Be Steadwell’s New Music Video Will Put A Spell On You

Be Steadwell is a force to be reckoned with. With just a loop pedal and her voice, she builds songs out of nothing. I (and Mey Rude) been fangirling over her music since her early days on YouTube as Be Steady and I’m thrilled to see her artistic growth and all of the new music she’s put out. Her most recent project, Breakup Songs, just came out in April  and is full of music that gets to the heart of what going through a breakup can feel like. It’s raw, emotional, and healing all at once. To go along with her newest album, she recently released a new video for her song, “sage (witch two).” The song is about needing to rid yourself of someone or something’s negative energy and is a reminder to be aware of who or what you share space with. It’s about cleansing yourself of the trauma of past lovers, self-doubt and any other forces that might hold us back.

I feel lucky enough to have seen a version of “sage” performed at A-Camp 8.0 where Be was accompanied by the A-Camp dance team. Obviously, she was met with thunderous applause, especially after reminding us all that, “I don’t need a girlfriend, I got myself a Magic Wand.” So, I was excited to sit down and watch the video, especially since I know Be has experience in creating really interesting queer films. The video is dark and mysterious; it’s filled with witchy queers casting spells and cleansing energy. There are babes of color wearing dark lipstick and exuding power while dancing around a candlelit room. It’s also super sexy! Be proves to us that breaking up doesn’t have to be sad, even if you really liked or loved the person, and especially if they weren’t good for you.

The song is only about three minutes, and as soon as I thought to myself, “I don’t want this song to be over yet,” something brand new happened. Immediately after the song ends, one by one witches and femmes tell us for who or what they’re lighting sage. Exes, white supremacy, inadequacy and abuse, and even the universe. It’s not just a great music video or song, it’s an important spiritual moment.

Be and I spoke over email about this newest video and the newest album as a whole:

Alaina: What is “sage” about? What inspired it?

Be: Sage is about 3am when the girl you are still in love with walks into your bedroom and you can feel all of the most shady, evil spirits walk in with her.  My ex inspired the song. She came in with a pitifully guilty look on her face, I could barely hold her gaze. I didn’t know, but I knew. Our love was beautiful and powerful when we were together, but in that moment, I was terrified. All the magic and power that nurtured me before was now sucking the life from me. So I stood up, walked past her and lit a bundle of sage. It was the first moment in the breakup when I decided to protect myself.

A: Do you identify as a witch and/or is witchcraft a part of your spiritual practice?

B:Yes, I identify as a witch, though I use the term to refer to anyone who decides to recognize and utilize their magic. Magic could be queer sex, it could be a recipe, it could be art, love, faith. Magic is anything that allows you to transcend. Also, I feel like severe pain and oppression requires magic for survival. So as a Black queer woman, I know my ancestors and communities have been witchy forever. Black girl magic is ancient as fuck.

A: This is a song from your newest album called Breakup Songs. I get it. How has this album contributed to the breakup process for you?

B: The album is basically a journal. It gave me the space to be angry, petty, depressed, empowered, bitchy, silly. I needed that space and I needed all of those feelings to heal. Just writing it down was cathartic. Now that I’m performing the songs live, sharing the album and starting a dialogue with an audience-it’s grown into a giant group therapy session. I get to hear other folks’ breakup stories, we cry together and talk all kinds of shit about our exes.

A: Where can people see you perform your songs live in the future?

B: Generally everywhere.  But in the near future, NOLA, DC, Brooklyn, Durham and more!  My dates are listed on my website.

Watch her latest video now!

Be sure to check out and support Be, both online and in person!

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Alaina is a 20-something working on a PhD in Performance as Public Practice. They are a mom to three cats, they listen to a lot of NPR and musicals, and they spend a lot of time on Pinterest lusting over studio apartments. They are actively trying to build A Brand on twitter @alainamonts. One day, they will be First Lady of the United States.

Al(aina) has written 242 articles for us.

21 Comments

  1. I liked the video, I liked all the astrological and witchy references. But I do have a question for the community:

    How do we feel about the cultural appropriation of smudging that features so prominently in the video? I’m a bit torn on the subject myself, because on the one hand: burning herbs is universal and there’s nothing wrong in learning new herb uses from other cultures, but on the other hand: the white sage smudge stick, the abalone shell, sweetgrass braids, etc. have very obvious Native American overtones.

