Sage to Prevent Spirits from Haunting Property


Informant: “My mom had many experiences with ghosts. During her twenties, she was constantly moving apartments and had strange experiences in each of them. Doors would open and shut. At night figures appeared and then disappeared. She could hear voices when no one was around, stuff like that. So the next time she moved, she burned sage in the apartment. Now I do that whenever I have to move into a new home. You are supposed to burn sage because you don’t know who’s been on the land. People’s spirits stick around. I think people linger when their spirit is lost and they can’t move on because they’re stuck. People get stuck. Sage will scare out the old spirits.”


The Informant is a 48-year-old Black-American woman. She learned this ghost prevention ritual from her mother and passed it on to me. The Informant interprets this ritual as a way to cleanse new spaces of old spirits. 


The Informant and her family are from America, a country that emphasizes individualism, private ownership, and the right to property. This nation’s philosophy stems from John Locke’s individualist ideals in the Second Treatise of Government. In the Treatise, Locke writes that “every man has a property in his own person” and he can take ownership in anything that comes from “the labour of his body, and the work of his hands” (Locke 5:27) In America, the home is where one manages both properties: bodily and physical. The physical property is maintained through household labor (ex: mowing lawn, mopping floors). Homeowners maintain their bodily property through facilities inside the home (ex: stove to cook, bath to bathe). A home is a place where personhood and physical property mingle (ex: homeowners decorate spaces to reflect personal tastes). In short, individuals are strongly tied to property in American culture. Thus when a homeowner dies, it can be difficult for a new person to move in and feel “at home.” Burning sage can be seen as a way to ease the transition between homeowners. The ritual clears out the old spirits to create a clean slate. A blank canvas to welcome new identity, personalization, and labor.