As Within, So Without: Blight and the Magical Garden

Relationship with the land leads to fruitful harvest!
Relationship with the land leads to fruitful harvest!

There is an old magical adage, first written by Hermes Trismegistus, that goes “As above, so below, as within, so without, as the universe, so the soul…”  I’ve spent a long time in trying to understand this statement, see it at work in my own life and in the broader world.  And I’ve come to at least one understanding about it–it is certainly relevant when it comes humanity’s relationship to the natural world.  I believe that there is a special relationship with humans and the natural world; we are meant to be in a reciprocal relationship with each other. When we are at peace and radiate love, this is what we get in return.  When we are self-focused and in pain, the land around us also suffers.  This sacred relationship, part of which I explored in one of my recent posts, is critical to our understanding of humanity’s role in protecting, preserving and tending the land.


I’m going to tell the story of this sacred relationship as a microcosm, and what happens within and without in my own life in the last 12 or so months.  I’ll end with some larger trends of the macrocosm, the larger region and world.


I’ve had beautiful, incredibly successful gardens my first two years of gardening–and these are the source of much inspiration or practical projects that you, dear readers, read about on this blog. These gardens have inspired me, encouraged me, and nurtured me as I was able to nurture and tend them.  We were mirrors of each other; reflections of the spirit.  I was happy, fulfilled, and content–and the garden responded with bounty and seemingly limitless growth.  This year, things are radically different–both within and without.  I’ve gone through one of the most difficult years in my adult life, and most of the major incidents that I’ve suffered this year have taken place in my home or on the land.  I’m seeing a relationship between these events and what’s happening in my garden, and I wanted to take this time to explore that relationship.


In a nutshell, I went through a divorce and end to a seven-year relationship in late 2012 and have suffered numerous serious hardships and betrayals with family members and friends since that time. I invited a family member that I was close to to come and live with me after the divorce; he expressed interest in what I was doing here in terms of sustainability. That turned out to be a horrific experience and I was seriously taken advantage of, my world turned upside down…in the end, it was worse than the divorce.  This, and many other events, of the last year consumed my energy and shifted my usually-positive and upbeat view into something filled with sadness and suffering. And these effects were felt energetically in my garden.


Blighted tomato leaves...
Blighted tomato leaves…

Despite good soil and composting practices, biointensive gardening, good crop rotations, and so forth, my garden is literally half as productive this year as it has been in previous years. Furthermore, all of the things I went through, mainly,  happened in my home or on my land–which matters.  All seemed to coincide with important gardening events.  Starting seeds and planning my crops was disrupted by the divorce and my need for recovery in the latter part of 2012 and earlier part of this year; the difficulty with my family member and some friends began right as I was planting my tender seedlings into the garden around the end of May.  As the garden was in need of tending throughout June and July more issues with my family and friend circle surfaced, and much of what I could have done was lost to weeds and pests.  Every critical garden event seemed to be mirrored with yet another life event that caused trauma and sadness.  And my usual bountiful garden is wilted, diseased, and withered.


Tomatoes are worth discussing here as a specific example. Tomatoes are my most important veggie; I worked for years to be “tomato independent” and grow all of my own tomatoes for sauce, salsa, dried tomatoes, etc. My tomatoes began blighting in early July; this was when some of the worst events with my family member and friends were occurring. A good friend and I spent several hours cutting off the blighted branches to save the tomato crop after we noticed the blight (which creeps up from the ground); despite our best efforts, the blight kept returning. As the events surrounding my family member intensified, so did the tomato blight. By mid-August, my family member moved out but the blight had taken most of the tomato crop. I went into the garden last week and the last of my poor tomatoes were literally all blighted and rotting on the vine before they were even ripe–I cried and cried, and then I cleaned them up and realized that there was a lesson in all of this for me, and important lesson. Its not a coincidence that tomatoes, one of my main crops, were the hardest hit by the blight–these are the plants I care the most about because they allow me to be more independent from the system, these were the ones I put the bulk of my energy into growing in the previous year.  And these are what suffered the worst.


