How much time do you spend thinking about nature in your craft? For most witches, it’s probably a significant amount of time. Much of modern witchcraft is earth-centric. Even if you’re not a super eco-conscious green witch, your craft includes plants, stones, dirt, water, etc. that all impact our planet. I mean, there’s no escaping it. We live here.
While many witches are solitary, this doesn’t exempt us from considering our impact on the collective whole of the planet and society. In fact, with so many of us holding beliefs like animism, polytheism, and working with the energetic forces of the world around us, it would be insane for us to NOT consider the implications of our craft on the world at large. Can you imagine how off kilter you would get if you focused only on your own energy and never thought about how the energies of people and places around you could impact your wellbeing and magic? It would be bad!
In the same way, it doesn’t make sense for us to ignore the impact of our practices on the world. Each of us impacts the world and that impact collectively shapes the world we live in. If we want a better world, we’ve got to help create it! The plants we’re going to talk about today are heavily consumed in modern witchcraft and for a variety of reasons, we need to reconsider our use of them. Our planet, our spirituality, and the people we share our home with rely on us to be conscious in our craft!
1. Palo Santo
Most witches are familiar with palo santo; at this point, it’s become one of the most common cleansing agents in the Western world. This South American wood is said to have many spiritual benefits and its name literally translates to holy wood. But did you know that palo santo is critically endangered?
Yep, there are fewer than 250 mature palo santo trees left in the wild and their numbers are diminishing at an alarming rate according to the United Plant Savers Medicinal Plant Conservation. While it is illegal to cut these trees down, companies still do so in order to sell the wood for profit.
On top of this, according to the beliefs of the people that this tree is actually sacred to, cutting down the trees rids the wood of any benefit. The indigenous people who use this wood wait for the tree to die of natural causes and rest on the forest floor for years before harvesting it for sacred use. In purchasing this wood from predatory sellers, you are essentially paying for a useless tool that has been stripped of all of its sacred properties by those who have no respect for the culture or the environments they’re stealing it from. That will not do you or your magic any favors and it certainly isn’t respectful of the indigenous people who hold this tree sacred.
Frankincense, or boswellia, has been used in religious ceremonies for thousands of years but it, too, has found itself in perilously short numbers. As demand has increased worldwide, these trees are seeing a decline in population as reckless producers overtax trees, killing them faster than they can be replaced. Ecologists are now saying that these forests could be gone within 50 years, destroying centuries of religious tradition and the environment and economy of Somalia at the same time. As consumers, it’s vital that we don’t support this destruction simply to make ourselves feel like we’re doing magic “right”. Just because a plant was commonly used by magicians and witches of the past doesn’t mean that it’s the only plant that we can use!
Myrrh, like frankincense, is a plant that has also found use in spiritual traditions tracing back thousands of years, often used in purification and cleansing, banishing, hex breaking, and protecting oneself psychically. Unfortunately, it’s also another critically endangered species with fewer than 250 mature adult trees remaining globally. There’s a 50% chance of myrrh becoming extinct within 10 years!
It is absolutely insane for us to continue using this plant without regard for its continued existence. How can we view something as sacred while destroying its chance of survival? How can we claim to work with the spirits of these plants while destroying their populations? Even if we personally decided that we didn’t care about the environmental impact of our use of these plants, there still remains the fact that this is hugely disrespectful of these plants! Would you help someone who was burning your house to the ground and murdering your family? I don’t think so. Why should you expect any different from the spirits and energies that you’re calling on by using these plants?
4. Dragons Blood
While the dragons blood tree is not yet endangered, it is considered vulnerable at this point. The good news is that it’s incredibly unlikely that you’ve actually been using real dragons blood resin at all. True dragons blood resin is incredibly rare and quite expensive, there’s also no genuine form of dragons blood essential oil in existence. What you’ve been using is, in all likelihood, fake. Many incenses, resins, and oils are marketed as dragons blood when they are actually just perfumed knock offs. This is actually a good thing though! Dragons blood tree populations aren’t regenerating quickly enough due to the global warming crisis and further taxation on the species could drive it firmly into the endangered category in no time. This is a product that you should largely avoid simply because you’re being lied to. What you’re purchasing isn’t dragons blood at all, it’s simply a concoction of synthetic scents and dyes.
If you’ve made it this far, you won’t be surprised when I say that sandalwood is critically endangered. Again, this means there are fewer than 250 trees, with a strong chance of complete extinction within 10 years. At this point, you should be alarmed and disgusted at how we’ve all been sold these “sacred” plants with no regard for their wellbeing. You should be pissed at how you’ve been used by capitalism and colonialism alike to fuel the destruction of so many plants that we hold spiritually important.
6. White Sage
White sage is actually not endangered, as many people now claim that it is. The issue with white sage is that it is being destroyed and over-harvested in the wild which is making the plant scarce and hard to find for the native people who hold this plant sacred. This is problematic for completely different reasons.
