Rituals to Support Wildfires, Smoke, and Climate Change

AllHeal

It has been a hard week for many in North America, and around the globe.  About half of the United States is having record-breaking heat, up to 120 degrees Fahrenheit (48.8 Celsius) in a heat dome that shows and is staying in the 90s (32 F) or above even at night.  And here, in Western Pennsylvania and throughout the midwest, we have both a pretty serious drought (which caused the fires in the first place) and now an air-quality index listed as “hazardous” for all people from smoke from Canadian Wildfires. . And this is just the tip of the iceberg of what is happening where I live. What we know is that climate change is accelerating, and it is hitting harder and in more severe ways than climate change models previously thought. The wildfires have already burned almost 20,000,000 acres and over 250 are not even contained in any capacity.  This means that the heat, drought, smoke, and fires will continue and we’ve got to step up to the plate to do what we can.

The smoke from the wildfires has been particularly challenging this week for a few reasons.  This is not just smoke, it is smoke from the death and destruction of millions of acres of forests–propagated by a very dry April and May, which was drought fueled by climate change. When the smoke gets particularly thick, it lays heavy on the land, like a shroud. Many druid and shaman friends that I know that have been experiencing it are speaking to its qualities, not only physical but the heavy death energy it carries with it. It is a sign of the land crying out in pain. It is a sign that things are not ok, and are not going to be ok for some time. Beyond the physical health concerns, it has been a difficult time for those who are sensitive to such things.

What’s a druid to do?

Like most other things, I would argue that there are metaphysical and physical things to do to respond to the immediate crises (smoke, heat, etc) and the longer-term situation. In today’s post, I’ll share some strategies about how to help be a force of healing, good, and light in these kinds of challenging situations. Specifically, I’ll discuss supporting the earth and all life that lives upon her through metaphysical means: rituals, prayers, and visioning. At the end of this post, I’ll also share some ideas for physical things to do to help support the earth.

Ceremony for the Earth

The World from the Tarot of Trees
The whole world…send a blessing!

In many indigenous traditions both in North America and Australia, people understood that their role in the world was being caretakers or what Tyson Yunkaporta in Sand Talk calls “custodians” of the planet.  As humanity has now been under the terrible influence of colonization and industrialization, we have seen the destruction of ecosystems, the eradication of peoples and their beliefs, and now, in the endgame, threats to all life on this planet.  All because so many humans have turned away and literally forgotten their original role, and went down this path of narcissism, greed, and destruction, we end up here.  Not sugarcoating who humans are and what we do–and who humans can be–is an important part of this. This is particularly a necessity for those of us humans who come from cultural traditions of colonialism and are part of the dominant culture that is causing these issues. As a white person living with the benefits of colonization, I remind myself that it is critical for people like me to talk about these things and learn a different path.

Another piece of indigenous wisdom that I think matters here is the role of humans in creating ceremonies for blessing, healing, and abundance on Earth. Not only have most humans turned away from their role, but in that turning away, the land has grown parched and drained by humanity’s collective actions. Engaging in ceremonies–lots of them–on behalf of the earth is a necessary step towards rectifying this imbalance. This is because the land is blessed, balanced, and abundant when we are fulfilling our role as custodians–and part of that role is regular ceremonies for the land.  So much of the land where I live or where I travel is literally parched from the lack of ceremonies on the land’s behalf.  And what better time now, when the smoke clouds us and chokes us, to be reminded of that fact.

As I was working on this post this week in response to the smoke outside and the wildfires, I was drawn towards simple methods for ceremonies (in line with my post from last week on interwoven ritual) that were meaningful, direct, and flexible:

Prayers for the earth: Each day, I went out into the land and offered prayers from the heart.  These were prayers to protect the wildlife, the land, and the forests where the fires are happening, and praying for peace for the world.  I also prayed for humanity, that all of us can collectively return to the earth’s embrace rather than continue down this path of destruction.

