Taking up Land Healing as a Spiritual Practice

One interpretation of the wheel at Lughnasadh...with a portal into the unknown

Sometimes, spirit offers you a call and its a call that can’t be ignored.  Part of the reason I write so much about working physically and energetically with land healing on this blog is that its clear to me now that a large part of my call is in this direction. When I was a child, it was the logging of my forest–and my eventual return to that forest years later. At my first homestead, I had to spend years working to connect with the spirits of the land and heal the land physically.  When I found the current land where I live, everything was perfect about it in terms of features I wanted–except that three acres had been logged pretty heavily. I put my head and my hands and cried–how did I find a perfect piece of land that just had been logged?  The spirits laughed and said, of course, Dana, it is the perfect piece of land for someone like you.  And thus, the lessons of a land healer continue to spiral deeper and deeper as my own spiritual practice grows. I realize that while I’ve written a lot about land healing in my previous series in 2016 and beyond, my own understanding of these practices–for both individuals and groups–has changed a lot. I’ve been refining my thinking about these topics, especially as I keep finding myself in a teaching role to others and with my return to my ancestral lands where the healing need is very strong. Thus, I’d l like to offer a new series on Land Healing practices and go deeper than my previous coverage some years ago (all of the links to my original series can be found here).

I feel the impetus for talking about these things now more than ever because of what is happening in the broader world. I’m continuing to reflect on what the 21st century brings for all of us practicing nature-based spirituality. Many of you can probably easily witness the impetus for doing land healing work in your immediate areas: a forest or tree friend being cut, spraying, pollution in the skies or waterways, the loss of species that you used to see, and so on.  In this post, I’ll start with a plea, if you will, for why I think that nearly everyone practicing any kind of earth-based, druid, or nature spirituality should consider taking up land healing practices as a core spiritual practice. After that, throughout this year, I’ll be sharing posts filling in some of the gaps from my previous writing and offering deeper practices.  Next week’s post will offer my revised and expanded framework for land healing practices, which include everything from physical land regeneration techniques to energetic work, witnessing work, apology, land guardianship, shifting your own practices to reduce your footprint on the earth, and self-care.

The Impetus for Land Healing Practices as Spiritual Practice

There are so many reasons that I think that those practicing nature-based spirituality, like druidry, should consider integrating land healing into their regular spiritual practices.  If you are already convinced that this is a good idea, then you probably want to wait for next week’s post for my revised framework.  But if you are still wondering, here are my reasons why I think land healing should be a core practice for nature spirituality (And you may feel free to disagree.  Nature spirituality is wide-ranging and broad, and different people have different foci.  But let me do my best to convince you!)

Sacred Nature

Tending that which is sacred. What is nature spirituality without nature? If we are going to hold something sacred, it is right that we tend it and work to preserve it. Right now, given the state of nature, there is a lot of healing and preservation work to do.  If we begin to treat the land as sacred from a perspective of daily practice, we begin putting our practices and daily life in line with our values.

Deeper connections with the land and her spirits. If you are interested in establishing deep connections with the land–this is a clear path forward. I’m an animist, and so to me, my relationship with the local spirits of nature is one of my most critical spirit relationships. Learning about how to tend and heal nature in multiple ways allows you to share with the spirits local to you and gain their goodwill. This will happen to a much deeper level on land you are actively working to tend and heal the same land you are looking to connect with spiritually.

Inner and Outer Tools for the 21st Century. One of the core reasons to take up the path of land healing as a spiritual practice is simply that it is good work to do, offering you the opportunity to ‘do something’ and engage in positive change where, right now, the bulk of humanity is going off in a less productive direction. Land healing as a framework that I’m expressing here encompasses not only physical regeneration but also energetic work and self-care. Thus, it offers a number of tools that work together to help you bring balance and harmony to the land–and to your own inner spiritual life.  And I think, given where this world is unfortunately heading, we are all going to need them to bring balance, harmony, and wisdom to our own practices and the world around us.

