When I was teaching anthropology at the American Museum of Natural History, I used to go to the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota each summer to spend a week or two with friends and learn as much as I could about the Lakota Indian culture. Many Lakota continue to follow centuries-old traditions and rituals that address a strong belief in the spiritual world—spirits of the ancestors and spirits of the earth. They believe in one Creator and that all things in the world—spirit and physical—are all a part of this supreme being. The average person on Rosebud (and in other Indian communities I have visited) speaks of seeing spirits and experiencing their activity as casually as if they were talking about physical members of the community.
During traditional Lakota ceremonies, like the sweat lodge ritual and the annual Sun Dance, the sage plant is used as a way of purifying both the people involved and the space in which the ceremony is taking place. Burning sage, or rubbing it on the body, clears any negative energy before the ritual can go forward. It is used much like other religions use incense or holy water to purify. And like in other religions, its use is accompanied by prayers, in this case, traditional Lakota prayers.
Although originating with Native American cultures, the practice of burning sage has since been adopted by non-Indian people for clearing negative energy. This summer, I had the opportunity to be present during a house cleansing on Long Island where sage was used along with Christian prayers. John had invited me to attend, and was there with two other mediums. Jamie and Emma also were there, and Emma’s mom, Melissa. The house was home to a mother and her three daughters, one of whom is a friend of Jamie’s. The family called John in because they had begun to experience unexplained phenomena in the house: doors closing, whispered voices, and a feeling like they were not alone, especially when they were in the basement.
So, beginning in the basement, the psychics walked through the house burning sage, all the while telling whatever entities were there to leave, calling on God and Saint Michael, and reciting Psalm 91. Psalm 91 is a psalm of protection—I am told it is a powerful prayer that is very effective in getting unwanted spirits to go away. John gave additional advice for keeping a home clear of negative energies: Keep the word of God flowing through the home by audio or television, even when you’re not there.
I don’t know what has happened in the house since that evening, but at the time, the family felt the anxiety in the basement had lifted. I did not feel anything in particular, either on entering the house or leaving. However, I was intrigued by a photo Wendy, one of the psychics, had taken in the living room. As soon as she snapped the photo with her digital camera, she showed it to us. It showed the couch against the back wall with orbs of light in front of it.