Slivers of the sweet-smelling wood – Palo Santo - entered the landscape of new-age witchcraft a few years back and quickly polarized the scene! Nowadays, some believe that there can be no ethical sourcing of this sacred wood and some use it daily but know little about its origins. We’re here to help you know better and understand the spirit of Palo Santo.
Bursera Graveolens is a South American tree – the wood of which is traditionally burned by shamans (Curanderos) in Peru, Ecuador, and throughout much of South America to cleanse the energy field of people and space before a ritual. It is also infused into a tea as a folk remedy for colds, headaches, inflammation, and stress. Oils made from Palo Santo were similarly used by the Incas to purify a person on a spiritual level. This terpene-rich tree is from the same family as Myrrh and Sandalwood.
Palo Santo is unique in that it simultaneously clears negative energies while drawing in the positive. It is associated with the energy of the sun and dragons – holding both dark and light, yin and yang. ☯️ It is the fire energy that can connect physical and spiritual planes and a grounding link to the root chakra.
Harvesting is affected by the moon cycles – with light, scant oils available in the wood at new moon and richly scented, abundant oils present at full moon. Similarly, wood from female trees is yellow and heavy while wood from male trees is white and fragile. Palo Santo branches that haven’t touched the ground during the curing years are sought after as they are said to have an elevating effect on the human soul. These pieces are considered stronger but, perhaps the strongest of all are fragments of trees that have been struck by lightning. Lightning Wood is generally said to bring power to the shaman or witch that possesses it – that power combined with the strength of Palo Santo produces a very special magical ally. ⚡
The female Palo Santo tree only lives in the dry, tropical forest ecosystems of South America for 30-50 years before naturally dying, while the less common males can live up to 200 years. Traditionally, harvesters leave the fallen trees and branches in the forest for 2-4 years before using them – this allows the fragrant oils to develop. This practice is also in line with traditional reverence for the holiness of the trees – trees that are cut will harbor the energy of offended instead of helpful tree spirits and will physically not contain the wonderful oils that the cured trees offer.
A Beautiful Exchange
In 2006, the Government of Peru listed the trees as critically endangered but, national regulations and NGO reforestation programs have stabilized the trees’ conservation status. In fact, the Potion Slinger buys Palo Santo products from a reforestation program in Joa-Jipijapa, Ecuador, that has planted more than 11,000 trees back into the damaged forests.
This Palo Santo program works together with local communities to share learning and helps to find outlets for their products, it also works with universities to record important data and has obtained a harvesting license from the Ecuadorian Environmental Ministry. The program states that the biggest threats to the ecosystem are agricultural activities which entail clearing of the forest in favour of annual crops and grazing animals – this fragments the forest and restricts the natural movement of animals, as well as the spreading of seeds, genetic material, and microbes.
During the winter, the organization limits access to the forest to allow the flora and fauna to rest and regenerate – only processing and selling Palo Santo that they have already harvested during the summer season.
Unfortunately, should local communities not be able to sell their sustainably-harvested Palo Santo products – they would be forced to engage in damaging farming activities in order to survive.
Although it was once thought that Palo Santo was not ethical for Western Witches, it has now become clear that we can support Ecuadorian communities and ecosystems whilst the Holy Wood supports us and our homes.
A beautiful exchange.
Working with Palo Santo
Once you’ve obtained some sustainably-sourced Palo Santo - you can use it for meditation, cleansing, spiritual healing, to communicate with your deities, to call in positive energy and in calming rituals for mental health. Start by lighting a piece of the wood for a few seconds before blowing out the flame and slowly waving the smoke around your body or your space while speaking or thinking your intentions and prayers. Ask the devic spirit of Palo Santo to help you work magic or to bless you and your space with protection and positivity. The twirling, white smoke can form a bridge for you to communicate with your deities and spirit guides, angels and otherworldly beings.
Alternatively, you can keep a piece of Palo Santo wood on your altar as a talisman for good fortune and ask the tree spirit to bring you luck and protection without burning it to release the smoke. Traditional shamans believe that the strong spirit of the tree lives on in each piece of wood.
Some people may not enjoy the scent of Palo Santo at first – this is said to be the uncomfortable process of purification working. With a little perseverance, seekers will soon reach a state of spiritual cleanliness that will allow them to enjoy the scent.
Work your magic with clear intentions. 🔮✨
This article was specially crafted for Potion Slinger by Kelly Steenhuisen, the wordsmithery witch from @a_sacred_life. Visit her website for intentionally written copy, captions, and SEO articles and content.