Healing the Soul. This reason is a bit hard to put into words in a brief way, but I’m going to do my best.  I have found that the more I allow myself to get into the quagmire of 21st-century culture here in the US, the more hollow and numb I feel. Its everything: the explosive politics, the over-consumption, the extreme demands of work, the lack of balance, the constantly being connected but never actually having a connection, etc. Being out in the world, it’s hard to look at people. They look so sad and miserable, many radiating exhaustion and suffering. I do a lot of mentoring of young adults because I’m a college professor: our campuses are literally exploding with mental illness. So much of what this current US culture offers people is suffering: being overworked, overcommitted, overstimulated, overconnected, always angry or outraged, and having an utter lack of inner life.  When you focus your attention away from this quagmire and into the natural world, it can be hard there too. I remember a day when I just wanted to take a quiet walk in the woods near campus after a particularly difficult day. I picked a new trail in our local forest and set off. My hike turned in an unexpected direction as I came across so many fracking wells, all of which had only recently been installed. After coming across about well #5 on what would otherwise be this beautiful landscape, I broke down. I laid under a giant tulip poplar tree near the well and I cried into the earth. Not even in nature, here in my beloved home state, could I just get away from what was happening  I felt lost, like the landscape of my ancestors had been turned into some kind of extraction dystopia and I was stuck in the middle of it.

The aftermath of that experience, made me really start thinking about land healing practices not just as something I did when I felt the need, but as one of my core spiritual practices.  I needed a set of tools to combat what I was seeing and feel like I could do good, rather than just cry about it and feel bad. This experience really helped me begin to form the framework that I’ll present next week and see why this matters.  I went back to those woods a few weeks later with some land healer’s tools (seed balls, sigils, etc) and rituals that I had developed through meditation practice. I walked up to the fracking well where I had cried, and I worked deep ritual for sleep and healing with the land here. I could sense the land settle, the spirits calm.  I was tired, but felt better about the whole thing.  Then the spirits invited me to lay back down in the spot where I had cried a month before.  I did so. And they gave back, this beautiful healing light, and I could feel my own stress and strain settling.  It could only be described as a healing of the soul.  Land healing work offers this deep soul healing to those that need it.

Protecting against and responding to Biological Anhilliation. As I’ve been sharing–and processing–on this blog, over the last decade, scientists have been clear that the world’s sixth extinction-level event is underway. Scientists use the term “biological annihilation” to describe what is happening–since 1970, at least half of the world’s animals are gone. These numbers are but a small part of a larger picture, where ecosystems around the world—including right here in your backyard—are under serious decline and threat. Now, put this in context. While we enjoy nature’s benefits and her healing, the above challenges are being faced globally. When we are honoring nature, celebrating the wheel of the seasons, this is happening. It is happening in every moment of every day. This is part of our reality, as nature-honoring people (and all people on this planet). Given that this is the reality, responding to this in some capacity can also be part of our spiritual practices. Land healing practices can help you “do something” about this tragic problem–in the case of some physical land healing practices, it can be something powerful indeed.

Addressing the decline of ecological carrying capacity. All ecosystems have what is called a “carrying capacity.” That is, given the resources available (sunlight, soil, plant matter, water, weather, etc.) the land can reasonably sustain so many lives of different kinds: so much insect life, so much plant life, so much animal life, so much human life.  Ecological collapse refers to when an ecosystem suffers a drastically reduced carrying capacity–that is, the ecosystem can no longer support the life it used to because of one or more serious factors. These factors are usually compounded and may include the loss of a keystone species, general pollution or degradation, deforestation, ocean acidification, over-hunting, or over-harvest. The demand humans are putting on ecosystems is pushing the land beyond carrying capacity in many places in the world, especially with global demand for products. It’s like a domino effect–sometimes, all it takes is one core species to go for the entire ecosystem to collapse. Climate scientists call this the tipping point–think of it like a chair.  The chair is being held at 45 degrees, and just a fraction more, and it will crash.  It is almost certain that we are heading into a nosedive to broader-scale ecological collapse. Ecological collapse doesn’t just affect all of nature–it affects humans too.  So, while we should care about even one life, a single species, we also need to be concerned deeply for all life here on the planet. And, we should be in a position to know something about how to heal the land if it does.