I used a modified version of the Druid’s Prayer for Peace (with my revisions) as part of this work:

Deep within the still center of my being, may I find peace

Quietly within the circle of this grove, may I find peace

Gently within the circle of humankind and all life, may I radiate peace.

Peace to the forests, the rivers, and the land here in this beautiful place.

Peace to the animals, plants, insects, reptiles, birds, and amphibians.

Peace to the mountains, waterways, and larger landforms.

May peace prevail in the four directions and throughout the world.

As I would say this and other prayers, I would envision the rains coming down, the fires being quenched, and the land and her peoples being returned to balance.

Holding space for the earth: Each day, I also went outside for short amounts of time (masked in most cases) and then simply observed what was happening.  I worked to radiate peace and calm, and simply hold space for this situation.  I observed, meditated, and was present in what was occurring.

Radiating Hope and Joy: This third one is particularly important for right now–radiating hope, joy, and happiness to the larger landscape (and I wrote about this earlier this year).  The ongoing climate situations (drought, fires, floods, smoke, etc.) have raised a lot of anxiety for many people. This smoke, it has impacted the health of anyone with lungs, and it is certainly going to continue beyond what is happening in this present moment. And that means that we humans, even those who are trying to offer healing and peace, can carry a lot of anxiety with us. So attending to that through good self-care and also through healing plants (see next point) can be particularly important so that we can bring joy and hope to the work we do.  When I go to do rituals, I make sure I am offering joy and hope

Working with Healing Plants:  One of the plants that really showed up in a big way this week was All Heal (Prunella vulgaris), which is also called Wound Wort and Heart of the Earth. The smoke from the fires doesn’t affect all heal and other plants like it affect people with lungs, so she was there to support my healing.  Finding plant allies that can support healing and joy and this larger work is good.  For me, I sat with the All heal when the outdoor conditions allowed, and also had some of her inside with me and made tea.

These are just some suggestions to get you thinking–at this point, any ceremony or energy raising you can do to support the earth is a good idea!  I will also direct your attention to an earlier post I did to support metaphyiscal and ritual healing for the burning of the world from a few years ago.  This ritual is also a particularly potent one for today.

Getting Down to It: The Big Picture and Physical Changes

AllHeal
All Heal from the Plant Spirit Oracle–my major plant ally with these fires!

Rituals should also be backed by physical actions–humanity’s physical actions are ultimately what has caused so many of these changes to happen, so it is important to constantly be working to make changes and align yourself with a different tomorrow. Physical things involve primarily how to reduce your emissions, live in a more sustainable and regenerative manner, and how to be a good caretaker of the land here on this planet. These are things that I’ve covered in great detail in my book Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices as well as here on this blog.  Here on the blog, you can learn about physical land healing and forest regeneration as well as a range of techniques such as refugia gardening parts I and II, and seed saving and spreading seed balls, on alternative front and back lawns. There are countless ways to build sustainable living and reduce carbon emissions in your daily life.

On a broader scale, I feel like at this point, there are only two ways forward. Adapt, change, or go extinct.  There is a part of me that fears the future so much because we can expect even more of what I just wrote about in that paragraph.  But there’s also a part of me that knows that humans have the capacity for great change, and that change will be forced upon us, through more extremes well beyond what I write.  But there’s also a part of me that has great hope.  Hope that humanity will finally get its head out fo the clouds and come back to the earth, to our mother, and to living in balance.  Hope that sometimes hard lessons are the hardest.

Finally, I will also note, this is part of my series on land healing, which at this point, is quite a lot of posts!  Here is the basic framework I offer for land healing,  healing hands, and land healing as a spiritual practice and a wide variety of posts on the different aspects of land healing: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV, Part V, Part VI, Part VII, and Part VIII.  And… I even have a book next year on Land healing coming out at the end of March 2024; more on that soon!

Blessings to you.  Stay strong, fight the fight, and keep the hope alive.

