Since this was first posted, I’ve learned more about Palo Santo – not so much about the endangered species aspect of it, although this article here has a heap of legit info, but weirder theories.
Palo Santo means “holy tree” or “sacred tree” and it refers to a few different species that are native to South America. But it didn’t get that name from indigenous shamans, it was dubbed that by the Spanish conquerors. Ironically, despite having banned and burnt millions of ancient documents – including medical literature – they were delighted to find that Guaiac wood cured the syphilis they were plagued with.
They began exporting literally tonnes of it back to Spain, Queen Isabella ordered it in bulk, it was hung in churches and avidly researched. Up until then, the in vogue treatment for this condition was the incredibly toxic mercury. So the invaders named it Holy Wood or Palo Santo – it’s not the original name.
What is? This is where it becomes complex: There are several trees dubbed holy and as Palo Santo is now a mainstay of new age merch, many importers and suppliers of it are keen to differentiate their product from the varieties that are endangered species and/or linked to the venereal disease ‘cure.’
So, whether you purchase it or not, wouldn’t it be cooler to use the indigenous name for it? The problem is that so much of the pre-invasion culture was dismantled so between that and the Palo Santo p.r. brigade, it is difficult to get clear info. But somewhere in my vast file of esoteric clippings, I have a list of some names so I’ll post them here when I find them.
Also, legit question and not judgmental: using even just Peru as an example, the Incan culture had an extraordinarily rich cosmology and intricate shamanic culture – has it really come down to burning wood from a tree dubbed ‘sacred’ by the invading force to remove negative energies? You can get some concept of how complex it was from this ‘Inca Shamanic glossary‘ by a lexicographer .
Apparently, no tree is felled to obtain the Palo Santo. The little chips are collected from the dead branches that fall from the tree. Or so I am told? Truth? Or propaganda? I’d hate to think yet another blessing of Gaia was destroyed for money.*
To burn these little wood chips has a similar effect to sage in that it is said to be magical and to clear energy, scare away ghosts/vampires, etc. But it feels more warm and nourishing. Even just having the wood sitting in a corner or someplace appropriate is aromatic and comforting. And, bonus: it does not make your house smell like you’re a super-enthusiastic pothead as, let’s face it, sage/mugwort smudging can.
Saturn type people or anyone during a Saturn transit can find it too cloying. If you’re finding everything too patchouli or reminiscent of a rancid damp Yin Yoga bolster, bang some metal about. It’s brilliant for elevating heavy Saturnine energy. Palo Santo is more soothing and reassuring.
If you were ever to do a massive house-witch bender – like in the Dark Moon before a New Moon Eclipse or when you wanted to shift some stale old energy around and out, stirring a veritable vortex of Qi, you would do Sage Smudging AND Palo Santo + my insanely cool space clearing music.
You could unclutter like you were an Elite Swat Team Operative Declutterer on a deadline, fling salt around like the Ancient Romans used to do for a psychic cleanse, vacuum that up, wipe everything down with an oil infusion, smudge with Sage and then burn the Palo Santo. Or, definitely consider it for the next time you’re in that Urban Shaman Vibe. It’s soothing post-break-up, for melancholy or on a hormonal low also.
*When I first did this post in 2016, I was clearly more naive. Now I think it’s definitely suss and if I want to purify air/space cleanse, I use a few dried leaves from my own mugwort.