Nancy Wheeley: The Lady at the Market

By Maureen Bayne

Burning sage is actually derived from the ancient Native American tradition of smudging, which is said to ward off bad energies. PHOTO BY: Maureen Bayne

Burning sage is actually derived from the ancient Native American tradition of smudging, which is said to ward off bad energies. PHOTO BY: Maureen Bayne


Among the senses, smell is the most articulate. It arranges memories, triggers hunger and breeds emotions. On a typical Saturday morning at the farmers market in Boulder, the ancient smell of fresh sage lingers in the air like a playful pinch. Finding the source of the smell is easy—just follow your nose.

In the heart of the market, there’s a booth with no sign and one smiling woman sitting in a foldout chair. She can normally be found casually filling small woven bags with lavender. Most people slow to look at her, but some stop if they know about what she’s selling. To an uninformed individual—it’s sage and twine. To someone else, it’s a method for smudging (which is a Native American tradition of cleansing a room via sage burning) and many other things.

Within these traditions, there is passion. Within these passions, there is tradition. Nancy Wheeley, the woman behind the booth, has lived both versions of this tale.

What brings you to the farmers market?

I’m working for a friend who owns the table and does the gathering, drying, tying, bundling and grating. She also is the one who makes the bags for the lavender, which is grown on a farm in Longmont. I just sit here and fill bags and tell the story of how smudging works.

What is smudging?

Smudging is the Native American tradition of purifying with smoke. So with sage, you light one end, let the fire go out (and that happens quickly) and then it smolders with smoke. That’s what you carry around the person, place or thing that you want to purify. It’s really good when someone moves in or out of the space, if you’ve never done it in your space, after a party, after an argument, after the floods, or before a ritual. White desert sage is the traditional native material to use for smudging out negative energies. And sweet grass is for putting in a positive energy. You could burn that or simply hang it over windows and doors as a protector.

What are some benefits of using sage and lavender in ways other than smudging?

Purely aromatherapy benefits. Lavender [promotes] relaxation, pain relief, migraine relief, keeping out moths and other bugs. So that’s why it’s good in closets and drawers.

How long have you been selling here? What do you love about it?

This is my second year selling for my friend, Sue. I love people watching and talking to people and teaching them. It’s nice to get out too. It will probably be pretty cool by the time we finish in November, but that’s OK too because I’m a Reiki master and I offer to warm people up when they need it.  When we get here early in the morning, it’s pretty cold and when somebody is standing here, looking blue, I say, “Come ‘round this side and let me put hands on you.” And I warm them right up.

So you just lay your hands on them and that makes them warm?

Heat is simply the most common side effect. The energy is going wherever your system wants it. And you’re doing the work. You’re the one soaking it up and wherever your body system wants it and it’s taking it in.

You seem like a pretty free-spirited woman. Do you have a philosophy in life?

To be there and to offer whatever I have to offer to whoever needs it.

How did you arrive at this philosophy?

I guess it was the opportunity to learn Reiki, back in the early 90s. And since then I’ve learned a dozen other energetic forms.

What is Reiki?

It’s a way to allow the transmission of energy. It’s all God. It’s all love. Everything is one. With Reiki, the intention is that you are accepting energy from the Earth, from God, from whatever, and allowing it to transfer through you so it kind of fills you up first and then heads out to the hands.

So you’ve used the word “energy” a lot. What is this “energy?”

Energy—call it God, call it love…call it electricity.

Like the human spirit?

That’s right!

Since you’ve discovered Reiki, how has your life changed?

A lot, but it’s been over time. I am more compassionate, more open. Less judgmental. So that’s sort of the nutshell.

Have you had any memorable encounters while sitting at your booth?

Of course, especially when people can come back and tell me how well the smudging worked and how much better their space, their house, feels. [There’s this girl] Renee, she’s an artist and owns a studio up in Longmont. And she has stopped here several times. And she told me this morning that it was helping her sinuses. She was sleeping all right and it was helping her breathe. So when people tell me results, that’s when [it’s worth it]. Or there was a man here earlier this morning who’s from Florida. And He worked for 30 years at a cemetery. And it got ‘till the office was just too overwhelming for him. Somebody recommended that he go to a particular shop in Miami and get some sage. And he did, and it worked. And he was able to use the office again.

Is there anything you’d like to add or say about spirituality and Reiki?

Just…come see me when you need it.


About Maureen Bayne

Maureen Bayne grew up in the small town Aztec, New Mexico. Later, she moved to Bakersfield, CA, where she graduated from Bakersfield High School. After attending Colorado State University for two years, she moved to Berkeley, CA, where she studied art at Berkeley Community College. She is currently living in the RiNo district in Denver and is seeking a degree in magazine journalism at Metropolitan State University of Denver.

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