Sustainability as Sacred Action

The common bond that unites druids, and other earth-centered spiritual paths, is a deep respect and reverence for the living earth. We celebrate the turning wheel of the seasons, we revere the plants, and we speak to the forest spirits.  But what does having that connection with nature mean, and how can we deepen that connection into every aspect of our lives? How can we ensure our actions nourish, nurture and support in all ways?


Aster flower in late summer
Aster flower in late summer

For my own practice of druidry, building a more sustainable life and teaching others about sustainability and permaculture, is my cornerstone. Why? First, because the more deeply in tune with the natural world I’ve become through my druidic practices, the more I’ve realized that my own relationship with the land started out more passively damaging than actively nurturing.  How could I say I followed an earth-based path when I engaged in so many practices that were destructive—even  if I didn’t realize/intend they were destructive?  When I purchased products that supported companies actively damaging the land, harming my fellow humans, and so forth?  With this series of realizations, I began to radically shift my own life to align my daily life with my spiritual belief; this process is ongoing. For anyone who has been attempting to live more sustainably, the odds are stacked against us in a culture of consumption—but it is possible with knowledge, determination, and a community of support.


As druids, the land speaks to us in important and informative ways. The land of the two communities where I have spent the most time—South-East Michigan, where I live now, and Western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, has much to teach us about the need for sustainable living. These connections helped shape my path.


In south-east Michigan, we are truly “on the front lines” of many of the energy and post-industrial challenges that we face in the world. These challenges include a declining industrialized society with dwindling resources, increased illiteracy and poverty in both rural and urban areas, rampant environmental destruction for cheap energy (such as fracking and oil pipelines), an automobile industry pushing in unsustainable directions, and local government structures that seem to hold the economy as sacred at the disregard of everything else. This situation has prompted many of us here to more carefully pay attention, to become informed, to learn from each other, and to ultimately begin to build communities that are more sustainable.


Nature's bounty - the crab apple!
Nature’s bounty – the crab apple!

In south-western Pennsylvania, where I grew up, the landscape tells another tale. In their exploration for coal and steel production, numerous companies built up an industry in the 1800’s and 1900’s. They dug up the land, put men in the ground, dug out the coal, shipped it to the cities, and used it to produce boatloads of steel.  Of course, these companies have long since left (and some are still in business in places like Mexico), the individuals profiting from them long ago passing on, taking their profits with them. As part of the mining process, the mining companies created mountain-sized “boney dumps” that still remain a century later.  The dumps, the same size as the Appalachian mountains that surround them, contain a lot of the materials that weren’t usable. These dumps, exposed to the elements, make their way into the waterways. .The land suffers from the runoff of these old boney dumps: nothing will grown on their toxic contents, which include mercury, sulfur, and many other heavy metals and toxins.  Many of the creeks in the area, which locals dub “sulfur creeks” are so polluted that no life can be found in them. Cancer rates are high, along with asthma, multiple sclerosis, and other diseases (all found in my family and in the families of everyone else I know).  Some of the streams are bright yellow and full of sulfur; others are a pale cloudy blue/gray—all are devoid of life.  And of course now, fracking also is taking place throughout Pennsylvania. It is just one more blow to the land that has been repeatedly logged, poisoned, and now, fracked.


Jewelweed for medicine
Jewelweed for medicine

Examining my own landscape as well as my own actions in a spiritual manner over time encouraged me to realize that every action, every choice, however small, could be done in a sacred, intentional manner. Each choice was sacred: from bringing my own bags to the grocery store to picking up “treasures” in my neighbors’ trash to use in a new way,  to offering land freely for friends to learn how to grow their own food. It wasn’t not just sacred when I walk into that forest and honor the spirits there using ritual—but its sacred when I am going to work, paying my bills, spending time with my family.  And how do I ensure that the forest will be there in the future? That it isn’t fracked, sold off, or developed? I started to realize that my offering, and my path, was how I lived my life, each day, and how I interacted with those around me.  Everything became a potential for sacred action.  We are facing increasingly difficult times, where the lands we love are under serious threat from so many forces–including from ourselves.  For me, finding ways of living the sacred of everyday, and finding ways of engaging in nurturing traditions has what has helped me begin to make this shift.

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. Your post on “Sustainability as Sacred Action” spoke to me on many levels. The truth is much harder to follow than to hear.

    1. Linda, thanks for your comment. Indeed its hard to follow! And its a process, a continual process of shifting and growth. There are still so many ways that I am learning this process, learning this shift, but I feel that at least my mindset is in the right place going forward!

