancestors would not be insulted to go when invited.
‘May I be pure, that I might enter the sacred,
May I enter the sacred, that I might attain the holy,
May I attain the holy, that I might be blessed in all things’(2)
Whether it be cleaning with regular cleaning materials, or making your own that are also infused with protective herbs, cleaning is also cleansing.
But just as you don’t want to clean so much that people end up living in some antibacterial, sterile lab of a house, you also don’t want to manage your home’s ecosystem so tightly that the good things go too (which I feel is the case with white sage). Not to make the comparison between the Holy Powers and dirt, but we humans are healthier when living somewhere that isn’t sterile, the spider on the wall kills the disease-carrying fly, and it’s always better to have and keep good relations with neighbours and helpful wights in the home.
If the home ecosystem were a human stomach, white sage would be a course of antibiotics, and the wights would be your helpful gut microbiota.
It’s too indiscriminate for my liking. Far better, in my opinion, is Mugwort.
Named the ‘Oldest of herbs’, Mugwort is said to stand against three and thirty, against poison and contagion, and against ‘the loathsome one that roams the land'(3). She’s valued in healing traditions around the globe, and is called upon to stand against infection and cysts, to chase out the menses that will not come, as a tonic, and in great enough quantities, she has enough similarities with her sister, Wormwood, that she can also affect perception.
But given her power, when it comes to more ‘spiritual’ forms of cleansing, Mugwort is often forgotten and neglected in favour of white sage, even by Germanic Heathens. Which is a real shame as she works wonderfully in home made floor wash, as recels (incense/smudging), and brewed as a tea to use as a spray. In the Nine Herbs Charm, we’re told specifically that Mugwort stands against three and thirty, which to me, suggests that she’s far more discriminating in her action and that she only stands against those that are attacking (while preserving your home ‘ecosystem’, thus leaving your ancestors, cofgodas, Aelfe etc. unmolested and able to help keep your home safe from all kinds of nasties!).
Mugwort can also be paired with vervain, garlic, or wormwood for greater effect.
All of which, as far as I’m concerned, makes her far more valuable for use in the home.
1. Bald’s Leechbook, III. 61, 62
2. Ceisiwr Serith – Deep Ancestors