My New Smudge Stick

I bought a smudge stick while The Man and I were in Salem. I’ve seen them before in lots of other places, and have wanted one for years but always balked at the cost. Yes, I know they’re not that expensive, but for some reason I can always think of something else I’d rather spend the money on. But when we were in Salem, after doing a few hokey Halloween-y things and visiting a few historic spots, I dragged The Man into a couple of magick supply shops. I didn’t know exactly what I needed, just that something should be going home with me. I glanced over the smudge sticks in one shop, gently handling one, wondering if that was what I had come for. Instantly, a man called out “You don’t want that type – you’re looking for something with juniper!” I glanced up, startled, and he smiled. “You’ll prefer the juniper, it’s what you came for.” How could I refuse such a direct command? I quickly picked one of the other types of smudge sticks he was talking about, one with shasta sage and juniper, and sure enough, I loved the smell.

I’ve never smudged my own home before, though my roommate once cleansed our apartment, or tried to. It was a very negative space, and the cleansing didn’t work well, perhaps because neither of us really believed it would. My current home is a pleasant, safe place, and the only negativity in it belongs to the two humans who make it home. The Man and I are both realistic, with a slight dip in the negative direction. I wouldn’t call us pessimists, but neither of us is an optimist, that’s for sure! I’m slightly empathic, and I used to be much more positive before meeting The Man, but feel that I’ve picked up some of his emotional grey-ness over the five years we’ve been together. Today I woke up with this overwhelming thought that I needed to start over, to hit the reset button, and part of doing that would be expelling all of the left over negative energy that we have brought into this house since we moved in. It’s going to take a lot more than that, of course; it’s going to take changes in the way I encounter life, and let it encounter me, and it’s going to take meditation and prayer with intent, which is really a way to constantly hit the reset button, every day.

But first, smudging. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but knew that the most important part of the process was to believe in it, and throw all of my good energy into making it work. I prepared by lighting a candle, after reading that it’s easiest to light a smudge stick from a candle rather than a lighter or match (or series of matches). I also found a bowl and put a little water in it. Traditionally, the parts of a smudging ceremony have to represent the elements, with the herbs of the smudge stick representing earth, the burning end representing fire, the smoke representing air, and the bowl representing water. I didn’t have a shell (which new-age sources say to use, but some Native American sources say definitely not to use), but I had a large, beautiful brass bowl carved with rippling waves, into which I put a little water just to solidify my intentions. I lit the smudge stick, and first used it to cleanse my energy, passing it over every part of my body and envisioning the smoke touching the energy field around me and carrying away the negativity and sickness that I’m currently feeling. I thought of healing, and light, positivity and focus for my writing career and personal life. Pretty much instantly, I began to feel physically lighter and mentally sharper. I felt relaxed and loose in a way I normally don’t. It was a great way to feel, kind of the way I feel after an intense jam session, after I’ve sung my heart out for an hour or so.

After cleansing myself, I then worked my way around the house, holding the smudge stick at every corner, door, window, and around the perimeter of every room, then to the center. I didn’t know what to say at first, but a vague prayer popped into my head: “Bless this house. Take away all negativity. Allow only beauty and light within these walls.” I said it over and over as I walked through the house, letting the smoke work its way around and through, carrying away all traces of negativity. I spent some extra time in a particular corner that my cats always spend hours looking at, where I’ve never seen a bug or even a shadow of movement. I figured it couldn’t hurt.

A few hours later and I’m still feeling good, relaxed, mellow. I wonder what the medicinal properties of the sage and juniper might be, and if that also has an effect on mental wellbeing. If so, it’s a welcome addition to my normally addled brain. The smoke smell is still around the house, and it’s lovely. Like I said, I’ve never felt ill at ease here, but if I’m going to start to make our life together more positive, I’ll need all the outside help I can get. Plus I suppose it’s good for me to get into practice with making my home spiritually safe, given the fact that I know when we buy a permanent home, it will be historic and most likely in need of a good cleansing.

Other than that, I’m also pretty excited. On a whim yesterday, I searched for classes in magickal topics, and ended up finding an online college for pagans. I’ve been pagan for years, but have had a hard time trying to incorporate magick into my everyday life just through reading books. Finally I’ll have a chance to learn with other people in an open-minded setting that doesn’t just cater to Wiccans (which I’m not). I’m really looking forward to this semester’s classes, “Intro to Numerology” and “Intro to Sabbats & Esbats”. Best of all, the school is free! I’m really looking forward to learning more about this kind of life. My belief in magick is very firmly rooted in my belief in science, and the fact that everything we know and see is composed of energy. Magick, like Reiki or more basically, like a defibrillator, is just collecting, optimizing and releasing the Universe’s energy for a specific purpose…in this case, to beautify and simplify life and help me bring health and happiness to those around me.

Finding Myself

Baby me, circa 1983. My mum's legs appear in the background - I'd know those lovely ankles anywhere.

For most of my life, I never thought to ask “Who am I?”  I felt pretty secure in my identity: a 10th generation North Carolinian, daughter of two fiercely strong-willed people, lover of nature and history.