Blighted plants...suffering.
Blighted plants…suffering.

I think my own story of what happened to the garden this summer is a microcosm for the broader world.  Events got out of hand in my own life, and that caused my relationship with the land to change–what was within me was reflected in the land I tend.  I’ve spent the last month and a half recovering from these events, and they have caused me to grow substantially, but the process was certainly a challenge.


There is an energetic connection between humans and the land–even for those present day Americans who don’t want to admit it, the connection is there.  When we are suffering, the land suffers.  When we destroy the land, we destroy our home but also, our spiritual connection.  I’ve written about this concept before in regards to the forest to which I belong (which was cut when I was 14 and regrew, joyfully, in the years since and now provides healing mushrooms).  I think about the world in peril now-much of what we see is human caused, or human facilitated.  And its a lot of suffering–oak blight, emerald ash borer, some kind of maple spot disease I have yet to identify, loss of habitat, loss of species, ocean acidification, and so forth, are all caused both by humanity’s physical actions, but also our lack of spiritual connection.  When most of America spends its time watching 4-6 hours of TV per day, consuming products that are 90% likely to end up in a landfill within a year of purchase, and engaging in practices that are directly destructive of  the lands we inhabit, I do not think it surprising that we are seeing so many tree blights, floods, and so forth.  There are physical causes, yes, but I would also argue that there are spiritual causes.  For the first time in human history, perhaps ever, our civilization has spent the last few generations disconnecting itself from food growing and production and interacting with the land.  This has a very high cost, and its one that future generations will continue to pay.


But all is not lost…as we move through the wheel of the seasons, ever new and yet ever the same cycle repeating, once again, a new season is upon us.  With the coming of the equinox, fall is here.  And with late fall comes the cold, the dark, the winds, the snow.  And with that cold, the land heals, it rests, it lays fallow.  In the spring, at the other side of the wheel of the year, the equinox will be upon us again, and I’ll have a chance t replant my garden anew.  To learn from past mistakes, and to heal myself through the growth of the garden.  I hope that others can do the same–that we can bring our own lives into alignment with the natural world again, so our lives and our lands can benefit.  As within, so without; as above, so below.  This is today’s lesson from the magical garden.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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  1. You’ve done an amazing job, Dana! I’ll be puting in my garden for the first time this fall largely because of you! Despite all of your challenges you’ve still been passing on seeds of inspiration and goodness. Take the time to heal. Balance will find you again 🙂

    1. Thank you, Jess! I can’t wait to see what you do with your own garden 🙂

  2. I really feel for you, Dana. I’m just coming out of a huge, awful time. I don’t know when it started (maybe April), but it slowly gathered steam until I was unable to function. Medication and hypnotherapy helped me. Dare I say things are better? One of your earlier posts was about the weeds/plants that make up your front yard. I had a similar experience this year with local government trying to control me. (They refer to houses like mine as, “the blight of Hillsdale”.)

    I think you and your land are so close, it grieves for you. The plants are trying to take on some of the pain. But there’s always next year for a garden – and for us.

    1. That’s certainly a way of seeing it–taking away some of my pain. I’ve done the inverse for plants. Somehow, that makes me feel a lot better about the blight. Thank you, Ranthia!!!!

  3. I’m so sorry to hear your sad news Dana, and I’m glad you’re able to take something positive going forward and hope your garden is all you want it to be next season. Keep your chin up. Things will improve.

    1. Thank you Susie 🙂

  4. Hi Willow.

    I just wanted to say, hang in there and stay dedicated. I’m sure things will turn around and you’ll find the right person.

    In the mean time I also wanted to suggest a book by magic practitioner Josephine McCarthy that is all about working with the Land. It just came out but I got a chance to read an early draft. It has changed how I do magic and how I interact with the Land. Other readers might find it helpful too. It’s called Magic of the North Gate. Here is the publishers site:

    It’s available from Amazon:

    1. Hi Justin,
      Thanks so much for the book recommendation! I will certainly check it out 🙂

  5. Didn’t mean for the whole pic to show up… don’t know how that happened. Anyway, I recommend all her books with my whole hart.

