29 February 2008


I'm taking part in a twelve-week 'Aboriginal Awareness Course' at the local college. Mostly I wanted to understand more about the history of the relationship between the First Nations peoples and the later settlers, but it's also interesting to learn about the cultural side too. The classes are three hours in length and are conducted in a relaxed and laid-back style that is in itself a slight culture-shock, compared to most other courses that I've ever been on. The course focuses on the Mohawk culture and is run by people who live on the reserve at Tyendinaga, right next door to Deseronto and to the north of Prince Edward County.

We'd been told about smudging in the first class, last week. Nearly everyone had heard of it, except me, so I did a bit of background reading in order to catch up. It's a purification process which involves 'bathing' the body in smoke from smouldering herbs. White Sage (saliva apiana) is one of the preferred herbs to use, although as the plant is native to the south-west US, I did wonder whether it was really used historically by the Mohawks - as their original base was in New York State. Perhaps early trading links explain it, I surmised, or maybe it's later cross-community contact that brought it into use. A quick browse around the Internet suggests that the latter is the case - here's an interesting blog entry from a White Sage harvester about it.

A lot of the sites I looked at on smudging had a distinctly New Age flavour (the blog entry above mentions "turquoise jewelry wearing white folks", which sums it up perfectly) and I was a bit dubious about the whole thing. Strangely enough, though, as soon as the White Sage was smouldering in the room last night, I experienced a sudden (and totally unexpected) feeling of well-being. For someone with a more than the average share of healthy scepticism, this is quite something to admit to. I can see why the use of white sage has spread so quickly since the 1970s from its original Californian base. I just hope the species survives its sudden popularity.

White SageImage of White Sage growing in California from dionysia on Flickr.

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