Spring Cleaning + Ancestor Work: A Mini-Ritual

For this month’s e-letter, I wrote about “sweeping the yard”, a Black diaspora tradition of sweeping floors and the yard as household labor, ritual, and spiritual cleansing. Lately I’ve been inspired to sweep the ground beneath my feet – in a literal and figurative sense – with the busyness of spring. I must slow down. I must breathe.

As with so many old ways, “sweeping the yard” is practical and metaphysical. Sweeping the yard deters snakes. Sweeping keeps floors clean. And sweeping is a spiritual and energetic practice, one that removes negative, heavy, and repressed energy. One that tends to spirits who have stayed past their due.

Researchers have long connected swept yards of the American South and the Caribbean, with similar practices in West African yards and burial grounds. (See further reading below).

A Mini-Ritual

Though I don’t have a yard these days, I live in an apartment with an outdoor patio and an entryway. “Sweeping the yard” in my case is a bit more like sweeping the floors. Here’s a mini-ritual I practice in this smaller space, but it can apply just as well to larger homes with or without gardens.

1) Gather all the materials needed in one place: the mop, the broom, the water, and any cleaning agents you use. When I’m less centered, so to speak, my materials are everywhere! The broom there, the mop here, the water elsewhere. The simple act of gathering the materials needed calms my mind, body, and spirit. Tranquila. Calm down, and let it be.

2) Bless the water, broom and/or mop. Give thanks for the physical and metaphysical work they are about to do. After reading more about the deep roots of “sweeping the yard,” I look forward to giving more mindful thanks to ancestors before I begin. Sweeping the yard pays homage to their labor, life, and wisdom.

3) Cleanse with intention. As you cleanse the floors or yard, sing or say an affirmation or prayer. Pay particular attention, with your cleaning tools and your healing words, to parts of your house or yard that feel heavy or dense – or just plain need to be cleaned! I’ve been devoting particular attention to the corners of my house when I sweep, knowing the corners of my mind require just as much tending. What desires have I tucked away? What issues need to be addressed? What words need to be said? Sweeping makes way.

4) Open the doors. I close by sweeping any remaining energy that’s no longer needed out of the house. For yards, sweep what needs to be released outside the yard or garden. I close with releasing words. My favorite affirmations: “This house is now cleansed, and I am thankful” and “I open up to receive. I release what is no longer needed.”

5) Add sacred smoke. I sage or burn incense, either after or throughout the sweep. With all aspects of this ritual combined, all elements receive attention. You sweep the earth. You cleanse with water. You cleanse again with smoke.

For more on “sweeping the yard” for spring, join the RootWork newsletter for monthly radical inspiration. I’ll send you the most recent newsletter, and you’ll receive future monthly messages.

A closing note about “origins”

Not all elements you witness here are “African”, and some are inspired by Mexican/Mexican-American healing ways. Boundaries are blurry here. After all, Africans and their descendants have lived in Mexico since the 16th century; their contributions to Mexican curanderismo have yet to be fully understood or acknowledged. But that’s another blog. Inspired by “sweeping the yard,” this short spring ritual reflects the Black diaspora with its wide-ranging histories and old ways freshly turned.

Further reading:

Black Feminist Archaeology by Whitney Battle-Baptiste

Cottage Gardens and Swept Yards: Recreating a Vernacular Horticulture

No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African-American Yard Work by Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie

A Guide to Planting an African for an American/African Focused Yard in Miami Dade County

In Georgia’s Swept Yards, a Dying Tradition

African-American Gardens: Yards in the Rural South by Richard Westmacott

No Space Hidden: The Spirit of African-American Yard Work by Grey Gundaker and Judith McWillie