  2. Beautifully said. 🙂 Thank you.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Susie! 🙂

  3. Yea i live in south central PA and i know about the fracking going on up north and who knows how that will pollute the water. And driving in the northern part of the state what appears to be mountains are dumps from the mines producing those yellow sulfur streams and there is No way to stop that leaching as there were thousands of large and small mines. What appears to be cheap at one time in the long run becomes expensive in clean up and medical payments for the cancers they produce.

    1. I know. It seems like the best we can do is work to heal the land, inform ourselves, and try to keep things like this from happening again. The worst thing about the mine runoff is that the companies that produced it are long gone, so now the only people who pay the price are those who still live there.

  4. About Sustainability as Sacred Action, I enjoyed your writing and your article. I like how you acknowledge that you were once destructive, maybe unknowingly, but found out and then made the changes necessary so that your choices help the Land and Nature instead of harming it. I am making changes too. I found Organic Valley, a wonderful company that produces free-range organic milk products and also a nearby organic food grocery store which I am getting dedicated to. I’m also trying when I can to get recycling for me and my apartment community. I don’t understand though what ‘fracking’ is from your article. If you could comment back, I’d appreciate that highly. Do you feel solar and wind could be not harmful to the Land and Nature and could it produce enough energy for us? I’m a poet and an illustrator and just don’t know these things. Sincerely,
    Danny Hocken

    1. Hi Danny, thanks for the comment! For the record, the process of shifting from destructive practices to nurturing practices is an ongoing one for me. I still drive an oil-powered vehicle, I still use some natural gas to heat my home. I’ve done the easy stuff…the real work of making major lifestyle shifts and changes is now setting in. I’m still figuring that process out :).

      Now onto your questions and comments! First, it sounds like you are making important steps towards sustainability. The food system is a great place to start–purchasing food as locally as possible and purchasing it from ethical companies is a very good move. If you have farmer’s markets, this is a great way not only to eat more healthy and support more sustainable practices, but also a way to keep money and resources within the local economy. I wrote a blog post a while ago on principles for local eating:

      Recycling is another important step–for community action, I find that the more people you can get behind a cause the better chances you have of making it happen.

      Fracking is also known as hydraulic fracturing, its the process of injecting huge amounts of hazardous chemicals and water into the ground to get at small amounts of oil or gas. The NDRC has a decent article on its dangers/problems (and a Google search will get you a lot more):

      The issue with energy, of any kind, isn’t just about producing enough for “current demand” but thinking about how we can reduce our demand and require less. Our homes are very inefficient, and our practices are often even more so. Solar and Wind power can produce decent amounts of energy and are renewable–some countries, particularly in Europe, are now entirely dependent on various renewable energy sources. Renewable resources have been steadily coming down in costs–this is also helping increase their viability in a broader sense. Fossil fuels of all kinds are a quickly diminishing, non-renewable resource, and its important that we all take steps to conserve them and seek alternatives.

      Does this response answer your questions? Please let me know if you have more :).

  5. If you do not mind my asking, what medicine was the jewelweed for? What parts of the jewelweed are used for medicine?

      1. Thank you very much! ^_^

  6. Loved your post mate! Keep up doing the good work and well done for taking responsibility for your self!

    1. Thanks Andy! Thank you for your comment 🙂

  7. I gave you a shout out in my most recent blog post…

    Keep up your excellent and inspiring work here.

    1. Thank you, Justin! Great post, btw :).

  8. Very thoughtful post. I can not hope to attain perfection but I also can not allow that to stop me from marching toward the Light the best way that I know how. Each time we shop for groceries I am stopped in my tracks by how little we utilize the store- the middle section we mostly skirt around, for instance. We now eat eggs from hens that we’ve raised. Some day I would like to quit going to the alternative grocery- the feed store- for now we must keep our hens in good order so that is necessary. We raised and then butchered turkeys for the first time this past year. I know personally how those birds were raised so at least we have come that far down the path. We have a harsh climate here, too. Each growing season has its own challenges. I am glad I read your musings today. We share much together.

    1. Lenore, thanks for your comment. I like the idea of staying out of the middle of the grocery store–that’s good advice. I haven’t raised my own turkeys, but my good friends do–and I was invited to the slaughter and to thanksgiving that year!

  9. Truer, more insightful words never spoken. Thanks for inspiring me to do more to practic sustainability and love of the precious land, with each step I take. Bless you for sharing the wisdom you have found along your path. – Kelly (Hedge Druid)

    1. Thank you, Kelly! Would love to hear more about your work with the land :).

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