    • Maybe someone who is a Native can answer you better, but I’m gonna give you my perspective, with no insistence whatsoever that I’m doing the “right thing” and maybe I too need further enlightening on the topic….

      I also sometimes use white sage to smudge. I also use herbs and resins sometimes which come from other cultures, such as frankincense and myrrh. I’m well aware that these are not native pagan/witchcraft practices from the part Europe where I’m from, and I’m aware of the traditional spiritual ties to these plants. However I incorporate them when I feel need for them because I respect the energy and the power these brought to their original users. While working with any plants etc I am mindful to thank those who came before me for the use of their knowledge.

      I don’t see myself as appropriating these cultures, but more as appreciating the spiritual knowledge of that culture and the intent for which the practices came about. I like to draw on inspiration from many spiritual cultures, in a similar way that many pagans draw from one or more Parthenons of deities which may not be from their ancestral roots.

      Again, I’m not saying I’m right – maybe I’m way off the mark, in which case I’m open to education 🙂

      • I see what you’re saying, but at the same time frankincense and myrrh don’t have obvious and exclusive cultural ties (not to be confused with geographic origin). They’ve been imported in large quantities into Europe since at least the 7th century BCE. For reference, Germanic languages (like the forebears of the fine language we’re writing now) didn’t exist yet. If you burn myrrh from Somalia, you’re not taking a practice straight from a Somalian culture, and it’s not tinged with an idea of the magical noble Somalian savage, and their superior closeness to nature.

        White sage smudge sticks, on the other hand, are often sold in a “buy two, get a free feather—buy three, get a free sacred abalone shell” type of fashion. It’s now a ubiquitous spiritual/new age/pagan practice, but I was ordering new incense the other week and I was shocked at how much the Native American connection was played up in these online shops.

        I find it hard sometimes (not remotely being an expert on the subject) to draw the line between eclecticism/syncretism and cultural appropriation, but I sort of feel like the line might be drawn where living people can recognise their people’s practices, and when the practice relies on its connection to that living people? Hence my question.

    • Thank you for posing this question. It’s something I was thinking about as well while watching this video, and one that I think too often gets overlooked.

      I am all for reclaiming witchy traditions and using herbs as a part of one’s tool kit for spell work and such, but the burning of sage has always felt a tad appropriative to me.

    • I don’t know much about this subject but in the past I have heard an indigenous person say that there is a difference between “smudging” and “smoke cleansing,” (which that person in particular differentiated in their spiritual practice) and that smoke cleansing is acceptable for anyone to do. I’m not sure which one theyre doing in the video, but if it is just smoke cleansing it may not actually be appropriative. I could be wrong though, because I am white and just passing along something I heard. No idea about the shell and braids you mentioned.

    • hey y’all! a few things:

      – it’s dangerous to use the royal “we” when talking about things poc do when you’re not (visibly) poc

      – i purposefully never mentioned smudging, because i’m unsure if that’s what’s going on in the video. sage is used for cleansing in many cultures that people of color come from, including but not limited to native cultures.

      – you don’t know be’s background, or the background of anyone in the video, so it’s difficult to claim cultural appropriation when discussing a group of people you aren’t familiar with.

      -i’m also wondering, while reading many of your comments about this topic, if there’s a difference between a cultural ritualistic practice of witchcraft and deciding to be a witch. Be talks about magic being a part of her queerness, a part of her ancestry, a part of her blackness. It’s interesting that y’all assumed this was something she picked up, and not something taught to her/given to her by mentors/ancestors/elders.

      just a thought.
      have fun, thanks for the respectful discussion pals.

      • Good points Alaina….

        The one about ancestry is really interesting actually, I’d not considered at all about cultural vs chosen witchcraft in this case….I figured sage was used here because Be mentions Candomblé in the song (well I think that’s what she says?!) and I thought probably it’s used as a traditional practice there.

        Personally I have a bit of a mix between cultural and “decision” witchcraft, in the sense that my grandmother had some Romani lineage, but was born-again Catholic so it was obviously a no-go topic of conversation. I couldn’t understand why it was something that called to me until I discovered that connection (that and I was born in the UK version of Salem) so lack of elder connection is pretty much the reason for my personal mish-mash of the way I go about things =/ but sage was also used in Romani magic, although a different species.

