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
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
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.