Picking and Burning Sage


My informant, from Rosebud, South Dakota, describes the use of sage in Lakota culture: “So sage is a thing that we use in Lakota culture, it’s kind of a thing, to put it in more modern terms, it’s kind of like clorox wipes for Lakota people, because it’s very much a cleansing feeling. Has a lot of different uses. It can be used as a gift between people. And picking it is a thing in of itself. Because you can’t pull it, you have to cut it at the stem, say a prayer, sometimes you leave some tobacco as a “thank you” for getting the sage. A lot of people burn sage in their house to kind of cleanse it almost? Like if they’re feeling a little like, down, depressed or anything, sage helps kinda cleanse that area of the house. And a lot of ceremonies will center around a bowl of burning sage and you’ll kind of like waft yourself with it. It’s used a lot in like, Sundance, Sweat, and everything.”


“I’ve never picked sage myself, I’ve seen it be picked. And burning it, I think just, I don’t know if it’s because of some factor or if it’s just familiar, but every time I smell sage, or like burning sage, it just gives me this sense of like calmness? And serenity. Which nothing else really does. So I guess in a sense it works. I think the sage has always been a part of my life and I haven’t really known anything different. And I think knowing that it’s not as wide of a thing just makes it all the more special to me. I mean, we were hunter-gatherers, back in our day, we used the land to survive, and sage. And I think it’s just a tradition that’s carried on since that.”


The rituals of picking and burning sage seem to represent a connection between the group and their past. The informant emphasizes how important it is to him that this is something that feels unique to his group, and is representative of where they came from and who they used to be, and who they still are now. The sage represents a connection to the earth, picking it carefully and leaving tobacco behind in return suggests values of gratitude and respect for nature. Sage seems to be a versatile object, used in multiple ceremonies and rituals, of various scales. The smell of sage seems to represent to the informant the familiarity of home.