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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12 Comments

  1. Thank you. It feels overwhelming. In the Pacific NW we dealt with this horrible smoke in recent years. It reminded me of the despair and horror of a beseiged Gondor under the smoke and cloud of Mordor in the eloquent writings of Tolkien. He “got” it in astounding prescience.

    1. Hi Darcy,
      Yeah, I think that image is really accurate and apt for what we experienced here. This darkness and despair, lingering smoke that never dissipates. I’m sorry we are all going through this time.

  2. Thank you for this Dana. I’m in NY state, a bit west of Albany. When I read your words: “the heavy energy” in the smoke, and “things are not okay”, it was such a relief to feel acknowledged, I just burst into tears. I think people don’t understand how very real, visceral, this is. In addition to the physical issues of breathing in particulates, I’m also breathing in that energy and it sits very heavily. And I feel a sense of emptiness that I don’t want to give in to. I’ve read and heard some people comparing the smoke from the fires to smudging – a cleansing for Earth. And somehow this does not resonate because of the toxins in this smoke. How can it be cleansing when it’s poison? And I’m not so worried about myself, rather the non-humans and all the children. Yesterday, I drove to visit my sister in Troy, and there were many people on the highway wearing masks as they drove, and signs warning of the air quality alert. It “should have been” a nice day with blue skies. In the evening I sit on my little balcony, surrounded by my little garden of herbs and flowers, in a beautiful place, deer grazing at the forest edge. I felt joy, and gratitude and expanded on that as much as I was able. It’s hard.

    1. Hi Susan,
      I don’t think anyone who has interacted with this smoke that has a good spiritual radar would say this was a healing or cleansing smoke. These are fires burning because of humans’ mistreatment for the planet–not done in love, care, or cleansing. That sounds like an excuse to fuel more human bad behavior and continue on as “business as usual” rather than looking at this situation as what it is: a climate catastrophe where billions of lives are being lost in the fires, and billions more are being affected by the smoke. Things are not all love and light, and pretending they are doesn’t change the harsh realities. From my perspective: it is extremely hard to breathe in the smoke made up of that many dead. It is hard to carry that within your lungs–whrere grief is often stored–and not have that affect you vicerally and deeply. And I agree, it is hard to find the joy in this one. But like you, I’ve done my best!

  3. This post is so timely, Dana. Thank you for sharing a sense of hope, ☺️ Blessings from Cooper’s Drink in Oreland, PA.

    1. Thanks for reading, Cynthia! Blessings to you from Indiana, PA :).

  4. Lovely suggestions. Thank you very much! All your posts are very informative and appreciated!

    1. Hi Rebecca, thanks so much for reading and for your comment!

  5. Thank you for this post! I’m situated in south central PA (north of border, west of Gettysburg) and the smoke was *awful* the other day. Gloomy, stinky, no visibility. And I have breathing issues. This post is very helpful.

    1. Hi Mosshawk,
      Hello from Indiana, PA :). I’m glad the post was helpful to you and I am so grateful to these rains that have brought clean air back into the state. Thanks for reading and for your comment!

      1. Very welcome 🙂 I am a wandmaker and your articles point me in the right direction, so I can condense and clarify what I want to tell folks! It’s hard to find magickal properties and folklore related to sassafras and so many of the local trees and shrubs here in PA, isn’t it? We were trying to find a home in either Oregon or Colorado … didn’t work out! … so now I’m dazzled by the greenery again! But I did discover madrone in Oregon … fell in love with a tree along the Rogue River and finally found some madrone to make a wand out of. <3 Gorgeous trees. Love the peeling red bark. Sorry to ramble! Thanks again. 🙂

        1. Hi Mosshawk! I love that you are a wand maker here in PA :).

          You might want to check out my magical compendium! It has the results of my 10+ years of research on magical trees here in PA :). https://www.etsy.com/listing/1286728939/magical-compendium-of-eastern-north?ga_order=most_relevant&ga_search_type=all&ga_view_type=gallery&ga_search_query=magical+compendium+of+eastern&ref=sr_gallery-1-3&cns=1&organic_search_click=1

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