In the next few months, the forest that I grew up in is going be cut and torn up to put in a septic line. A 40-60 feet path, at minimum, will rip a tear through the heart of it. This is the forest where I grew up, where my parents and I have created a refugia garden, a wildlife sanctuary, and native woodland plant sanctuary. It is just heartbreaking to tend land carefully, only now, to have this awful thing happen that we have failed to stop. This is the forest that taught me so many of these lessons of land healing. The forest had just gotten to a point where it was once again vibrant, where the ramps started to creep back in, and the mature forest trees now stand, growing above the stumps that have rotted away. I feel powerless, knowing that despite getting a lawyer, writing letters, attending meetings, and banding together with neighbors, this septic line through the woods will go forward. As sorrowful as I am about this happening, I know that this happens everywhere, all the time, and this is exactly why land healing matters. This same situation is being repeated all over the globe as “right of ways” are used to cut through lands for oil pipelines and more. This is one of the many challenges of nature spirituality in the 21st century and one of many reasons to practice land healing.
In last week’s post, I offered many suggestions for why we might want to take up the work as a land healer as a spiritual practice. In this week’s post, I’ll offer my revised framework for land healing. I first wrote an earlier draft of this land healing framework on my blog a few years ago. I’m returning to it now as my own work with this has gone in some unexpected and interesting directions, and I am feeling the need to deepen and revisit it.
Land Healing: A Framework
Land healing work may mean different things to different people depending on life circumstances, resources, and where one feels led to engage. The following is a roadmap of the kinds of healing that can be done on different levels, a roadmap that I’ve developed through my own practices over my lifetime. I recognize that healing can include multiple larger categories. Some people may be drawn to only one or two categories, while others may be drawn to integrating multiple categories in their spiritual practice. The important thing isn’t to try to do everything–the important thing is to start small, with something you can do and sustain over time, and build from there.
Physical Regeneration and Land Healing Practices
Physical regeneration refers to the actual physical tending and healing of the land on the material plane. Most ecosystems we live in are degraded due to human activity and demand throughout the last few centuries. One of the most empowering things you can do is to learn how to heal ecosystems directly, whatever environment you live in: urban, rural, or suburban. These practices are wide-ranging and include so many possibilities: creating community gardens, conservation activities, regenerative agriculture, restoring native plants, growing plants on your balcony for pollinators, converting lawns to gardens, scattering seeds, creating habitat, cleaning up rivers, putting in riparian zones, helping to shift land management practices of parks in your city, helping address stormwater issues, and much more. Thus, physical regeneration is work we do on the landscape to help the land heal and be restored to a functional and healthy ecosystem.
One of the things I want to stress here is that some form of this work is available to everyone–we are all rooted in a local place with the earth beneath our feet. But the specifics of this work will vary widely based on where you call home and what kinds of opportunities might be available. Thus, if you live in a city, your work will look very different than someone who lived in a rural area on land.
- Building knowledge about ecosystems and what yours traditionally looked like and more broad systems theory so that you can know where and how to intervene
- Learning and practicing permaculture, regenerative agriculture, and other land tending techniques that are focused on regeneration and repair
- Supporting and volunteering in organizations that are doing conservation and habitat restoration work (this is especially good for those without land or who live in cities)
- Work with others in suburban and urban settings to develop sanctuaries for life (for good examples of this, I suggest the Inhabit film)
- Develop refugia on land you have access to create a sanctuary for life
- Develop wild tending practices for whatever settings you belong to (urban, suburban, and rural)
Physical healing of the land is also deeply healing for the soul. As you bring life back, you bring those same healing energies deeply into your own life.
Metaphysical Land Healing Practices
In this framework, metaphysical healing work refers to any energy or ritual work on the etheric or astral planes focused on bringing in healing energy or removing suffering. There are several basic types of energetic healing you can do, depending on the state of the land.
Land Blessing Practices
The first layer of metaphysical work with the land are land blessings. Ancient peoples engaged in many such blessing ceremonies to ensure the health and abundance of the landscape around them–both for the benefit of the land itself and for the survival of everyone who depended upon the fertility of the land. This is a form of energetic work that raises positive energy for the good of all.
- Land blessing ceremonies include wassail and other January tree blessings
- Garden blessing and planting rituals such as tree planting and garden blessing
- Creating small things to bring with you for offerings and land blessings like an offering blend, land healing oil, or statues for bringing blessing into the world
- Creating shrines that simply express gratitude and sacred spaces on the land
- Druid snow workings and other winter blessings
Energetic Healing: Raising Energy to Help Heal the Land
Energetic healing is raising positive energy in some form to work to infuse the land with such energy for healing–this is bringing love and light into damaged places ready to heal (think about a forest after logging, a fire, a drought-stricken area that is now receiving rain, etc). Using the metaphor of a sick human can help put the differences between this and palliative care (below) in perspective. In this case, a sick person has recently undergone an illness but is now in a place to recover. This person might need a lot of visits, good medicine and healing food, and positive energy. This is the idea of energetic healing. Energetic healing most often takes the form of rituals and ceremonies in the druid tradition, but those skilled in other kinds of energy healing like reiki may find that of use.
