Santa Barbara's El Paseo Guacamole - ¡El Guacamole Auténtico!
What the Sea Teaches....

Abalone Shell, White Sage, and Santa Barbara's Chumash People

Baby Abalone Shell

The abalone shell of changing colors was most highly valued for decoration of the person and it was cut and polished into various forms...and used as the coin of the day. 

The Indian tribes of the interior came here to get this abalone coin, and ornament - exchanging discoveries...and ideas of the Great Spirit, whom they all worshipped and who directed them all. 

They were worshippers of nature in every form: the sun, moon, stars, mountain, lightening, rain clouds, flowers, animals, and reptiles.

The Star, Jiddu Krishnamurti, 1928

Abalone Shell 1

The abalone (haliotis), is a large, local sea snail (a gastropod) that grows at the edge of our shores.  It anchors itself with its strong foot - using an iron grip -to attach to outcroppings of rocks. 

Abalone were found in large, thick colonies along the south coast of Califo rnia, as well as the Channel Islands, for thousands of years.   But, because of changes in the climate, as well as having been "overfished", it has become more scarce - almost extinct - during the past 40 years. 

The Chumash, who lived in harmony with nature,  harvested the abalone for its sweet and nutritious meat, and for the beautiful shells that were used as bowls, money, jewelry.  Abalone shell was also carved into sturdy fish hooks.  Using the natural inner curve of the shell, the Chumash hooks were crafted to be strong and sharp.  They mirrored the colors of the sea and sky.

Abalone Shell 2

Abalone shells have always been used by the Chumash - then and now - during religious and healing ceremonies, often as vessels for burning white sage. 

White sage is an herb that grows with abandon in our valleys and mountains.  Its fragrant leaves are soft and gray-green, the flowers are violet - a favorite of hummingbirds and bees.  The Chumash gather the herb, with prayer, and dry it in compact bundles. 


Once lit, the dried herbs smolder, producing white aromatic smoke.  The smoke is fanned outward, over a person, or a particular area.  Sometimes, the dry sage is burned in an abalone shell;  the smoke is waved into the air by using a large feather.   Often,  it is a feather of the red-tailed hawk, an indigenous raptor, much beloved by the Chumash.

The healer, or an elder from the village, put a small branch of dried white sage in a suitable container such as a seashell, typically an abalone shell. The white sage was ignited with fire. The flames were blown out allowing the white sage to smolder and smoke. The smoke from white sage has a pleasant smell and is thought to help carry prayers to God. The healer prayed for the health of the patient while moving the seashell to allow the smoke to touch every part of the patient's body including the soles of the feet. The healer sometimes touched the patient's back with an eagle or hawk wing to draw out harmful spirits (nunasus). The wing was then flicked down to send the harmful spirits back into the underworld where they originated. Smudging with white sage is still practiced by Chumash p eople today.
Spirit, Mind and Body in Chumash Healing, James D. Adams, Jr and Cecelia Garci, Oxford Journals

All these elements - items from the earth, the sea, the air - combine to offer cleansing and healing to a person - or a place.

Abalone Outer Shell Close Up


The Healer frequently starts treatment with white sage (Salvia apiana), which purifies the central nervous system to help a person maintain integrity. White sage is wey'wey in Chumash (pronounced waykway). Chumash plant names were initially recorded by Harrington [John P. Harrington].

White sage can help a patient become calm enough to be rational. White sage may be the fou
ndation of treatment since it can help set the spirit back to normal. White sage tickles the spirit and sets it right again. White sage is our protection.

Ideally, we should all take white sage every day to help maintain spiritual health, when used with prayer. This can be done by planting and maintaining white sage plants in gardens. Seeds or plants can be obtained from some nurseries and botanical gardens. The Tongva and other people used to plant and tend white sage near their village sites.

White sage bushes grow in full sun, in sandy soil and are drought resistant. They have long, thin leaves about 3 inches long with a silver, green color and a pleasant sage smell. The flowers are small, white, sometimes with purple, and have long anthers that emerge out of the flowers. The shiny, black or brown seeds have a pleasant sage flavor.

White sage, like any plant, should be collected with prayer. Only the amount needed should be collected. A small branch or a single leaf can be broken off for each use. Each leaf contains vital medicine for the health of the spirit.

The Advantages of Traditional Chumash Healing, James D Adams, Jr, and Cecilia Garcia, Oxford University Press, 2005  PubMed Central
(To learn more about the Chumash Culture, visit the Wishtoyo website.)


l've been adding a wild sage gathered from coastal area in San Clemente using it in salads, is it safe. l cannot find pics of it. lt has very thin spiky leaves about l inch or longer, lt's pale green. Youfeedback will be most appreciated.
Thanks, Lynette Mayo

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