Reparations for ancestral activity. The present certainly gives us enough impetus to engage in direct land healing work—but for some of us, particularly white people in the US (like me) cultural and ancestral backgrounds may offer an additional motivation. Certain cultures have a history of exploitation that has led to the situation at present, and thus, the work of repair (or reparations) necessary. I am certainly one of those people. I am from the United States, and my ancestors have been on this land since the start of colonization in Pennsylvania. My family is rooted in Western and Central Pennsylvania, and has been for generations—I can trace one family line back to landing on the Mayflower and founding the state. My direct ancestors were part of the mass genocide and removal of native peoples, peoples who were tenders of the land and had maintained it in healthy balance for millennia. The Susquehannock who used to live right on the soil I now reside are extinct, killed off primarily by disease (smallpox) and being slaughtered by white settlers (despite the fact that they had peaceful treaties in place). With the removal of the native peoples came the removal of the idea that nature was sacred and honored, but rather, that it was a thing to exploit and profit from to drive progress. Thus, my own ancestors were players in the three-century extraction and exploitation of the natural and destruction of native peoples. The lands they stole were tended abundant with rich natural resources—in less than two centuries those resources were almost stripped bare, in some counties in PA, 99% of the forest cover was removed by the turn of the 19th century.  I feel that I have an ancestral obligation to heal these lands and bring them back into a healthy place of abundance and life.

Seeds for new traditions!
Planting seeds….for hope and a better future

Connecting to the energies of life. The last few points are difficult to read for many, and certainly, they aren’t fun to write.  Tied to the healing of the soul, I think that part of the reason that practices like organic gardening and permaculture are so powerful is that they connect us with nature’s healing energies of life, the energy of regeneration and hope, rather than the broader problems with consumption and land destruction.  When you plant and grow a seed, and tend it, you are honoring life.  You are bringing the energy of life into your world–and that has a positive impact on you and on the world.

Offering a new path forward.  Ultimately, humanity has to develop a different paradigm if we are going to survive beyond the next 100-200 years.  A paradigm not based on consumption, growth at all costs, and greed, but rather, one built on building a healthy and sustaining relationship with nature, perhaps similar to what Wendell Berry laid out in “Work Song 2: A Vision and rooted in indigenous wisdom. That work starts today, now, with each of us in our own way.  Learning a path forward that allows us to sustain and enrich our earth mother.  Land healing practices, for me, have been a way to distance myself from the paradigms that no longer serve us and into a mindset and set of practices that are sustaining.

Anyone can practice land healing in some capacity—as we all live on this beautiful planet, and as we all are connected to it, so, too, can we learn to heal it. It is for these reasons that I believe that anyone who is taking up a path of nature spirituality should make land healing of some kind part of the core of their spiritual practice.  Our land and spirits of the land need us. Our world needs us.

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. Reblogged this on Blue Dragon Journal.

  2. Dana, deep gratitude for what you are bringing forth.

    1. Thank you :). And thank you for reading.

  3. Hear hear!!!! Wonderful call to action. And thank you for intentionally mentioning reparations. I agree that is a vital component to healing others who have been terribly wronged, the land, and our own souls.

    1. Thank you! I wrote about reparations a bit earlier on the blog in terms of land healing specifically: https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2017/12/10/reparation-and-healing-the-land-as-part-of-american-druidry/

      I might come back to that topic in more depth with this new series. Not yet sure where it will go! 🙂

  4. Thank you, Dana — That was a beautiful essay.
    I’d like to offer one tool that’s become a critical part of my spiritual practice.

    It’s the daily Whole Planet Healing conference call, held every night at 10pm Eastern, 7pm Pacific. A group of about 30 people, including two Pennsylvanians, join together nightly to do a meditation very much like the ones you described above.