The native people who hold this plant sacred have nothing to do with witchcraft. Do you know why they consider white sage sacred? No? Neither do I, because I’m not from that culture. And yet, somehow, modern pagans have widely accepted that white sage is the go-to for cleansing. There is nothing about our own traditions that says that this plant is sacred. White sage was not used in traditional witchcraft, we didn’t start using it widely until the 70s when hippies and white feminists looking for a less restrictive spirituality began to cobble together whatever they could find out of eastern and indigenous spiritual practices. While I can understand their desire for a more grounded, freeing spiritual practice, the methods they used and the practices they stole weren’t for them, and they’re not for us either.
Native peoples have had the practice of their spirituality banned and made illegal by colonizers throughout history. Their languages, their homes, and the things they consider sacred have all been stolen from them and they are still struggling with inhumane treatment today. By using white sage that is being harvested unsustainably, we are in fact directly participating in their destruction. Our consumption of their cultures should be on their terms, in ways that benefit them and allow them to reclaim their lives and spiritualities from those who would seek to profit off of them.
What To Use Instead
Are you pissed off? You should be pissed off. We’re having our planet destroyed and sold to us under the guise of something “sacred”. Our spirituality is being capitalized upon and we are becoming numb to the true impact of our lives and practices. Magic is and always has been a practice of the underprivileged. Magic has always been an act of radical resistance against people and systems who would control us. It has always been used by the poor, by slaves, by those with no other recourse to grasp power for themselves. There is a reason that the word “witch” has such a long and unflattering history. The people in charge are terrified of us having any kind of power. They have done everything to stop us from demonizing us, to killing us, to making our religions illegal.
What many don’t realize is that the sterilization of our spirituality is just as much an attempt to quell our rebellious spirits as any show of force or legal limitation. By turning us into consumers, they strip us of our power. They plug us back into the system of powerlessness and subjugation where they decide what kind of power we are allowed to have. They turn us back into quiet, complacent consumers.
I don’t know about you, but I didn’t come to witchcraft to fill the pockets of some planet destroying capitalist scumbag. I came to the craft to take back my power. I came to the craft to take control of my life. I came to the craft because I was sick of feeling like a pawn in someone else’s game. It’s time to take our spirituality and our power back from those who would sterilize it.
You might be wondering how the hell you’re supposed to do that and what you should use if you’re not supposed to use any of these plants.
There are TONS of alternative plants that you can use to cleanse, banish, purify, hex, protect, and whatever else you need to do but the absolute best plant for you to use, hands down, is the one you grow yourself. It doesn’t matter if that plant is on this list, if you’re growing it yourself, use it! This is an amazing way to get in touch with the spirits and nature around you. What you can grow, what thrives near you, and what you are personally good at taking care of can inform your magic hugely.
Now, I know not everyone has the ability or the space to grow tons of plants so I don’t present this as a complete solution. Heck, I can’t grow much more than rosemary because my cats will eat anything green they can get their paws on. But if you CAN grow your own plants, you SHOULD. If you can’t think of how you would possibly get by without white sage in your practice, then grow it yourself.
The next best kind of plant to use is the one that grows locally and can be wild harvested without negatively impacting local populations. For example, when I lived in Austin I was regularly using mountain juniper (known locally as cedar) in my practice. In Austin, cedar is abundant, universally hated for the heinous allergies they cause, and incredibly invasive, sucking up water and choking out native species. I could harvest all the cedar I wanted without worrying that I was damaging the environment. Research plants that grow near you and figure out what you can use them for in your craft. Learn to harvest sustainably and have fun.
Obviously, preventing witchcraft from becoming reliant on capitalism is important. We should never be beholden to these power structures for our own power. If you must be granted your power by an outside source, then you don’t actually have any power. We cannot be truly independent while existing within a capitalist society, nor do I think we should try to be. Rather, we should seek to be conscious consumers. If you cannot produce your materials yourself, and you cannot wild harvest the things you need from nature, then the next best thing is learning to use our consumption in a way that disrupts the power structures that keep us at a disadvantage.
Stop buying from Amazon. Stop buying from huge monolith companies that don’t give a rats ass about you beyond your wallet. Start supporting local producers, indigenous producers, and ethical producers. If you must use a particular plant, find a way to source it that helps the culture that considers it sacred, that helps repopulate the species of plant, etc. Use your consumption as a weapon against the people who would strip you of your power.
For those of you who would like easy recommendations for replacing these plants, I do have some suggestions. White sage, palo santo, and all of the other cleansing herbs I’ve mentioned can be replaced with literally any other variety of sage, lavender, thyme, mountain juniper, or my favorite, rosemary.
These plants are not unique in their ability to affect us magically. Many plants can be used to purify, protect, hex, attract prosperity, and so on. I guarantee you have useful and magical plants growing near you that you never would have considered. Everything from dandelions growing in cracks in the concrete, to the bindweed creeping up your fence, to the herbs growing in your windowsill can be used in your craft.
It’s time for us to take our power back and reclaim our spirituality as sacred!