- Some examples of healing ceremonies for the land include a hemlock galdr, fire and smoke ritual land blessing, or simply raising positive energy through singing, drumming, and dancing
- Land healing practices such as setting standing stones or doing a year-long healing ritual.
- Reiki or other healing work directed toward the land
Palliative Care: Encouraging Rest, Sleep and Distance
The opposite of energetic healing is palliative care–and much of our world right now needs this kind of support. This is what I will be doing for our land that is getting cut to put in a permanent septic line. To return to our sick person metaphor, this is a person who has been engaged in a long illness with an ongoing disease or someone who is facing a terminal illness, and they are continuing to suffer. With palliative care, the best you can do is try to soothe the wounds, let them rest until the worst is over. Palliative care, however, should be used for places with ongoing destruction or for sites that will soon have serious damage. Thus, we use energy techniques in both cases, but in one case, the goal is alleviating suffering wherein the other case, the goal is active healing. You don’t want to be raising a ton of energy in places where active damage is occurring or will soon occur.
- Rituals that offer soothing, rest, or distance are particularly good for these kinds of cases.
- Helping put the spirits of the land to sleep is a key skill in this area (I will share more about this in an upcoming post, haven’t yet gotten to writing this set of practices on my blog yet)
Witnessing, Holding Space, Honoring, and Apology
A specific subset of Palliative care is the work of witnessing, holding space, honoring and apology. Part of the larger challenge we face in today’s world is the collective ignorance and lack of willingness to pay attention to what is happening to the world, the ecosystems, the animals, and ourselves. Thus, choosing to engage, and choosing to see and honor, is critical work–and really, some of the most important we can do. Being present, witnessing, holding space, offering an apology is work that each of us, regardless of where we are in our own spiritual practices and development, can offer. The much more advanced practices, such as psychopomp work, are also part of this category.
- Suggestions for witnessing, holding space, and apology
- Some of my recent writings on working with extinct species and rituals for extinction are in this category.
- Psychopomp work, also, falls into this category, in that it is actively holding space and helping spirits of the land or of dying animals/trees/plants/life move on.
- Acceptance of our own role in all of this as well is useful. Joanna Macy’s work on Coming Back to Life and her many rituals I think in that book are really good tools for this category and the one below.
Healing Human-Land Connections and Fostering Interdependence
Prevention is the best medicine. Another consideration for land healing work is to “repair the divide” and help shift people’s mindsets into a deeper understanding of the interdependence of humans and nature. For generations, culturally, particularly in the west, humans have been moving further and further away from nature and deep connection and don’t see the land as having inherent value beyond any monetary (e.g what resources can I extract for profit). Many humans in the 21st century have almost no connection to the land, and thus, I believe, are not willing to step in to prevent further damage. Thus, part of land healing work can involve us building and healing human-land connections, but within ourselves and in our larger communities. A big part of this is reframing our relationship to nature and to our broader land, giving it inherent value.
For this, I see at least two direct needs: the first is making changes to our lives to be more in line with the carrying capacity of the earth and regenerative practices. The second is to help repair human-land connections through working at the level of mindsets and developing new ways and paradigms for humans to interact with the world.
Some ideas in this direction:
- Helping cultivate a shift in mindset towards reciprocity with nature rather than just the extraction of resources
- Encouraging more relationships with nature and a deeper connection
- Rituals to help with interconnectivity and engagement
- Addressing your own footprint (carbon, land use, others) and adjusting behaviors to live more sustainably (in AODA we call these “earth path changes”). Help friends, family, and the community do the same.
- Cultivate groups where people can learn these skills, share them, and feel connected with each other
- Learning a variety of earth skills and beginning to tie your own needs with that of your immediate surrounding
- Learning practices that put you in a more interdependent relationship with nature, such as ethical foraging and wild food harvesting combined with regenerative practices
- Deeply examining your own relationship and actions and shifting them into less damaging practices
- Abiding by Permaculture’s ethical triad (people care, earth care, fair share)
- Learning natural building and other earth-based skills
If we are to put many of the above practices together, you might find yourself in a guardianship role. That is, making a long-term commitment to adopting a piece of land, as a protector, healer, and warrior. Committing yourself to that land, working with the spirits of the land closely, and throughout your life. I’ll be writing more about this in the coming months as a deeper practice.
Spiritual Self-care for Land Healers
A final piece, and one that is critical, involves our own self-care. Digging oneself into this work involves being faced with damaged ecosystems, places that you don’t want to see, and statistics that you don’t want to read. It involves taking a hard look at our own behavior, the behavior of our ancestors, and engaging in self-critical reflection on “automatic behaviors” in our culture. This all takes its toll. So a final consideration for land healing work is our own self-care, and how we can connect with nature to form reciprocal healing relationships.
Some practices that help with self-care include:
- Going on a spiritual retreat and spending some time in meditation, healing, and quietude (part 1, and part 2)
- Self care practices for the mind, body, and spirit
- Considering the role of self care from a permaculture perspective
- Developing bardic arts as self-care practices and to support mental health
- Practicing authenticity for yourself (part I and part II)
- Herbalism for self care
- Rituals for renewal of self and land
Many of the above practices can be integrated and woven into a complete whole. I’ve written some of the ways you can integrate, particularly through the Grove of Renewal practices. I’ll be talking more about this kind of integration in future posts.