  6. I very much understand what you’ve been going through. Imagine getting YEARS of that!
    With my latest surgery, I’m hoping to clean up the garden of my body; I have great hope of the change it will effect.
    I’m not sure what will happen with our land… our ‘city’ is possibly going to disincorporate. Normally something I would like. 😉 Except that in Portland, Metro controls the land use in disincorporated areas. My area was long ago slated for Industrial Buildings. My house and land could be “taken”, we wouldn’t even get enough money to pay the bank. And the wildlife I see every day, the stream ecology, the trees and berries, et al, will be torn up.
    Needless to say, this is a constant worry. (the vote is this November)
    I’m working on grounding myself.. not easy for me when I have few friends here. (I’ve worked on THAT for years too :/ )

    Good luck to you, dear. I’ll be smudging my place and land soon. I’ll send YOU good thoughts then too.

    1. Meran, how awful that you could lose your land and the wildlife that is living there. These unsustainable practices need to stop, and a good way of stopping them is at the voting booth. Stay strong, my friend!

      1. we have a vote coming up for ‘disincorporation’… however, Metro from the city of Portland, apparently controls the 3 (or is it 5?) county area. And they SOUND okay ‘low cost housing’ etc. However, that’s not what comes out of it. a few property owners make lots of money. The rest of us just lose.

        I’m trying to see what it takes to do an EIS, since a property was pulled into the ‘park’ system. Zillow says of the property “to be used for undetermined purpose”.. which COULD mean, apartments, sold for the cash (which the previous owner won’t get)… the cash would go into the county’s coffers. They’re building another light rail, 20 miles from the property. And in Portland, the crime levels follow the light rail.

        (I’ve seen much of what I speak of. And read online or in the paper, the rest.)

        It’s complicated. Very. and I have no idea of which of the two evils would be best, honestly.

        I moved here for better oxygen levels, all the green (which they just cut or mow down), the slower lifestyle (boy was I wrong!), and I thought, similar political interests. (wrong on that too. They’re not as liberal as they appear. They’re more like what are they calling them? Light weight conservatives??)

        About your issues: one thing you will always find is that things change… just control the direction 😀 Stress only is ‘stress’ when you choose to see it that way. Deal with things, one day at a time. I’ve been through two divorces. None, even when warranted, are easy to go through. Each is a failure, a death. Mourn the loss. Then go away from it, hopefully in a positive area… or just different than before. That’s all that’s needed.

        And try not to take too much on. (That’s my big problem 😉 )

  7. Wow. It’s really interesting to see someone else going through something like this. The last several years that I lived in Boston, most of my houseplants died, and almost everything I tried to grow in the yard totally failed to thrive. I started feeling paranoid that this was a sign of some kind, that it seemed to reflect how I was feeling about living there. It only added to my sense that I needed very badly to leave the area, because everything I was trying to grow – not just plants, other parts of my life, too – just . . . didn’t.

    1. Yeah, it really sounds like the same kind of situation. I take it you have since left Boston? 🙂

      1. Yes! I left about 6 months ago, and it’s been -wonderful-. I didn’t have the funds to do any gardening this year, except for one small pot of marigolds, but I am looking forward to seeing what I can do in future years. (I’m now in Portland, Oregon, which is extra exciting because it’s mild enough to grow many more things than I could have in Boston.)

  8. As above, so below is a similar observation that Heraclitus made about nature, he also said “strife is justice” which is through strife there is a becoming. I hope that your next cycle makes up for the hardship you suffered in the last year.

    1. There you go. I kind of see it in relationship to the wheel of the seasons also–I’ve been in the darkest of night, and spring is around the corner….the light will return again!

  9. May next year be better. I know how long it can take to recover from such devastating events; don’t rush it.

    1. Thank you, Karen! 🙂

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