    The number is 712-770-4340.
    Callers are greeted with “Welcome to Whole Planet Healing; please say your name and location…. But only if you want to.” So if you call you can definitely remain anonymous.

    This is a free call on most carriers. T-Mobile and a few others have a small charge for it. In that case I believe there is an alternate number the bypasses those carriers’ charges. Someone on the phone call will have that alternate number, so you would only have to pay the $0.01 per minute for as long as it took to get the other number.

    This daily call has been an invaluable resource for me, and I hope anyone who reads here and wants to use it as a tool can also find some solace and a means at their disposal to help the land themselves.

    Thank you again, Dana, for writing such eloquent piece.

    1. Hi Mtnwaterleaf, thanks for sharing the details of the call and the group!

      1. I think I may have left off the PIN/Access #.
        Just in case, the daily 10pm Eastern phone call is at 712-770-4340, access number 250513#.

  5. Thanks for raising this subject. It is something that I intend to look into. W

    1. Thank you Rocala! 🙂

  6. Thank You, Dana! Thoughtful and beautifully written. Everyone needs to hear this message.

    1. Hi Gwens! I certainly hope the message gets out. We have a lot of work to do! 🙂

      1. Yes! As do I. I think the Time is Ripe. I see an up-swelling of concern for the planet and her cargo of life, of the desire for cleaner food sources, of reconnecting with the land both through the heart and the soul. I am encouraged… All the Best.

  7. A beautifully written, thoughtful post. Thank you for sharing. That you came across fracking wells is heartbreaking.

    1. Thank you, Debra! The fracking wells are heartbreaking for sure. I feel that I can either be sad or do something about it. So I choose to do something about it, something that maybe around here, only I am able to do. And that makes me feel just a little bit better :).

  8. I just came across your blog, and this is a beautiful post. We bought ten acres of degraded farmland and recovering native bush here in southern Tasmania nearly ten years ago, and during that time land healing has become the core of my spiritual practice, although it’s rooted more in physical labour and planning/visualisation than ritual these days, heh. I know now that I was drawn to this farm by the need of the spirits of this place, who were looking for a healer and recognised me before I understood I was one, although it took a couple of years of implementing regenerative land-use practices and demonstrating a love and commitment to the land before they opened up to me. My land healing has grown out of my deepening partnership with them and what they need and want from me to bring this piece of land back to vibrant health, although my input is mostly shaped by what I’ve read about permaculture principles (as you say, they are very complementary). I look forward to reading your future thoughts on the subject!

    1. Hi Liz, yes! That’s what it’s all about. There are so many ways to do land healing–and physical land healing is one of the most rewarding. I’m so glad that you have had the opportunity to heal and grow with this land :).

  9. I really enjoyed your article and am looking forward to next week. I’m hoping you might share a sample ritual or a guide to creating one for the purpose of land healing, in next weeks blog. Thank you.

    1. Hi Jodie, yes, that’s coming up! Now that I have the framework up this week, we’ll be exploring a lot of these related issues — like a guide for ritual and other tools–in upcoming posts :).

  10. Dana, “Healing the Soul” spoke to me. It is me. I am so caught up in the proverbial rat race that I seldom have time to connect with nature. Or as Bloom County calls it – taking a “Daisy Break”. I will be starting off small and well within my realm of influence by starting a garden in my back yard. Someday I hope to have my own beehive and give back to not only my yard but my neighbors as well.

    1. Treewisperer, Thanks for sharing. It sounds like good goals you’ve set–a garden and a beehive. They are good ways to slow down and reconnect and slow down. Its hard, especially with constant demands pulling on you from all sides. But its certainly worth doing :). Keep me updated and let me know how the garden goes 🙂

  11. Thank you for your wisdom on “Fire Spirits’ this morning… How can I find the other ‘Land Healing’ blog entries here? Is there a key word or ?

    1. This link should get you to most of the series! 🙂 https://thedruidsgarden.com/category/land-healing/

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