My father grew up in the same small town where I was born, and he and my mother will most likely live out their lives there on the North Carolina coast.  His family history is long and rather homogenous – mostly of English and Scottish descent, with some Native American (Algonquian, Cherokee, and a tribe from the American West) thrown in for good measure.  His father, my Grandaddy, had a jolly, strong-boned face, with large hazel eyes and dark hair.  He was a very handsome man in his youth, and in my memory he still holds the prize for most handsome man I’ve ever met.  He and my maternal grandmother, my Nana, made a striking couple in their youth.  My Nana was a natural platinum blonde (no longer), and has beautiful blue eyes and a large-ish Norman nose.  I have the same strong nose, and cheekbones my father says come from a generation before my grandmother.  I’m also lucky enough to have a figure much like the women on my father’s side – tall with wide shoulders like my Algonquian ancestors, with a small waist (it’s filling out as I age), large, full hips, and sadly, even the same huge feet.

The rest of my facial features, movements, and characteristics favor my mother, who is more of a mutt.  Her father, an orphan, grew up in Nebraska during the Great Depression.  He was lucky enough to live with cousins, and knows some of his family history, but doesn’t share.  I know that one of his grandfathers was from Maine, and married a Native American woman from a tribe there.  Grandpa has strong cheekbones, dark, almond-shaped eyes, once had jet-black hair, and looks vaguely Asian.  It makes me wonder if there was more than one Native American in his bloodline.  My Grandma, his wife, is tiny and stout, though the roundness happened later in life.  She’s much shorter than I am, coming up to just under shoulder height on me.  My face, which is my mother’s face save for the nose and higher cheekbones, also strongly resembles my Grandma’s.  She has dark, rather small eyes, dark hair, a large nose, and a swarthy complexion.  I’m making her sound unattractive, but that’s not true – she was very pretty in her youth, just like my Mum.  However, of all of my relatives, she is the one who somehow strikes me as most different, most exotic.  I suppose that’s because I don’t know where she’s from.

My parents' wedding, October 4th, 1977. Is it me, or are my parents the only genuinely happy people in this photograph?

Well, that’s a half-truth.  I know where she’s from – Queens, NY.  I know that she had two brothers, a mother who indulged my own mother’s love of the absurd (and tea-time), and a father who sailed a houseboat back and forth from New York to Florida.  That father was a heavy drinker, and though the few stories I’ve heard of Grandma’s childhood sound pleasant enough, one gets the feeling that life was not exactly idyllic.  So who were these people, this mother and father?  Where did they come from?  I know that Miriam, my great-grandmother (my grandmother’s mother) had family (The Lighters) who came to America from Barbados, through New Orleans.  Odd coincidence, eh?  Also, one of these ancestors carved a door for a church here in the city, though my mother was unable to find it on her last trip here.  I believe that they were English in descent.  In addition, I know that part of my Grandma’s family came from Prague, though I don’t know in what year, so I don’t know what country they were from, as Prague has historically changed hands a few times.  I was told once that all of my family in Europe was dead after WWII, which led me to conclude that they were either a small family, culled out by misfortune, or else they were Jewish, or maybe Roma.  Maybe someone knows, but no one’s telling.

It probably shouldn’t bother me that much, and in many ways it’s just fine for me to let things continue to be mysterious.  However, I feel compelled, almost obsessed to know more, like I’ll never be truly whole until I do.  Maybe that’s because I know two more important things about myself that have very much to do with the stock that I come from.  The first is that my heart longs for me to become a shaman, to speak with the spirits of my ancestors and the spirits of nature, and help bring healing energy to the world.  I have felt this call since childhood, and have only recently learned to listen closely enough to understand.  I don’t know if this path is carved out for me because I have Native American blood, or if I’m just spiritually more aware as a result of the beautiful chemicals God has mixed us out of, but perhaps it’s a bit of both.  The other important fact is that music touches my soul quite deeply, plucking the strings of my heart, enriching my being in so many wondrous ways that it’s difficult to put it into words without sounding disingenuous.  Music is God’s way of pushing me to the correct spiritual path, and forming the right relationships in my everyday life.  In particular, Eastern European music has always had a strong pull, ever since I was a child.  What does all of this mean?  Probably nothing.  Maybe everything.  Maybe it’s up for me to draw my own conclusions, just as I’ve had to do with every other sign regarding my possible genetic makeup.

Or possibly, it’s time for me to find out who I am.  I recently discovered DNA Tribes, a website and DNA testing company that allows normal people like you and me to test our DNA and find out the particulars of our makeup.  You simply swab the inside of your cheek, send it off, and they’ll tell you what ethnic groups around the world bear genetic markers that are most similar to your own.  They’ll also tell you where the highest concentrations of other people bearing your same genetic traits live.  It sounds a little 1984-ish, but I’m sold.  I’ve decided that as soon as I have the money, I’m getting tested.  It’s funny, I guess now as I read back over this that I’m treating this like an STD test or something, but it’s true – I won’t be able to rest until I KNOW, really know who I am.

Me in Vienna, Austria in November of 2004, wearing my favorite hat, my Nana's nose, my Mum's pressed-lip smile, and my Dad's eyes.

What do you think?  Do you know all about your family history?  Do you want to know?  Do you wish you didn’t, or that you were something other than what you are?  I’m interested to hear your story.