      • Hi Alaina,

        My apologies, but I don’t see how I’m using any “royal we”. The we in question refers to the Autostraddle community, to which the question was posed. I could have written “you”, of course, but I suppose I felt I belonged to the group. Might I ask what’s so bad about my phrasing, as a non-English native European who has less experience with American race relations, so I don’t offend anyone next time? If you have the time—I don’t even know where I’d begin to Google this.

        I don’t really feel that I’m asking the community to comment on something that people of colour do. If you had asked me a few hours ago, I would have probably told you “yep, sage smudging is a pretty darned white thing to do”. I was also asking more about sage smudging in general, since it’s such an omnipresent practice and I come across it at least once a week, not specifically “is Be Steadwell personally a cultural appropriator in this video”, but I tried to keep my question short to maximise the chance of discussion and my intent doesn’t necessarily come across very well. I apologise.

        I certainly don’t know Be Steadwell’s full cultural background, but she identified as Black in this interview, not Native American, thus I felt inspired to ask the community about this omnipresent thing that might be cultural appropriation or not. If I assumed it was something she picked up, not something she learnt from her ancestors, it’s because my understanding is that burning white sage like this is actually a pretty uncommon practice in Native American circles, whereas in witchy circles it’s pretty omnipresent. I mean, “[white] sage” is a verb now. If Be Steadwell reads this, I apologise if it seemed like I was attempting to make this about her personal practices. I don’t know what those are or where they come from, and that’s not really what I was hoping to have a conversation about at all.

        • i think like, from a community perspective, as a white person, using a post celebrating a song by a Black musician who is a noted activist on race issues and has a really nuanced and loving approach to humanity and diversity in general as a jumping-off point to discuss the cultural appropriation of saging is not necessarily a good idea? (and also smudging is a practice of many indigenous cultures around the world, not just Native Americans.)

          if your intent was to talk about white appropriation of smudging, then this isn’t the place to do it — that’s taking the focus away from the poc this post is about and putting the focus back on white people instead. i realize this might be confusing as a non-American, but our specific racial history has led to this moment where those things can be complicated in these spaces.

          i hope this makes sense!

          • Just because someone is Black does not mean that individual cannot appropriate Native cultures or utilize stereotypes in the same way the dominant society does. Consider Pharrell in a headdress.

            I’m Ojibwe and when I saw the photo and the caption, it gave me pause, and so I clicked to the article. I’m glad Faustine raised the question.

            The problem I am seeing in the video description and the comment section boils down to one of erasure and a lack of knowledge of Native peoples in the Americas and their cultures.

            Yes, various cultures around the world burn plants and use the smoke for a cleansing aspect. However, to not acknowledge or outrightly deny that the usage of a sage bundle is a Native practice when this plant is from North America is absurd. (Yes, white sage.) It is used in ceremonial and personal spiritual contexts across the continent by living Native people today.

            It reminds me of some pagan/witchy types I knew in Oregon that were using these practices but had no idea where they came from. Online I had a little pushback from one person when I said it was a Native practice, and her boyfriend had to back me up on it. For the record, I never said that they couldn’t do it because they were white.

            It’s not that I think it’s wrong to incorporate Native practices of smudging sage into one’s life if you’re not Native. In mixed groups where Native people are conducting smudging, the gesture is extended to everyone present. I would say that the people in the video are more or less using sage in the way it’s intended to be used. Just be real about where it comes from. It’s not a generalized witchy/pagan/magic practice. It has specific roots.

          • Of course I am just one Native with an opinion, and I can’t speak for everyone, but that’s how I see it. Practices involving plants like sage or sweetgrass can be used to help people, whether Native or not. My discomfort primarily has to do with the narratives that are constructed.

  2. I have listened to this song every day since the video came out on YouTube and I still cannot get over the lyrical genius that is the line “I don’t need a girlfriend, I got myself a magic wand” and also the fact that the few straight people I shared the song with don’t understand why I crack up at that line every time.

    But in general, I love the power I see and feel in this video, and it inspired me a lot to continue my current path back to the spiritual and witch side of myself which I had “lost” for a while due to life things. I am a lesbian witch and right now I give zero fucks about what anyone else may think about those things so….thanks Be <3

  3. I also was lucky enough to see Be perform this at A-Camp and it was amaaaaaaazing. I have been singing the “magic wand” verse to myself at work since I got back. It makes me giggle.

  4. I’ve been listening to this song, and the rest of the album, every day since seeing her perform at A-Camp 8.0 and it just gets better with each listen.

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